How To Become A Legend In Music, Vol. 2

How one man became a Black Metal legend.

By Bruce K. Hamilton

(Author’s note: This is going to be the last musician-analysis-type-thing that I’ll do for a while. I don’t want to run the risk of being a third-rate Chuck Klosterman rip-off. Holy hyphens, Batman!)

The year is 1992 and the place is Norway.  A band (erm, one guy) called Burzum puts out an oh-so-cleverly-named album titled Burzum. It goes virtually unnoticed by the public, however, a small group of pissed off Norwegian kids obsess over it and it suddenly is launched into the stratosphere of popularity.

Actually, I don’t have any evidence as to whether or not that happened.  In fact, there’s no feasible way for me to explain why Burzum became popular.  But we can at least try to figure this age-old mystery out, through the use of a question-answer format.

Q: Was Burzum the first group to play black metal?

A: First of all, Burzum isn’t really a group. It was one guy. His name was Varg Vikernes, or “Count Grishnackh”. I’m quite offended that you would lack such basic knowledge of such a culturally-significant music scene. Second of all, no, not exactly.  Mayhem was playing black metal at least six years before Vikernes released his first album. If you’re sharp, you’ll realize that this rules out the possibility that Burzum became legendary in the black metal scene through sheer creativity.

Q: Was Burzum any good at playing black metal?

A: Yes and no. The first four Burzum albums are considered hallmarks of the genre and exemplify the atmosphere and recklessness that Norwegian black metal eventually became famous for (well, as famous as Norwegian black metal ever was).  However, those albums suck.  There is a reason that Burzum’s fan base is so small and is definitely a reason as to why you’ve never heard of Burzum before you read this silly article. The first four albums were horrible. In fact, there isn’t a single Burzum release that surpasses halfway decent by the standards of anybody outside the extremely exclusive black metal scene. After showcasing his work, ask a little cousin, a sibling, your mother, and your best friend what they think of any of Vikernes’ songs. I can guarantee their opinion will not warrant a score above halfway decent. Guaranteed. Ordinarily, “halfway decent” would not be grounds to bash an artist’s work, but remember: Burzum is legendary in the metal scene. His fans adore him in a way that’s reminiscent of anybody defending the musical merit of Bob Marley. So why is Varg Vikernes so renowned?

Q: Did Burzum (or more importantly, Vikernes) make appalling statements and generally seek attention through shock-rock tactics?

A: Funny you should ask! Why yes, yes, Varg Vikernes did do exactly that. He has been quoted as saying that certain races are “subhuman”, that Christianity is “HIV/AIDS of the spirit and mind” and is undoubtedly classified as a neo-Nazi, even to this day.  But seriously! That’s enough to make a name for yourself?

Well, that’s not all. He was convicted of killing former bandmate Oystein Aarseth, by means of slashing him twenty-three times.  The motive? According to Vikernes, Aarseth had “planned to kill him and that he was striking first in self-defense”. Oh yeah, he also burned down a bunch of Norwegian churches (one of them on Christmas Day) and has stated that the Norwegian church burnings “will continue in the future”.

Now at this point, it is important to remember our original goal: to figure out why the hell a gimmicky musician became famous. And that’s just the reason: the gimmicks themselves. Varg Vikernes’ legacy is greater than himself (and all his albums combined) simply because he lives out an extreme lifestyle that makes anyone with even a little conscience uncomfortable. Calling them gimmicks is probably a bit too demeaning, considering Varg Vikernes would probably stab me at least twenty-three times for denouncing his cultural existence. Gimmicks, by definition, have little to no actual value, and Vikernes would argue that what he stands for has much integrity. The argument about value in the context of Burzum would derail this already moronic essay a little more, so let’s cut to the chase: Burzum became legendary through very little real innovation and shock-rock tactics taken to a scary extreme.  KISS was not burning down churches in 1981 (although Ace Frehly did almost kill someday while drunk driving at least twice, as noted by him), but at face value, Burzum is no different than KISS, philosophically speaking.  Varg Vikernes is now worshipped by trench-coat wearing high schoolers because of ancient tactics that scared middle class parents of Elvis in the 1950s.

I mean, if you knew anything about black metal, you’d listen to Mayhem instead, you uncultured conformist scum.

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