Unlike FX’s popular drama Sons of Anarchy, the early Norwegian black metal scene had very little to do with motorcycles, but it had everything to do with anarchy. This small group of bands, some still producing music today, included Mayhem, Bathory, Darkthrone, Emperor, Enslaved, Burzum, along with several other lesser-known groups. Often painting themselves in corpse paint, conducting bizarre and grotesque antics at their stage shows, as well as their disdain for organized religion, were just the tip of the iceberg.

The Death of Dead

It’s not uncommon for bands to have gimmicks to shock or provoke people, but for the band Mayhem, their on-stage image of embracing death and darkness wasn’t just an act. The band’s original lead singer “Dead”, was known to bury his clothes in cemeteries, carry around a ziplock bag containing a dead crow – purportedly to “have the fresh scent of death in his nostrils” while performing, and mutilating himself both onstage and off. Dead was often suicidal, and it’s been claimed that fellow band member “Euronymous” would encourage him to follow through with the act.

On April 8, 1991, Euronymous returned home to find the doors had been locked. Breaking into a window, Euronymous climbed in to find Dead’s body lying on the floor with slits on his wrists, neck, and a shotgun blast through the head. Instead of calling the authorities to report what had happened, Euronymous went to a shop and purchased a disposable camera. He took several photos of Dead’s body, one of which was used on the cover of a live album the band later released. It was also claimed that it didn’t stop there; Euronymous used parts of Dead’s body in a stew and collected pieces of skull fragment in order to make necklaces out of them. The cannibalism rumor has been debunked, but it has been confirmed that Euronymous did make the necklaces – passing them out to other bands he felt were true to the scene.

“Excuse the blood, but I have slit my wrists and neck. It was the intention that I would die in the woods so that it would take a few days before I was possibly found. I belong in the woods and have always done so. No one will understand the reason for this anyway. To give some semblance of an explanation I’m not a human, this is just a dream and soon I will awake. It was too cold and the blood was coagulating all the time, plus my new knife is too dull. If I don’t succeed dying to the knife I will blow all the shit out of my skull. Yet I do not know. I left all my lyrics by “Let the good times roll”—plus the rest of the money. Whoever finds it gets the fucking thing. As a last salutation may I present “Life Eternal”. Do whatever you want with the fucking thing. / Pelle.

I didn’t come up with this now, but seventeen years ago.”

  -Dead’s Suicide Note

“The Inner Circle”

This was only the first of a string of events involving the band and their associates. Through Euronymous’ record shop, a radical group calling themselves “The Inner Circle” was founded. Many of the members were involved in the black metal scene. Between 1992 and 1995 there had been a rash of church arsons linked to the Inner Circle and Mayhem.Varg Vikernes, founder of the music project Burzum, was later held accountable for three of these arsons.

The Murder of Euronymous

In May of 1994, Vikernes and Euronymous became engaged in an altercation. Vikernes claims that he heard from friends that Euronymous was planning to kidnap him, torture him, and make a snuff film. Euronymous called Vikernes and asked him to meet him to sign some contracts related to signing Burzum to Mayhem’s record label. Vikernes was suspicious but agreed to meet him at his apartment. Vikernes arrived at Euronymous’ apartment, where he attempted to attack Vikernes immediately after opening the door. Vikernes stabbed Euronymous, killing him. Vikernes was sentenced to 21 years in prison for the church arsons and for Euronymous’ murder.

Murder in the Park

Another murder involving a member of “the inner circle”, was that of Mange Andreassen. Andreassen had allegedly been walking through the park drunk when he approached Bård Faust, of the band Emperor, and propositioned him. Faust agreed to the man’s offers and followed him into the woods. It was there Faust stabbed the man 37 times. Faust was sentenced to 14 years in prison but received an early release in 2003. When asked why he had committed the murder, Faust said “I was outside, just waiting to get out some aggression. It’s not easy to describe why it happened. It was meant to happen, and if it was this man or another man, that’s not really important”.

In spite of all the chaos caused by the bands’ members, the groups remain wildly popular worldwide. Many have gone on to denounce their checkered pasts and continue to perform and produce music today. In spite of their critics, the unique style of guitar playing that emerged from the scene provided inspiration for many. By using all strings of the guitar to play chords (rather than 3), musicians in various different genres of metal and other rock music have adopted their signature playing style. The bands also can be attributed with the creation “symphonic metal” and “atmospheric metal” genres, as well as their unheard of use of pagan and Viking themes.  The inner circle may have long diminished, but their influence and intrigue will continue to shape the music of tomorrow.