Charred churches, deceased band members, and corpse paint - Norwegian black metal is one of the most impenetrable musical genres of the 20th century. In 2008, the Until the Light Takes Us documentary was released, providing insight into the black metal bands of the early 1990s. The documentary takes a look inside the Norwegian black metal scene, revealing who the key members are and what they are all about. Until the Light Takes Us interviews many of the musicians who were at the start of the scene, but it focuses on "Fenriz" Nagell of Darkthrone, and Varg Vikernes of Burzum and Mayhem.
We see how the scene was formed and how it quickly fractured into multiple factions - one of them so extreme that they began burning churches and committing unrelenting and heinous acts. Many of the black metal musicians interviewed in the film are open about the horrors they carried out, and show no remorse for their targets and those they hurt. While the story is hard to stomach at times, it's an engrossing dive into a gruesome subgenre of heavy metal.
Due to the sinister nature of many Norwegian black metal musicians in the early 1990s, several of the interviews featured in Until the Light Takes Us are conducted with people who are either incarcerated or who have recently been released. Most notably, the filmmakers speak with Varg Vikernes, the sole member of Burzum who was also a member of Darkthrone and Mayhem until 1993 when he took out Mayhem guitarist Euronymous.
Many of the artists interviewed in the film were a part of a circle of musicians who methodically burned churches throughout the early '90s. Members of Immortal and Bård Guldvik "Faust" Eithun from Emperor open up about their participation in these acts, although Faust only appears in silhouette. Each member of the community, whether they were engaged in the darker aspects or not, speaks about what happened in the early '90s as if they're describing everyday activities. In an interview with the filmmakers from his cell, Vikernes says that he considers his time behind bars as a "stay in a monastery."
On August 22, 1992, while he was drumming for the band Emperor, Faust, who's real name is Bård Guldvik Eithun, was visiting his family in Lillehammer when he was propositioned by a man after a night out at a pub. Faust retaliated by piercing the man several times with a blade and leaving him in a park. He was detained over a year after he took the man's life and served just over nine years.
Fans of Emperor and people in the Norwegian black metal community have nothing but good things to say about Faust, and even go so far as to "honor" him for his actions in the park that night. Members of Faust's community believe it proves that he can get in touch with the darkest parts of himself. There were even shirts printed in support of the drummer that read, "In support of the True Warrior Bard 'Faust' Eithun who serves 14 years for [unlawful activity]." The design on the shirt also includes his signature.
Members of the Norwegian black metal community openly admit to their disdain for the Christian church because of the way that the church has spread Judeo-Christian culture. They believe Norwegian black metal culture was tainted by the Christian culture, and in the early '90s, multiple members of the scene felt that the only way they could strike back at the Christian faith was to burn down churches that had been standing for hundreds of years.
Until the Light Takes Us shows footage of many of the churches that black metal band members set ablaze. One church that was built in 1150 AD was targeted because Vikernes claims it was built on pagan land. Faust tells the filmmakers, "By burning churches, some people felt it was taking back the land from the Middle Eastern Plague as many people called it. And it was no worse doing it now then it was in the year 900."
Vikernes explains that he hoped the church burnings of '92 and '93 would shock people into opening their eyes, and while it triggered a series of copycats, it didn't accomplish the anti-Christian backlash he wanted.
One of the most infamous events from the Norwegian black metal scene is Varg Vikernes's attack on his label head and Mayhem guitarist Euronymous. Though he claims his actions were in self-defense, there were more than 20 incisions found on Euronymous's back when his body was collected. According to everyone the filmmakers interviewed, there are myriad reasons why Vikernes targeted his former bandmate.
Mayhem drummer Hellhammer says both men told him they wanted to end the other, but that he stayed out of it. Vikernes claims he heard Euronymous wanted to take him out, but that he also may have been paranoid. He claims that his former bandmate told people outside of their circle that he wanted to take Vikernes into the woods and do away with him on camera. Vikernes instead made a preemptive strike against the guitarist.
The documentary allows Vikernes to tell his side of the story. He claims Euronymous came after him first and that he had no choice but to retaliate as he tried to escape his own apartment. As for the nearly two dozen incisions, Vikernes suggests Euronymous fell into a lamp.