Murder and Arson Under a Northern Sky: The Canadian Premiere of Aites and Ewell’s Until the Light Takes Us

Until the Light Takes Us premiered in Canada in a city where stabbings and arson are not uncommon. It played outdoors, on a screen handmade out of snow in the coldest city on earth with a population over 600,000. Surprisingly, despite the cold, this epic event played to a sold out audience, some of which even donned corpse paint.

The film utilized an emphatically lofi aesthetic in an attempt to contextualize the early mayhem of the Norwegian black metal scene. The documentary focuses on two members of the scene who lived through it, Gylve “Fenriz” Nagell of Darkthrone and Varg “Count Grishnackh” Vikernes of Burzum. In this case, the statement “lived through it” is not to be treated lightly. Per Yngve “Dead” Ohlin of Mayhem, the first in the scene to use “corpse paint”, committed suicide by shooting himself in the face. His dead body was found by band mate Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth who upon discovering Dead’s body took a picture of him and used it as cover art for the Mayhem album Dawn of the Black Heart. Aarseth was later murdered by Vikernes, who is interviewed in the film from prison which Vikernes refers to as a “monastery”. He explains that he murdered Aarseth because he had reason to believe that Aarseth was going to star him in a snuff film. Although this might seem slightly paranoid, Aarseth was a person whose idea of arts and crafts consisted of making necklaces from Ohlin’s skull. Vikernes also went on to explain the social climate of the scene in the 90s. Basically, it amounts to bored youth frustrated with the conservative society they lived in, lashing out against what they saw as the cause, namely the colonization of Norway’s pagan culture by Christianity, democracy and capitalism. Vikernes truly believes his actions, both the murdering and church burning, were justified, however, he acknowledges that he will not act in a similar manner after his release. His aggression towards Christianity seems justified (who doesn’t feel aggressive towards Christianity every now and again), however, this anger does not justify church burnings. When everything is stripped away, all that we are really left with is a depressing story of pointless rebellion, arson, and murder. The pointless nature of these crimes is re-enforced when Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg of Mayhem praises Bård G. “Faust” Eithun of Emperor for the murdering of “this fucking faggot back in Lillehammer”, referring to the 1992 murder of Magne Andreassen an openly gay man living in Lillehammer.

Nagell provides us with a different perspective on the scene. He talks about their style of metal as a rejection of the commercialism associated with death metal. Black metal bands wanted their music and album covers to be darker, more lofi and extreme than those of death metal bands whose sound at the time was generally well produced and whose album covers were usually slick graphic designs. Nagell paints the classic tale of a rebellious genre of music that gets co-opted into the mainstream. Moreover, Nagell talks about his personal feelings about art and how he prefers art made by the fortunate, bored with a life of leisure as opposed to the art made by the oppressed. Ironically, this is actually one of the reasons the bourgeois are interested in this subculture. The filmmakers push this point by including footage where Kjetil-Vidar “Frost” Haraldstad of Satyricon and 1349 is breathing fire onto art hanging on a wall, followed by cutting of his wrists and slitting of his own throat to an audience of art enthusiasts who looked dressed for the opera. To my surprise they clapped at the end of the performance…Bravo Frost, Bravo! The film further addresses the trendiness of black metal by containing footage of Harmony Korine in a gallery tap dancing in full corpse and a clown wig and black metal photographs and paintings by Bjarne Melgaard, an artist seemingly only interested in the scene due to its “underground” status.

Overall, due to the loose structure of this film, it is impossible to form the chronological order under which these events took place. For this reason I would suggest watching this as a double bill with Kier-La Janisse’s bibliodoc Metalstorm: The Scandinavian Black Metal Wars a film that intertwines pre-existing footage of news reports (mainly from the Norwegian documentary Satan Rides the Media), music videos (including a full length Bathory and Burzam video) and rare live footage. Janisse’s video provides a encompassing and coherent history of the Norwegian black metal scene and would be a perfect companion piece to Aites and Ewell’s film, which allows members of the scene to speak for themselves providing a context for the events that occurred.

The Black Metal DIY movie contest was juried by screen sculptor Andrea Roberts (Wolbachia formerly known as Kursk), Mike Alexander (Putrescence/Mount Elgon Productions) and Craig Boychuk (Head Hits Contrete/L’Viv). Doreen Girard took first prize with her black metal slide show. By manipulating a modified antiquated slide projector and by using multidimensional slides, Girard created a unique blend of moving and static images through focus pulls. Girard pulled off an obviously practiced routine flawlessly and had the entire room of rowdy, drunk metal heads engaged. The prize was well deserved. Girard has been doing this style of expanded cinema for a few years now and if you haven’t had a chance to witness one of her shows, you owe it to yourself to check her out in the near future.

– Clint Enns


Short Film Program:
Ea Lord of the Depths by Lewis Ingham
The Saga of Erik the Viking by Clint Enns
Basilica by Fletcher Pratt + Jeff Biberdorf
Gula by Scott Eaglesham
Raise the Dead by Niles Madison + Matt Thompson
Goths! On the Bus! by Karen + Jaimz Asmundson
Are you there God? It’s Me, Your Doom by Ted Barker + William O’Donnell
Campfire Bathtub by Ed Ackerman
Imperial Vomitorium by Joe Warkentin
The Breaking Weights by D’Alton Hindle + Travis Walker
Bone Awl by Goatsucker
Black Metal Slide Show by Doreen Girard


~ by cineflyer on January 19, 2010.

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