Heavy metal means different things to different people.
For most headbangers, it is an aesthetic vehicle and a safe outlet for fantasy. These are fans drawn to fashion and imagery. They respect songwriting as craft and relate to lyrics as hyperbolic fables of fictional menace. For them, heavy metal is a compelling art form rooted in entertainment. It is compatible with an overall polite society because it isn’t to be taken literally.
Although most fans the world over are functional law-abiding citizens who do their homework, pay their taxes, and generally show up to work on time, there is a subsect of the community at large who view heavy metal as religion.
For these true believers, aesthetics are a means of spiritual connection with an unseen force and lyrics are scripture. Satan is real in a theological sense. Ancient gods, persecuted through centuries of Christian colonialism, light the path for a new breed of disciples with blood, fire, and death.
Perhaps the most widely documented occurrence of heavy metal as doctrine happened during the second wave of black metal, particularly in Norway. Centered around Øystein Aarseth’s Helvete record shop in Oslo, The Black Circle were a collective of bands and devotees that were responsible for the arsons of several dozen historic medieval Christian churches as well as acts of grave desecration and murder. Of the bands involved, there are none more notorious than Mayhem.
Mayhem have gone through countless lineup changes throughout the years, much to the point that different eras are discussed as if they are different bands. Although the period between 1988 and 1991 only yielded a studio recording of two songs (“Freezing Moon” and “Carnage”), it nonetheless established an aesthetic of death worship that would become the black metal template. Just as importantly, it’s the 1991 suicide of their singer Per Yngve “Pelle” Ohlin (aka Dead) that set of the chain of events that would forever shroud the movement in infamy.
Given the legends, it’s sometimes hard to remember that these were just kids. In that context, it’s fascinating to see this rehearsal footage from 1990 featuring guitarist Euronymous (Øystein Aarseth), vocalist Dead (Pelle Ohlin), bassist Necrobutcher (Jørn Stubberud) and drummer Hellhammer (Jan Axel Blomberg). Rough quality as it is, it’s 70 minutes of a bunch of kids hanging out and having fun while jamming on what would become some of the most iconic black metal songs of all time.
It’s a snapshot of a moment of innocence shortly before everything went straight to hell, and it’s beautiful in its own way.