Alexander Binder, Untitled, 2011, Lambda print, 12 x 16".

Aaron Metté, Afterlife 3 from Afterlife series, 2011, Giclee print, 9.1 x 24".

Evoking a Musical Beast that Speaks to a Dark Culture

Karlynn Holland, Forest I, 2009, India ink on Bristol, 19 x 24".

Terence Hannum, Pentagon IV, 2011, gouache on paper, 22 x 22",

Grant Willing, Untitled (Fenrir I), from Svart Metall series, 2008, digital fiber print, 14 x 11", © Grant Willing.

Grant Willing, Untitled (Ice) from Svart Metall series, 2008, digital fiber print, 14 x 11".

Grant Willing, Untitled (Claw), from Svart Metall series, 2009, digital fiber print, 14 x 11". © Grant Willing.

Alexander Binder, Untitled, 2011, Lambda print, 16 x 12".

Vincent Como, Descent, 2011, toner and acrylic medium on paper, 93 x 69.

Vincent Como, Descent, 2011, toner and acrylic medium on paper, 93 x 69".


Paragraph Gallery
23 East 12th Street
Kansas City
Black Thorns in the White Cube
January 20-March 3, 2012

Compiled by MIKE MILLER

The trials, tribulations, and peregrinations of Black Metal culture (see Svart Metal) may be lost to those who shuffle through this mortal coil with little or no awareness of the byplay of intercultures that live, thrive, or exist on this plane of the universe, but Black (or Dark) Metal seems to carry on in ways that aren't readily stitched together in the pointless pabulum of mainstream media for a public unready to accept the everyday darkness that lights the shadow of humanity.

Black Metal identifies an extreme genre of heavy metal music. Common traits include fast tempos, shrieked vocals, highly distorted guitars played with tremolo picking, blast beat drumming, raw recording, and unconventional song structure.

No Virginia, Black Metal, though it might be described as anti-Christian in discrete pockets of practice and appreciation, does not endorse neo-Nazism. It addresses the elemental in human existence. Black Metal is, in a word, Scandinavian, or more generally northern European though it has established beachheads all over the world. Think of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, 1957 (a Swedish production) or the more recent Valhalla Rising, 2009 (a Danish and U.K. coproduction) — films that cut to the quick on issues of Christianity and its worldly empire. Black Metal is not merely a "subgenre" of thrash music. It actually has a cultural voice, whether one hears it or not.

A second wave of Black Metal began in the early 1990s, spearheaded by the Norwegian Black Metal scene. During 1990-1994 a number of Norwegian artists began performing and releasing a new kind of Black Metal music. They developed the style of their 1980s forebears as a distinct genre that was separate from thrash metal. This was partly thanks to a new kind of guitar playing developed by Snorre "Blackthorn" Ruch of the bands Stigma Diabolicum and Thorns and also to Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth of Mayhem. Some members of these Norwegian bands would be responsible for a spate of crimes and controversy, including church burnings and murder. Within this scene, an aggressive anti-Christian mindset became a must for any artists to be finalized as "Black Metal." Visually, the dark themes of their music were complemented with corpsepaint, which became a way for many Black Metal artists to distinguish themselves from other metal bands of the era.

In May-June 1991, Euronymous of Mayhem opened an independent record shop named Helvete (Norwegian for "hell') in Oslo. Musicians from Mayhem, Burzum, Emperor and Thorns often met there, and it became the foremost outlet for Black Metal records. In its basement, Euronymous founded an independent record label named Deathlike Silence Productions. With the rising popularity of his band and others like it, the underground success of Euronymous's label is often credited for encouraging other record labels, that previously shunned Black Metal acts, to then reconsider and release their material.

On April 8, 1991, Mayhem vocalist Per Yngve "Dead" Ohlin committed suicide while alone in a house shared by the band. While fellow musicians often described Dead as odd and introverted off-stage, his on-stage persona was very different. He went to great lengths to make himself look like a corpse and would cut his arms while singing.

He was found with slit wrists and a shotgun wound to the head, by Mayhem guitarist Øystein 'Euronymous' Aarseth. Dead’s suicide note apologized for firing the weapon indoors and ended: "Excuse all the blood." Before calling the police, Euronymous allegedly went to a nearby shop and bought a disposable camera with which he photographed the body, after re-arranging some items. One of these photographs was later used as the cover of a bootleg live album called Dawn of the Black Hearts.

In time, rumors spread that Euronymous had made a stew with bits of Dead’s brain and had made necklaces with bits of his skull. The band later denied the former rumor, but confirmed that the latter was true. Moreover, Euronymous claimed to have given these necklaces to musicians he deemed worthy.

