J.R.R. Tolkien’s influence over the early Black Metal scene.
“En Ring Til Aa Herske”. This is lovely Norwegian. If you wanna know what this sentence means, you have to stick around and read until the end, I know I’m sneaky. It’s fundamental for this week’s topic, though.
First, I’m going down with definitions. I’m sure some of you already know, but since I will explore the connection between the Norwegian one-man-band Burzum and the legendary fantasy saga The Lord of the Rings, I’d like to make clear what Black Metal is, it is not that mainstream.
Some people will tell you that it’s just a bunch of scary people dressed in black who hiss and scream, burning churches to the ground, but it’s not really like that. According to the wonderfully detailed definition by The Metal Crypt “This is all Venom’s fault. In 1982 they released their second album, entitled ‘Black Metal’. No one would have called it a landmark release, but it was the seed of one of metal’s most prolific genres. Modern Black Metal claims descent from Venom, Bathory, Celtic Frost, and to a lesser degree Mercyful Fate. The origin of the sound we now call Black Metal was born in 1987 with Mayhem’s first release ‘The Deathcrush’. The band took the raw, aggressive riffs of Celtic Frost and Venom, the shrieking vocals of Bathory, and the deeply satanic stance of all three to produce a new sound. By the early to mid 90s the sound became almost standardized, and now when we say Black Metal we mean a specific sound: fast tremolo riffing, blasting drums, and satanic lyrics delivered in a high-pitched shriek. There are endless variations, but that is the basic style.
Early on two basic schools of Black Metal emerged: the ‘Raw’ style, which imitates the primitive instrumentation and raw production of early Black Metal. (Exemplars would be Dark Throne and Dark Funeral, plus legions of others.) And the ‘Melodic’ school (sometimes called ‘Symphonic’) which explored the use of keyboards and more melodic songwriting to create atmosphere. (Adherents would include Emperor and Dimmu Borgir.)
Black Metal exploded in popularity in the mid to late 90’s, and while the tide has somewhat receded, the genre is still hugely popular. While Norway was the epicenter of the movement, now Black Metal scenes exist all over Europe, as well as healthy scenes in Japan, South America, and even Australia.”
It’s a genre which is rarely explored because of its.. I’d say nocturnal nature, it’s hidden in the shadows but at the same time quite fascinating. It’s strictly related to the idea of doom and despair, but also to the supernatural and the mythological. People connect this genre to satanism most of the times, but i my opinion this would be a way too general and simplistic opinion. If you wanna go further and read some more about it, have a look at this Quora question: “Is black metal Satanic by definition?”
I think it is right to point out that even though the band has been classified as Black Metal in themes and sound, Varg Vikernes (Burzum’s frontman and only member, I’m not going over his turbulent life) claimed he actually thought that it had also sold-out and proclaimed himself out of the system, as he wrote in his personal site’s library, in “A Burzum Story: Part I – The Origin And Meaning”, “It was very sad to see that this magic was ruined or at least reduced in 1993, when the media started to write about it, and a lot of former country, rock and Death Metal bands in Norway suddenly dyed their hair black and started to wear corpse-paint and play Black Metal; to become famous, to make money and to get laid – and not to change the world”.
But, indeed, in the same post, he also described his connection with J.R.R. Tolkien (also note that ‘Burzum’ is Black Speech, which means Darkness) “I grew up reading the traditional Scandinavian fairy tales, where the Pagan gods are presented as “evil” creatures, as “trolls” and “goblins”, and we all know how the inquisition turned Freyr (Cernunnos/Dionysus/Bacchus et cetera) into “Satan”. Tolkien was no better. He had turned Óðinn into Sauron and my Pagan forefathers into the fighting Uruk-Hai. To me the “dark forces” attacking Gondor were like the Vikings attacking Charlemagne’s Christian France, the “dark forces” attacking Rohan were like the Vikings attacking the Christian England. And I may add; the Vikings eventually lost their war as well, just like Sauron and the orcs did – and I didn’t mind supporting the loosing part. I have always believed in doing what is right, regardless of the consequences, and if I was fighting for a lost cause it didn’t matter. I would rather die fighting for what I believe in, than live for anything else.” So, even though Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings may have influenced the way in which Vikernes regarded his image and meaning as a band, for “the listeners to feel special and to feel that Burzum was made especially for them (and it was)”, he thought Tolkien’s ideas were not original as he did owe a lot to the northern mythology and pagan religion. If you wanna read more, here you go he link to the complete library of Burzum’s official Site.
It would be interesting to think that Tolkien’s influence over new generations is so great that he could inspire people from very different cultural backgrounds, with the totality of his fantastic universe. Indeed, the world of Middle Earth and all of his creatures are in my opinion so popular because they encompass every nuance of human emotions and contrasting feelings, from craving to sacrifice in great depth, no doubt that artists, no matter the genre or form, have been inspired by the saga.
Here you go, the text of the song “En Ring Til Aa Herske” (One Ring To Rule) with the translation to English.
I en moerk skog med kalde tjern (In a dark forest with cold lakes)
Et sted hvor Herren av verdens (Where the master of the world’s)
ild ikke rekker (Fire does not go)
I det moerkeste i den store (In the darkest and greatest)
av natten – av tid (Of nights and times.)
Og de samlet seg (And they came together)
og blev doedens hus (As the house of the dead.)
Barn av tidens krefter (The sons of time’s power)
Bran av den mektiges soenner (The sons of the invincible suns.)
Vi staar i en sirkel av svart. (We stand in the black circle.)
And here is the complete song, it’s almost completely instrumental, and really enjoyable, the melody actually shows mastery of musical composition and the fully developed theme of doom in Burzum’s production. It’s really worth listening.
Cheers, Grim Readers!