In a more detailed look at the Ritual Black Metal scene, I will focus on several Swedish bands that have an expressed and/or known connection to esoteric groups, specifically Dragon Rouge and the Misanthropic Lucifer Order (MLO).
Dragon Rouge is a self-described dark magical initiatory order founded in 1990, and today has members throughout the Western world.
The beginnings of the Misanthropic Lucifer Order are less clear, but in its own account, Misanthropic Lucifer Order was formed in 1995. In the beginning, Misanthropic Lucifer Order was a small group closely connected to the black metal scene and particularly the band Dissection, but around 2006/2007, after the suicide of Dissection frontman Jon Nödtveidt (1975–2006), the group was reorganized as The Temple of the Black Light and had since then actively distanced itself from the extreme metal scene.
The second album of Dissection, ‘Storm of the Light’s Bane’ from 1995, is in terms of lyrics and artwork not in any significant way different from other black metal albums of the time and there is very little focused esoteric treatment.
In 1997, Nödtveidt was arrested for being accessory to murder, and Dissection was inactive until his release in 2004. During his time in prison and after his release Nödtveidt engaged more explicitly with the philosophy of Misanthropic Lucifer Order, focusing his band as “the voice of Misanthropic Lucifer Order.”
In an interview from prison in 2002, Nödtveidt assures that he is still composing music and says: “I handle my music and lyrics as powerful instruments for channelling and expressing the sinister and Chaotic energies of the anti-cosmic impulse.”
The original release of ‘Storm of the Light’s Bane’ contains the text “We hail you by the metal of death!”
In 2006, the “ultimate reissue” of the album, this text has been changed to “We hail you by the anti-cosmic metal of death!” with “anti-cosmic chaos-gnosticism” being the chosen self-description of MLO,57 and the text “Dissection is the sonic propaganda unit of Misanthropic Lucifer Order” has been added.
Dissection’s final album, Reinkaos from 2006, is full of esoteric references and symbolism related to the chaos-gnostic teachings of Misanthropic Lucifer Order, where physical existence is presented as a prison created by the demiurge, and with Lucifer/Satan as the liberator.
Everything indicates that Nödtveidt’s suicide in 2006 was directly linked to his interpretation of Misanthropic Lucifer Order philosophy rather than being a desperate act committed in a depressed state of mind. He released ‘Reinkaos on Walpurgis Night 2006’, announced the split-up of the band two weeks later, arranged a final elaborate concert with exclusive merchandise on Midsummer day and at the concert he meticulously greeted all fans who wished to meet him.
Nödtveidt methodically wrapped up his musical and publically religious affairs. A week later he gave his last interview, at the end of which he announced his plans to “travel to Transylvania” — which in black metal culture is a euphemism for suicide due to Mayhem vocalist Pelle Ohlin wearing a t-shirt with the print “I [Love] Transylvania” at the time of his suicide.
On August 16, 2006, Nödtveidt was found dead in his apartment with a gunshot wound in the head, surrounded by candles and an opened “Satanic Grimoire” in front of him. The book was most likely ‘Liber Azerate’ — the key text of MLO,63 and Nödtveidt would seem to have committed ritual suicide, in line with Misanthropic Lucifer Order’s view of physical existence as something one should seek escape from.
Erik Danielsson, lead singer of the band Watain, played bass in the last incarnation of Dissection and was close to Nödtveidt. The first album of Watain, ‘Rabid Death’s Curse’ from 2000, includes quite standard “third wave” black metal symbolism with inverted crosses, goat heads in inverted pentagrams, and numerous mentions of Satan in a general anti-Christian framework.
From there on the symbolism and content gradually becomes more diverse, ambiguous, and classically occult. The standard inverted crosses and goat head-pentagrams are absent and instead we see a broader range of symbols and images such as a snake spitting in three cups with the labels “mens” (mind), “animvs” (soul), and “corpvs” (body), the all-seeing eye familiar from e.g. Masonic art, an animal-headed angel holding a sword, Hebrew characters, a wolf’s head, a goat with its serpentine backside encircling a cross, a Baphomet-like figure, four triangles with each containing a ritual tool associated with one of the four elements, and pictures of band members engaged in rituals.
