|A Daily Mail (UK) article published on their website on the 15th of January 2014|
Dark lyrics, an extreme subculture and violent imagery are among the hallmarks of Black Metal, which borrows heavily from the darker aspects of Heathen and Germanic in addition to Satanic mythology. Bloodlust, arson and murder characterised the second wave of Black Metal during the 90s, but things had somewhat sobered in the last couple of decades. The news of this murder reminded people how deep 'Satanic' influences still run in some parts of contemporary society, (no) thanks to the Black Metal scene.
This paper attempts to chronicle the influence of Satanic, Pagan, Heathen and Norse mythology on Black Metal music, the symbols associated with it, the evolution of these myths; and finally to understand how some ancient myths continue to influence popular culture and consequently our lives.
Black Metal: Black metal is an extreme sub genre of heavy metal music, often having lyrics which deal with the Devil and the supernatural. Often synonymous with Satanic Metal, Black Metal has now incorporated more mythical elements (apart from Satan) into its fold. While some bands continue make pure 'Satanic or anti-Christian' music, some others have lyrics about heathen/pagan/Nordic characters like Odin, Thor, Prometheus, the Vikings, etc. These further derivatives, who often reject Satanism, go by the name of Viking Metal and War Metal.
Common traits of Black Metal music include fast tempos, shrieked vocals, highly distorted guitars played with tremolo picking, blast beat drumming, raw (lo-fi) recording and unconventional song structures.
|Although a Death Metal band, Deicide made ample use of anti-Christian symbols, like the inverted cross, in their cover art and lyrics. This is the cover of their 8th album.|
Bands like Deicide, who flamboyantly adopted the upside down cross and resorted to bloody theatrics on stage were exceptions. Death and Thrash Metal with half-baked Satanic ideas, which were popular in the late 80s, began to lose their appeal and the audience wanted something darker and edgier, making way for the second wave.
DARKER TIDINGS – THE SECOND WAVE
Black Metal, at least in its Norwegian “second wave,” is commonly described as Satanic, largely due to the influence of the mass media, which portrayed the genre as such. In fact, much of media fodder was provided by a Norwegian band called Mayhem, established by Øystein 'Euronymous' Aarseth in 1984, along with Jørn 'Necrobutcher' Stubberud and Kjetil Manheim. They were later joined by Varg 'Count Grishnackh' Vikernes and Per Yngve Ohlin, whose stage name was 'Dead'. Apart from their dark music and ideology, the band drew a lot of controversy with respect to arson, murder and a suicide.
In 1991, band member 'Dead' committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in what seemed like an act of self-fulfilling prophecy. Dead had a history of self harm and often cut himself during live performances. Band member Euronymous allegedly clicked a picture of the scene of Dead's suicide and used the image as an album cover to further Mayhem's cause.
|Mayhem album 'Dawn of the Black Hearts' featured an image of Dead's corpse|
In January 1992 Burzum’s Varg Vikernes gave an interview where he claimed responsibility for a number of church burnings, which led to a moral panic and a media frenzy focused on stories about “Satanism in Norway.” This escalated a year later with Vikernes’s murder of Euronymous, and the convictions of several individuals involved in Black Metal for a number of the church burnings that had occurred in Norway in the early 1990s. The Norwegian documentary film Satan rir media (Satan Rides the Media) clearly shows how the Satanism-label was applied by the media, how dubious “cult experts” validated this, and how the number of arsons drastically increased in the process—from approximately one per year in the early 1990s to fifty arsons altogether between 1992 and 1996.
|The band Mayhem with Euronymous (L) and Dead (R)|
Satanism became an identity marker in Black Metal, largely due to the media-created Satanism providing a “script” for Norwegian “second wave” Black Metal musicians and fans.
Mayhem gave the underground music scene much more than their music. The tradition of black leather outfits, metal spikes, corpse paint can be credited to Euronymous, and Black Metal bands across the world today are seen dressed in similar outfits, using similar Satanic symbols.
|A Black Metal band sporting stereotypical gear with leather, studs and corpse paint|
POPULAR SIGNS AND SYMBOLS IN BLACK METAL
Used widely as an anti-Christian symbol in the Black Metal community, it is in fact, quite Christian in its origin. The inverted cross is the sign of St. Peter, who deemed himself too unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Christ, and hence chose an inverted one. However, in the metal music context, an inversion of the primary symbol of Christianity is meant to signify an opposite path.
A pentagram (sometimes known as a pentalpha or pentangle or a star pentagon) is the shape of a five-pointed star drawn with five straight strokes. In medieval Christian tradition, the pentagram could represent the five wounds of Jesus. In the Renaissance it came to be associated with magic and occultism. The inverted pentagram, as used by English black magician, Aleister Crowley and Anton La Vey, founder of the Satanic Church, came to be associated with Satanism. It is a popular with Black Metal bands and modern day Wiccan cults.
