Sunday, May 31, 2009

Shock Xpress - Nowhere Nice (pt. 5)

In the first article of the third Shock Xpress book (titled 'Shock'), "Five Nights In Nowhere Nice", music journalist David Kerekes tells of his depressing experiences as a subscriber to cable television. Here are some trailers of films mentioned by Kerekes in the article.

The Astro-Zombies (Ted V. Mikels, 1968)

Skinned Alive (Jon Killough, 1990)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Euronymous's Epistles (pt 7)

This may well be the final post in the series "Euronymous's Epistles". Thanks to the generosity of Chagrynn, I've been able to write a series of posts that taken together formed a fragment of the story of Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth's life, as well a fragment as the larger histories of Mayhem and Black Metal, can be read through these letters. I hope that these post have fed your obsession with all things black and blackened; you can read the entire series by clicking on the 'epistles' tag below.

I should very much like to write more about Euronymous's letter-writing, and I am sure that many more letters are lying about in the closets and cupboards of the readers of this blog - even if some, such as fellow blogger Ophis 666, lost the letters in the years since Aarseth's death...

For this reason, I once more call upon the readership of this blog to send scanned versions of any of Aarseth's letters to surrealdocuments [at]

"I Hate ___"

I hate Air

... even if it's a bit obvious.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Det Svarte Alvor

Det Svarte Alvor ("The Black Seriousness") is a Black Metal documentary from NRK, the Norwegian Television, from 1994, directed by Gunnar Grøndahl. Even if the documentary miscontrues Black Metal's theistic Satanism as (atheistic) LaVeyan Satanism, the documentary is interesting enough.

Here is a transcript of the documentary, including information on the production of the documentary.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Euronymous's Epistles (pt 6)


Thanks for the letter. Yes, Goateye is stone dead! He blew his brains out with a shotgun after cutting open all his veins on his wrists and his throat! Brutal as the devil!

Well, the reason for doing this was that he lived only for the EVIL black metal scene, and its lifestyle with rivets, chains, crosses black clothes and hell. Today all "death" metal bands have normal clothing and jogging pants and look as ordinary as they can, and the same goes for the audience who are nothing but trendy little kids with jogging pants and skateboards! When he discovered that only (with a few exceptions) trendy children listened to us and came to concerts, and that all he stood for with the old evil scene was laid to waste by kids and hardcore-moral-political-idiots; he decided to die. I have declared WAR on the trendy children and FALSE "death" metal bands! Normal people should FEAR death metal! They will DIE!

But I must add that it was interesting to be able to study (half) a human brain and rigor mortis. When I found him I naturally got my camera and took CLOSE-ups of the corpse from different angles, and me and Hellhammer found 2 large pieces of the cranium that we have hung in neck chains. The pictures will be used on the Mayhem album. We will NOT disband! No way in hell! We believe a curse has been laid on Mayhem because EVERYTHING goes to hell, but I will NEVER give up! No, we will not attend his funeral because Dead would have HATED that. + it is expensive and he will not notice it much anyway. His mother told us that we have to be there but I don't give a fuck, I'm not a fucking therapist. I'm counting on that our bass player will be there, but that is because he is a sentimental wimp-fucker who didn't even have the guts to see the BLOOD. We will probably have a new bass player soon.

This letter, written by Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth, must be one of the most notorious epistles in the history of Metal, perhaps in the history of music. The letter, which was written following the suicide of "Dead" Per Yngve Ohlin, is notorious because of the cynical harnessing of Ohlin's suicide for Aarseth's aesthetics and ideology; because of Aarseth's refusal to attend Ohlin's funeral; because of the sheer physical revulsion which Aarseth's handling of Ohlin's body evokes; because of its sheer coldheartedness.

Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind's 1998 book Lords of Chaos emphasizes Aarseth's total lack of emotional warmth in responding to Ohlin's suicide. From an interview with Jon "Metalion" Kristiansen, the founder of legendary Norwegian metal magazine Slayer and record label Head Not Found, in that book:

"Euronymous wasn't worried about [the suicide]. It was just like a car accident: "Yeah, Dead killed himself." That's one thing about worshiping death - why worry when people die? Maybe he was upset, but he didn't show it."

It appears that Aarseth must have had a heart of stone.

However, a recent interview with Jørn "Necrobutcher" Stubberud in The Observer casts doubts on Aarseth's supposedly cynical reaction to Ohlin's death.

"'Øystein called me up the next day,' recalls Necro Butcher, 'and says, "Dead has done something really cool! He killed himself." I thought, have you lost it? What do you mean cool? He says, "Relax, I have photos of everything." I was in shock and grief. He was just thinking how to exploit it. So I told him, "OK. Don't even fucking call me before you destroy those pictures."


'In retrospect,' Butcher muses. 'I think Øystein was shocked by Dead's suicide. And taking the photograph was the only way he could cope with it, like, "if I have to see this, then everybody else has to see it too".'

