Norwegian black metal and “Until the Light Takes Us”
Now streaming on OVID is Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell’s film Until the Light Takes Us, a documentary that takes you deep into the Norwegian black metal scene of the 1990s and its sometimes troubled and often deeply malevolent key figures. Aites and Ewell lived in Norway for two years while they worked on the film, and the finished product is a fascinating and occasionally infuriating tale of teenage rebellion, middle class angst, arson, suicide, and murder.
Beloved to this day by appreciators of extreme music, Norwegian black metal espouses a nihilistic, anti-Christian, anti-establishment worldview. The scene’s followers sought to uphold a rigid standard for what was and was not considered “black metal.” They wore corpse paint and strived to embody an almost cartoonishly larger-than-life image of “evil.” If this all sounds kind of fun, it probably was. But when some of the scene’s followers began to take the “evil” part too seriously, the scene collapsed into violence, recrimination, and incarceration.
Aites and Ewell spoke to Artforum about the making of the film. They are candid about the pitfalls of first-time documentary filmmaking and the challenges they faced in getting access their subjects, some of whom were still in prison during filming. The story of how they finally convinced pivotal black metal figure and convicted murderer Varg Vikernes (aka “Count Grishnackh”) to appear in the film may be instructive to budding filmmakers in how to patiently approach interview subjects.
We won’t lie to you: most of the subjects in Until the Light Takes Us are deeply unlikable. Leaving aside the more sensational criminal acts, the scene was malignantly racist and homophobic. But we here at OVID enjoy good stories about subcultures we’re unfamiliar with, and this descent into madness is a worthy new entry in our collection.