Bang your head darkly
Traveling exhibition explores black metal through art
04/04/2012 10:00 PM
When one thinks of heavy metal, thoughts instantly turn to Black Sabbath, Metallica, Slayer or one of many other popular acts. Metal exists beyond those who broke big, though.
More than any other musical genre, metal is ripe with tangential subgenres: death, doom, speed, stoner, thrash, power, math, emo, drone and sludge. The varieties are endless.
Of all the subgenres, however, one sticks out for its intensity and infamy.
Black metal is a dark, dense, pummeling music typified by unintelligible screaming and chanted vocals with anti-social, anti-Christian, violent imagery, theatrics and rhetoric. It’s a music that lives in the rugged, cold, forested natural world where ancient Pagans practiced their faith before being expunged by early Christians.
Image is everything in black metal. Darkness reigns from attitudes to clothing. Corpse paint make-up is prevalent. And it is often taken to extremes, particularly in Scandinavia in the 1990s where the notorious black metal scene birthed vandalism, beatings, church burnings and even murders.
It’s a fascinating world. It’s no surprise that books and films have been produced analyzing this peculiar subgenre and its equally extreme musicians and fans. An art exhibition currently traveling the country offers perspectives that other mediums miss, however.
Black Thorns in the White Cube, running at Western Exhibitions gallery, features Black Metal-influenced paintings, photography, prints, drawings and more by artists from across North America and Europe. Curated by artist and black metal scholar Amelia Ishmael, the works by Elodie Lesourd, Vincent Como, Aaron Mette, Terence Hannum, Karlynn Holland, Tereza Zelenkova, Alexander Binder and Grant Willing explore black metal via its iconography, signs and rituals, creating an experience that captures the visceral, emotional impact of the music and the scene far better than any other interpretive medium thus far.
Black metal bands are known for the intricate, near-indecipherable logos that they design for themselves. Paris-based artist Elodie Lesourd re-interprets the logos of bands Emperor, Darkthrone, Mayhem and Burzum as geometric line drawings to emphasize the precise order behind the chaos.
Vincent Como’s seemingly plain, black prints take the shape of an upside-down pyramid when viewed from afar. Closer inspection reveals depth in the darkness — other worlds lurking for those who choose to enter.
Aaron Mette’s prints pay tribute to one of Black Metal’s most tragic figures — Dead, vocalist for the Norwegian band Mayhem who ended his life with a gunshot blast to the head. Mette positions Dead in full frontman mode next to blown-up images of moths, enhancing the colors of each to show similarities between those attracted to darkness and light.
Holland and London-based Zelenkova explore the wastelands of Black Metal.
Holland’s drawings recreate the realms in which Black Metal resides, where stark, twisted forests compliment the organic precision of geometric logo-inspired designs, while Zelenkova’s photos project loneliness and despair in barren mountains, a disembodied tattooed arm and a lone hooded figure standing death-still.
Of all the artists, photographer Grant Willing confronts Black Metal’s image the most honestly. His eight photos explore similar motifs — forests, lone trees — but also address violent realities.
The Fantoff Stave Church defiantly pokes its steeple through dense foliage in one photo. The church, first built in the 12th century, was burned to the ground in 1992 in a Black Metal-related arson attack. It was rebuilt soon after. In another photo, a knife pokes crooked from a wall. It’s a not-so-veiled reference to the murder of musician Euronymous of the band Mayhem, who was stabbed to death by former bandmate and friend, Varg Vikernes and a reminder of the violence that once breathed beneath Black Metal’s surface.