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Documentary review: Until the Light Takes Us (2009)

  • Review by: Ishaan Kumar

Until the Light Takes Us, as a ‘trve’ black metal fan who knows Norwegian would probably figure out, is a documentary about the foundation of the Norwegian Black Metal movement. Probably the most controversial genre of metal till date, Black Metal has been associated almost exclusively with anti-Abrahamic sentiments ever since it was brought out to the more mainstream section of the metal underground. This documentary is an attempt to dispel a few myths about the genre and shed new light on the darkness surrounding the Darkness (as Frost from Satyricon would have liked it to be spelt, with a capital D) that is Black Metal.

The film contains a plethora of unseen and extremely rare footage like the ones featuring Per Yngve ‘Dead’ Ohlin, rehearsal footage of Mayhem way back in 1983, Varg Vikernes’ trial and of course, the notorious church burnings. It also has a lot of photographs of Euronymous, the record shop Helvete where Euronymous’ Black Circle would meet and other images relevant to the scene. It has a very chronological structure about it, talking right from the start when Darkthrone andBurzum began it all upto the modern day perception of the genre, although I personally don’t get why Gorgoroth has been completely ignored throughout this film.

One thing made very clear about this genre is the motive behind it. What most still believe to be just a hatred towards Christianity is just the tip of the iceberg’s tip. There is MUCH more to do with it. Assuming it to be a simple war against Christianity will be putting it too simplistically. There is a very strong patriotic side to it, the real definition of patriotism which most people may even pass off as delirious fanaticism. Even the church burnings that took place seem less of an act of arson and more of a statement and a desparate attempt at rescuing the true heritage of the country. In this respect, one can draw a lot of parallels between the Black Metal movement and the Futurist art movement started in Italy way back in 1910 (that movement was the biggest inspiration to Mussolini’s fascist movement though).

Right from the beginning, one sees a slightly art-oriented style of film-making on this documentary. There is very clearly an effort to sustain the monochromatic colour scheme that the early black metal artwork was replete with with the fact that most of the shots are desaturated to the point of almost being grayscale; many of the camera angles and backgrounds for the interviews are trying to put the speaker in context not of black metal but his own identity (like Varg and Fenriz’s houses, Euronymous’ record shop Helvete for Hellhammer’s interviews and the silhouette of Faust, the notorious drummer for Emperor); there is also the rampant use of video montage cut to the background music to make the attack of the music and hence the dark intent behind it more clear.

Seldom has music made such an impact on a nation and the world. What started off as a silent, underground protest against a nation ruined by the maggots of religious propaganda has been turned into a globally reviled ‘anti-music’,’anti-religion’ movement mainly by over-excited teens who believe they are carrying its mantle forth by dressing in spikes and wearing corpse-paint. Black Metal was more than just that. Every aspect of it had a statement behind it; the look, the sound, the acts surrounding it and the propagators themselves. Black Metal was more than just a new genre of metal. It had a ferocity akin to that of the Vikings, an intent as clear as that of the Futurists and an ability as strong as the Nazis to shake the world into another war. But at the end of it, it is all an extremely magnified version of the rebellion that every human with even an inkling of individualism feels when his life is run by the rules of society.