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From Satan to Hitler: Black Metal Bands Still Popular

'Black metal' music has gone from a rebellious adolescent genre to a scene increasingly affiliated with neo-Nazism and murder.

When the British band Venom first started spewing Satanic lyrics some two decades ago, its album, "Black Metal," flew off the shelves. Adopting the black metal moniker, a youthful subculture grew around the music of Venom and similar bands, enchanted by the shocking anti-Christian themes and the dark concert displays of skulls, capes, and devilish make-up.

By the 1990s, a more political offshoot evolved out of the black metal scene — "national socialist black metal" (NSBM) — combining Satanism with pagan and neo-fascist themes.

As black metal bands popped up across Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, Scandinavia — especially Norway — emerged as the scene's epicenter.

The band Mayhem was formed in 1984 by Norwegian Øystein Aarseth, who once strung a necklace with the skull fragments of a former member named Dead (he'd committed suicide). Dubbing himself and his followers the "Black Circle," Aarseth merged Satanist and neo-Pagan theologies. Christianity, he said, should be violently expelled from Norway and replaced with his cultish mix.

Aarseth's message was taken to heart.

Starting in 1991, there were dozens of church burnings in Norway, which the Norwegian press blamed on the Black Circle. In neighboring countries, and in Russia, church burnings were also linked to denizens of the black metal scene.

Convicted, in the end, for several of the arsons in Norway was Varg Vikernes, Aarseth's protégé and fellow Black Circle leader. Vikernes also admitted that he'd planned to blow up a leftist enclave in Oslo called the Blitz.

Once in prison, Vikernes injected National Socialism into the blend of Satanism and Paganism that he'd inherited from Aarseth. Since 1994, like-minded musicians have taken up this ideological composite, with Nazism often coming to the fore. NSBM, as the name indicates, is plainly fascist.

The black metal scene, as a whole, is known for its violence. Several murders in Scandinavia were attributed to principals of the scene, and at least 100 churches were burned by arsonists.

Indeed, the reason Vikernes still sits is prison is that he murdered his former mentor. Aarseth had promoted Vikernes' one-man band, but under murky circumstances, the relationship ended with just one man alive.

If the violence that erupts in NSBM scene is due largely to the character of its artists, there is another important factor. The lyrics typical of NSBM are illegal in much of Europe, where neo-Nazi speech has been banned.

Consigned to the black market, NSBM has become a highly lucrative criminal enterprise — something that its profiteers have fought over tooth and nail.

In 1997, a gang war swept the white power music scene in Sweden. The conflict "resulted in several deaths, a bomb sent to a Swedish cabinet minister, and sundry other mayhem," according the Encylopedia of White Power.

The fierce Combat 18 group, hailing from Britain, was pitted against a Swedish label, Nordland, which is associated with the Resistance Records label of America's leading neo-Nazi, William Pierce. Resistance/Nordland ultimately won the war, retaining control of the market as Combat 18 leaders went to prison for murder.