The third album, ‘Sworn to the Dark’ (2007), is dedicated to Nödtveidt and starts with the song ‘Legions of the Black Light’ which is set quite firmly in a Misanthropic Lucifer Order anti-cosmic worldview, and might possibly reflect the new name of Misanthropic Lucifer Order. In an interview from 2007, Danielsson also says that Misanthropic Lucifer Order “are the only Satanic organization I fully support.”
Watain’s live performances have been called “live rituals”, and Danielsson described the band’s shows in the following way: “[…] every Watain show, no matter if it is in front of 10 punks or 3000 insane Chileans, is holy to us and serves as a communion between us and the forces unto which we direct our praise.”
As for what the band means to him he says: “To me, Watain is a symbol of my inhuman self, a proud monument of darkness in a world of elusive light. As such, it portrays the sides of my self that have victoriously broken the shackles of existence. […] So yes, everything in my life can be found in relation to Watain […].”
In discussing black metal as a genre, Danielsson says: “Inhuman energies is [sic] what makes black metal interesting, and even more so; divine,” clearly defining black metal as something that goes beyond musical expression.
As for the Dragon Rouge-inspired bands, Saturnalia Temple is led by Tommie Eriksson who is a long-time and active member of the order mentioned above, and who has published an introductory book on the order’s teachings and practice.
In contrast to many other bands in the scene, Saturnalia Temple’s first album ‘UR’ from 2008 contains very little in the way of obvious magical sigils or symbolism, other than a magic square on the CD itself, a Babylonian statue on the front cover, and the title ‘UR’ written in the runic form. The lyrics, however, deal with initiation and are very similar to magical ritual texts familiar from a Dragon Rouge context.
The second album ‘Aion of Drakon’ from 2011 clearly references Dragon Rouge in its title, and has plenty of symbols/sigils on the cover. Musically, Saturnalia Temple is perhaps most closely related to doom metal, stoner metal, and classic metal in the vein of early Black Sabbath. Eriksson, however, describes the music of his band as “Black Magic Metal,” which is also the title of a song on Aion of Drakon.
I will focus on the band Ofermod in more detail. Mika Hakola/Belfagor, the driving force of the band, is a member of Dragon Rouge and all the lyrics of the band relate to and interpret material familiar from the context of the order. The 2008 album ‘Tiamtü’ contains plenty of “Demon sigils drawn by frater B.A.B.A, sorore Ararita and sorore A.J for ritual purposes and qliphotic invocations […]” and the songs are described as ceremonies “lead [sic] by frater B.A.B.A (Michayah Belfagor), Master of ceremony […].”
The lyrics to the 2012 album ‘Thaumiel’ are written by Hakola and other members of Dragon Rouge, with each song accompanied by a sigil created by the author of the lyrics in question. Hakola describes the album artwork as “the visual grimoire,” and the album as a whole as “a grimoire which deals with Samael.”
The title itself refers to the qliphotic sphere “Thaumiel”, with qliphotic kabbalah being the basis of the Dragon Rouge initiatory structure. In the mid to late 1990s Hakola started to use the term “Orthodox Black Metal” to differentiate his music from “less serious/true” black Metal, and the term has since then become popular with many other bands. Hakola says: “today it [Orthodox Black Metal] has evolved to be orthodox in a more proper sense as many musicians who use this term in reference to their music have learnt esoteric ways of contacting the dark side of existence and its inhabitants and in that way can truly call themselves orthodox in their dark spirituality.”
He also feels that black metal needs to have this esoteric dimension in order to be proper black metal, and continues: “I am also very fond of bands such as Saturnalia Temple, JATAO [Jess and the Ancient Ones], Ghost, Therion and so on, but for me these bands are Black/Death as the lyrics determine the genre.”
‘Thaumiel’ was released on the record label Spinefarm Records, which is a Finnish independent business unit of the multinational Universal Music Group, something which Hakola sees as providing “an opportunity to spread the qliphotic currents […] to a larger audience”, and “[…] sows seeds of chaos in our listeners’ minds.”