In the same article Bård Eithun states that Ohlin's suicide caused Euronymous to become obsessed with all things satanic and evil. This too points towards a strong emotional reaction on the part of Aarseth to Ohlin's death.

Perhaps the seminal work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross on dying, death and mourning can shed some light on the way Aarseth may have tried to deal with Ohlin's untimely death. On the basis of over 500 interviews with dying people, Kübler-Ross identified five stages by which people deal with grief and tragedy. These stages are 1) denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression and 5) acceptance. In the context of this post, I feel the stages of denial and anger may well be the most relevant.

In Kübler-Ross's theory, after the initial shock caused by the loss of a loved one has worn off, the next stage is often one of denial. When in a state of denial, the bereaved ones effectively close their eyes to any evidence and pretend that nothing has happened. The next step after denial is often a sudden swing into anger, which often occurs in an explosion of emotion, where the bottled-up feelings of the previous stages are expulsed in a huge outpouring of grief. Whoever is in the way is likely to be blamed. The phrase 'Why me?' may be repeated in an endless loop in their heads. A part of this anger is also 'Why not you?', which fuels their anger at the those who are not affected, or perhaps not as seriously so.

In Aarseth's letter, young, fashionable, skateboarding metal aficionados are in the way. Also in the way is Jørn 'Necrobutcher' Stubberud ("the current sentimental wimp-fucker bassplayer") who (unlike Aarseth) is emotionally able to see eye-to-eye with Ohlin's death and attend his funeral. Is, as the interview with Stubberud suggests, the wide distribution of photographs of Ohlin's maimed corpse an act born from anger, a strategy to affect all who were unaffected by Ohlin's death? Is Aarseth's seemingly insensitive refusal to attend Ohlin's funeral a symptom of denial or anger?

In Kübler-Ross's theory, a common problem is that people get stuck in one of phases of the grief cycle. Thus a person may become stuck in denial, never moving on from the position of not accepting the loss of a bereaved one. When it happens, they still keep on denying the loss, such as the person who has lost their job still going into the city, still "going through the motions".

Does it go to far to suppose that the cold yet angry aesthetic of Mayhem's 1994 album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas was a cryptic expression of anger at Ohlin's suicide? Does it go to far to conclude that perhaps the misanthropic rage and draining depression of Black Metal in general was shaped by mourning? Stubberud: "I think it was Dead's suicide that really changed the scene." From the article in The Observer: "'Afterwards, there was a change in mentality,' says Bård Eithun, who believes that Dead's suicide marked the point at which, under Euronymous's direction, the Black Metal scene began its obsession with all things satanic and evil."

Certainly, Dominic Fox's extremely interesting, forthcoming book Cold World puts forward the thesis that later, Depressive Suicidal Black Metal (Xasthur, Nortt) is informed by an aesthetics of mournful dejection. Fox describes Black Metal as a frozen constellation, as a “cold world” voided of both human warmth and metaphysical comfort, as a world made strange, a world that has ceased to be the “life-world”. "The cold world of black metal is a deliberate freezing of the world, fixing it within a terminal image, in order that its frost-bitten surface may be shattered by anonymous, inhuman forces rising from the depths of the self. It is a withdrawal of affect from the world, in order to experience “the eerie bliss and torture of solitude” and so discover the forces at war within oneself. "

Early Norwegian Black Metal was a wrathful rosebud, waiting to bloom into mournful depression.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Shock Xpress - Nowhere Nice (pt. 4)

In the first article of the third Shock Xpress book (titled 'Shock'), "Five Nights In Nowhere Nice", music journalist David Kerekes tells of his experiences as a subscriber to cable television. Here are some trailers of films mentioned by Kerekes in the article.

L'Abîme des Morts Vivants
(Jesus Franco, 1981)

Tian Whang Jou Whang
(Tso Nam Lee, 1976)

Vikernes Released

From the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet:

Out of prison

After almost 16 years in prison, Varg Vikernes (36) is a free man.

"I can confirm that I have been let out of prison," said Vikernes to Dagbladet.

In February this year he received the final message from Prison Authorities that he would be free in the summer.

And a couple of weeks ago he got out.

Vikernes has spent the last couple of years in the so-called open prison in Tromsø, where he has spent much time on studies at the University in the city.

Now he has moved home to the family on a small farm in Telemark, where he lives with his French wife and their eighteen-year-old son.

- "I have to report in for one year. Every fourteenth day at first, then once a month," Vikernes told Dagbladet earlier this year.

Vikernes was imprisoned from 1994 after a verdict (21 years), and was on parole in 2006, but due to a new law that came in 2002, he got two more years.

The 36-year-old got four off the application for parole until he had the final answer.

- "I have barely seen my son since he came to the world. Although I hear his voice on the phone almost every day, it is very tough to not be present when he grows up. I miss my family. And I look forward the day that I can work on the farm, make music, write books and be with your wife and kids around the clock - and live a normal life as a family," said Vikernes to Dagbladet last summer.

