Monday, January 9, 2017

Michael Moynihan + Didrik Soderlind's "Lords of Chaos": Book Review

This book has sparked much attention, considering its volatile subject. Reading it at a distance of 15-20 years from the events, the subtitle "the bloody rise of the Satanic metal underground" betrays the gist and the gore of the account. That is, it examines the media role in "satanic panic" while it responds to it. Michael Moynihan, joined by Didrik Soderlind, extracts the roots of the black metal scene, especially in Norway. The first three chapters range widely, with surprising scholarship sprinkled into the narrative, with engaging metaphors and clever asides. Entertaining and educational, this start bodes well to expose this scene for everyday readers, who likely lack knowledge firsthand.

The authors then delve into the "bloody" events. They preface their manner of investigating this milieu in an "unflinching fashion" with a reminder some may overlook. Twice on pp. x/xi they remind us. "It is not our job to pass judgment on our subjects; we expect our readers to have the intelligence to do that for themselves." And, noting our our world needs "dangerous ideas more than ever," even if it "may not need the often ill-formed and destructive ideas expressed by some of the protagonists" in this study, nevertheless "we felt all along that this is an issue for the individual reader to decide." Intriguingly, my public library system shelves this in the Young Adult musical section.

While the central characters are well-known within the small black metal community, the authors enrich their presentation with scholars and observers less expected. For instance, Jacob Jervill, a Christian minister, laments the decline of attention paid to evil within the State Church of Norway, and he analyzes the vacuum left by the diminished force of that tradition in a system where affluence, conformity, and comfort spark not contentment but unrest among some growing up feeling outsiders.

Likewise, in Ch. 10, critiques by the members of Ulver, by Simen Midgaard, and by Pal Mathiesen deepen one's understanding of the forces tempting youth towards acts of destruction and sounds of despair. Varg Vikernes, as a lightning rod for such energies, typically avers: "I never say anything to 'provoke,' but I 'provoke' intentionally to say something." (qtd. 162) His pronouncements fill many pages of this work, and the authors editorialize vis-a-vis his "ex post facto revisionism" his habit to frame previous remarks in light of his present concerns. These do evolve or shift, as the Nordic concentration among this set turns from a youthful dalliance or dance with the "adversary" to a more folkish and saga lore-inspired Odinist or Ásatrú focused revival of the suppressed old beliefs. (213)

Michael Rothstein speaks of the willingness of certain believers to then turn to Thule and UFOs as extended forays into Northern occultism. These searchers then find authorities, however discredited, to support their worldview. (188) So, Lords of Chaos (the title taken rather anti-climatically from a clique of Ft. Myers, Florida, teens led by one of their number who called himself God) serves too as a reminder of how alternative and fringe movements gravitate towards earlier conspiracies and cabals.

For this, Hendrik Mobus' interview offers the most in-depth example. Calling himself a scapegoat like a "modern Loki," (292) he and Varg (p. 162) justify a shared ambition to recast black metal in a "militant heathen" (303) mode of attack. In retrospect, the authors place the satanic adjective of their subtitle in a time period late in the 20c, waning more than waxing by the time of the 2003 2nd ed.

But as Vikernes rationalizes, the dramatic claim of why medieval stave churches were burned across his homeland echoes, even as the mindset of the perpetrators may move with the times, new and old. "Show Odin to the people and Odin will be lit in their souls." (96) Many may scoff at this confident proclamation, but a few do seek out heathen ways as more invigorating than Christianity's claims.

P.S. This book while footnoted could have been improved by an index. The chapters skip about and transitions diminish as the pages add up. It aims for an international coverage but this weakens the later sections. As it progresses, it's as if journalism has been inserted or recycled. Women barely appear; this may not be the fault of the authors, but it symbolizes a lacuna worth questioning. The clip art and illustrations may lighten density but it lessens the impact as not all are necessary. It could have listed a discography, to supplement URLs for indie labels and told more about the music itself from leading bands as well as their deeds, crimes, and punishments. A needed if now-dated resource.
(Amazon US 1/4/17)

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