Until recently, I was unaware of the fact that Norway plays host to several of the most extreme metal bands in the world. These guys do not just play unbearable music while wearing hellish costumes; unlike most dark metal bands, they take their ideas seriously and live accordingly. They have burned many churches in Norway to express their contempt for Christianity, and engaged in all manner of crimes involving mayhem and violence. Many of them have served prison terms.
Perhaps the most famous Norwegian black metalist is Gaahl, the front man for the band Gorgoroth. I normally would be uninterested in anything having to do with metal, an insipid and banal musical genre that appeals mainly to people hopelessly adrift in a sea of nihilistic anger. But I caught a snippet of an interview with Gaahl the other night and must say there is something intense, gripping, and fascinating about this guy. You can sense it just by looking at a still photo:
While many metalists in Norway and elsewhere consider themselves to be Satanists (yawn), Gaahl is not one of them — he appears to be a serious practitioner of Norse shamanism, which is not the same as Norse paganism. Norse shamanism is an earlier form of supernaturalism than Norse paganism. The former is associated with ancient hunter-gatherers in Norway, and over time it was incorporated into the richly developed myths (Odin, Thor, Beowulf, etc.) and supernaturalism of the Neolithic farmers who settled in Norway. These farmers, of course, came to be known as the Vikings.
You can get a vague sense for Norse neo-shamanism by watching “True Norwegian Black Metal,” a thirty minute documentary and interview with Gaahl that took place over several days at his home in an isolated, beautiful, and eerie valley. I don’t think I have ever seen a “set” (i.e., Espedal, Norway) more appropriate for the subject matter of a film. At a minimum, you should watch the last few minutes — the interviewer asks the “wrong kinds of questions” (i.e., obviously does not understand Gaahl or what he is saying) and is given a chilling non-verbal response.
Aside from some of the things which Gaahl has to say (and not say), which are interesting in their own right and bring Nietzsche to mind, the film is worth watching simply for the jaw dropping scenery. Watch it and you will quickly come to appreciate what it is about the raw Scandinavian landscape that gave rise to the various forms of Norse paganism and Viking culture.
Life in such a setting obviously was harsh, brutal, and unforgiving — all qualities that are refracted through the many lenses of ancient Norse beliefs. One gets the sense that even today, Christianity sits rather uncomfortably on top of something unruly in the Norwegian psyche. The Scandinavian countries were, after all, the last pagan holdouts in what eventually became a Christian Europe. It is a good thing Norway is an oil rich petro-state; otherwise, Norwegians might be marauding through Europe in search of spoils.