Film on "Greven"
In September, the recording of "Lords of chaos" begins - the movie about Vikernes and the Norwegian black metal scene. The film is based on the book "Lord of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal underground" by Didrik Søderlind and Michael Moynihan. Not all the black metal scene is just as excited about visualization.

- "I for one am not very enthusiastic, "said Vikernes to Dagbladet.

- "The events that happened are interesting and fascinating, "said producer Stuart Pollok to Dagbladet.

Vikernes, also known as "Count", was sentenced to 21 years in prison on May 16th 1994 for murder of Øystein Aarseth and to have burned down Åsane church in Bergen, Skjold Church in the world and Holmenkollen Chapel in Oslo - and the attempts of arson in the Big Tveit Church in Bergen.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Euronymous's Epistles (pt 5)

I am the knife and the wound it deals,
I am the slap and the cheek,
I am the wheel and the broken limbs,
hangman and victim both!

I am the vampire at my own veins,
one of the great lost horde
doomed for the rest of my time, and beyond,
'to laugh - and smile no more'.

From "Self-tormentor" by Charles Baudelaire


The letters which Chagrynn sent me, mention several times 'Dead' Per Yngve Ohlin's acts of auto-mutilation. Read in chronological order, the letters tell a story of an escalating infliction of harm to the body.

From the first letter: "And if the gig is very good, Dead will cut himself up and bleed on the audience."

From the second letter: "About Dead, he IS insane. I think those rumours you heard are a bit untrue, he doesn't day ha's [sic] been dead 3 times, but he believes that he's the incarnation of Vlad (Dracula). He cut himself up pretty extreme at a gig we did, and if he gets too drunk he also cuts, but not only himself, unfortunately. At new years eve he almost cut up his artery, but he don't remember anything himself. I do. We had to put handcuffs on him."

The third letter contains a handwritten postscriptum which reads: "P.S. Very important: Dead is probably going to cut himself totally to pieces at one of the gigs (at least), so it's great if you found out where the nearest hospitals are, in case he's dying. Thanks!"

Surprisingly, the final letter, which recounts how Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth found Ohlin's body after his suicide on April 8th 1991, makes no mention of automutilation.


The wikipedia entry on self-injury states: "Self-harm is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) as a symptom of borderline personality disorder and depressive disorders. It is sometimes associated with mental illness, a history of trauma and abuse including emotional abuse, sexual abuse, eating disorders, or mental traits such as low self-esteem or perfectionism, but a statistical analysis is difficult, as many self-injurers conceal their injuries. (...) A common belief regarding self-injury is that it is an attention-seeking behaviour; however, in most cases, this is inaccurate. Many self-injurers are very self-conscious of their wounds and scars and feel guilty about their behavior leading them to go to great lengths to conceal their behavior from others. They may offer alternative explanations for their injuries, or conceal their scars with clothing. Self-injury in such individuals is not associated with suicidal or para-suicidal behavior. The person who self-injures is not usually seeking to end his or her own life; it has been suggested instead that he or she is using self-injury as a coping mechanism to relieve emotional pain or discomfort."

The wikipedia entry shows that Ohlin was an atypical self-injurer in two respects. First, rather than hiding his wounds, Ohlin flaunted his self-injury, cutting himself in front of audiences during Black Metal concerts. Second, Ohlin's self-injury cannot be disassociated from his suicide.


While it seems obvious that there must have been a link between Ohlin's psychological problems and his practice of self-injury, the fact that Ohlin cut himself ostentatiously as part of a Black Metal concert points to the fact that his auto-mutilation was enmeshed with Black Metal culture. Thus, Ohlin's self-injury was not a private practice, but one that was eminently social.

Ohlin cut himself to bleed on his audience. Lacerating the surface of his body, Ohlin opened a channel of communication between himself and the assembled crowd. To paraphrase The Three Degrees: "Blood is the Message". If, in religious ritual, one sacrifices in order to communicate with the gods, Ohlin made libations of his blood to communicate with those who attended the concerts.

The relationship between the quality of the Black Metal concert and Ohlin's public acts of self-injury is particularly interesting: "And if the gig is very good, Dead will cut himself up and bleed on the audience." Evidently, the communal enthusiasm of a succesful Black Metal concert engendered in Ohlin this frightful desire to spill his own blood. This allows me to interpret Ohlin's bloodspilling as part of a cycle of gift exchange between the musician and his audience. When Mayhem's musicians gave themselves over to their Black Metal, the audience reciprocated with a frenzied movement, shaking their heads until their minds were a blur; and when Ohlin, in his turn, accepted the audience's gift of enthusiasm, he gave back his own blood. Blood, a heterogeneous and revolting fluid, charged by Black Metal with hatred and disgust, signalled that the world of self-interest and self-preservation had been abandoned by the artist and challenged the audience to do likewise.

Exceeding the expression of an individual mental disorder, Ohlin's public acts of self-injury can be designated as acts of sacrifice.


Prima facie, Ohlin's self-injury cannot be disassociated from his suicide.

