‘Colourful Black Metal’: Darkthrone’s New Album ‘Arctic Thunder’

On 14th October 2016, Nowergian Black Metal veterans and pioneers Darkthrone will release their new full-length record ‘Arctic Thunder’. It is the follow-up to 2013’s ‘The Underground Resistance’. Having only two constant members, Gylve Fenris ‘Fenriz’ Nagell (born 1971, most of all known as the band’s drummer)  and Ted ‘Nocturno Culto’ Skjellum (born 1972, most of all acting as the group’s vocalist and lead guitarist), the band is considered to be one of the pioneering und most important acts of early 1990s’ Norwergian, then European and global Black Metal music and culture.1

Their early albums, such as ‘Panzerfaust’ (1995) or ‘Transilvanian Hunger’ (1994), clearly made references to fascist, Nazist and racist  ideologies. Still, there is a lot of dispute and discussion if this is to be seen as ‘provocation’ or as ‘authentic’ political statements. The latter album even had printed ‘Norsk Arisk Black Metal’ (‘Norwegian Aryan Black Metal’) on it. So, from my point of view, this aspect of the band’s cultural history is to be seen more than critically; it has to be rejected. In Black Metal discourse, as an artistic and ‘rebellious’, therefore, emancipative discourse, there can be no discursive space for racism.

This said, there is a an aspect in the band’s  cultural history of identity, taking a very clear form in the aesthetics of ‘Arctic Thunder’ (at this time, the promotional release of the album is available already). Darkthrone started out as a Death Metal outfit in 1986, turning to Black Metal aesthetics in 1991. The ‘blackish’ design of the band’s identity, claiming it to be a ‘true’ Black Metal group, was kept up to around the year of 2005; with the album ‘The Cult Is Alive’ (2006), the two artitsts decided to incorporate Punk, Rock and Classic Metal elements into their music. They became a ‘Black’n’Roll’-band which they can be seen to still be in 2016.

Yet, reflecting on the band’s history of identity, a ‘micro-macro-history’ of their cultural identity from 1986 until today, focusing on the ‘microscopic’ topic of the band’s identitary aesthetics, the new album is – in a certain way – an extraordinary one. The music heard on the record seems to be a progression of what the band is doing but the overall aesthetics hark back to the band’s classical black metal phase from 1991 to 1995. This is the record’s cover:

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This cover’s features are, in a cultural ‘micro-macro’ perspective of the band’s history of identity, very interesting – and, special. The cover shows dark woods, fire (I guess, a campfire), the band’s logo and the record’s title. This is a very straight codification of early 1990’s Black Metal aesthetics: the topics and metaphors of fire and woods have become standout topics of Black Metal in its cultural orthodoxy. But, when looking back at the band’s classical records from 1991 to 1995, they all had a black and white outfit. So, what is, in a certain way, the key move on ‘Arctic Thunder’ is to use a orthodox, very traditional and classical black metal identity but to paint it colourfully.

This move can be seen in both ways, literally and metaphorically: literally the band follows, now, a more colourful approach in their aesthetics of identity. Metaphorically, and this is from the mentioned ‘micro-macro’ perspective of history the more interesting one, the band breaks classical Black Metal monochromy and re-composes it in colour. Black Metal is – self-conciously, and, somehow, courageously – hybridized with Rock’n’Roll. The band did so since ten years but, in 2016, they start to do it more explicitly. So, from this allegorical perspective, we can see a new era beginning in the group’s cultural history of identity. In 2016, the band plays ‘colourful Black Metal’.

So, reflecting on it in a broad cultural historical perspective, this is a tempting move. In 1966, exactly fifty years ago, the Rolling Stones wanted to ‘paint it black‘, releasing a single of this title. In 2016, the seemingly most extreme one of popular music cultures, Black Metal, at least one of their key-players, wants to ‘paint it colourfully‘. I am eager to see and listen what kind of broader trends in cultural history this can be seen to represent metaphorically.


  1. For Black Metal and Extreme Metal cultural history, cf. Keith Kahn-Harris: Extreme Metal. Music and Culture on the Edge. Oxford 2007; Dayal Patterson: Black Metal. Evolution of the Cult. New York 2013; also, cf. idem: Black Metal. Prelude to the Cult.  N.p. 2013; idem: Black Metal. The Cult Never Dies. N.p. 2015; idem: Black Metal. Into the Abyss. N.p. 2016. 