Musicians and fans of the Norwegian Black Metal scene took part in over 50 arsons of Christian churches in Norway from 1992 to 1996. Some of the buildings were hundreds of years old and seen as important historical landmarks. One of the first and most notable was Norway's Fantoft stave church, which police believed was burnt by Varg Vikernes of the one-man band Burzum. The cover of Burzum's EP Aske (Norwegian for "ashes") is a photograph of the Fantoft stave church after the arson. In May 1994 he was found guilty for the burnings of Holmenkollen Chapel, Skjold Church and Åsane Church. To coincide with the release of Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Vikernes and Euronymous had also allegedly plotted to blow up Nidaros Cathedral, which appears on the album cover. Euronymous's murder in August 1993 put an end to this plan and stalled the album's release. The musicians Samoth, Faust (both of Emperor) and Jørn Inge Tunsberg (of Hades Almighty) were also convicted of church arsons.

On August 10, 1993, Varg Vikernes of Burzum murdered Mayhem guitarist Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth. That night, Vikernes and Snorre "Blackthorn" Ruch (of Thorns) traveled from Bergen to Euronymous's apartment in Oslo. Vikernes fatally stabbed Euronymous. His body was found outside the apartment with 23 wounds – two to the head, five to the neck, and 16 to the back.

It has been speculated that the murder was the result of a power struggle, a financial dispute over Burzum records, or an attempt at "out doing" a stabbing in Lillehammer the year before by another Black Metal musician, Bård "Faust" Eithun. Vikernes claims that Aarseth had plotted to torture him to death and videotape the event — using a meeting about an unsigned contract as a pretext. On the night of the murder, Vikernes claims he intended to hand Euronymous the signed contract and "tell him to fuck off", but that Euronymous attacked him first. Vikernes also said that most of Euronymous's cut wounds were caused by broken glass he had fallen on during the struggle. This version is doubted by Faust and other members of the scene.

Whatever the circumstances, Vikernes was arrested within days and in May 1994 was sentenced to 21 years in prison (Norway's maximum penalty) for the murder and for four church arsons. Vikernes smiled when his verdict was read and the picture was widely reprinted in the news media. That month saw the release of Mayhem's album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, which has Euronymous on electric guitar and Vikernes on bass guitar. Before the release, Euronymous's family asked Mayhem's drummer, Hellhammer, to remove the bass tracks recorded by Vikernes. Hellhammer said "I thought it was appropriate that the murderer and victim were on the same record. I put word out that I was re-recording the bass parts, but I never did" In 2003, Vikernes failed to return to Tønsberg prison after being given a short leave. He was re-arrested shortly after while driving a stolen car with various weapons. Vikernes was released on parole in 2009.

The exhibition, Black Metal in the White Cub* is a curated (by Amelia Ishmael) melange of photography, printmaking, drawing, and artist books made by eight contemporary artists, influenced by the heavy, dark, and mystic obscurity of Black Metal music. Participating artists include Alexander Binder (Stuttgart, Germany), Vincent Como (Brooklyn), Terence Hannum (Baltimore), Karlynn Holland (Brooklyn), Elodie Lesourd (Paris), Aaron Mette (Brooklyn), Christophe Szpajdel (Exeter, U.K.), Grant Willing (Brooklyn, and Terza Zelenkova (London). Curator Ishmael says, "Engaging with the symbols, history, and myths of Black Metal, their images explore haunted Germanic forests, descents into the void, visual translations of sonic experience, ontologies of Black Metal band logos, and barren western landscapes. Together their artwork contributes to the discourse currently occurring in Black Metal theory, examines the innovations and significance of contemporary Black Metal visual art and offers an account of its critical disruptions."

Alexander Binder is a self-taught photographer based in Stuttgart, Germany. Born on Halloween night in the Black Forest, Binder’s lenses are mostly built from optical toys, old soviet cameras, prisms or plastic detritis. His photographs have been exhibited at Viktor Wynd Fine Art (London), Sugar (New York), and Feinkunst Krüger (Hamburg). Binder’s images have also been featured on album covers for Stephen O’Malley, Ural Umbo, and Black Mountain Transmitter.

Vincent Como, an artist and curator based in Brooklyn, received his BFA from Cleveland Institute of Art. He has exhibited at Proof Gallery (Boston), Western Exhibitions (Chicago), and VONZWECK (Chicago). Como has given presentations at the Black Metal Theory Symposium, the Contemporary Artists Books Conference, and the Bruce High Quality Foundation. In addition, he is co-founder of Horse Trader Gallery in Brooklyn.

Terence Hannum is an artist and musician based in Baltimore. He earned his BFA from Florida Southern College and MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Has has had solo exhibitions at Western Exhibitions, Chicago Cultural Center and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and group exhibitions at Locatie Z, The Hague (Netherlands), telephonebooth (Kansas City), and San Francisco Cinamatheque. Hannum has performed music solo, with Locrian and Unlucky Atlas, and in collaboration with Nicolas Lobo at De La Cruz Collection in Miami and Scott Treleaven at Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago.

