Until the Light Takes Us: Bad Sounds From Norway

The subject of Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell's documentary is Norwegian black metal, a scorched-earth subset of thrash that materialized around 1990 and gained international attention when churches started burning. Until the Light defines Norse black metal as a combination of image (morbid corpse paint), philosophy (rejection of post–A.D. 600 history; anti-Judeo-Christian, pro-Odin), and music. As with any sect, arguments supersede doctrine—and the primary divide is illustrated via two elder statesmen: Gylve "Fenriz" Nagell, drummer for the long-lived Darkthrone, and "Varg" Vikernes, of the equally venerable one-man band Burzum. Fenriz is supposedly apolitical, an aesthete who compares his music's dredging horror to Edvard Munch. Varg is the hardcore lived-it Thoreau of the movement's early years, a self-styled ultranationalist prophet, interviewed while in prison for arson and internecine murder. Since this film's completion, Varg has been released and has announced a new album, The White God. The cover art is borderline Tom of Finland; unfortunately, the homosocial/homophobic schizophrenia of black metal is herein unexplored. (As is the actual music.) Maybe the filmmakers "don't judge their subject," but in giving Varg a soapbox while being too timid to dare him out of his comfort zone and push him to articulate the less-palatable aspects alleged of his philosophy (enthusiasms for Quisling, eugenics, etc.), they only indulge his cult of personality, letting Varg and the audience off easy.

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