However, Ohlin's suicide note read "Excuse all the blood". This apology implies that it would have been preferable if the blood had been absent. Thus, the suicide note stands in striking contrast to Ohlin's ostentatious spilling of blood. A further contrast between Ohlin's acts of self-injury and his suicide is that while the acts of self-injury were public performances, his suicide was a private act, which took place in a situation of complete social isolation.

From an interview with Jan Axel "Hellhammer" von Blomberg, Mayhem's drummer:

In the beginning of the ’90s we rented an old deserted house in the forest. We needed a place for rehearsals, so we ended up in that house. It would take twenty minutes to get to the nearest shop, and we had to go by train to the nearest town. People who walked by our house, fastened their steps. They were afraid of us. And teachers from the nearby schools told children: “Do not come up to this house. The house is haunted!” Everybody hated us, but we enjoyed it. Euronymous was busy with his label and spent all the days typing something. I played drums and Dead would lock in his room being permanently depressed. So that was the way we lived: each of us was in his own world. Euronymous and Dead didn’t get along well. Dead didn’t trust Euronymous. The verbal fights turned to real bloody beatings. I got tired of their quarrels and moved to my grandmother’s, coming back merely to rehears. One day I decided to go to Oslo with my friends. Before the departure I met Dead. He was grim and depressed: “Look, I bought a big knife. It’s very sharp.” Those were the last words I heard from him.

Euronymous was leaving with me that day. He went to town on his label’s business. Some days later, when Euronymous came back, the house looked deserted. The front door was locked and there was no key in our secret place. Euronymous went round the house and noticed that the window to Dead’s room was opened. He got to the house and saw Dead lying on the floor: a part of his head was blown away by the gun’s shot. Euronymous hitchhiked a car to the nearest town to buy a film for camera. Then he returned and made a shot of Dead’s corpse. I was surprised at having noticed that the knife laid on the gun. It should lay under it... May be Euronymous never went to town that day... When Euronymous called me, he was not talkative. “Dead went back home,” he said. “Back to Sweden?” I wondered. “No, he’s blown his head.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Shock Xpress - Nowhere Nice (pt. 3)

In the first article of the third Shock Xpress book (titled 'Shock'), "Five Nights In Nowhere Nice", music journalist David Kerekes tells of his experiences as a subscriber to cable television. Here are some trailers of films mentioned by Kerekes in the article.

Troma's War (Michael Herz & Lloyd Kaufman, 1988)

Sleepaway Camp (Robert Hiltzik, 1983)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Euronymous's Epistles (pt 4)

Chagrynn sent me a handwritten interview with Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth. It is reproduced below.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Shock Xpress - Nowhere Nice (pt. 2)

In the first article of the third Shock Xpress book (titled 'Shock'), "Five Nights In Nowhere Nice", music journalist David Kerekes tells of his experiences as a subscriber to cable television. Here are some trailers of films mentioned by Kerekes in the article.

The Toxic Avenger, Part II (Michael Herz & Lloyd Kaufman, 1989)

Eaten Alive
(Tobe Hooper, 1977)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Euronymous's Epistles (pt. 3) - the political economy of DSP

The letters which Chagrynn sent me, allow analysis of the economic side of Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth's independent record label, Deathlike Silence Productions (DSP). An analysis of the economic side of Aarseth's work is relevant for the understanding of Black Metal, as Black Metal should be seen as a Maussian 'total social phenomenon' rather than only a musical one. Black Metal is a aesthetic, religious, mythological, (counter-)juridical, economical and social phenomenon. Black Metal is bound up with all kinds of sociological institutions. The letters which Chagrynn sent me allow me to understand the way Aarseth conducted DSP in the socio-cultural context of that record label.

In the first letter to Morgan "Evil" Håkansson, DSP is still in a very early stage: "Yeah, we're distributing some records, we'll make a list when we get more. We must get DSP registered as a firm first also. But we quit the idea of making it non profit, because this takes so much time - I'm working 15 hours at least each day, so it'd just kill us." DSP's working methods were rather informal: "I don't know if you are interested in sending money first, that helps us a LOT in the process of starting up this label, we are really low on cash, but if you also are, I'm sending you the records first, and you can send cash when they're sold. It's up to you."

Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind in their 1998 book Lords of Chaos see this way of running DSP as evidence of Aarseth's ineptitude as a businessman.

