Peter Beste is a very talented music photographer. His greatness lies in his ability to really immerse himself in the world of the subject, whether it be London grime, Houston hip hop, Southern strip joints or Norwegian metal. The result is vivid, arresting photos that juxtapose the subject with a surprising surrounding. Metal star in a safe, white station wagon? Of course.
What I didn’t expect was for his new book, True Norwegian Black Metal, and his Vice VBS TV documentary for of the same name, would be a window on one of the strangest stories in music.
My friend T.C. and I met Jennifer (of L7 fame) and her boyfriend Chris, at the hoity toity restaurant Jar, for drinks beforehand. Sitting at the posh bar amongst a friendly Aussie and a very charming James McAvoy, lulled me into a false sense of Hollywoodland, and made me ill prepared for the metal fairy tale that was about to unfold…
Peter’s Los Angeles exhibit opening was down the block at Zune. Upon entering, it was clear that the walls of photos brought a crowd of black wearing men and women who only come out at night. To rock.
The photographs were strange and beautiful, and at times funny or disturbing. The colors and composition made even the most outlandishly dressed gallery attendees fade into the background like wall flowers. Peter was a clear eyed, affable guy, whom you would never think had held the key to the Metal castle, but he did. And he followed the story of Gorgoroth…
Once upon a time, there was a phenomenon called Gorgoroth. No, not the dead plateau of evil and Darkness in the land of Mordor from Lord of The Rings…the Norwegian black metal band Gorgoroth. They are much more scary than the Tolkien version of Gorgoroth. Sorta.
Gorgoroth was known for it’s members, King ov Hell, Infernus, Tormentor and Gaahl, amongst a revolving cast of shredders. Gorgoroth’s members weren’t strangers to controversy. They had played a show in Krakow, Poland, once the scene of the horrific Holocaust, and displayed sheep heads on stakes, a bloodbath of 80 liters of sheep’s blood, satanic symbols, and four naked crucified models on stage. Awww, cute!
Other noteworthy incidents included Infernus’s incarceration for assault and rape, and Gaahl’s jail time for torturing a man, apparently focusing his brutality on the man’s testicles. This pretty much ruled out their being booked for parties and Bar Mitzvahs.
Amidst these ‘Behind The Music’ type skids, the band kept up the good fight. For there was a war going on…a war between the Norwegian Black Metal scene and the Swedish Death Metal scene. The Norwegian scene was known for certain members who committed murder, burned down medieval wooden churches, and desecrated graveyards. Despite the Swedish Death metal scene’s attempts to thwart their actions or overshadow it with their raucous, deadly caucophany, the Norwegians held their ground.
Unfortunately, Gorgoroth’s involvement in this Hatfield vs McCoy type battle was cut short when the band split in 2007. This brought another war on, between band mates for use of the name and the trademark. The litigation war still wages on today.
Peter managed to infiltrate this secretive sect of musicians and they eventually allowed him to photograph them and document them for a five part series. Seeing these Norse gods of metal traipse through lush Narnian fields and woods was brilliant – black leather and spikes weighing them down as they climbed steep embankments.
While the field trips were a bit comical, Peter’s interview with Gaahl became downright eerie in the end. When Gaahl was unhappy with Peter’s line of questioning, he went into a icy rigid state, sitting dead still and staring straight ahead without blinking. While watching this video at the gallery, I thought the video tape had frozen…but the flickering candle in the background proved that this was one freaky dude – he’d make Charlie Manson sleep with a night light on.
As an interviewer myself, I was captivated by this scene. I’ve had my fair share of rock star enfant terribles and one or two who have stepped over the line, into my lap and tried to lick me (or other dog like behavior). However, this was way beyond an inappropriate sexual advance. How did Beste stay seated during this? How did he not run screaming from the room? Any moment the walls could have started bleeding and the windows blown in in some Shining/Amityville styled nightmare. It made me almost swoon in appreciation for Beste’s courage. This video was truly chilling in an Ed Gein, Dahmer sense, which party made me want to know exactly what he did to that man he tortured back in 2002…but then again I’m a twisted soul who keeps a copy of The Stranger Beside Me on my bedside table.
However, the myth of Gaahl unravels a bit here. Though he may be an unstable, psychopath satanist with a cult following, Gaahl’s recent revelations of his personal life betray his monster mask. It was noted in an interview, that Gaahl has been involved with Norwegian modeling agent Dan De Vero since he was eighteen. But not only did Gaahl use his death scythe to hack his way out of the closet, but then revealed that he and De Vero were designing a women’s clothing line called “Wynjo”. Yes, pretty dresses for summer
Oh, and the magazine where Gaahl affirmed his homosexuality? The November 2008 issue of…Rock Hard.
Yeah, Rock Hard. I am not making this shit up. It kinda turns the Tolkienesque bloody tale into a Spinal Crap farce.
True, the music that Beste’s subject matters play would make Marilyn Manson look like Bozo the Clown, but it comforts me somewhat to know that even the most violent men in Norway are still concerned about whether or not hemlines are going up and the difference between a pump and a stiletto.
However unintentionally hilarious in parts, the long, strange trip of this heavy metal clan is a fascinating subject. Beste, bless his heart, has captured it stunningly.
Peter Beste’s True Norwegian Black Metal exhibit runs Nov. 21 – December 18 2008 at Zune LA, 8275 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, or visit http://www.peterbeste.com.