  2. Source: http://www.nuclearblast.de/static/articles/253/253324-1.jpg/1000×1000.jpg, retrieved 12/10/2016. 

‘Metal On The Hill 2016’: A ‘Thick Description’ of a Cultural Historian’s Imagination at an Extreme Metal Festival

The context

One week ago, on 13. August 2016, being a Metal music fan, I attended the ‘Metal On The Hill 2016’1 festival, a festival of Extreme Metal, organized by a Styrian Heavy Metal label, which took place on the ‘Schlossberg’ and its ‘Kasemattenbühne’ in the city centre of Graz. The location is an old vault with brick walls, which used to be the storage of the town’s castle since Renaissance days.2 It was re-functioned as a ‘Freilichtbühne’, an open-air arena under historical auspices, in recent time. There, at the historical centre of the regional area of Styria, for the first time, an Extreme Metal festival took place.

This is not only another indication that Metal reaches the cultural mainstream but it means that, spatially and metaphorically, the performance of Extreme Metal music reached the heart of an old – historical – Austrian and European city. Graz, being the second largest urban area of Austria, having about 250.000 inhabitants,3 is, thus, a kind of a cultural ‘avantgardian’ of Austria and Europe: it integrates Extreme Metal into its cultural narrative. For sure, that Napalm Records,4 the label which organized the festival, originates from Eisenerz, Styria, favoured this process.

What I want to reflect on in this article, is the imagination and experience of a cultural historian, at the same time a Metal music fan, attending this festival. I want to employ the theory of ‘thick description’, developed by anthropologist Clifford Geertz in the 1970s,5 on this imagination and experience. I want to do a thick description of a cultural historian’s imagination in Extreme Metal music, at a certain place, at a certain time of contemporary history.

Coming to the arena: a conservative experience

On the day of the festival, 13. August 2016, I arrived at the Kasemattenbühne at about 2 p.m. There was already a rather big crowd. My first impression was that it was going to be well received and well attended. The location was situated beneath a modern roof, but, actually, it was a place of history, of ‘old Graz’ which I grew up in:

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Like this, coming to the arena of Kasemattenbühne, I felt to be a part of Graz’ and Styria’s history and the imagined community of Metal music, at once . This is a rather peculiar and new, almost innovative finding of research: so far, Metal music and its cultural discourse has claimed to be emancipative; a transformative force of culture.7 Being at the Metal On The Hill festival, for me, was a conservative experience: it was an experience of Heavy Metal music happening within the ‘old’ framedwork of my regional belonging and history. It was a conservative experience – but still there was the imaginary and culture of rebellion, anarchy and ‘being against the establishment’ that forms the cultural core narrative of Metal music.

Experiencing conservative anarchism

The billing of the festival featured many long-standing successful bands  and ‘newcomers’ in Extreme Metal: Moonspell, Mantar, Satyricon and Arch Enemy were some of the main acts.8 Too, there were some bands which one could call Alternative Metal or Rock: And Then She Came  from Germany and Italian group Lacuna Coil were this side of the festival. The festival lasted from about 2 p.m. to 10:30 pm. Hence, it was  about eight hours of dense music and images of Metal culture, most of all Extreme Metal discourse:

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Taking a look at these pictures, makes very clear that the festival, as experienced by myself as a ‘metalhead’ and cultural historian at once, but by many other people in the ‘crowd’, too, was a a classical Heavy Metal experience; in terms of sound, sphere and imaginary. It was loud, it was crowded, and it was full of symbolism of riot, of revolution, of satanism and anti-christianism (Satyricon), as well as mysticism (Moonspell). It was a mixture of brutality and mythology.

That was the feeling of the metalhead in me. But, the cultural historian in my head acknowleged something else. At Metal On The Hill 2016 festival, Extreme Metal (noise, brutality, satanism, mysticism, crowdedness, Extreme Metal identity) took place within the space of common Styrian history. Its discourse progressed to the heart of Styrian regional and local history, spatially embodied by the Kasemattenbühne on the Schlossberg, in the city centre of Graz. So, for me as a cultural historian, I imagine the festival to be a discourse of conservative anarchism.

A thick description of conservative anarchism

So, looking back at my personal and professional experience at this festival, it is a form of memorial and cultural imagination of the past which can be called a ‘thick description’ of conservative anarchism. We have to be aware of the very fact, also in the case of this festival, that Heavy Metal is marching into cultural mainstream. This process changes its identity and discourse. It makes its discourse become attached to conservatism but at the same time Heavy Metal and Extreme Metal stick to their imaginary of anarchism and other ‘blackisms’. Thus, when trying to give a cultural-historical description of the 2016 Graz  Metal On The Hill festival as a cultural event, it has to be seen as a play of conservative anarchism. It was an event where old and new, regional history and Heavy Metal culture met: what we do have to expect from that rendez-vous, I do not know. But, it is very likely that it will change both – conservatism and Metal culture.


