Saturday, May 09, 2009

Euronymous's Epistles (pt. 2)

Chagrynn sent me scans of a number of epistles by Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth, answering my call in this post. Needless to say, I'm quite grateful. You can find all letters at the end of this post. The letters are scans of letters he collected throughout several years, having found them on various fansites, blogs and forums.

This post on Euronymous's epistles should be read as a preparatory examination of the primary sources. The examination makes it possible to use the letters in later posts as the raw material to interpret the past.

The letters present different scenes from Aarseth's life as if it were a theater play: each letter opens the curtain, shows us some biographical events, and the curtain closes again until the next scene starts. To make sense of these letters, the reader must do more than comprehend each written text in its isolation. The reader must make the connections between the different letters, using other sources of information on Aarseth's biography to construct a more or less intelligible narrative. That way, a fragment of the story of Aarseth's life, as well as the larger histories of Mayhem and Black Metal, can be read through these letters. The need to read the letters actively is obviated by the fact that they are all without a recipient's full name and address and undated. One needs to put in some effort to place the letters in a likely chronological order on the basis of their content and lay-out.

In my examination, I've proceeded on the assumption that the lay-out of the letters become more elaborately decorated as time passed.

The oldest three are adressed to a 'Morgan', who lives in Sweden. The three letters are typewritten on plain paper, without any specific decorative elements. The adressee is Morgan "Evil" Steinmeyer Håkansson, who was a member of Black Metal bands Marduk and Abruptum. As I do not have Håkansson's letters, I have had to infer their content from Aarseth replies. The first of the three letters must have been written in 1989, as it relates that Merciless's 1989 album The Awakening is about to be released. It is Aarseth's reply to a letter by Håkansson, a letter which is likely to have been the one that started the correspondence as (judging by Aarseth's reply) that letter asked whether Håkansson should write in English or Swedish. The last of the three is likely to have been written in the first quarter of 1990, as it discusses the possibility of playing at a festival in Sweden on May 25th. All three are signed by Aarseth, the autograph accompanied with a small drawn hammer and sickle logo, and words in Cyrillic writing. Some of these words I've been able to decipher as 'ваш друг' (' your friend' in Russian) 'ваш товарищ' ('your comrade' in Russian) - help in further translation would be greatly appreciated, please use the comments box.

Next in the chronology are two letters printed with a dot matrix printer, something for which Aarseth apologizes: "Well I'm sorry about this total [sic] unkind datawritten letter, but I've burned my hand in some chemical experiments (!) of mine so it's hard to write by hand." Aarseth must have felt that epistolary etiquette (or morality?) obliged him to avoid the use of datawriting. Both letters are adorned with an ink stamped 'Mayhem' in a blackletter font, and adressed to a Pocho Metallica, who is living in Argentina. Pocho Metallica is in all probability Alfredo "Pocho Metálica", who since 1985 runs a record label named Hurling Metal Records from Hurlingham, Argentina. I'm guessing these letters are from 1990. The letters discuss Aarseth's network of Metal aficionados in Latin America, as well as the possibility of touring on that continent. The second letter is was written only to make sure the first one arrived. Aarseth's signatures feature the hammer and sickle logo.

The sixth letter is printed on orange-colored stationery, with a "Deathlike Silence Productions" logo in a Blackletter font (albeit a different one from the stamped logo). The letter is an open letter in Norwegian, intended to be read by a wide audience of Metal enthusiasts, and contains information of how to order from DSP. It is a letter of a strictly commercial nature. This letter is probably from the second half of 1990. The text "Carbonized Eyesockets" add a surreal note (carbonized eyesockets - what would they look like? What would they feel like?).

The seventh letter is printed on plain paper, with the same "Deathlike Silence Productions" logo but with an added logo which features the heraldic coat of arms of the People's Republic of Albania and which reads: "Albania 45 years of freedom 1944-1989". The letter opens with "Hej lilla knatten", which Google translates as: "Hey little league". Morgan "Evil" Steinmeyer Håkansson may well be the adressee of the letter, as it discusses the possibility of performing in Sweden and the sale of the Merciless ep - like the first three letters. The letter implies that "Dead" Per Yngve Ohlin is still alive, so it must have been written before April 1991.

The eighth and final letter must date from after Ohlin's self-chosen death on April 8th, 1991, as it discusses his suicide as if it has recently happened. The letter must have been written in the late spring of that year. The first page of this letter has the most elaborate stationery of all. It is decorated with the blackletter "Mayhem" stamp as well as with the Mayhem logo as featured on the Deathcrush ep and De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, a logo which Manheim attributes to "my friend Nella". The Mayhem logo is further embellished with the text "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas", and sinister drawings of a skull and formless embellishments. The second page of this seventh letter is on the same writing paper as the seventh. The letter is written in Norwegian, and discusses Ohlins death with an ice-cold glee. I'm not sure to whom the letter is adressed. The letter is written in Norwegian. On the other hand, the content of the letter points to a Swedish recipient:

"I am now able to sell Morbid Angel boot-legs - "Abominations of Desolation" if someone is interested! SEK 150, - including postage!" (SEK stands for Swedish krona)


"Do you think it is possible to sell some in Sweden?"

Possibly this letter too is adressed to Morgan "Evil" Steinmeyer Håkansson. A more remote possibility is that Aarseth wrote this letter to Metalion, the founder of legendary Norwegian metal magazine Slayer and record label Head Not Found.

The final thing Chagrynn sent me was an autograph which is likely Aarseth's. The autograph does not feature a hammer and sickle logo, and is subtly different from other autographs. Nevertheless, Chagrynn is 99% certain that this is indeed Aarseth´s signature. The text that goes with the autograph is: "May the blue bird of happiness never shit in your tea." A strange, almost surreal text: it is an anti-euphoric blessing, in which blue is associated with happiness instead of with the more usual melancholia and sadness (i.e. the blues). The mention of tea however adds a note of domesticity which is at odds with the anti-euphoric message of the text. This incongruity is what convinces me that the autograph is indeed Aarseth's.

Letters 1-3

Letters 4-5

Letter 6

Letter 7

Letter 8



John said...

I think the Russian in the signature is supposed to say "Дружба народов" (druzhba narodov), meaning "fraternity of peoples". He misspells народов as нородов. It has an interesting anti-Semitic connection, according to wikipedia:

"A seemingly conflicting Soviet policy was the habit to term "enemies of the people" as rootless cosmopolitans, for having no loyalty to the motherland, often targeting Jews." (

Sigivald said...

I'd be shocked if you were unaware of it, but since the text indicates the possiblity, I should note that "the Bluebird of Happiness" is a popular 20th century American song, as well as a longstanding motif.

(I'd paste in the Wikipedia entry as a link, but my software is being ... uncooperative at the moment.)

Chagrynn said...

Awesome article! :))


Axel said...

Enlightening read!

I don't speak bokmål (norwegian), but in swedish "hej lilla knatten" would translate to "hello little boy/brat"

Anonymous said...

"Carbonized Eyesockets" is a Carcass song...

Anonymous said...

"Hej lilla knatten" is Swedish, not Norwegian. Euronymous explains the difference between Swedish and Norwegian pretty well in letter 1.

"May the blue bird of happiness never shit in your tea" is indeed an unusual greeting - probably Norwegian humour; goofy, daft, incongruous, silly, absurd, that kind of thing always gets a laugh around here. "Hej lilla knatten" is a perfectly daft thing to say to a grown-up.

"Söta bror" is "sweet brother", an expression for the relationship between Norway and Sweden - we're like brothers, we might not be friends, and we might not like each other, but we're stuck with each other!