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A Mental Journey Into Depressive Suicidal Black Metal

A Mental Journey Into Depressive Suicidal Black Metal
Copyright © Photograph by Ophelia Overdose

Black Metal is usually said to have been born with the 1982 Venom album ‘Black Metal.’ That album had the particularity of serving as kind of a glue which connected a group of bands with similar sonorities whom back then were more labelled as Speed or Thrash Metal than Black Metal per se. That was the case of Mercyful Fate, Bathory, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, Kreator, Bulldozer, Death SS or Sodom. This historical period is commonly known as the First Wave of Black Metal and lasted until the early nineties, when the Second Wave — the True Norwegian Black Metal Wave or the Satanic Black Metal Wave — emerged through the sounds of Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, Immortal, Emperor, Carpathian Forest and Gorgoroth.

We shall note that the main differences between the two Waves were not so much in the musical composition (which tried to take into the extreme both instrumentalism and lyricism, making genuinely raw and brutal music through fast guitar picking with heavy distortion, fast drum tempos and blast-beats as well as shrieking voices), neither in the anti-gregarious, anti-religious or anti-Christian propaganda (Bathory, for instance, did it over and over again during the eighties), but especially in the ways they showed their discontent: the adoption of pseudonyms inspired in Jewish-Christian demonology, the Church arsons (see the iconic case of Varg Vikernes, Burzum’s mastermind), their general public proclamation as neo-Nazis, Pagans or Satanists and, mainly, the crimes, murders and tragedies they were associated with.

Here, we must refer Øystein Aarseth (also known as Euronymous, Mayhem’s founder, lead guitarist and a legend within the scene) and his murder at the hands of Varg Vikernes and, even more critical for the emergence of the particular sub-genre of Depressive Suicidal Black Metal, the suicide of Per Yngve Ohlin (Mayhem’s Swedish vocalist since 1988, otherwise known as Dead). Per Yngve Ohlin was an extremely depressed person who was frequently cutting himself during the shows and smelling rotten carcasses he used to find in a forest nearby Mayhem’s rehearsal house. Øystein Aarseth once said about him: “I honestly think Dead is mentally insane. Which other way can you describe a guy who does not eat, to get starving wounds? Alternatively, who has a t-shirt with funeral announcements on it?”

Per Yngve Ohlin’s suicide in 1991 achieved such a psycho-ontological status within the scene that many bands had offspring from his personal tragedy, trying to dig deep in matters of existentialism, namely through messages and actions of self-mutilation, suicidal behaviour, substance abuse (both alcohol and drugs), split and disturbing stage identities (which are expressed from minimal corporal movements to exacerbated moments of ecstasy) and the overwhelming presence of (in practical terms) “negative” emotions — such as guilt and anger against life — and “negative” personality moods, such as anxiety and depression.

In philosophical vocabulary, existentialism defines a search for the fundamental parts of one’s existence, for the meaning of life. Although there are apparently many different ways of interpretation for philosophical existentialism, including phenomenological, scientific, religious and anti-religious perspectives (for example Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre, and many others), the key point of all of them is pretty simple: to understand the roots of every single part of the human sphere, actions, beliefs, urges and motivations. Thus, Depressive Suicidal Black Metal simply takes it into the most blackened caves of the human mind, into the depths of emptiness. Moreover, that work is made flesh through some bands such as Suamanucaedere (“to kill oneself by his hand” in Latin), Werther, Nocturnal Depression, Shining and Make A Change… Kill Yourself.

Before we get into a psychiatric analysis of the common factors of this particular sub-genre and sub-culture and seek for possible correlations with Borderline Personality Disorder, we shall underline what is the real purpose of Depressive Suicidal Black Metal according to its performance, the musicians’ statements and the lyricism involved. In fact, Niklas Kvarforth — Shining’s vocalist — seems to agree with Per Yngve Ohlin’s legacy and this self-destructive status of Depressive Suicidal Black Metal. He shouts it loud and clear during an interview to Black Terror Magazine (2001): “Of course, we support suicide. Shining supports all that is negative in this bastard world of ours. We have a couple of cases in the past with people who have ended their lives under the influence or partially under the influence of our work and of course this is a true blessing indeed, yet we pray for increased numbers of fatalities.” These ominous words of Niklas Kvarforth — who profoundly wishes people to commit suicide under his musical influence — have their perfect resonance in several Shining’s lyrics, such as ‘And Only Silence Remains…’ from the album ‘Within Deep Dark Chambers.’

According to these examples, self-mutilation (mainly through cutting), the blood-loss, as well as suicidal thoughts, seem to represent an escaping catharsis from mundane life. Life seems to be wrong and an error from which one must escape. Shining’s lyrics keep repeating the words “cut” and “follow to my paradise”; Nocturnal Depression’s lyrics insist on the idea of open wrists, blood and loss; and Make A Change… Kill Yourself — in a very Burzum-ish nihilistic overview — keeps questioning about facts of life (like it was a test, a never-ending struggle, a lie) with the “knife” appearing once again — like in Shining’s example — as a main protagonist of the story.

