CINEMETAL REVIEW: UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US
Metal fans have been buzzing for months about Until The Light Takes Us, but official screenings have been few and far between. Consequently, 99% of the film’s core audience hasn’t seen the saga of the Norwegian black metal scene as told by filmmakers Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell. That’s all going to change on September 28th, when Until The Light Takes Us finally gets DVD treatment. Luckily for me, my hookup Terrill, whose inventory is usually comprised of amateur porn, videocam bootlegs of current blockbusters and unreleased Tyler Perry films, somehow got his grubbies on an advance screener.
Setting aside the music and copious violence, Until The Light Takes Us is, at its core, the story of two men, Gylve “Fenriz” Nagell (Darkthrone) and Varg ‘’Count Grishnackh” Vikernes (Mayhem, Burzum). Through a series of interviews, the film chronicles their relationship, as well the relationship of each to the genre they helped sire. The interviews are alternately insightful, amusing and poignant. Though we each probably have a well-developed image of both based upon their musical output and personal exploits, it is very different to hear these two men describing and critiquing their scene. It’s also a blast to accompany Fenriz on a mundane train trip and listen to him explain how to avoid being at the receiving end of a body cavity search courtesy of the local authorities.
Interviews with Vikernes are conducted from what looks like a spartanly-decorated dorm room within Trondheim Maximum Security Prison. He asserts he’s enjoying his incarceration, comparing it to a stay at a monastery, and lauding the time it offers him to read and think. Listening to him describe the making of the first Burzum album is a trip, and he makes it perfectly clear that, for him, black metal represented a counter-attack on what he saw as enemies to Norwegian culture, specifically Christianity and rampant commercialization. His recounting of his “bicycle drive-by” on the first McDonald’s in his hometown is one of the film’s funniest, and most telling, vignettes.
Standing in stark contrast to Vikernes’s physical confinement, Fenriz is a man confined with himself, moving ghost-like through modern society. For him, black metal was a reaction to the commercialization of death metal and other heavy genres; an artistic, rather than political, statement. This idealistic stance is challenged when he travels to Stockholm to visit Bjarne Melgaard’s art exhibition, which incorporates black metal imagery, and the film’s most uncomfortable moment occurs in the protracted silence which follows the face-to-face meeting of Fenriz and the self-important Melgaard.
In addition to interviews with Fenriz and Vikernes, the film draws from many sources to tell the story, including Norwegian news broadcasts, rehearsal and performance footage, and cameos from members of Immortal, Mayhem and Satyricon. There’s also plenty of music from Burzum, Darkthrone, Enslaved, Gorgoroth, and Lesser, among others. And of course, there’s enough murder, suicide, and arson to supply a month’s worth of CSI episodes.
Until The Light Takes Us is a top-notch documentary and a fascinating look at black metal that I have no problem recommending to metal fans of all stripes. You definitely want to see this film. So, you can be a cheap bastard and get it from Netflix, or not be such a cheap bastard and just pre-order your own copy.
(4 1/2 out of 5 horns)