Black Metal Doc Doesn’t Rock
Church burnings, suicide, Satanism, murder — such are the trappings of the Nordic death metal scene of the early ’90s, and the subject of Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell’s “Until the Light Takes Us,” which is just out on DVD. Unfortunately, despite such a morbidly fascinating topic, the film fails to shed much light on the genre, the crimes it spawned or it’s impact on the rest of the world. Like it’s epicenter in Oslo, Norway, the film is dark, cold and emotionally withdrawn, though perhaps that’s exactly the treatment a film about the genre deserves. It left us with more questions than it answered however.
The film covers the second wave of black metal, which originated in Norway with bands like Darkthrone, Burzum and Mayhem, who trafficked in murder, church burnings and anti-Christian sentiment. It is a documentary-worthy topic for sure — and one that was covered more thoroughly and enjoyably in the 1998 book “Lords of Chaos.” Though some of the folks interviewed are fascinating, particularly Varg Vikernes from Burzum, who answers questions from inside the prison where he’s serving 21 years for murder (for killing the member of rival black metal band), other members of the scene, like the pair from the band Immortal, who appeared in a dark room wearing dark shades, come off as laughable Spinal Tap-like caricatures. “I wanted a name I could identify with as a black metal artist,” said Kjetil Haraldstad, better known as Frost from the band Satyricon. “I wanted it to be like a purification of that side of me that was into the darkness and grimness and the coldness of black metal. It’s an alter ego.”
Why weren’t the cops who solved the crimes interviewed to provide details? Where were the interviews with the kids who committed the copycat church burnings? And where were the parents, friends and families of the band members profiled — the people who can really help us understand who these band members are at their core? The film doesn’t dive deep enough to provide a full picture, and as such, our interest in the topic never catches hold. We are left instead with a rough sketch instead of a richly drawn scene study. To boot, there is no critical look at black metal, no perspective on it’s influence or where it sprung from and very few actual black metal songs. Most of the film’s soundtrack is minimalistic electronic and industrial music.
Ultimately, the film is boring. Voiceover may be an overused narrative device for documentary filmmakers, but “Until the Light Takes Us” would have benefited from such a mechanism. Even the slightest narrative thread would have helped hold the film together and given it more direction. Instead, it simply weaves back and forth, never finding its direction or pace. The film almost assumes that viewers have a working knowledge of the topic, and it takes a good 10 or 15 minutes for the film to even hint at what it’s about. If you’re interested in the topic, buy the aforementioned book by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind instead. There is also a film version of the book in the works, with “Twilight” star Jackson Rathbone at one time attached to play Vikernes, but he has since dropped out.