Saturday, March 19, 2011

Until The Light Takes Us (2010): Review

Directed by Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell. Featuring Fenriz, Count Grishnackh, Hellhammer, Abbath, Demonaz, Harmony Korine, Bjarne Melgaard, Faust, Garm, and Frost.

For years, ever since my interest in Black Metal was piqued, I have been searching for a documentary on the genre that was worth a shit. The closest thing to being remotely interesting that I could ever find was a documentary not on the genre itself, but on a figure who has become a prominent one in today's Black Metal scene, the now former vocalist of the band Gorgoroth, Gaahl. It was a made-for-television documentary (which you can watch here) that wasn't even feature-length, but I remember finding it to be interesting for what it was. It still wasn't enough, though. I needed something that talked about the history of the genre and the controversy that surrounded it at one time, and featured interviews with key players from Black Metal's "inner circle".

ONCE UPON A TIME IN NORWAY was boring; MURDER MUSIC seemed promising but required you pay money to be a member of a certain website to see it. Harmony Korine has talked about doing one for years, but I'm not sure what happened to the project. So last year when I found out about UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US, which seemed to be the be-all, end-all of Black Metal documentaries based on what I had heard about it, to say that I was simply looking forward to seeing it would be an understatement. For me, it was a documentary that I've been highly anticipating. For those who don't know anything about Black Metal and would like to get a better understanding of it, this would be the documentary to watch. For those who are already familiar with the genre, this documentary won't teach you anything new, but you will get some very candid and revealing interviews with some of the more important people involved with the genre.

I had planned on introducing the primary people who are interviewed and followed throughout the documentary, as well as do a brief write-up on the history of Black Metal for the sake of familiarizing some of you with it, but instead, from this point on, any links included in this review will take you to a Wikipedia page where you can do some more reading and researching yourself if you feel so inclined.

The two main people who are interviewed in UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US are Varg Vikernes - former bassist of the band Mayhem and the sole person who comprises the band Burzum - and Darkthrone member Fenriz. During the production of the documentary, Varg was still incarcerated and serving a fourteen-ish year sentence for the murder of his former bandmate in Mayhem (he was released last year), Euronymous. Varg also uses the pseudonym Count Grishnackh, but for the sake of not having to constantly type "Count Grishnackh" (a typical convention of the genre is for musicians to use pseudonyms), I will simply refer to him as Varg in this review. Anyway, Varg is one of the more controversial and notorious figures in the Black Metal scene for obvious reasons. In the documentary, however, he comes across as a very intelligent, well-spoken, and humorous person. Not that you'd be able to tell it by the screenshot below.

Fenriz may initially seem quiet and soft-spoken (well, he did in the documentary anyway), but once he opens up, he reveals himself to be a bit sarcastic and with an awkward sense of humor. He's funny, but serious at the same time, if that makes any sense. He also looks like the type of person who has a lot on his mind, but is reluctant to speak it. This, of course, may be wrong, but that's the impression that I got just based on watching this doc - it's not like I know the guy in real life or anything. The documentary opens with Fenriz being busted on a train for having tear gas in his possession. The punishment? A fine. He got to stay on the train. Following the bust, Fenriz calmly suggested that he still had drugs on his person which may or may not have been stored in his anus, but I wasn't sure if he was being serious or not. Again, a sense of humor, but serious in delivery. I guess the reason why he had tear gas on him in the first place will forever remain a mystery.

"Topics of discussion" in UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US includes the history between Fenriz and Varg Vikernes, the Black Circle, the tragic history of Mayhem (a band that still exists to this day, albeit without murderers and suicidal people in the band), a Black Metal sanctuary of sorts called Helvete, the murder that led to the arrest and subsequent incarceration of Faust*, the numerous church burnings that were linked to Varg Vikernes, the popular misconception that people involved in Black Metal are Satanists and devil-worshipers, and the evolution of Black Metal, amongst other things.

*"Well, when I was told that Faust actually killed this fucking faggot back in Lillehammer, I was quite surprised because, I mean, I didn't think he had the guts to do such a thing, but, I mean... I really honor him for that" - Hellhammer on Faust

Perhaps the most interesting topic that was covered in the documentary is the one that I had been wanting to hear about for a while: the murder of Mayhem founder Euronymous. I already knew all about it beforehand, and it's a tragic event that was responsible for me becoming interested in Black Metal in the first place. Not the music, but rather the reputation surrounding the genre (although I have become a fan of the music since then). Not only are his death and the events leading up to it covered, but they're nonchalantly recounted by the murderer himself: Varg Vikernes. Other than the murder of Euronymous being talked about in great detail, we also learn about the band's original vocalist - the ironically named Dead - who took his own life at a young age. If you'd like to learn more about his bizarre suicide and why a photo of the scene of his death (*NSFW*) serves as the cover of a Mayhem album, you can read all about it here.

Top: Dead; Bottom: Euronymous (second from left) with Mayhem

Varg Vikerenes on Euronymous: "To (Euronymous), everything was about image and he wanted to appear extreme. He wanted people to think of him as being extreme. The most extreme of them all. But he didn't want to be extreme. And he wasn't really extreme. He gave people the impression that he was the organizer. That is what he wanted it to look like. He started to talk about this Black Metal mafia, this mob, and he wanted to look at it as if he was the godfather of some organization."

Vikernes immediately following his sentencing in 1994 for the murder of Euronymous

Make or Break Scene: In general, anything having to do with Fenriz of Darkthrone was pretty fascinating; I don't mean that in a pretentious way, but I just found him to be an interesting dude. If I had to go with a specific scene, it would have to be of Fenriz in a museum observing some Black Metal-influenced hipster artwork and pretty much being disgusted with it but being polite to the artist nonetheless.

MVT: The Most Valuable Thing, for me, is a cop-out pick, but it's the topic of the documentary itself: Black Metal.

Score: 7.25/10

As a whole, UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US is interesting and it does provide a lot of background information on some of the more crucial events, bands, albums, and people that make up the history of Black Metal. As I said before, it covers a lot of ground that people who are already fans of Black Metal are familiar with, but there's enough in the documentary to provide for a fascinating, or, at the very least, moderately interesting watch. There's also more than enough information provided throughout the doc to enlighten those who are unfamiliar with the genre/culture; whether or not there's enough to keep them interested in the subject matter is another story.

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