Traditionally labeled as one of the most abrasive, cold, decadent and violent, Black Metal is often described, especially by modern, artistically minded musicians, as a genre filled with “corpse painted Satanic clowns” (Thank you, Blut Aus Nord). Its second wave is very much filled with aggressive, violently anti-religious sentiment and thought, culminating in the murder of Euronymous by Varg Vikernes of Mayhem/Burzum (this is a reason why I refuse to purchase his albums). Around the world, people that espouse far right political views to teach hatred, fear, misogyny, and racism often cling to the sonic atmosphere crafted by this genre (which is the reason why Alcest is such an amazing musician to craft warmth into an atmosphere so damned cold). Those these are shunned by the mainstream audience and musicians that perform this music.
For the uninitiated, Black Metal rose from the UK and Sweden almost simultaneously with the coming of two bands: Venom’s Black Metal (which turned 30 this week) and Bathory’s Bathory. Its instrumentation is standard: guitars, a bass, and drums. The guitars are typically heavily distorted, played in high pitch with the use of tremolo picking. Dissonance and the use of the tri-tone is commonly found, while the bass guitar is faded down even further in the mix than thrash metal (e.g: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer). Drums are used as an engine: providing double bass and blast beats. The genre is typically very lowly produced and offers an individualistic approach to music (see the prevalence of one man black metal bands around, such as Blut Aus Nord, Alcest [for the most part], Aquilius). Traditionally, the vocals, as founded by Quothorn from Bathory, are shrieking, rasping, and high pitched. The imagery evoked by these bands are decidedly anti-Christian or anti-religious, some bring in fantasy and philosophy, and others violence or anarchism (similar to punk). Like other genres, black metal began dividing out into its own sub-genres.
Noting all the above and the general demography of metal fans, the genre is renown for being primarily masculine (women are beginning in roads now, specifically in the Middle East). However, a curious irregularity is found on one the seminal Black Metal releases: 1988’s Blood Fire Death by Sweden’s Bathory. One of the album’s most celebrated songs, “For All Those Who Have Died,” shares lyrical similarities to the Erica Jong poem from 1981’s Witches, “For All Those Who Have Died” (For the texts of the two pieces, go HERE for Bathory’s and HERE for Jong’s). Left Hand Path demonstrates controversies over the use of art by Jos Smith for Jong’s collection of poems for Bathory’s imagery (this article can be found HERE).
Jong’s poem speaks of the historical trials of femininity and the tortures a woman could endure for “delivering man into an imperfect world.” Quorthon’s lyrics remove gender from the equation; however, focus on similar images of bodies breaking on the wheel, and having to die to be cleansed of the sins for which they died. It offers a marginally different look at the same theme.
However, more to the point, this speaks more to the fact that Quorthon had actually involved himself emotionally enough with this feminine work that he brought it in song to the Black Metal world, even using the following lines from the poem directly: “For all those whose great beauty/ stirred their tortures to rage/ And for all those whose great ugliness/ Did the same.” While later attributed to Jong’s poem, Quorthon never directly expressed himself on this subject (a decision that likely prevented him from being pushed even farther to musical obscurity). The fact merely remains that the musician read this poem from the collection of poems, he consolidated it and refined the lyrics to obviously and admittedly away from the purely feminist tone of the original, and further expressed it to a wider audience. Conversely, another means of looking at this is that he profited off the work of another; however, noting some of his attitude during interviews and other information, his cryptic nature lends one to believe this was a calculated movement by the musician. Even the art work depicts the Wild Ride led by bare breasted female riders on the clouds (somewhat like valkyrie) coming down to take women on earth (it almost looks to me as if they are being rescued; see image below).
Aagaardrein by Nicolai Arbo, 1872; curated in Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo, Norway.