What strikes me about this letter is the level of trust, the cooperative character of the behavior. Following Francis Fukuyama's 1995 book Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity, I'd argue that this level of trust not only point to a set of norms shared within music-oriented youth subcultures, but to a high level of trust in Scandinavian society in general. High-trust societies, like Norway and Sweden, do not have the need to negotiate and often litigate rules and regulations, that low-trust societies (China, France, Italy, Korea) have. From this perspective, Moynihan's disparaging remarks on Aarseth's business acumen might well reflect his American background, the USA being a relatively individualistic, low-trust (cynical) society compared to Scandinavia. Furthermore, one might hypothesize that Moynihan's view of Aarseth's naive or trusting way of doing bussiness also reflect Moynihan's LaVeyan Satanist ideology. This ideology promotes egoism in the form of an Ayn Randian agonistic capitalism with religious trappings. Aarseth opposed LaVeyan Satanism on theological and ideological grounds: "I can also say that I will NEVER accept any band which preaches CHURCH OF SATAN ideas, as they are just a bunch of freedom, and life-loving atheists, and they stand exactly the opposite of me." (sourced here)

By the time the second letter is written, Aarseth's ambitions have grown considerably. He hopes to expand DSP's operations by recruiting Håkansson as a representative of DSP in Sweden. "The plan is to organize a network of concert arrangers under the name Deathlike Silence also, so that a lot of bands can keep touring in different countries without problems. The idea is (to explain shortly) to get a guy to start up DEATHLIKE SILENCE SWEDEN, and manage the whole network with record distribution, concert arranging, promotion, etc etc, and even start up a shop only for underground stuff. He'll start up all those things as different departments, and get a guy to be the chief of record distribution, one for concert arranging and so on. In the end we'd have a great network for death metal which would be totally independent of the commercial market which is controlled by the big labels. So I was wandering if you'd like to join in as the chief of the DSP concert arranging department in Sweden or something?"

Aarseth's dreams of DSP as an multinational underground organization are a little grandiose, the type of fantasy inexperienced young people often have (Aarseth was only 21 at the time). I'm reminded of a friend, in his early twenties, one night proposed to start an tv station with a small group of friends - long before the Internet started to make such plans even remotely feasible. Nevertheless, this friend now runs a film production company, which proves that even the most unrealistic dreams can provide the impetus for very real businesses. Rather than proof of a lack of entrepreneurial skill, these dreams betray ambition.

Furthermore, one does not need to stretch the imagination to see residual traces of Socialist ideals in Aarseth's proposal. In effect, Aarseth proposes that DSP should become a musicians' cooperative, a business organization owned and operated by a group of Black Metal musicians and concert arrangers for their mutual benefit. Such cooperatives have their roots in Socialism. It should be borne in mind that Aarseth at the time was a member of a radical left wing political group called Rød Ungdom ("Red Youth"). A hammer and sickle (), symbol of Communism, are carefully drawn under each and every letter as part of Aarseth's signature, underlining the importance of Socialist ideas for Aarseth's personal identity.

The letters to Pocho Metallica, as well as the letters to Morgan "Evil" Håkansson, make clear how important the international underground network of Metal aficionados was for the functioning of DSP. "Now I have a big request for you, if you know any DEATH METAL bands from ARGENTINA, URUGUAY, BOLIVIA, PARAGUAY, or VENEZUELA, could you please tell them to write or give me their adress? I'm dying to get in touch with people from there! (...) Do you think that there would be any chance of setting up a Mayhem gig in ARGENTINA one day? It'd be a fucking dream coming true to play in South America! We have got great contacts in COLOMBIA now, at the end of this letter I will give you a couple of adresses! I suppose that you remember that I had my own record label (DEATHLIKE SILENCE), well now I'm looking for distributors all over the world, and I was wondering if you were interested in helping me! Everybody who sell [sic] at least 10 copies (or preferably more) of one album, will receive one free copy, + they can sell it for as much as they want. (...) You'll of course pay when you've sold them."

What is conspicuous about the relationships which the letters describe, is the absence of bargaining and negotiation. The relationships which were set up under the sign of DSP appear to be closer to the spirit of gift exchange than that of trade. Unlike 'normal' capitalistic relationships, the objects which Aarseth distributed through DSP were inseparable from the concrete relations in which they were exchanged, they were inseparable from the transferential pact which they sealed between Aarseth and the Metal aficionados with whom he exchanged letters. DSP can be seen as a ceremonial exchange system, as Black Metal Kula Ring. The DSP records had a value which exceeded (and, in a sense, undermined) their economic exchange value: a symbolic exchange value. Undermined? Yes, symbolic exchange should be primarily seen as a giving-away, as a loss.

The band members of Mayhem were as poor as church rats. The first letter explains: "And we'd like to at least get our expenses paid, we wont charge anything, but if you have the possibility to get us some cash for the gig(s), we won't mind too much... we're really broke, and it's great to get some money to help us to survive." From the second letter: "We didn't have places to stay for a while, Dead even had to live in a car." From the third letter: "We are fucking broke, else we might have afforded to pay some ourselves, we don't even have food here, sorry!" From the eighth letter: "Concerning the money you mentioned in your last letter to the goat, (for Merciless), take all the time you need. But we ARE very broke..."

If we relate Aarseth's grinding poverty to the 15 hour work day mentioned in the first letter, we are inevitably led to the conclusion that (regardless of Aarseth's entrepreneurial acumen) DSP wasn't successful from a commercial point of view. From an economic perspective, it was a waste of time. However, from a broader perspective however, the expenditure of the energy required for a 15 hour work day for an commercially unfeasible goal reveals DSP to be a 'labor of love', which does not answer the need for profit.