BAPHOMET / DEVIL'S HORNS
|Baphomet - from the from medieval Latin Baphometh - is a term originally used to describe an idol or other deity, which the Knights Templar were accused of worshiping, and |
subsequently incorporated into disparate occult and mystical traditions. Baphomet is often synonymous with Satan/Lucifer, and hence the raised fingers could either mean Satan's horns or Baphomet's. Modern day Black Metal fans use the hand sign as a customary salute.
|For anyone even remotely aware of the heavy metal culture, the skull will be a familiar sign. Representing death and destruction, the skull is a favourite element of artists |
designing extreme metal album covers.
The Triquetra is an originally Christian symbol, which often signifies the Trinity. However, Pagans consider the symbol sacred too and it might signify three divine elements. However, some have interpreted it as a hidden symbol for the number of the Devil – 666, and hence one comes across the Triquetra in the context of Black Metal.
SIGN OF ANARCHY
Anarchism has a long-standing relationship with the arts, particularly music. As a symbol of opposition to any form of authority, all extreme music embraces anarchy. Punk rock is most associated with the sign, although some death and black metal bands employ it occasionally.
Other common symbols and themes include the Werewolf, the moon, the colour black, fire, blood, virgins, dark priests, forests, crows, etc.
WRIT IN BLACK
Apart from symbols, Black Metal carries forth the myths of Satan, and other Pagan characters through its explicit, blasphemous and sometimes downright disturbing lyrics. There are ample Christian and anti-Christian references, like Sabbath, Exodus, Day of Judgment, the pact with the Devil, sacrifices, Black Masses, etc. Such extreme lyrics sway teenagers, who are the largest consumers of such music. There have also been instances of suicides influenced by such music and ensuing lawsuits. However, dark myths continue to be fostered through the Black Metal underground culture. Here are some instances:
• Gorgoroth – Satan-Prometheus
See the hordes ascend
Crushing the face of god
See the horns rise
The eternal reign of Satan
• Solar Deity – Through the hallway of Narak
Satan… bless my soul
Father… we are yours
There is one god
Dark lord, you’re the one!
|Indian black metal band, Solar Deity|
• Nunslaughter – Satanic
Lucifer's grip upon the throat
Of the catholic priest
The holy are deceased
• Mayhem- Pagan Fears
The past is alive
The past is alive
Woeful people with pale faces
Staring obsessed at the moon
Some memories will never go away
And will forever be here
• Burzum – Lost Wisdom
Other planes lie beyond the reach
of normal sense and common roads
But they are no less real
than what we see or touch or feel
Denied by the blind church
'cause these are not the words of God
• Bathory – Sacrifice
Present at ungodly births
In holy paradise
I spread eternal dark on earth
And raped the mother of Christ
• Bathory – Shores in flames
Thor of thunder way up high
Swing your Hammer that cracks the sky
Send the wind to fill our sails and take us home
Guide your sons, us, home
Religion and the arts have always been carriers of myth. Since music as an art form has a wider appeal than most others, myth in music has been common across nations and genres. Whether one sings hymns in praise of God, chants praises of natural beauty, or rages against convention, myths are always useful in conveying an idea more powerfully.
In the realm of Black Metal too, Satanic and Pagan myths are used mostly for artistic purposes than as ideology. Very few Black Metal artists admit to following Satanism in their everyday lives. Their dark costumes and stage ‘rituals’ are more for shock and entertainment value than anything else. There are crazed fans and extreme instances like the murder of the Thai Black Metal artiste are few and far between.
Black Metal ‘arrived’ in India around the year 2000, but very little has happened since then. There are not more than five bands that play serious Black Metal. These bands are wholly inspired by their Western counterparts and their music is inspired by the same set of myths and ideas. Avid heavy metal follower and blogger, Devdutt Nawalkar succinctly sums up the Indian Black Metal scene, “There aren't any bands that make studied use of Satanic literature and symbols to the best of my knowledge. I can only think of Solar Deity from Bombay who claim to be influenced by Anton Lavey's cult of personality (the Satanic Bible is nothing but a trussed up self empowerment course), and Witchgoat from Bangalore who use various hackneyed cliches like inverted crosses, Baphomets and pentagrams as an ironical tool to make fun of black metal. Metal fans in India will regularly use flippant salutations like "Hail Satan" but it's little more than juvenile delinquency acted out to appeal to the outsider within. Indian Vedic literature has a formidable canon on atheism that deals with very pertinent questions of existence itself; we don't need to "Indianize" what is essentially a Judeo-Christian concept.”
This assignment was part of my PG Diploma Course in Comparative Mythology, at the Department of Sanskrit, University of Mumbai, for the academic year 2013-14, Sem. 2, Paper II. Images have been sourced from the Internet and none belong to me.