Little Evil Me

Little evil me.
I’m tired of being pure.
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Little Evil Me

Satyricon’s “Rebel Extravaganza” as an Antinomian Statement–Breaking Away from the Romancing of Satanic Ritual Abuse in Black Metal

Satyricon’s 1999 album “Rebel Extravaganza” polarized the band’s fans more so than any of the other albums they’ve released to date. It was released during a time in which the black metal music was experiencing artistic growing pains. Many of Satyricon’s hardcore fans regard “Rebel Extravaganza” as an album that symbolizes their “selling-out.” To many it was regarded as their downward spiral into irrelevance.

Black Metal is the child of the Satanic Ritual Abuse movement of the 1980s. It’s aesthetics and standards are based upon a romanticizing of lies and imagery fabricated by the Christian right. “Rebel Extravaganza” is largely hated because it speaks out against this romancing of Satanic Ritual Abuse and the mimetic nature of Black Metal art. Lyrics from the “The Scorn Torrent” blatantly spell this out:

“Break down all conventional forms and create chaos to reinvent order
Rebel against all circles and dead ends
fight your way with your mind set on the masses
execute with mechanical aggression
arrogance and extravagance
march on unapproachable
shut out the outside pressure
or are you too weak?”

Black Metal bands during the 1990s made it a point to live up to the media portrayed expectations of what it meant to be a Satanist. Bands who romanced the Satanic Ritual Abuse movement were able to court an audience that also romanced the media portrayal of Satanism. Satyricon released “Rebel Extravaganza” to separate themselves from this, and push the genre forward.

Adam Darski aka Nergal of Behemoth fame writes: “Satyricon, one of the leaders of the Norwegian scene, released “Nemesis Divina”[…]it turned out that metal bands could do some really professional stuff. A forest and a random camera was [sic] not enough anymore.” (Darski)

Satyricon’s “Nemesis Divina” album from 1996 is largely regarded as one of the most important releases to come out of the second wave of Black Metal. It visually featured well-defined full color Pagan imagery coupled with professional photos of the band. The production values were clear, and for the first time it felt as though the scene was moving forward–away from the muddy obscure sound that Black Metal had become synonymous with.  “Nemesis Divina” created a new standard which forever changed the Black Metal movement.

Despite changing the standards of the movement, “Nemesis Divina” still fell within the standards that existed before it. These standards embraced a philosophy that romanced images of anti-Christian/Zionist occult imagery, ritual murder/sacrifice, as well as an affinity for all out death and destruction. These standards employed strategies used during the great Satanic Panic and twisted them to market their art to an audience who also romanticized the Satanic Ritual Abuse scandals of the 80s. These standards are still followed to some degree in the postmodern Black Metal movement. These are:

1. Living an authentic or “cult” Black Metal lifestyle. The main aim of this is to remove the “human” element from a band. If for any reason a band is outed as being “human” this illusion is shattered. In reality, this exists only because an audience wants to believe that there is an authentic and brutal “cult” phenomenon surrounding a group.

In the 90s being a “Norwegian” Black Metal band could fulfill this standard. This made bands authentic by assumed/national association to the Norwegian bands that came before them. The beginning of the second wave of Black Metal was led by Mayhem, Burzum, Emperor, and Darkthrone–all Norwegian. This time period was riddled with an extremely short history of violence, murder, suicide, and church burnings. This standard was later expanded to being Scandanavian, and later to simply being European after Black Metal began to root itself into popular culture.

“Before [Black Metal], I associated Norway and Sweden only with fjords, oil, and salmon. Black Metal changed that. Today even their diplomats know about the history of the genre–because as it turns out, the whole world associates the north of Europe with this cold and brutal music. It’s one of their export goods. When I got there for the first time, black metal was totally underground; only later would it ride on a white horse into the pop-culture world. I was fascinated by the fact that such radical music flourished in the place where even sixty-year old grocery merchants speak perfect English.” (Darksi)

One of the most famous incidents that helped to launch Black Metal into the eyes of the media was the suicide of Mayhem vocalist “Dead.” Euronymous of Mayhem, who was also subsequently murdered a few years after, said “Dead killed himself because he lived only for the true old black metal scene and lifestyle. It means black clothes, spikes, crosses and so on…But today there are only children in jogging suits and skateboards and hardcore moral ideals, they try to look as normal as possible. This has nothing to do with black, these stupid people must fear black metal![…]We must take this scene to what it was in the past! Dead died for this cause and now I have declared war!” (Moynihan 60)

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Dead…Dead. April 1991.
For years following this “dark period,” listeners and other bands romanced these incidents.  This romancing made Black Metal a marketable commodity.

A band can also use rumors and urban legend to “certify” authenticity. With regards to the effectiveness of Urban Legends, Occult expert Dr. Steven Flowers writes, “Urban legends almost always start with ‘A friend of a friend of mine said that…’ They are always close enough of specific enough to be effective, yet far away enough to be beyond confirmation. It is essential to the effectiveness of an urban legend that it not be subjected to verification. All urban legends that have been studied have been shown to be purely fictional creations.”(Flowers)

The main aim of Urban Legend is to build a “history” for bands. This history often comes in the form of outright lies. Regardless, if a band was able to convince their audience that a fabricated history has some validity to it they gain respect in the scene. This can also come in the form of not creating a history at all.

