Distorted instruments screeching through the records matched with visuals, band members with long hair, painted faces, and the dizzying durations of head banging pretty much define black metal for most.
But have you ever wondered what inspires these bands? Why do some call this ‘noise’ music? What were they trying to convey? If those questions have ever come into your mind, you are in the right place.
In an interview with The Foreigner, industry stalwarts Erik Hundvin, music partner Davide Bertolini, and Martin Kvam of band Dark Essence reveal answers to these questions about this ‘mysterious music’ and its Norwegian roots.
Erik ‘Pytten’ Hundvin, one of the most well-known producers of Black Metal in Bergen, says the ‘ugly’ sound of those screechy guitars and rawness of the vocals caught his attention almost instantly in 1989. He has never looked back since.
“I have always liked powerful sounds and strong vocals. That sort of music stirs me. I remember the first time I heard Thrash Metal from the US in the 1980s. I was so enamoured by it that I told my kids who had been waiting for their cartoon shows to be tuned into to hold off while I finished listening to the songs! Music has that effect on me,” he says, laughing.
‘Pytten’ explains performing a black metal piece is no child’s play.
“It takes very fit musicians to play the sounds you hear; there is a technique to it. I practiced on my electric guitar several hours a day for over two weeks to play a piece lasting 4 minutes and 47 seconds in a band. This was years back, and even today I feel a shooting pain in my arm muscles.”
His journey with black metal is almost as old as its origin in Norway. In 1989, he met a group of young revolutionary-musicians at his Greighallen studio in Bergen. Varg Vikernes (Burzum), members of Dark Throne, Trelldom and many such bands first recorded with Pytten.
Erik ‘Pytten’ Hundvin
©2013 Shruti Chauhan/The Foreigner“They were young teenagers not older than 14, maybe 15 years. These kids just wanted to challenge the established ways of society. They wanted to revive the Old Norse culture and bring in the culture and customs of the Vikings back into society.”
“They were not pursuing satanic beliefs as was commonly believed. Some of them did, of course, go to the extremes and challenged the existing faith in Norway and burnt religious places to the ground. I don’t support that.
“Having said that, these youngsters were not propagating black magic. I believe talk of Satanism was a media-hype and it appealed to these youngsters when they heard those terms, so they took to the image.”
Martin Kvam, producer of black metal records at Dark Essence says that it is wrongly believed that they were attacking one particular religion.
He says that “their point was to challenge every religion. These artists started out when they were young teenagers and they were only exposed to Christianity. They were not aware of other religions; hence Christianity became their point of target.”
Erik ‘Pytten’ Hundvin’s partner Davide Bertolini joined him in 2000. A young musician from Italy, Bertolini, had no idea what the future had in store for him. Today, he is a producer and has recorded over fifty black metal albums, amongst other genres.
“I confess I was never into black metal before starting out with Pytten. But it is captivating. I remember once that Pytten was busy and asked me to manage recordings for Varg Virkenes. My takeaway from this recording, and the ones that followed, was the realization that this was not just a song.”
“These guys believed in their music and their beliefs, which they put down as lyrics. If you hear them, you instantly feel nature in its strongest of elements. The music can be described as ‘cold as ice’, or like the wind in the forests, or the silent mysterious lakes.”
Pytten and Bertolini believe black metal has become more melodious over the years. The new bands have included softer instruments like keyboards. In one case of one band, which Bertolini refused to name, the flute sound was modified and used.
This change has not gone down too well with the purists, according to Pytten.
“Not everyone can appreciate the rawness of music and some bands have eventually wanted to experiment with new instruments and have commercialized their music to easy listening,” he says.
Black metal producer Martin Kvam believes that there was a time the bands in the late 90s were moving towards softening the music, but have returned to the roots of the music since the early 2000s.
“Early bands from Norway have their roots in raw and powerful sounds. They sang about mythology and everything related to nature. This increasingly appeals today to bands and audiences alike, especially the purists.”
“Most bands from across the globe want to emulate that impact, so they copy the Norwegian bands in one way or another. If it’s not Norse words in the lyrics, then it is a Norwegian name for the band,” he laughs.
Kvam says, however, that bands like Burzum, Mayhem, and Dark Throne are no longer to be seen in Norway. “We have good bands but not great ones.”
“I record with some excellent bands but these are not Norwegian, unfortunately to say. We need to see some more of that old talent in our country revived.”