Black Metal – Beyond The Darkness (Black Dog Publishing)

“Nobody burns churches anymore.” So begins the introduction to this latest literary investigation into the phenomenon from which this well presented tome takes its title.

Many attempts have been made to document the rise of black metal and the motives of its proponents. Most of them have tended to be fairly geographic in their nature – such as Beste and Peter’s ‘True Norwegian Black Metal’, Daniel Ekeroth’s exhaustive but at times fanboy-ish ‘Swedish Death Metal’ (which doesn’t do much to draw a distinction between the DM and BM sub-classifications), and Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind’s magnificent ‘Lords Of Chaos’.

However, few have dared to present BM in its global context, to explore the genre and its history as a generic, genetic whole: that is the ambition of this latest contribution to the library of literature on this particular subject – and it is an ambition which, by and large, it succeeds in fulfilling.

While the likes of Beste/Peter, Ekeroth and others have tended to concentrate on Scandinavia as the international centre for the growth of black metal, this volume – very interestingly – almost totally ignores the part of the world which many regard as the birthplace of the genre. As editor Nathan T Birk notes in his own opening chapter, “It’s a story that’s been told a thousand times by now…” and so he, wisely (and in common with most other contributors), does not seek to retell it yet again. So it is that, after a couple of opening paragraphs of contextualization, Birk himself examines what he he describes as “a story that developed in a manner both parallel and perpendicular to that of Scandinavian black metal”, as he it examines its (seemingly unlucky) growth in the sunnier climes of Greece, Italy and Portugal, as well as its evolution in eastern Europe. The first author to delve into any depth on the influence of Norway in particular is Brandon Stosuy, who rightly devotes considerable attention to the second wave of Nordic BM in assessing its influence on the north American scene, to which he devotes his detailed and informative analysis.

However, if you’re thinking that this is merely a historical recounting of the story of BM, then you would be very much mistaken, as this book – which is basically a series of essays rather than a homogenous entity – delves much deeper, looking at the aesthetics and theory of the genre (mainly in the coupling of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s extended lecture, originally delivered at the first ‘Black Metal Theory Symposium’ in 2010, an event which in itself showed how seriously the genre is taken in certain academic circles, and the following response from Nicola Masciandro), its marketing, artwork (including a wonderful chapter on those weird, indecipherable band logos) and role in wider culture, including literature and contemporary art.

There are some truly contributions – such as Skyforger frontman Pēteris Kvetkovsis’ deeply personal thesis on the evolution of folk/pagan metal and John Kristiansen treatise on the role of fanzines in spreading the black metal ‘gospel’.

As befitting the genre, ‘Black Metal – Beyond The Darkness’ is lavishly illustrated, with rare photographs and copious use of artwork, and is accompanied by an authoritative discography for those wishing to explore further, whether an existing fan or not. As one of the former, I found this tome educational, exciting and eye-opening – the latter two also summarizing my own experiences of the genre over the past three decades.

• ‘Black Metal – Beyond The Darkness’ is available now from all good booksellers:

• Planet Mosh readers can avail of a 20% discount on the cover price. All you have to do is email and quote ‘Planet Mosh Offer’ in the subject line to receive your special ordering code

About Mark Ashby

no longer planetmosh staff