Mystery has also worked in a marketing sense for people selling Black Metal. In the early 2000s this strategy worked well for Norma Evangelium Diaboli in their successful marketing of Deathspell Omega and the orthodox Black Metal movement.

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Darkthrone’s “Transilvanian Hunger.”
2. Following Black Metal Aesthetics. In the archetypical sense this harkens back to the Satanic Panic of the 1980s which falsely promoted that Satanists were medieval, demonic, murderers and baby killers who indulged in a world wide conspiracy to destroy Christianity. These aesthetics had a far reaching appeal by unstable individuals who both romanced them and used them for their advantage in an attempt to thwart the “evil empire of Satan” from rising up and conquering the planet.

Mayhem had the biggest influence on early Black Metal aesthetics. Infamous Black Metal pioneer Øystein Aarseth aka Euronymous “realized this responsibility that comes with being in a band that has decided to maintain a certain image[…]Aarseth would be a manifestation of the Black Metal aesthetic. He was always dressed in black from head to foot, his hair dyed black for added effect. He sported long aristocratic mustaches and wore knee-high boots. His black leather biker jacket was decorated with badges. His rather slim frame bore the mark of many hours in the gym, but could not hide the fact that his height was hardly imposing. When talking, he seemed stern and serious, sometimes with pomposity verging on the theatrical. He would do his best to maintain this façade towards outsiders and the younger members of the developing scene.” (Moynihan 72)

Satyricon’s contemporary, Darkthrone, had a large influence on the aesthetic of the scene. Their early Black Metal albums followed a strict formula which included black and white covers on their albums, and poor recording values. The catch phrase “True Norwegian Black Metal” was coined by Darkthrone upon the release of their 1994 album “Translivanian Hunger.” This style was extremely popular and has remained the formulaic archetype of which all other Black Metal has been measured.

In an interview from 1997 Front man Satyr is on record saying that Satyricon “musically it’s about working for progression…all the time. To develop as individuals, musicians, but also on an individual basis, and as a band.”

It is no surprise that Satyricon made an effort to continue their progression towards something new and different to separate themselves from a scene that was becoming more and more influenced by each other and the media. They wanted to cause waves, and that wave was called “Rebel Extravaganza.” Satyr shaved his hair and adopted a dirty industrial postmodern image that challenged everything he had contributed to the Black Metal scene prior to that point. He even went so far to attempt a re-branding of their musical style as “Norge,” to help them stand out from the goat-worshipping rabble. In 1999, this was a radical change from the static image so many bands were riding the coattails of. And because it was challenging to the scene to understand, “Rebel Extravaganza” was largely viewed as a betrayal to their roots and still to this day in many circles is a much maligned work of art.

Ketil Sveen writes: “A few years ago, you could record anything and label it Norwegian Black Metal, and it would sell. Today people are far more critical. Shoddily recorded and bad records won’t sell. All musical waves will develop after a while.” (Moynihan 44)

Black Metal, in it’s truest form is about progression, about moving forward, and Satyricon did just that.

Satyricon before their postmodern makeover, 1996 e.v.
Satyricon before their postmodern makeover, 1996 e.v.
“The principal elements of Black Metal in Norway reside as much in belief and outlook as they do in the music itself. There is a considerable berth given toward sonic experimentation as long as certain attitudes are prominently displayed by the musicians. At the same time, there is no set “rule book” to be followed, and the boundaries of the ideology shift as time passes. Such changes are usually effected at the hands of the more important members of the scene, for the genre is in many ways entirely defined by the dramatic personalities who have comprised it–and continue to forge it’s destiny.” (Moynihan 33)

Satyricon became immensely self-aware following the release of “Nemesis Divina.” Sure, they could’ve walked down the same path Slayer has walked down, releasing the same album again and again to great (financial) effect. But they pushed the envelope, and helped to break the Black Metal movement away from the very thing that would’ve eventually made the genre irrelevant. Devourers of stasis and stagnation Satyricon remain among the most relevant artists in the genre today. Who’s to say if they would’ve disappeared into obscurity like so many others had they chose to take the easy way out and record sequel after sequel of the same album over and over again? Luckily we won’t have to find out.

Satyricon during their “Rebel Extravaganza” period. Embracing a postmodern industrial look. 1999 e.v.
“Nemesis Divina” was: “We know who you guys are and what you want to hear.”

“Rebel Extravaganza” was: “We know exactly who we are and what we want to hear.”

Sources:

Darksi, Adam & Mark Eglinton. “Confessions of a Heretic: The Sacred and the Profane: Behemoth and Beyond.” Jawbone Press, 2015. Kindle File.

Flowers, Stephen E. “Lords of the Left Hand Path: Forbidden Practices and Spiritual Heresies.” Bastrop: Lodestar, 2012. Kindle File.

Moynihan, Michael & Didrik Søderlind. “Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground.” Venice: Feral House, 1998. Print.

Satyricon’s “Rebel Extravaganza” as an Antinomian Statement–Breaking Away from the Romancing of Satanic Ritual Abuse in Black Metal