  1. Cf. http://www.metal-on-the-hill.com/, retrieved 20.08.2016. 

  2. Cf.  www.graz.at., retrieved 20.08.2016. 

  3. Cf. ibid. 

  4. Cf. https://shop.napalmrecords.com/, retrieved 20.08.2016. 

  5. Cf. Clifford Geertz: Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture”. In The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York 1973, 3-30. 

  6. The Kasemattenbühne; photo: Peter Pichler.  

  7. Cf. Jeremy Wallach e.a. (eds.): Metal Rules the Globe. Heavy Metal Music around the World. Durham & London 2012.  

  8. Cf. ibid. 

  9. And Then She Came; photo: Peter Pichler. 

  10. Mantar; photo: Peter Pichler. 

  11. Moonspell; photo: Peter Pichler. 

  12. Lacuna Coil; photo: Peter Pichler. 

  13. Satyricon; photo: Peter Pichler. 

Die derzeitige Situation der Welt und Europas im Kontext der harten Musik: “Rust In Peace”?

Wenn man sich derzeitig in Europa und der Welt bewegt, noch dazu als Historiker, der es sich zur Aufgabe gesetzt hat, die Welt im Werden zu sehen, kann es einem schaudern: In Österreich wird ein Poltitiker der Freiheitlichen Partei Österreichs klarer Favorit zur Stichwahl zum Bundespräsidenten, der sich nicht verübelt, als solcher Kandidat mit Symbolen des Deutschnationalismus aufzutreten; sowie überhaupt die Rolle des Bundespräsidenten im Verfassungsrang zu verschieben. Sein linksliberaler Gegenkandidat hat wohl daher schlechte Karten, da sein Portfolio “grün” assoziiert ist, und das ist im Jahr nach der “Flüchtlingskrise”, mit umgehender Angst vor dem Fremden (wieso auch immer), ein höchst schlechter Kredit.

Der Wiener Historiker Wolfgang Schmale hat die momentane Situation, in der wir uns leider befinden, als “Massaker an der Sprache der Freiheit” charakterisiert. Und er hat Recht: In ganz Europa, nein, eigentlich gobal, werden all die Diskurse, die sich auf Toleranz, Miteinander, Überbrückung der Grenzen, Transkulturalität, Emanzipation, ja, ich wage es zu sagen, Europa, beziehen, mit Füßen getreten. Wir erleben eine Gegenwart der Diskurse, die Authentizität in einer Zeit sucht, die Horror hervorbrachte: die 1930er-Jahre. In den 1930er-Jahren, Österreich bis 1934 und 1938, in Deutschland nur bis 1933, gab es ein Schwanken zwischen Pluralismus und monolithisch-nationaler Auserwähltheit, aber – wie wir alle bestens wissen – scheiterte  es am nationalen Denken.

Natürlich, der Mai des Jahres 2016 ist nicht der Januar des Jahres 1933 – aber wir haben in Europa folgenden “Schatz” der Gegenwart: Nationalisierung, Viktimisierung, Zerstörung des Transnationalen, Zerstörung des Respekts und Zerstörung der Würde unser aller; die “driving force” des allen ist die Angst vor dem Diffusen der Globalisierung und den Krisen unserer Zeit, in der die Nation die “Antwort” und “Rettung” zu sein scheint. Sie kann es nicht sein, weil die Nation im Globalen eben nur die Nation ist – sie ist nicht EUropa, sie ist nicht die Welt. Kurz, wir brauchen einen Weg nach EUropa, einen Weg in die Welt. Um den drohenden Horizont mit Megadeth zu beschreiben:

Tremble you weaklings, cower in fear
I am your ruler, land, sea and air
Immense in my girth, erect I stand tall
I am a nuclear murderer I am Polaris
Ready to pounce at the touch of a button
My system locked in on military gluttons

I rule on land, air and sea
Pass judgment on humanity
Winds blow from the bowels of hell
Will we give warning, only time will tell
Satan rears his ugly head, to spit into the wind

I spread disease like a dog
Discharge my payload a mile high
Rotten egg air of death wrestles your nostrils
Launch the Polaris, the end doesn’t scare us

When will this cease
The warheads will all rust in peace
Bomb shelters filled to the brim
Survival such a silly whim
World leaders sell missiles cheap
Your stomach turns, your flesh creeps

High priest of holocaust, fire from the sea
Nuclear winter spreading disease
The day of final conflict
All pay the price
The third world war
Rapes peace, takes life
Back to the start, talk of the part
When the earth was cold as ice
Total dismay as the sun passed away
And the days where black as night

Eradication of earth’s
Population loves Polaris.1


  1. Quelle: Lyrics zum Song “Rust In Peace…Polaris” vom Album “Rust In Peace”, 1990.