He regards his band as being “different from 99% of the bands that use the same denominator [black metal] as it for us is a spiritual musical style dedicated to the darkest of forces which ultimately involves the Luciferian illumination.” As for the music Hakola says: “[…] this is not only about music but in the highest possible degree magic […] each text is bound to some form of either individual ceremony or ceremonial experimentation by several adepts during a longer period […]. The dark occult symbolism is what makes Ofermod Ofermod and not another mediocre so-called ‘black’ metal band […] Without dark magic, where would the source to the insanity-wisdom that I must get in contact with in order to write a song to be found? […] I need to turn inwards to the limitless reservoir of dimly enlightened darkness where I in the shadows which are cast from far away find a red thread that makes my fingers move in a frenzy over the neck of the guitar until the chaos is transformed into something which by human ears can be perceived as music with a structure. Ofermod is magic, Ofermod is occultism, the music we deliver is a reflection of where I am situated initiatory when I create it.”
For Hakola and Ofermod, “music and magic are […] one and the same essence, the Great Dragon’s breath and ‘heartbeat’ as a sort of chaos-pulse that the one who listens really carefully in the silence in him/herself can become aware of.”
While the songs are closely aligned with Hakola’s personal initiatory process, he says that the magic of his music differs from his more private magical practice. The former is more intuitive whereas the latter is more structured. Still, Ofermod has at times used more conventional ritual elements in shows, but Hakola wants to present its magic strictly through music in the future.
More conventional magical rituals will be limited to non-public pre-show preparations. For Hakola magic is always present in Ofermod, as the band’s songs “can in the highest degree be viewed as rituals.” Hakola concludes: “What else could they be when I have emptied my soul in them for so long in the creative process? It is not regular music; that is for sure.”
While this article is focused on the Swedish scene and Swedish bands, the phenomenon does exist elsewhere. The Dutch band The Devil’s Blood is an interesting example.
The band was formed in 2006, released its first demo in 2007, and then released a number of EPs and two full albums before ending its career in January 2013. Musically, the band is more akin to 1970s rock music, but it is nonetheless regarded as fitting in an extreme metal context, and has even played as a warm-up act for Watain, due to its occult focus in its lyrics.
I will end this article with a short discussion of two bands, which though being Finnish and not Swedish are connected to the Swedish occult milieu through one particular member. Tuomas Karhunen is lyricist, composer, and guitarist for both Jess and the Ancient Ones and Forgotten Horror.
The former was conceived as an idea in 2008 and realized as a band in 2010, and while it has been compared to Devil’s Blood due to both being musically inspired by 1970s and early 1980s rock and pop music, having an occult focus in lyrics and symbolism, and having a female lead singer, there are significant differences in both music and approach.
Jess and the Ancient Ones is particularly interesting due to having garnered an impressive following in a brief time, demonstrating that the occult interests reasonably large audiences. The band’s self-titled first album reached number seven on the Finnish official album sales list, and number one on the list of Finnish music magazine Rumba, which collects sales statistics from specialist music shops, and its most recent mini album Astral Sabbat reached number fifteen on the Finnish official sales list.
The official video for the song ‘Astral Sabbat’ had been viewed, 196 times a month after having been uploaded to YouTube. Similarly to The Devil’s Blood, Jess and the Ancient ones has been accepted in the extreme metal scene and frequently plays at metal venues — even though its musical style is more closely related to 1970s surf music, occult rock, and folk rock than to any form of extreme metal.
Forgotten Horror was founded in 2004 by Karhunen, released its first demo in 2007, and its first album, ‘The Serpent Creation’, in 2011. A second album was scheduled to be released in 2013.
Musically the band can be characterized as black metal, but with strong influences from thrash metal, leading some commentators to define it as “Blackened Thrash.”
According to Karhunen both Forgotten Horror and Jess and the Ancient Ones are deeply immersed in the occult and magic, including lyrics dealing with occult themes, occult symbolism being prominent on album artwork, and live shows sometimes described as rituals.
There are differences as well, though. Jess and the Ancient Ones deals with the occult in a relatively subtle way, not hiding its interests but not directly announcing them either. Forgotten Horror, however, engages with magic and the occult in a far more direct way, representing Karhunen’s personal explorations of the Left-Hand Path, dealing with and expressing his own initiatory process, as well as functioning as a tool for magical work.
While Karhunen is a member of Dragon Rouge, he is careful to stress that neither of his bands is any kind of “propaganda unit” for the order. Forgotten Horror does, however, function as a voice for Karhunen’s personal approach to magical practice and his initiatory process within Dragon Rouge.