In an interview, Aarseth mentions dreaming of becoming rich: "I’d just like to have extremely much money. Then DSP would be a big company, we would all have the POWER in this part of the music business, and I would live in luxury with a harem and watch the children in Africa starve to death on video." However, I see these nauseating statements merely as attempts to shock the audiences of the interviews by transgressing the humanitarian, social-democrat ideals which dominated Norway at the time. They can not be interpreted as a genuine desire to accumulate capital - if it had been, Aarseth would have chosen a more remunerative line of work than Black Metal musician!

If DSP doesn't answer the need for profit, to what does it answer? To examine this, I turn to the Black Metal content of DSP's products - music recordings and concerts.

Mayhem's Black Metal is a music which aims to provoke dread and horror through symbolic representations of tragic loss (degradation and death). It would go too far beyond the scope of the present post to analyze thoroughly the many ways in which unproductive expenditure is thematized in Mayhem's music: war, Satanic cultism, spectacles, cannibalism, and perverse sexual activity (sodomy, which deflects sexuality from genital finality) are perhaps the most important. All these represent activities which - at least in the primitive culture of Black Metal - have no end beyond themselves. They are not meant to be productive, but on the contrary waste utilitarian objects and human bodies.

As for the concerts: Mayhem may well be seen as a Satanic cult which requires a bloody wasting of animals in sacrifice - pigs specifically, whose putrescent heads are displayed on stakes during Mayhem concerts. As Aarseth warned Morgan "Evil" Håkansson in the first letter : "But be aware that we're having a pretty disgusting show, which includes pig heads on stakes, stench of corpses/rotting meat on stage, and some cool effects like that. And if the gig is very good, Dead will cut himself up and bleed on the audience." And from the third letter: "What more? Yeah, the stage show! If we had a car, we could bring some pig heads and stuff ourselves, but that's not possible in a plane. So if you can get some heads for us, it would be fucking great, it's hard to get the right concert feeling without. The best would be to have 4 heads on each gig, they will be destroyed during the gig! Tell me what you think! If you have to order from a butcher, you'd better do it pretty fast, as it probably takes some time for him to get them. Heads from pigs, goats, cows, horses and oxen are great. It's pretty important! Fuck, would I like to see that show with the butchery of a goat!"

These wasteful practices provide a symbolic context from which to analyze Aarseth's activities under the banner of DSP. They provide us with a background which helps us understand why Aarseth would work at least fifteen hours a day for no profit to speak of; and why DSP's practices resemble gift exchange rather than 'normal' business strategies.

DSP's activities cannot be reduced entirely to processes of capitalistic production and accumulation. DSP also answers a need to lose and squander. It presents us not so much with a for-profit enterprise, but primarily with a means for unproductive expenditure. The economic functioning of DSP is not so much the result of Aarseth's possible ineptitude as a businessman, but of the fact that DSP aimed at limitless expenditure.

Interpreted this way, it be becomes clear that DSP was a 'total social phenomenon' rather than merely a capitalistic one. DSP was bound up inextricably with the aesthetic, religious, mythological, and social phenomenon that is Black Metal. To paraphrase Bataille, Black Metal condemns the musician to "...the most disappointing form of activity, to misery, to despair, to the pursuit of inconsistent shadows that provide nothing but vertigo or rage." The Black Metal musician can use his music only for his own loss.

Post scriptum

Scanned versions of any of Aarseth's letters are still extremely welcome! Please send them to surrealdocuments [at]

Here is a YouTube video which compiles songs from albums that were released by Deathlike Silence Productions.

Here (link) is a page with the DSP discography.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Shock Xpress - Nowhere Nice (pt. 1)

In the first article of the third Shock Xpress book (titled 'Shock'), music journalist David Kerekes tells of his experiences as a subscriber to cable television: "There is a hole in the TV time continuum. It is in my house. Newcomers to satellite or cable television will recognize the affliction known as channel hopping. Bouncing through the stations, one after another, not really watching anything in particular. I turn on my newly acquired cable TV access and commence to channel hop - a woman gives birth, a lion jumps over a small wall and mauls several other animals, advisertisement, advisertisement, advisertisement, Mountain plays a song, a football match from 1987 is re-run, a shark rams the cage from which a diver observes... On station 35 I hesitate."

Here are some trailers of films mentioned by Kerekes in the article, "Five Nights In Nowhere Nice".

Flesheater (S. William Hinzman, 1988)

Les Mémés Cannibales (Emmanuel Kervyn, 1988)

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


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Shock Xpress - Walerian Borowczyk

The penultimate article in the second Shock Xpress book is written by Colin Davis and discusses the career of Polish filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk. Surprisingly, there are only two trailers for Borowczyk on YouTube.

La Bête
(Walerian Borowczyk, 1975)

Docteur Jekyll Et Les Femmes
(Walerian Borowczyk, 1981)

Berlinde De Bruyckere

Amazing stuff!

Brought to you courtesy of the Great Baarsini...

