Friday, November 12th, 2010 at 12:36 pm
Until The Light Takes Us DVD | 2-Disc DVD | Blu-Ray
Directed by Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell
Starring Gylve “Fenriz” Nagell, Varg Vikernes, Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg, Kjetil “Frost” Haraldstad
Released: October 19, 2010
It was the early 1990s, and for metalheads, change was in the air. “Alternative” was the buzz word being bandied about by music marketing, Grunge had taken over the charts, new bands and new sounds were coming… but among metal fans there was a desire to search and find something new and something different — and many were looking for more extreme and brutal movements.
Enter the Norwegian Black Metal movement. A lot of metal fans were first introduced to this scene when news hit international media of Varg Vikernes (Burzum) being arrested and tried for burning a number of churches across Norway. The media across the world had a field day with the story, labeling the initially underground movement of Black Metal being driven by “Satanic” influences.
The crimes, the deaths, and the church burnings quickly became identifiable with the Black Metal movement from Norway; but it opened up a new surge of followers that established the sound of Norwegian Black Metal as an integral and significant part of the history of metal in general.
For many fans, this was their first discovery of this movement. I can recall reading the articles from Kerrang and Hot Metal all those years ago, and wanting to learn more about these bands myself. There was an element of intimidation with this media coverage, hinting that following these bands was somehow “dangerous” or “forbidden.”
But while the press have typically demonized the movement, there were always deep cultural roots in Norwegian Black Metal; a fact that has often been underplayed in media coverage looking at the early beginnings of the scene.
Several weeks ago, Jay Fowler and I interviewed Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell, directors of the documentary Until The Light Takes Us, on the podcast Social Blend. The movie is significant in that it looks beyond the traditional media perspective of the church burnings and crimes, and delves deeply into the history of the Black Metal scene in Norway. Unlike many documentaries, where a voiceover guides the viewer through the story, Aites and Ewell remain silent – and allow the originators of Norwegian Black Metal (notably Varg of Burzum and Fenriz of Darkthrone), tell their story.
While the silence of the directors doesn’t tell the viewer how they had moved to Norway and lived with the musicians for several years to plan for this movie and gain their trust, it does however allow the interviewees’ voices to carry the story. This first-hand testimony format is incredibly effective and, at times, poignant. The story is fairly chronological, and follows the evolution of the scene, covering some of the major moments in the history of bands such as Mayhem – and the stories of events such as the suicide of Per Yngve Ohlin aka "Dead" through to Varg’s recount of the murder of Ã˜ystein “Euronymous” Aarseth come across as chilling, somber, and intense.
The winning element of the film is the manner in which Aites and Ewell cover the motivations behind the church burnings that became associated with the movement, highlighting that the actions of those responsible for the arsons were far more cultural in nature – and along with Fenriz’s and Varg’s retelling of events, enable the viewer to absorb the full history within the context of the Norwegian perspective.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Until The Light Takes Us is the fact that the directors have treated the music scene and its history with the utmost respect in the making of this film, something that will not and has not gone unnoticed by metal fans. And while the chilling recounts of the crimes and controversies that came from the movement stand out strongly, perhaps the most enjoyable part of the film is listening to the recollections of Varg and Fenriz describing the recordings and releases from the early days of the movement. Additionally the early grainy video footage of “Dead” and the performance of some of the bands add a noteworthy touch to the documentary as well.
Without downplaying the significance of the controversies and crimes that have become associated with the movement (or letting them pass or slide, so to speak), the directors examine how a small underground movement that represented an art form of expressing darkness (among many other issues) has since evolved into an international musical movement; and how that has impacted those responsible for creating the initial movement.
The DVD release of Until The Light Takes Us comes in unconventional packaging compared to your standard DVD fare. The packaging reminds me a lot of the old digipaks that were quite popular in the early 1990’s with CD releases, with the added bonus of an almost hidden glossy corpse-paint design on the cover (look carefully at the artwork, you’ll see what I mean). Rounding out the release is its second disc, full to the brim with almost 4 hours of additional footage of interviews and discussions with Fenriz, Varg, and other artist that didn’t make the final cut of the main documentary.
The directors of Until The Light Takes Us have embraced the support of fans on the web for quite some time, and in addition to the release of the documentary on DVD, they have made the full film (along with some extras) available for viewing at their official site. So if you want to check out what the movie is all about right now, all you need to do is head over there.
For metalheads, this documentary is a must-see. Like Anvil: The Story of Anvil and Sam Dunn’s Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, Until The Light Takes Us is a film that not only treats the metal scene with the respect it deserves, but that allows itself to delve deeper into the meanings behind the sub-genre scenes, becoming an eye-opening experience for the viewer. For people not into metal, the documentary still is worth seeing, as it gives an in-depth journey into the context of the importance of Norwegian culture – as well as prompting you to walk away from the movie deep in thought regarding the concepts that define and threaten cultural movements. 5 out of 5 – metal horns way up on this one.