I am not an expert on Norwegian Black Metal. This review will deal strictly with the book True Norwegian Black Metal, as I read and processed it over a number of days. Clearing my mind in this manner gave me the space to think about the work, and just the work, on the printed pages. It is not the music or the musicians, but Peter Beste’s interpretation of them that I am coming to grips with.
True Norwegian Black Metal the book is big, loud and in your face. It is sharp, colorful, blurry, grey and dark all at the same time. The ride is intense. I do not understand. The words, press clippings and zines printed in the back help me to understand, but the reality is, this is a book of photographs and all I get is one loud hint of what black metal, and those who make, it can be like.
Peter Beste points his camera at very dramatic scenes: sheep heads on stakes, bullets, spikes, skull makeup, and rich lush nature, the contrast of these men and the place they live, quaint mountain cabins, large men with chains and upside down crosses on their necks, long haired fans in the moment of ecstasy. Beste says 'look at this,' and leaves the judgment up to the viewer. It is a jarring, violent, visual thrill ride that is not for everyone.
This is an important book because it brings to light the darkness that pervades the music and forces one to think about what role God or Satan plays in life. One may dismiss this book for being over the top, but that is too easy. Black metal is a subculture of music. It is at war with Christianity and the proper society. It is for the young and angry and disenfranchised. It is fertile ground for documentary photography. Beste embraces this role by showing all of it. We see the musicians both with and without makeup. In the dark clubs with severed animal heads. We also see the raw natural beauty of Norway, the dichotomy of the book. Nature and the landscape of Norway is the backdrop for this music. After pages of dark scenes, a postcard like image of a body of water surround by picturesque mountains.
The contradictions of the book give it strength. Beste puts the music in the context of the country. This books gives me the opening to go further with, but I have to want to seek it. It asks more of me than it explains. The musicians are not presented heroically, but as they are both on and off stage. The book gives insight into a culture that goes against the grain of normality. No matter how the book is read, it is confrontational.
Tom Leininger is a photographer and educator based in Denton, Texas. He received his MFA in photography from the University of North Texas. Prior to that he was a newspaper photographer in Indiana. His work can be found at http://tomleininger.net.