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Sunn 0))) vs. Kode9

From Derek Walmsley's interview with Kode9 in The Wire 303: "When dubstep was bogged down in too much stodgy bass, Hyperdub switched to crisp, super-light 8-bit electronics. In an era when dance music is generally self-satisfied and commercially bloated, Hyperdub releases short, sharp tracks like acupuncture darts aimed at the pleasure centers. And the self-titled debut by Burial - The Wire's album of the year in 2006 - was an emotionally overwhelming experience in a decade where sincerity is often seen as a sign of weakness. Meanwhile, Kode9's own music has suggested viable escape routes from the electronic dance continuum formulaic deadlock. When most London producers were bragging about bass weight in 2007, like kid comparing their souped-up cars, "Magnetic City" and "Stung" took graceful spins in a hover speeder. More recently, the slithering synths and Latin-inflected rhythms of "Black Sun" and "2 Far Gone" suggest Herbie Hancock sweating out heavy psychedelics, tie askew and forcing his group out of their comfort zone."

From Joseph Stannard's interview with Sunn 0))) in The Wire 302: "The walls of O'Malley's Paris appartment stare back, as he plays me [Sunn 0)))'s new album] Monoliths and Dimensions. (...) The final track on Monoliths, "Alice", begins quietly, gradually gathering itself, recalling the gritty, graceful film scores of Ennio Morricone and Bernard Hermann. There are atmospheric echoes of recent Earth, whose guitarist Dylan Carlson appears elsewhere on the album; so far, so lugubrious. Minutes from the end, however, an unexpected shift occurs. The tolling guitars recede and the listener is guided to a space somewhere between ecstatic harp-adorned reveries of the song's subject, Alice Coltrane, and the bittersweet haze of Miles Davis's "In A Silent Way/It's about that time" and "He Loved Him Madly". Into the space vacated by the song's stunning, climactic trombone solo, O'Malley projects a single word: "Priester".
He's referring to Julian Priester, veteran jazz musician, alumnus of Sun Ra's Arkestra, John Coltrane's Africa/Brass ensemble and Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi group, and initiator of two fine examples of spacious electric jazz, 1974's Love, Love and 77's Polarization. That Priester should deliver the final note on an album by this particular duo is surprising; that his musical heritage should prove so influential on their music, doubly so. There has often been a kind of lumbering, monumental grace to Sunn 0)))'s music, but it has seldom produced anything that could so readily be termed soulful, or even beautiful."

Am I the only one reading/hearing a parallel development? I've heard parallels between Dubstep and Sunn 0)))'s music before, and now I'm hearing them again!

From the two interviews, it would appear that both Sunn 0))) and Kode9 are turning away from stark, gloomy meditations on bass weight; and that both are turning to graceful, Herbie Hancock-influenced psychedelic Jazz.

Of course, it could be that the parallel development reflects not so much a convergent evolution of the musics, but the latest fad in the offices of The Wire. Assuming, however, that this is not the case, assuming that there actually are parallels, one wonders: "What does it mean?" Does the development reflect the recent political progress in the United State? Is it primarily an artistic/aesthetic process which is not related to changes in society in any relevant way? Or is it something else entirely?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Shock Xpress - Frederick R. Friedel

From an article by David Kerekes titled "Huh? Two Films By Frederick R. Friedel", in the second Shock Xpress Book:

"[Friedel's] command of action sequences and tension is good, but when he puts his players in an old farmhouse with a homicidal teenager, or into a barn following the rapture of a kidnapping, what aught to constitute atmosphere just comes out a sticky mess."

Axe (Frederick R. Friedel, 1977)

Friday, May 01, 2009

Deathlike Silence and Sodomy

"Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous..." (Genesis 18:20)

In trying to understand the enigma that is the Norwegian Black Metal scene in the late eighties and early nineties, an important strategy is researching and analyzing the web of significance spun around the music. "The concept of culture I espouse. . . is essentially a semiotic one. Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretative one in search of meaning. It is explication I am after. . . . " (Clifford Geertz in "The Interpretation of Cultures").

The German Thrash Metal band Sodom forms an important strand of Black Metal's web of significance, because that band was a very important influence on Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth, the mastermind of Black Metal band Mayhem. Sodom is mentioned in almost every interview with Aarseth.

Aarseth's independent record label 'Deathlike Silence Productions' was named after a song by Sodom, the opening song from their 1986 debut album 'Obsessed By Cruelty'. The lyrics - full of spelling errors and unintentionally funny - are reproduced from the band's web site below. There you will also find a YouTube video of the song. In this interview, Aarseth described the album as an underrated "Masterpiece of Black Stinking Metal".

As an aside, 'Deathlike Silence Productions' must be one of the most poetical names in the music industry.Why? Because 'silence' is a word which is not a word, it is (as Bataille said in Inner Experience) the abolition of the sound that the word is. "Among all words, it is the most perverse, or the most poetic: it is the token of its own death." For this reason, the word 'deathlike' is the perfect adjective for the word 'silence'.

