(2008) directors Aaron Aites, Audrey Ewell
Norwegian Black Metal, a form of thrash metal/death metal spawned in Norway in the late 1980’s, growing into a cult scene in the 1990’s. Interestingly lo-fi in its sound aesthetics, its visual imagery took its make-up tips from Alice Cooper and KISS, with a large emphasis on ghost-faces minus the Glam. Lyrically, it picked up where Satanist stylings left off. But beyond channeling the devil for pure shock value, the meanings took root more in an anti-Christian meaning.
Until the Light Takes Us is a documentary about the Norwegian Black Metal scene, telling of its origins in the 1980’s band Mayhem and the gruesome suicide of vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin (nicknamed “Dead”) and a commitment to the hardcore obsession with death in the scene. In fact, vocalist/guitarist Øystein Aarseth (nicknamed Euronymous) photographed the gory scene before reporting it to the police.
The film attempts to stand back and let the interviewees tell their stories. It’s somewhat uninflected. Which is notable, because the subject matter turns remarkably dark and weird and disturbing. But it’s also a weakness of sorts because the film is a bit meandering and lacks a real arc.
That said, what’s really shocking is the ideological side of much of Norwegian black metal. There is a strong Nationalist slant, something that while anti-Christian, is actually anti-Christian and pro the country’s native mythology. This anti-Christian bent leads to church burnings, showing that the motivation reaches far further than just lyrics. But what is sad and deplorable is that the churches that they choose to burn are some of the earliest in the country, dating back over a millennium.
As out-there as this is, the crimes reach even further. One guy, a hanger-on in the scene, committed a hate crime, murdering an older gay man. And in the coup de grace, Varg Vikernes, musician behind the band Burzum, winds up stabbing Euronymous to death in a bizarre, paranoid episode. Vikernes is interviewed from prison as he was found guilty of these crimes.
It’s a strange and fascinating scene, this weird subculture. The film certainly opens the door a crack upon these people, the musicians, the weird politics and even more gruesome crimes. But it lacks to allow a fuller sense of what it’s all about, to draw any conclusions, make a bigger picture of it. You’re kind of left wanting to know more. But it is strangely fascinating, creepy, and unique.