Movie: Until the Light Takes Us
My Rating: 4 stars
Black Metal has always had a pretty sinister reputation—most of that, by design. People have always enjoyed a good amount of pearl-clutching and sotto voce moralizing about things considered “Satanic.” I never really put much stock in the whole Black Metal = Satanism thing. But, I never really knew how seriously to take those claims. So, I decided to go to the definitive documentary about the topic, and the events that caused such media panic. I am, of course, referring to the murder, suicide, and series of church burnings in Norway that were attributed to the Black Metal movement in the 1990s.
The public has always loved a good Satanic scare. I don’t think they really even care that it isn’t really a real thing. Or, that when musicians do claim to be involved in Satanic rituals these days, it’s thoroughly tongue-in-cheek, and designed to be provocative. Of course, I don’t want to detract from the experiences of honest, practicing Satanists. I know they’re out there holding their weird, nude, Gnostic masses, as is their right. But most of the stuff that the media and the general public consider to be Satanic is really just some teenagers engaging in a little light rebellion, and trying to feel important. And, I think that’s exactly what the Norwegian Black Metal scene was all about. It was about disaffected teens rejecting mainstream, middle-class values. They were abandoning the strict expectations of their Christian upbringings. They were disavowing capitalism, and the consumerism that goes along with it. And, for a group of teen boys who wanted to forcefully renounce conformism, getting into a purposefully dark, discordant musical movement (ironically?) provided them with the sense of belonging and power that that they craved. So, I think the movement was always only about insecurity, not communing with the devil.
I enjoyed this documentary very much. It mostly focuses on two musicians from the band Darkthrone—Gylve “Fenris” Nagell and Varg Vikernes—with a few snippets from other musicians. Fenris is still in the music scene, producing tracks, and making appearances. He gives his interviews for this documentary from a variety of different locations—preening in a photo studio, grinning in his messy bedroom, brooding in a bleak, snowy, Norwegian forest, and feeling uncomfortable at an art gallery. He’s adorable. I know that’s probably not the vibe Fenris was going for. He was probably going for more of a “dark lord” thing. But, he’s just so cute in is dark little outfits, and tossing his glossy locks (that he clearly takes very good care of). Of course, the story is completely different with Varg Vikernes. As the one responsible for the murder and various church burnings that brought down so much media attention, he is giving his interview from prison. And in contrast to Fenris, he’s clean-cut, in a regular t-shirt. And, his interview is strangely chipper and candid. When I started watching the movie, I thought the roles were switched. I didn’t know too much about this case ahead of time, so at the beginning, I thought Fenris was the one who had committed all the crimes, and that Vikernes was the one giving context by casually chatting about his silly, angsty period. I was actually pretty shocked when I figured out I had it backward. That’s good editing for ya.
I think this documentary will be interesting to anyone interested in different musical or countercultural movements. There’s a lot of meat here. It was a vibrant scene with a rich tapestry of practices and norms. The outfits were pretty fun. It was wildly misunderstood by the mainstream culture. And, of course, there’s the whole Satanic murder scandal. There’s a lot of material to work with here. And, the documentary covers it pretty well. But, I do need to strongly warn you that the film includes some VERY disturbing images of a suicide that it just springs on the audience without any warning. It’s graphic, and very grisly, and the image is honestly going to haunt me for the rest of my days. So, if that’s something you need to avoid to maintain your sanity, skip this film. But, I don’t think it’s enough to warn you away from the movie if you’re interested in learning more about the Black Metal scene. If you’re into that kind of stuff, you’re probably already either desensitized to disturbing images, or have a healthy understanding of why it’s sometimes important to witness tragedy. I’m glad I watched it. But, you should rely on your own judgment for yourself.