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Until The Light Takes Us

Field Pictures
Factory 25 (North America)

Until The Light Takes Us - DVD coverOK, first things first. Until The Light Takes Us isn’t really a music movie. It’s not a musical, for a start, though that would be awesome. Can you fucking IMAGINE how awesome that would be??? It isn’t a musical, though. It’s not even a movie ABOUT music, because while it DOES talk about the music, it moves swiftly on. It’s kind of a movie about musicians, because all its leading characters are musicians, but their musicianship is not really the issue — fuck it. Let’s start here. Let’s get that can, rip the lid off and chuck the worms out onto the newly-painted floor. Until The Light Takes Us is about Norwegian Black Metal.

Right, here’s the bit where we have these conversations-

Ah, Norwegian Black Metal, right? That’s the stuff with the really fast drums and the trebly guitars and the screaming, right?

Well… kinda…

Ah, Norwegian Black Metal, right? That’s the stuff with the Nazis and the murders and the church-burnings, right?

Well… kinda…

Ah, Norwegian Black Metal, right? That’s the stuff where the metal dudes missed the part where Venom and Black Sabbath were actually taking the piss with all the Satan stuff and went a bit mental about it, right?

Well, again… kinda…

But you’re all wrong. Kinda. It’s not that simple.

Nothing ever is.

Here we go.

Until The Light Takes Us - posterYou all, I’m sure, know the basics of the story. And if you don’t, I’m not going to spoil it for you. But what Until The Light Takes Us does is put a very human face on it. We hang out with Fenriz from Darkthrone as he bumbles his way round Oslo looking confused. We visit Varg Vikernes from Burzum as he spends time with his beard in a maximum security prison. We meet Hellhammer of Mayhem as he sits on some steps and commends Faust from Emperor for killing “that faggot.” (We don’t like him much, it has to be said). We even get to chill with a couple of guys from Immortal who weren’t involved in the events but ARE sitting in a pub, so that’s OK. And we see Satyricon‘s Frost for an interesting but pretty superfluous taste of the modern NBM scene.

In short, we meet the people behind the headlines and the corpsepaint. And they are, as is almost always the case, far more complex and interesting personalities than we had been led to believe by the other accounts of the whole malarkey. We all knew what happened, and what they did, but I never really knew who it was who did it. Not beyond a few names and potted biographies.

For fairly obvious reasons, Fenriz is our main point of contact. Hellhammer’s too unpleasant (and is the closest to the way I had imagined these people to be), and Varg’s too — well, he’s too in prison to do any moody walking through snowy forests, which is kind of necessary for a film like this. Fenriz comes across, more than anything, as a metal dude. He seems the most bothered by things, and also seems quite confused as to how it all came about, in much the same way you or I would be. More than anyone else, Fenriz puts the human face on things. He’s amiable, polite, chatty — he has a permanent air of tiredness and acceptance to him, whether he’s being taken round an exhibition of photographs from the black metal scene (including, obviously, a fair few shots of his dead friends) or being busted on a train for having a tear gas canister. There’s something endearing about him, something which gives the whole thing a slight air of Spinal Tap. In short, he’s the kind of guy you’d happily go for a beer with.

Varg Vikernes, on the other hand – he’s the kind of guy you’d meet at a party, be fascinated by and listen to for hours, and then when you were on your way home start thinking, “Whoah, that guy was pretty fucking scary. Did he really MEAN all that?” Varg is, of course, the main character in the story. At the time of filming, he was still in prison for the murder of Øystein Aarseth (or Euronymous), and unrepentant. He’s polite, articulate, and very intelligent, about as far from the pictures of the scowling youth we’re familiar with as it is possible to be. His eyes shine with amusement as he tells the story from his point of view – he seems mildly amused by everything, in an “I can’t believe everyone in the world except me is so fucking stupid” sort of way. “And, of course, they found Dead… dead! In bed!” he says at one point. He’s had a long time to think, and a long time to either articulate, or invent, the idea that the church-burnings were nothing to do with Satanism and everything to do with Nordic identity. It’s all so muddled now it’s hard for an outsider to tell how much this is true, and whether it was true for anyone else, or just for Varg, who has largely concentrated on fascism since his imprisonment. One gets the suspicion he and Boyd Rice would be very good friends, if they aren’t already.

Until The Light Takes Us isn’t going to tell you anything you didn’t already know, or that hasn’t been covered in the music press or Lords Of Chaos. What it will do is give you a new way of looking at things. A human way. There are still just as many unanswered questions as there ever were — as Fenriz says at the beginning, “how did this happen?” — but they all seem, if anything, even more muddied and blurred once we’ve got to know some of the participants as people. And it is this, more than anything, which makes it compulsory viewing. And compulsive, too — it’s a very watchable film, pitched perfectly between Spinal Tap and Paradise Lost (the classic 1996 documentary about the West Memphis 3) — it’s a film which recognises the ludicrous nature of its subject matter, while still respecting that same subject matter’s abject seriousness. In short, it’s up there with Lords Of Chaos as a necessary source for anyone wanting to understand the bizarre events and personalities surrounding, and birthed from, the original Norwegian black metal scene.

-De Mysteriis Dom Deuteronemu 90210-

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