Monday, June 28, 2010

Reader Requested Post: My Opinions on Varg Vikernes

This post was requested by Kelly.

Varg Vikernes is easily one of the most polarizing figures in metal. He is controversial not only for his actions, but his opinions, and his music. He is viewed by some as a musical genius, by others as a racist and a murderer. I may not agree with much he has said, and I certainly do not agree with many of his actions, but I do on occasion listen to the band he formed. This post is about my opinions on Mr. Vikernes.

I'm going to start from a fairly easy place. His music. In 1991, Vikernes formed the one-man black metal band Burzum, a band that was highly influential in the formative years of the second wave of Norwegian black metal. Burzum's cold atmosphere, tremolo riffing, harsh vocals, and blast and double kick drumming, and low production values helped lay the framework for how other black metal bands would sound. Burzum also began experimenting with dark ambient music and released two albums in this style while Vikernes was in prison. Vikernes also played bass on the seminal Mayhem album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas.

I only own one Burzum album, Det Som Engang Var, but it is an extremely interesting album and is viewed as one of Burzum's best. I also own the Mayhem album he appeared on, but the bass is not terribly audible, so I can't tell if he did a good job or not.

Many people blame Vikernes for the trend of "bedroom black metal" bands who feature extremely low-quality on their recordings and repeat riffs ad nauseum while attempting to sound evil and dark. While Burzum definitely had an influence on groups like this, it's not entirely Vikernes's fault these groups exist. It certainly has no effect on the quality of his own music.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Vikernes is his beliefs. Vikernes identified himself as a Nazi after his murder conviction. This eventually ceased, however he was still mostly a racialist and a pagan. He espoused views against mixing of races, but tempered that with stating that being proud of one's heritage is equally valid and beneficial for everyone. He states that he does not actually hate anyone because hatred is irrational.

It is those racist ideals and views that have placed Vikernes in the middle of frequent controversy. I do not share his beliefs. At all. However, he is entitled to have them. Even though he is not an American, I still believe that everyone should be free to have their own beliefs. As long as those beliefs do not harm others. Vikernes has harmed people in the past, there is no doubt about that, but his racism remains mostly inside his head or on paper. He is against race mixing and is very interested in his own culture. However, it is not out of hatred of other races, it is in the interests of preserving his own ancestry. His ideas may not make sense to most people, including myself, but I do not believe that he is racist because he hates other cultures. He is racist because he so dearly loves his own.

Vikernes has spent a considerable amount of time in prison. He was found guilty of murdering Mayhem guitarist Euronymous, as well as arson of four churches. While Vikernes never actually confessed to the church burnings, he wrote to support them, claiming it was vengeance for the mistreatment of Norwegian heathens. This theory ties back to his racist beliefs.

The motive for the murder of Euronymous is less clear. Varying stories have placed the conflict over leadership of a Satanic cult, affections of a girl, and a dispute over a record contract as Euronymous ran Deathlike Silence, the label on which Burzum released material. Vikernes claims self-defense. Other sources claim it was done as part of a much larger conspiracy to blow up the Blitz house, a leftist and anarchist meeting place in Oslo.

I think the Satanic cult theory can be dismissed as Vikernes was not a Satanist. The only one with much physical evidence backing it up is the conspiracy theory as police found a significant amount of explosives in Vikernes's home after his arrest.

This is where I really have an issue with Vikernes as I don't believe vandalism and violence are ever the answers. I have no issue with him having certain beliefs as long as they are not acted upon. However, it is his aversion to Christianity that has allegedly lead him to burn down churches. There is no excuse for breaking the law. Laws are in place for society to regulate itself. I believe in Constitutional rights, which are not universal for other countries, but I still believe they should be upheld. This would allow Vikernes to believe whatever he wants, whether we agree or not, but not to do whatever he wants.

I have long been able to disconnect the people in the band from the music. There are some unsavory characters in metal, but I continue to listen to it because I love the music. Vikernes was the most difficult person for me to reconcile my feelings for his music with my feelings for the person. However, as repugnant as I find the man, I believe his music is very good. I strongly disagree with his beliefs, but I am glad we live in a world where one is allowed to have different beliefs. It is his crimes that I have more of an issue with. As an officer of the court, and thus a representative of the legal system, I have an issue with flaunting the law for personal gain. However, I still find myself disconnecting the person from the music. I picked up the only albums I own featuring Vikernes second-hand. He won't be getting any money from me, but I will get to listen to his music.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. We have a surprisingly similar view. So similar, in fact, I don't think I'll need to write my own post to state my own views--I'll just link to yours.

    I can separate the man from his music. But when actions come into play, that's different. I don't own any of his music because even buying it secondhand (in theory) supports him financially.

    Most people are more offended by his racism than anything else. Since he hasn't actually physically acted on it, it's much less important than the other two points. And in any case, he only espouses separation of the races, which is much less dangerous than some other racist beliefs. Still disgusting, though.

    The second most cited reason for disliking him is the murder. I find this one only slightly worse than his racist beliefs, because of the beliefs of the victim himself. Euronymous believed that evil things (such as murder) should be done simply because they are evil, and Satan wants them to be done. I often wonder whether he thought of the implications of this while he was being stabbed to death--did he say, "I approve of what you're doing, at least in the abstract" between his screams? Or was it, "Maybe that was only good in theory. . . ."

    In any case, this means the murder was really only a crime against the state, not the "victim", so in that sense is much less worthy of revulsion.

    Like you, it seems, I feel the church burnings are the most significant reason to dislike Vikernes. He relies so much on his freedom of speech, and yet vandalizes other people's property because of the beliefs of the owners of that property. If Christians still imposed their beliefs on others in civilized countries (well, then I guess they wouldn't be civilized) then he would be dead, or imprisoned for life. It is only at the mercy and civility of modern-day Christians who have given up some degree of ideological control (at least by force) that he is able to be free today.

    Civilization is coextensive with freedom of speech and thought. Such freedom can only be attained if it is protected from both the state and rogue actors. In that sense, he is an unwitting anarchist, though I don't believe he espouses anarchist beliefs.

    Anyway, great post, and I'm pleasantly surprised someone else latched onto the church burning as a negative (nobody who wrote into Decibel seemed to mind, even though racism is equally as vile as a hate for a specific religion).