The question is what is the knife and why is it so quoted? At first glance, one could argue that is merely a simple object that can be found everywhere for those who want to commit suicide or cut themselves. It is a kitchen object; it is a quotidian object. One can buy it in the supermarket, or find it in the trash. However, if we try to figure it out from a psychoanalytical (not yet psychiatric) point of view, it might represent another thing. Sigmund Freud argues the knife might be a fetish, a psychological substitute for the repressed sexual urges — the libido — and the supervenience of a “death drive” over a “life drive” which is not just a symbol of rebellion against those who raised the suicidal and self-harming individual but also a way of releasing all the tension generated. In fact, and according to Sigmund Freud, “there is a strong renouncement of the ego’s affirmation” in suicidal individuals, and this means they incline to succumb to their “id” contradictive wishes. The “id” is the thickest part of our minds, the place where all energies and wishes are found in total anarchy.

Now that we have stated Depressive Suicidal Black Metal as an incredibly sophisticated musical style featuring an overall monotonous sound, lengthy and repetitive distorted guitar riffs, occasional keyboard usage and an overuse of sadly mourning voices, as well as its sub-culture as radically a sub-culture of emotional unstableness (both for musicians and listeners), we will relate it to Borderline Personality Disorder in matter of inconsistency and intense fear of abandonment.

Considering some of the material presented before about the lyricism and ideological thought of some of the leading bands of Depressive Suicidal Black Metal, one can easily understand why it seems pretty evident that both musicians and listeners which belong and share this particular subculture might suffer from mental illnesses and, in particular, from Borderline Personality Disorder. It is true that we do not present any statistical material or empirical data in order to prove our hypothesis, however the reason for that is apparent; in fact, those musicians like Niklas Kvarforth — or Per Yngve Ohlin before him — as well as the fans of the scene would hardly be able to compromise themselves with a complete psychiatric evaluation. Besides that, it is also essential to mention that the different agents of Depressive Suicidal Black Metal still constitute a small group, a minority, among the Metal universe and even the Black Metal subgenre (we see it through the number of gigs, festivals, albums or merely public resonance, which is barely any). Another crucial fact is that we must not misunderstand the hypothesis believing that all individuals who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder must enjoy Depressive Suicidal Black Metal; in fact, there are mentally insane individuals in every single musical spectrum (for instance, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse also harmed themselves with drugs and alcohol, clearly showing patterns of mental and affective unstableness and generic feelings of emptiness — or even the Japanese vocalist Kyo, from the Experimental Rock-Metal band Dir En Grey, who keeps cutting himself during the shows or also the Australian Justice Yeldham, a live audio artist whom crushes large sheets of glass with his face all through his performances). Thus, we do not have here precisely a causal relation but somehow a certain predisposition.

When we think about Suamanucaedere’s song titles such as ‘Coagulated Blood’ or ‘To Forget’ from their single album ‘Mortem Sibi Consciscere’ (from the Latin ‘death knows itself’), or Werther’s ‘A Night of Drugs, Misanthropy and a Violent Death,’ ‘Senseless Sickening Life,’ ‘Walking Through the Depths of Sadness and Hate,’ ‘In the Valley of Death… I Can Rest’ and ‘The Final Letter of the Young Werther’ from their 2012 EP ‘The End’ or even the single ‘The Fall of Man’ — where they used a supposed EVP recording by the Spanish occultist Germán de Argumosa —, we can entirely understand what their motivation is, even without listening to the songs. Depressive Suicidal Black Metal has an unmistakable message of death, which somehow contrasts with its Norwegian roots, like Darkthrone’s or Burzum’s ontological nihilistic questionings that were very far away from simplistic suicide invitations.

In fact, Gylve Fenriz Nagel — Fenriz among the scene, Darkthrone’s vocalist — used to say that Black Metal is supposed to be “all cold,” a hyperborean musical style. Varg Vikernes also adopted both a message of rebellion (especially during his first demos) and introspection (with particular emphasis on his ‘Filosofem,’ from 1996, and the albums released after his parole in 2010). Even Mayhem, where all of this started through the morbid personality of Per Yngve Ohlin, preferred to adopt more of an anti-Christian position and callosity than a self-harming motivation and style.

To conclude this article, we shall repeat that the emotional unstableness, inconsistency and intense fear of abandonment which are patent in patients diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder can work somehow as a mirror for the personality of the individuals belonging to the Depressive Suicidal Black Metal scene, especially for the musicians. The existence of specific common patterns among them — as in the case of self-harming, suicidal behaviour and invitation, substance abuse and disturbed identity — combine themselves into unusual experiences of intense grief followed by an urge of immediate relief from the emotional pain, promoting an ontology of void, of pure emptiness. This does not mean, however, that every person who experiences Depressive Suicidal Black Metal musicality must be potentially suicidal; one can easily listen to thoses band and merely ignore their lyrics — in fact, a vast quantity of them are barely comprehensible. Nevertheless, for those who play it, like Shining’s vocalist, the subject is genuine — and, because of that, hazardous.

Sarah Genner
Sarah Genner

Edited and proofread by Sarah Genner, a British Dark Artist who creates obscure home decor and design for fans of horror and skulls.

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