The Becomings of Satanist Musicianship Through Black Metal

Ketil Thorgersen
Ketil Thorgersen

The last twenty years, the focus of music educational research has widened to involve more than institutional settings for learning music. In Europe, researchers such as Lucy Green (2001), Even Ruud (Berkaak & Ruud, 1994), Anna-Karin Gullberg (2002) and Göran Folkestad (e.g. 2006) have paved the way for a wave of research of “informal learning processes” in/of music.

Musical learning has later been studied in varied settings like Hip-Hop communities (e.g. Söderman, 2007), Punk (e.g. Hannerz, 2013), online learning of Folk music (e.g. Waldron & Weblen, 2009), Country & Western (Waldron, 2013), Opera (Partti & Westerlund, 2013) and so forth.

Studies have even been performed where learning processes inspired by these less institutionalised settings have influenced traditional classroom pedagogies (Green 2008). The main body of research through informal learning practices has been based upon music genres and practices that always had, or lately have acquired, a somewhat higher level of cultural capital in Western society and are accepted as fairly politically correct expressions.

This study will instead focus on one of the more extreme genres — both sonically and in ideological terms — of music around today: black metal.

We consider black metal to be one of the genres that are not welcome in music classrooms (Kallio, 2015). While music can be nice, it can also represent and/or enforce dangerous forces. Some genres are considered less suitable for a musical classroom at particular times by the broad mass of music teachers and schools.

As Kallio (2015) discusses, to exclude such genres can be considered musical censorship. The music that is excluded changes through time and musical genres can be subject to musical gentrification (Dyndahl et al., 2014), something that has happened to youth culture such as the jazz of the 1940s, the rock of the 1950s and 1960s, hip-hop and so forth.

For a genre to be welcome into the music classroom can, therefore, be a double-edged sword: It means acceptance and being spread more widely and at the same time it might lose its identity.

Some research has been made on black metal, mainly from a sociological and/or religious perspective (e.g. Faxneld, 2015; Granholm, 2011), but also with some musicological/philosophical perspective (Bogue, 2004).

Bossius (2003) and Kahn-Harris (2007) are two pioneering researchers with their studies on the extreme metal scene, with its equally extreme expressions related to violence, Satanism and fascism. Whether or not Satanism can be defined as a religion is disputed. It might just as well be understood as a collection of ideologies or ideological practices defined by their anti-Christian or anti-religious focus (e.g. Dyrendal, 2008; Faxneld, 2014) — often portraying Satan, Lucifer, Antichrist or whatever the entity is called, as they rebel against false happiness and oppressiveness of authoritarian systems such as churches, the national state and so forth.

Lucifer is turned into a symbol of individual freedom (Faxneld, 2014) and fulfilment of the fullest human potential, and is therefore sometimes also referred to as a self-religion (Dyrendal, 2008).

Organisations such as La Vey’s Church of Satan have not had any major impact on the black metal scene, probably because leading black metal musicians have described La Vey’s philosophy or religion as being too humanistic, hedonistic and even nihilistic (Hagen, 2011).

Some scholars have analysed black metal ideology as being more of an intellectual game and role play than being “for real”, but as Faxneld (2015) stresses, such a simplification is dangerous.

In the black metal milieu, there were, and probably are, people who live according to the ideals of destruction, oppression and anti-happiness and thereby live to make life as miserable as possible for themselves and others. This is however not representative for the majority of black metal fans and musicians who live and believe that some variety of an ideology pursuing the good life through worshipping the devil and evil.

Granholm (2011) and Forsberg (2010) investigate the black metal scene from a religious perspective and use Partridge’s (2005) concept of “Re-enchantment and Occulture”. The concept of re-enchantment can briefly be understood as a description of the postmodern era as characterised by a spiritual rebirth that focuses on personal development and well-being rather than institutional worship.

Partridge also argues that the perception of today’s Western society as being secular, to a great extent is misleading when the religious practice has taken on new forms. Society can be understood as moving simultaneously, paradoxically towards both disenchantment and re-enchantment (Røyseng & Varkøy, 2014).

The other term, Occulture, can be considered as a mixture of occult and culture, where culture primarily should be interpreted and understood in the meaning of popular culture (Hollywood movies, pop and rock music et cetera). Mysticism, Neopaganism and the paranormal “is constantly feeding and being fed by popular culture” (Partridge, 2014: 116).

This study departs from a wonder of how young people choose to play a genre that is considered bad on all levels by the majority of the society, as well as how the young people have chosen to play black metal.

This article describes the learning processes, musically as well as socially and intellectually, that leads up to becoming a black metal musician. As in the previously mentioned studies on learning music outside of institutions, learning is in this article considered a broad concept involving all areas of life where one changes.

This includes socialisation, formal education, autodidactic learning, “Bildung” and so forth. There have been several attempts to translate the concept Bildung for an English speaking audience, since the concept is important to understand education in Germany and Scandinavia, but has no equivalence in English (e.g. Nielsen, 2007; Tängerstad, 2014; Varkøy, 2010; Vogt, 2015).

The concept of bildung somewhat resembles the concept of education in the broad sense that Dewey (1897) wrote about when he formulated the famous phrase: ”I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living” (Dewey, 1897: 7).

Another attempt is to say that Bildung is cultivation — to become cultivated. As Tängerstad (2014) says, Bildung can be described as something in between cultivation and education — but being neither. These stories of self-cultivation and socialisation will be used to discuss possible implications for more formalised music education.

The aim is to analyse the musical learning stories of five young black metal musicians from a music educational perspective inspired by the sociological theories of Pierre Bourdieu.

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