By Zach Sokol
The roots of metal stem from British and American musicians living in working-class neighborhoods—mid- to late-1960s acts like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Deep Purple, as well as Blue Oyster Cult, MC5, and The Stooges—who infused classic rock ‘n’ roll with heavier riffs, louder distortion, and more sinister lyrics and aesthetic tropes.
Metal would evolve constantly and complicatedly over the following decades, eventually splintering into countless subgenres: power metal, the “new wave of British heavy metal,” progressive metal, thrash metal, black metal, Norwegian black metal, death metal, Swedish death metal, grindcore, metalcore, stoner metal, industrial metal, nu-metal, and even Kawaii metal (sometimes described as “cute metal”). Each branch has its own codes, cues, cliques, and quirks in both sound and style, as well as diehard legions that follow their preferred sub-subgenre or particular band as if it were a religion. (In the case of Norwegian black metal, the votary was quite literal, as the Scandinavian metal community of the early 1990s became overtly tied to Satanism and anti-Christian practices.)
Though the differences among, say, the virulent blast-beats of black metal bands like Venom and the viscous sludge and turn-it-up-to-11 distortion of stoner metal groups like Sleep and Kyuss could not be more pronounced, the disparate scenes all share a certain ethos that transcends pentagrams, devil-horn hand gestures, rippin’ guitar solos, guttural singing, and face paint. A number of excellent photo projects have attempted to highlight the fans and bands that have made this cult music genre more than the sum of its parts.
“I am unafraid to photographically explore that which society might deem politically incorrect,” explains American documentary photographer Peter Beste, whose oeuvre has spotlighted music subcultures such as Houston rap, London grime, and especially Scandinavian black metal.
The latter genre has one of the most violent and nefarious histories of all of metal’s substrata, burgeoning in the early 1990s with Norwegian groups like Mayhem, Burzum, and Gorgoroth, who built off the extreme sound developed by earlier European acts like Zurich’s Celtic Frost, Copenhagen’s Mercyful Fate, and Sweden’s Bathory.
Known for theatrical “corpse paint,” misanthropic worldviews, and a public embrace of Satanism and vitriolic anti-Christianity, Scandinavian black metal (sometimes nicknamed “Satanic black metal”) established a global presence after members of the scene incited a wave of arson attacks against historic churches throughout Norway. In 1994, Varg Vikernes of Burzum was found guilty of both burning down several churches and murdering Mayhem guitarist Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth, effectively establishing the country’s music underground as the most brutal faction within all of metal. (For context, Mayhem’s singer, Per Yngve “Dead” Ohlin, had committed suicide three years prior, and Euronymous allegedly fashioned pieces of his skull into necklaces.)
Sanna Charles, God Listens to Slayer, 2015. Published by Ditto Books.
Beste documented the Norwegian metal scene for many years, gaining access to its insular and cultish heart. VICE Booksreleased Beste’s monograph, True Norwegian Black Metal, in 2008. His photo work showcases the deadpan morbidity and self-seriousness of this fringe community; we see band members from acts like Darkthrone and Carpathian Forest wearing face paint and leather, brandishing weapons on the streets of Bergen and other black-metal hubs. Rather than purely glamorize the anarchic bands or attempt to rewrite history, Beste sought to “portray the various groups documented as they express themselves, without reference to outside opinions or ideologies.” Whether it’s a shot of disembodied sheep heads on display at a concert or a photo of vocalist Nattefrost “covered in his own shit,” the documentarian lets the bleak imagery speak for itself…………………..