Karlynn Holland is an artist and curator based in Brooklyn. She earned her BA from University of Chicago and a Certificate in Forensic Sculpture from New York Academy of Art. She has exhibited at Smart Museum of Art (Chicago) and New Art Center (Boston). Holland has designed logos for Dysrhythmia, Astomatous, and Krallice, and has collaborated with Kai Althoff and Brandon Stosuy in the exhibition *Mirror Me* at Dispatch Gallery, New York. Her ongoing curatorial project *Dreams Were Made for Mortals* is presented by St. Vitus, New York.

Elodie Lesourd is an artist and musician based in Paris, France. She completed her Post Graduate studies at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Nantes and earned her DNSEP from Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Lyon. She has exhibited at Olivier Robert Gallery (Paris), Minus Space (New York City), and Center for Contemporary Art (Lausanne, Switzerland). She has performed at her exhibitions at Les Eglises Contemporary Art Center (Chelles), MAC/VAL (Vitry-sur-Seine), and Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art (Paris). In addition, Lesourd was a guest editor to the May 2011 issue of C.S. Journal.

Aaron Metté is an artist and musician based in Brooklyn. He received a BFA from University of Louisville and an MFA from University of Pennsylvania. He has exhibited at Michael Steinberg Fine Arts (New York) and Crane Arts Center (Philadelphia), and collaborated with Terry Adkins in the performance Invocation to Bessie Smith at P.S.1 MoMA Center for Contemporary Art. Metté also leads experimental sound classes and workshops at 3rd Ward.

Christophe Szpajdel is an artist based in Exeter, U.K. Specializing in Black and Death Metal design, his work includes logos for the bands Emperor, Moonspell, Wolves in the Throne Room, Nachtmystium, and Enthroned, and for the 2008 documentary Until the Light Takes Us Szpajdel’s work has been published in the 2008 compendium Logos from Hell and his 2010 monograph Lord of the Logos. He has exhibited at the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis) and Studio Krimm (Berlin).

Grant Willing is a photographer based in Brooklyn. He earned his BFA from Parson’s New School for Design. His works has been exhibited at Interurban Gallery (Vancouver), Foam Fotografiemuseum (Amsterdam), and Corridor Gallery (Brooklyn). His artist books have featured at the NY Art Book Fair at PS1 MoMA, Indie Photobook Library at in Washington DC and Toronto, and Self Publish, Be Happy at the Photographer’s Gallery in London.

Tereza Zelenkova is a photographer based in London. She earned her BA from University of Westminster and is currently a MA candidate at the Royal College of Art. Her work has been exhibited by Jerwood Art Space (London), HotShoe Gallery (London), and the Chelsea Museum of Art (New York). Zelenkova’s photography series *Supreme Vice* was published by Morel Books.

Curator Amelia Ishmael is an artist whose practice includes critiquing, historicising, teaching, and curating other artists' practices. She has shared her gleanings on Black Metal and Contemporary Art at conferences internationally, including the Black Metal Theory Symposium in London and the Home of Metal Conference in Wolverhampton, U.K. Her writings have also appeared in ArtSlant, Art Papers, and Review. She received a BFA in Photography and New Media from the Kansas City Art Institute and a MA in Modern Art History, Theory, and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and was an Urban Culture Project studio resident.

Ishmael sums up the exhibition like this:
"Culture’s recent reengagement with Black Metal enacts a form of mythic speech. At the center of the early Black Metal subculture were four bands referred to as The Inner Circle: Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, and Emperor. International attention was directed to Black Metal briefly after a string of infamous crimes which became the basis of Black Metal’s recognized history — the suicide of Mayhem’s vocalist Dead in 1991, the burning of the historical Fantoft stave church in 1992, and the murder of Mayhem’s guitarist Euronymous in 1993. In the wake of these events, a thick fog obscured specific details as all the protagonists were either deceased, imprisoned, or seduced by potential fame to conceal or alter truths. These paramusical and divisive events have permanently stained Black Metal. Most of what we can know of Black Metal’s early history is based on rumors, tabloids, and bootlegged demos. It is exceedingly difficult for Black Metal to persist after these definitive moments: it is excruciatingly impossible for Black Metal desist after the establishment of such a potent genesis. In the 21st century, Black Metal continues to evolve and awareness of Black Metal’s significant cultural impact on sociologists, musicians, and theorists has sparked international conferences, publications, and even diplomacy.

"Black Thorns in the White Cube demonstrates the emergence of contemporary artists who are bilingual, speaking both Black Metal and Art History fluently."

Christophe Szpajdel, Black Thorns in the White Cube, 2011, ink and graphite on paper, 8.3 x 11.7".

Tereza Zelenkova, Zabriskie from Supreme Vice series, 2009, Lambda print, 27.5 x 39.25".