September 20, 2012

Metalheads Who Read: Black Metal: Beyond the Darkness, (40% off cover price)

Metalheads Who Read


I haven’t done a metal book review in some time, simply because, while I read a lot of books, I haven’t picked up any new music books recently I thought were of note. But when Black Dog Publishing contacted me about reviewing their latest release, Black Metal: Beyond the Darkness, I was very much intrigued. I mentioned the book, and the discount for readers, previously on the blog, but now I’m publishing my full review.


Reminder: Black Dog Publishing have generously offered 40% off Black Metal: Beyond the Darkness to all of you guys. To get the discount, simply email with your delivery address and “Steff Metal Offer” and they will arrange shipping and payment.

Black Metal: Beyond the Darkness brings together essays from prominent and up-and-coming music journalists and collects them with a selection of shorter pieces by musicians and others directly involved with the scene (Slayer magazine’s Metallion makes an appearance, as does Skyforger’s Peteris Kvetkovskis, and many others. The book seems less concerned with creating an all-encompassing history of the genre than with providing thought-provoking discourse on the music itself.

First of all, this is a stunning book. The paper feels weighty and rough, almost as if it were hewn straight from the apocalyptic forests that decorate many of the pages. The typesetting and internal layouts are refreshingly crisp and modern, not splashed with pentagrams and lurid satanic orgies, like some other books I could name (cough Gospel of Filth cough). Black and white photographs – not garish, but strangely sedated for such theatrical content – accompany the text.

And, of course, it is the text that makes this book. What I enjoyed about this book was that, while other books about Black Metal spend a lot of time discussing the early Norwegian scene, the influence of Bathory, of Venom, and follow this with a sensationalist account of murders and burnings and assorted crimes and their motivations. Black Metal seems to cease in literature accounts, after Varg goes to prison, except for the odd postscript about a few continuing stalworts.

In contrast, the authors direct focus away from the early Norwegian scene, except where this is needed to acknowledge influence. Nathan T. Birk contributes an essay “South of Helvete (And East of Eden)” that chronicles the “silent” histories of some of the other prominent international black metal scenes – namely those of Greece, France, Italy, Poland and the Czech Republic. This essay, comprised largely of quotes direct from the bands themselves, conveys in print for perhaps the first time a sense of the local cohesion of these scene – the sense of a new underground as it emerged across Europe.

Another favorite chapter was Brandon Stosuy’s “A Blaze Across the North American Sky,” which focused primarily on establishing an oral history of USBM, or black metal from the United States. I found this essay particularly insightful, as I’ll admit to being one of those silly people who used to think USBM was vastly inferior to the European crew, until I heard bands like Xasthur and Inquisition, and had to stand very much corrected. Coming from such a small and relatively cohesive local scene, it interests me to think about whether the US, being so large, even HAS a specific scene – is it a cohesive sound? What does USBM even sound like? How does it function?

Those interested in looking at this music on an even deeper plane of thought will enjoy Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s seminal piece, “Transcendental Black Metal: A Vision of Apocalyptic Humanism.” I enjoyed this piece, but I admit it’s perhaps beyond my complete philosophical comprehension, or perhaps I don’t entirely understand the interest in this type of musical interpretation. However, it’s accompanied by a shorter essay by Nicola Masciandaro, one of the speakers at the Hideous Gnosis symposium, which, to my mind, laid out in slightly more layman’s terms why such a deep reading of black metal is both interesting and essential. Taken together, these provide thoughtful reflection.

I enjoyed learning about the black metal subculture from the perspectives of a variety of people – not just journalists and musicians, but zine writers (Jon Kristiansen and Jon Jamshid) and designers, (Trine + Kim and Justin Stubbs) and even a logo designer. Christophe Szpajdel’s essay fascinated me the most – and I find myself now staring at band logos with a new-found appreciation – I can see historical elements, anthropological clues, and shrouded emotion.

The book also includes an extensive discography, and I encourage anyone who reads it to keep pen and paper close by, because you’ll come away with a list of albums to hunt down.

“Looking Black”, the last essay in the collection, by Nick Richardson, explores the aesthetics of the genre – both in terms of the artwork that accompanies it and the uniform worn by its celebrities. I admit to being a little disappointed when reading the abstract for this essay – for the last essay in such a well-executed collection to simply be a catalogue of black metal-isms didn’t seem fitting. But I needn’t have feared.

Nick’s essay refers back to many of the ideas and concepts discussed in previous essays, and the last two paragraphs of his work sum up not only the collection, but the genre, with understand eloquence. He speaks about black metal being “We are sometimes more comfortable in cemeteries than shopping centres; we dream of riding with wolves, or with the Oskorei; of leading a charge into battle at the head of a Viking hoard, battle-axe in hand, cutting a swathe through Charlemagne’s Francia. In blacker moments we dream of obliterating ourselves entirely. Black Metal theatre give partial material reality to some of the characters we imagine ourselves to be. The rites and rituals, the shadows, the make-up, are reflections of our personality, not self-erasure.”

He goes on to discuss something that is only touched on in earlier chapters – the live experience of black metal. “… many of the best Black Metal bands never perform live. Xasthur, Leviathan, Striborg, etc. Their shows can only exist in our minds … actually performing live would place limits on what we imagine the shows might look like. This is why so many Black Metal fans … prefer to listen to the music at home and forego the shows altogether. The sight of a grown man in corpsepaint and spikes, beer belly spilling over his waistline, the realisation of how inadequate we’d really be in war, only renders more painful the distance between who we are by day, and who we become when we throw on Under a Funeral Moon …

I’ve been wary of black metal shows for exactly this reason – too many of them seem overly contrived – a tangible presence that doesn’t do justice to such unearthly, ethereal music. The few truly awe-inspiring black metal shows I’ve seen – Inquisition and ABSU being the ones that immediately come to mind – managed to overcome this simply because the music was so powerful it brought the audience outside themselves. Black metal is at it’s most powerful when it is internalised, and what I enjoyed most about Beyond the Darkness is that the writers and journalists understand this. They “get” black metal, in a way some of the more sensational accounts have fallen short.

Reminder: Black Dog Publishing have generously offered 40% off Black Metal: Beyond the Darkness to all of you guys. To get the discount, simply email with your delivery address and “Steff Metal Offer” and they will arrange shipping and payment.


One Comment on “Metalheads Who Read: Black Metal: Beyond the Darkness, (40% off cover price)

September 23, 2012 at 7:26 pm

This book sounds great, I’m definitely going to have to buy it!

Comments are closed.