There are no casual black metal listeners. To be a fan of black metal is to be constantly defending something. In some circles, there is much to defend, including a party line on the question of what actually constitutes black metal. The main difference seems to be that people who like, say, Young and in the Way, an American black metal act with a mainstream sound, don’t usually assemble in these virtual alleyways to voice their objection. What’s up for discussion is an endless succession of underground bands with unpronounceable names and dimestore production values. Most of them may even have something new to contribute, but if all these little groups sound the same, that perhaps may be because it’s hard to have a new take on an impenetrable layer of recording fuzz.
Also settled is the debate over ideology. I don’t mean that anyone’s decided what political affiliations are acceptable in black metal, but rather that there is space for all of them at once. A proudly anti-Fascist band might be recommended alongside a band named after a well-known arm of Nazi propaganda. When I say the debate is settled, I mean that most black metal fans have decided not to talk about it.
That generally leads to not just a tolerance of some quite odious figures, but also the subsidization of their musical careers, even by those who profess no adherence to ideology whatsoever. It has been very long since the times when Darkthrone would release an album saluting “Norwegian Aryan black metal” on its reverse side and then just as quickly recall that record in favor of one without the supremacist mission statement. Lately, it has seemed as if much of the more recent releases just outright have a swastika or sun wheel emblem embedded in their album or cassette art. Certainly, the rise of “respectable” (that is, with the backing of major populist support) Neo-Nazi parties across Europe must have been good for business, and social media has ensured that, if your proudly anti-Semitic label won’t sell out its 150-run distro locally, one can always ship the copies overseas.
So what gets black metal people riled up? Deafheaven, mostly. And women who like metal (“But just the feminists!” is a common rationalization), new releases from old bands (it might be financially prudent for Darkthone to reinsert the “Norwegian Aryan” line, even if it’s obvious to anyone that they no longer mean it), and virtually any attempt at experimentation. So many flame wars have been fought over the changing meaning of black metal that one wonders if there is something more constructive to point one’s rage toward.
Assume that even a fraction of the energy expended in arguing over authenticity were instead directed at the kinds of people who are paying, next week, to see Bard “Faust” Eithun play back-to-back shows at New York’s Saint Vitus bar. In 1992, Eithun randomly murdered a gay man in Lillehammer by stabbing him dozens of times. The response from his fellow bandmates in Emperor — widely considered one of the most important black metal bands of all time — and many of his colleagues in the early Norwegian scene was a collective shrug. Reportedly, he helped burn down Holmenkollen Chapel the next day. He confessed to Euronymous and Varg Vikernes, of the legendary band Mayhem, right after they were finished with the arson, but neither seems to have passed on the information to the police.
Eithun has never shown remorse for the crime. He told the right-wing author of Lords of Chaos that “It’s not a big deal, at least not in my opinion.” (Hellhammer, the prolific drummer of Mayhem and numerous other extreme metal bands, told the interviewers of a 2008 documentary that he “honored” Eithun.) The jurisdiction of Lillehammer seemed almost inclined to agree: for the vicious slaughter of a complete innocent, Eithun was sentenced to just fourteen years of the maximum twenty-one, of which he served a little over nine. By comparison, when Vikernes dispatched Euronymous, who was decidedly not gay, in an almost identical manner, he was sentenced to the full twenty-one.
When Eithun was released, he was immediately invited to continue playing music. Currently, this includes Blood Tsunami, a thrash metal band, and Studfaust, which appears to be named after its most infamous member. Both of these bands are playing the annual Martyrdoom Festival, which comprises five shows, one afterparty, and one pre-party. It’s the first time Eithun has played anywhere in the U.S., and he may be surprised to find the culture of his host city a little queer for his tastes.
It’s not as if the organizers don’t know any better. The listings on the festival roster for Blood Tsunami and Studfaust are pithily enjoined by the phrase “w/ Faust.” He is the only single performer save one, among twenty-nine bands, to enjoy this distinction. New York may be an enlightened city, but its black metal fans are no less cynical than the lazy creeps who continue to buy Nazi-affiliated music. Let us imagine that one of the first states to extend marriage to same-sex couples isn’t, in the end, too cynical to keep Eithun’s victim in mind. But we might start by at least saying his name. It was Magne Andreassen.