Crisis in Valhalla: Satanism, arson . . . what's going on in Norway could get Death Metal a bad name. Stephen White reports

Click to follow
On 16 May, the day that former President Carter arrived in Oslo to award a peace prize to Norway, an Oslo court sentenced Varg Vikernes, lead singer of the Black Metal group Burzum, to 21 years in prison for burning down three churches, attempted arson on a fourth and the murder of Oystein Aarseth, leader of the band Mayhem. Credited with having imported Black Metal music to Norway, Aarseth was initially inspired by the Gateshead band Venom, whose tongue-in-cheek demonic act was never meant to be taken literally. But somewhere in translation, this raucous metal music seems to have initiated a Norwegian crime wave.

Vikernes' stage name is Count Grishnackh and his deeds have attained cult status. The fight is thought to have been the final outcome of a power struggle between Norway's two most extreme Black Metallurgists to control the nation's 'satanic' music scene. Throughout the trial, the court was surrounded by teenage girls dressed in black, many of them carrying pictures of the Count. A member of the local press suggested these were no ordinary groupies, but followers of a satanic sect, nourished by Black Metal music and led by the Count. Some journalists have even made comparisons between Vikernes and Charles Manson. So far, Norway has seen 13 arson attacks on churches, two on the night of Vikernes' sentencing.

Certainly Vikernes used his time in court effectively as a platform for extreme philosophies. He announced: 'Through church burning and Black Metal music we will reawaken the Norwegians' feelings of belonging to Odin (god of Norse myth).' Interviewed on Norwegian television, the Count's mother asserted her son was not a criminal but was at a loss to explain his actions.

The Count's crimes appear to have increased sales of his music. Burzum's British distributor, Plastic Head, has so far shipped 4,372 copies of the recent Burzum CD. Vikernes was originally arrested after boasting to a Bergen journalist that he had burnt down the Fantoft church. He was later released after claiming that he'd only said this as a publicity stunt to draw attention to his music. But detectives did find 150 kilos of dynamite in his flat.

Since the Count's conviction and sentencing most of Norway's Black Metal bands are now resisting the suggestion that they have any satanic links. Meanwhile Bard Eithun, the drummer with Emperor, has been charged with the murder of a gay man in Lillehammer; the band's guitarist has confessed to arson and burglary; and the bassist is to be tried for attempted murder after a knifing incident in the street. Another member of the band recently said in an interview: 'It was a very difficult time for the band. But we got a lot of publicity from it abroad.' There are some red faces among the Norwegian authorities who, in 1991, awarded Emperor a cultural youth grant.

Pastor Odd Christian Reme of Stavanger's Church City Mission has campaigned hard among the young people of his city to take seriously and denounce the Nazi and racist elements of some Black Metal musicians' ideology. 'We have seen many young people here just going down the drain due to the satanist movements and rituals,' he said, standing beside a cave near Stavanger that the army has recently cemented to stop what they claim are 'satanic' rituals being held.

Of course, what no one seems able to make clear is the precise relationship between the music, satanism and the burning of churches. Most observers, like Pastor Reme, agree that Black Metal music itself cannot be held responsible. It just happens that the church burners and some self- professed satanists are also members of or followers of Black Metal bands.

With the sentencing of Vikernes and the death of Aarseth, there is now a power vacuum at the top of Norway's Black Metal music scene. At a Bergen club called the Garage, a woman who had spent a lot of time with the Count said she feared more criminality as those lower in the hierarchy fought to prove their credentials.

Stephen White has produced a programme about Norwegian 'Death' Metal which will be broadcast on 10 June at 8.00pm on Channel 4's 'Europe Express'

(Photograph omitted)