Sodom is relevant to Mayhem for another reason: the name of the German Thrash Metal band refers to the eponymous biblical city which was destroyed by "brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven" (Genesis 19:24-25). In Christian thought, the sin for which God meted out punishment to the inhabitants of Sodom was anal intercourse. Sodomy is a term used predominantly to describe male-on-male, but also male-on-female, anal intercourse.

Aarseth was an ardent proponent of anal intercourse, which he called 'Sodomy', because he regarded it as an "evil" act. It may be useful to compare and contrat Aarseth's view of sodomy with that of the Divine Marquis. From Pierre Klossowski's Sade My Neighbour: "For Sade, the sodomist act is the supreme form of transgression of norms (which suggests their paradoxical maintainance); at the same time it must be the way to transgress the different cases of perversion and thus to constitute the principle of affinity among the perversions. For, like a callipygian test, this act suppresses the specific borders between the sexes and according to Sade constitutes the key sign for all perversions. Having interpreted morally this act as a testimony of atheism and a declaration of war on the norms inherited from monotheism, Sade then projects perversion into the domain of thought. There integral monstrosity forms a sort of space for minds that communicate with another by the mutual understanding of this key sign."

Did anal intercourse in Aarseth's view suppress the specific borders between the sexes? None of the primary biographical sources on Aarseth provide any clarity on this point. Nevertheless, it is striking that even if homosexuality is a taboo generally left untransgressed in Metal culture, Aarseth never specified that he was referring only to male-on-female anal intercourse. In the oeuvre of Swedish Black Metal band Marduk - whose Morgan "Evil" Steinmeyer Håkansson maintained close ties with Aarseth - sodomy had connotations of homo-erotic sadism ('Christraping Black Metal').

"War and Sodomy" was a kind of battle cry for Aarseth. So closely was this rallying cry for sodomites associated with Aarseth's Black Metal aesthetic, that it became the title of the bootleg recording of a Mayhem concert in Zeitz, Germany, on November 24th 1990 (though the album cover mentions that it was recorded in East Germany, the concert in fact took place a month and two weeks after German reunification). That he used "War and Sodomy" as a battle cry in so many interviews, may well point to the fact that for Aarseth too the sodomic act was the supreme form of transgression of norms, as the key sign for all perversions. (Interestingly, war is an important theme for Sodom, but they approach the theme from an anti-war perspective - other than Aarseth).

Sodomy has become an important trope in Black Metal. A quick search on Black Metal audio blog Dunkelheit turns up no less than seventeen bands which use sodomy as a sign of evil: "Black Metal Sodomy", "In The Dark And Sodomy", "Sado Terrorism (Or the Nuklear Sodomy)", "Genocide Sodomy", "Sacred Sodomy", "Angel of Sodomy", "Sodomy of Holy Children", "War, Whiskey, Sodomy", not to mention the tasteful "Cadaveric Leather Sodomy". It does not go too far to conclude that Black Metal aficionados communicate with another by the mutual understanding of the key sign which is sodomy.

However, there is one crucial difference between Sade's view of sodomy and that of Aarseth. Aarseth, being a theistic Satanist, could not have seen sodomy as a testimony of atheism. In fact, Aarseth opposed atheism: "I believe in a horned devil, a personified Satan. In my opinion all the other forms of Satanism are bullshit. I hate that some people think up idiotic ways of making eternal peace in the world and dare to call it Satanism, like so many do. Satanism comes from religious Christianity, and there it shall stay. I'm a religious person and I will fight those who misuse His name. People are not supposed to believe in themselves and be individualists. They are supposed to OBEY, to be the SLAVES of religion." (sourced here). Even if Aarseth waged war on Christianity, and even if sodomy was a weapon in that war, paradoxically for Aarseth sodomy also was an affirmation of the norms inherited from Christianity.

Sodom - Deathlike Silence

A twilight was in my mind
Fulfilled of suspended bare foreboding
Great erhaulted forms of life
Touched me by my nightmare
Feel the inflamed impression in my soul
Appeared that I get blessed

Deathlike silence
Deathlike silence

Trustful eyes look up to me
Bring they harm in my exsist
Terrible things revelated the curse
A petual attemp to blasphemic cruelty
Revelated me to that what i am
I hear it, feel it the weird...

Deathlike silence
Deathlike silence

Grasp the sneep tamed snake
Drink fertite poison without ingure
Men spotless and pure heart
True secret as grave
Master of earth and all on it

No reason to vespair
Ready to fo though hell
Always known the fate
Morbid addication to pain

Talk to me in a prophetic sound
I am choosen to saw the true
That have rage as no earthly calamity
Looking for the centre of labyrinth
But its known in my unconscious mind
Escape to myself coined of envy

Deathlike silence
Deathlike silence

No reason to bespair
Ready to go through hell
Always know the fate
Morbid addication to pain

Deathlike silence
Deathlike silence

Fortify at a namn abness of deep
Intinite space of human existence
Broken is my lords foul work
Burst rebellious shouts of deads
All accurse by...

Deathlike silence
Deathlike silence