This year marks the 1,015th anniversary of the Christian invasion and forcible conversion of pagan Norway, and what better way to celebrate this ancient injustice than by taking in a documentary about its most bizarre and beguiling consequence. Until The Lights Takes Us, a much-anticipated film about the ultra-extreme Norwegian Black Metal scene of the early 1990s, will have its Canadian premiere this Friday in Winnipeg. The subculture, which saw a bunch of self-professed Neo-pagan Odinists cover themselves in corpse-like warpaint, create insane music, burn down churches and ultimately murder each other, continues to provoke wide-eyed disbelief and fascination.
“Aside from the obvious true-crime appeal, I would say there’s an inherent humour and ridiculousness to it,” says Kier-La Janisse, whose Big Smash! Productions is organizing the screening. “I don’t mean that as an insult — I just mean that ‘people are uncomfortable with concepts of evil and laughter’ is an easy way to dismiss it. People want to gawk and gape and Black Metal provides ample opportunity for them to do that.”
While many of subculture’s actions, including the arsons of over 50 Norwegian churches, were widely interpreted by a hysterical media as run-of-the-mill devilry, those involved cited the millennial anniversary of Christianity’s destruction of Norse paganism as their real inspiration. Until The Light Takes Us, however, looks past such grandiose explanations and into the motivations and feelings of the individuals involved.
“[The film] is a real curiosity piece, because it’s more melancholic than sensationalist,” says Janisse. “You really get a sense that what the interviewees are most upset about is the loss of their friendships, caused by teenage egotism and games of one-upmanship. So if it addresses evil at all, it’s really more lamenting the banality of evil than reveling in evilness.”
The Norwegian Black Metal movement eventually culminated in the stabbing death of influential scene leader Euronymous by his Mayhem band mate Count Grishnackh. Yet, despite such seeming intensity, the whole thing is, as Janisse suggests, permeated by the banal; the listless music, by turns churning and droning, the ennui-inducing icescapes of the oft-referenced Norwegian countryside and the inherent eye-rollingness of bangers/losers wielding battle axes in their parents’ basements.
“There is a thin line between fearsome and laughable. I’ve seen pictures of Satyricon and Nattefrost members that would give me nightmares, but then I’m pretty sure I’ve also seen a publicity photo of Immortal where one of them has their fly down,” Janisse remarks.
If Black Metal’s legacy is currently written primarily in punchlines, Until The Light Takes Us promises to imbue some weightier narrative by revealing the estranged individuals behind the corpsepaint. In fact, the film features one of the first ever extended on-camera interviews with the aforementioned Count Grishnackh (Varg Vikernes). To keep the Canadian premiere suitably grim and hopeless, Janisse has arranged this unique dead-of-winter screening, with plans to project the film onto a huge frozen slab.
“The snow screen is being painstakingly created by Ricardo Alms, Andrea Roberts and some unexpected support from the city,” she says. “It’s a crazy setup, logistically. The snow screen will be in the [Lo Pub’s] courtyard and there will be some seating but if people have camping chairs it might be a good idea to bring ’em.”
Also set to screen after the documentary will be the results of the DIY Black Metal Filmmaking Competition. The short film competition gave local filmmakers the opportunity to riff on Black Metal’s unique lo-fi visual aesthetic and, as Janisse says, “don the corpsepaint and roam the wintry streets of Winnipeg.”
The Canadian premiere of Until The Light Takes Us and the DIY Black Metal Filmmaking competition takes place Friday, Jan. 15 in the Lo Pub courtyard.