Smoldering controversy

The total destruction of a wooden church in Hønefoss was in the news, and as a quick reader comment testifies, it is almost impossible to report such an event without thinking about Norway’s famed Black Metal scene. In fact, Black Metal and the burning of churches has been in focus again recently, but in – a cultural context.

The link between blazing churches and Black Metal is distinctly Norwegian. Photo: Eric Ortner

The whole story involves one of Norway’s most controversial Black Metal figures in recent years, and recent winner of the ‘Homo of the Year Award’. Outspoken, unrepentant, renegade among renegades – this is  ‘Gaahl’, formerly of Gorgoroth. I have fond and vivid memories of having to cover Gaahl’s escapades while working for Aftenposten’s News in English service – these stories were full of the bizarre details that make for a riveting and incredulous read.

By comparison, the recent controversy has been quite conventional.

Gaahl, or Kristian Eivind Espedal to use his real name, has been in the center of a freedom of speech furore after he told newspaper Bergens Tidende (BT) that he ‘felt very, very strongly, that the symbolic value of burning down a church was a good thing’.

Espedal went on to say that as long as the church stands for the power it (the Church, I assume) has, and for the oppression it carries out, the church should receive no sympathy. He did not think church arson was wrong and he defended those who burned them down.

What made these statements even more inflammatory is that the former Gorgoroth vocalist had just landed a leading role in a Metal musical about to be staged by Bergen’s Den Nationale Scene (DNS – The National Venue of Theatre), a venerable institution with its roots in the Det Norske Theater founded in 1850 by famed Norwegian violinist Ole Bull.

Norwegian Bishop Halvor Nordhaug protested, and publicly demanded to know what the DNS was trying to achieve by fronting a man with these kinds of beliefs. After a lively round of debate, the head of theater at the DNS, Bjarte Hjelmeland, decided that Gaahl’s remarks would have …  no repercussions whatsoever  in connection with his role in the musical.

“Kristian Espedal has made it clear to me that this was not meant as an encouragement to such actions, but was meant more as a philosophical observation,” Hjelmeland told BT. Hjelmeland said that his own background was very closely tied to the church, but that while he and Gaahl had completely different views on life it would ‘smack of tyranny’ for his opinions to lead to Espedal’s exit from the show.

When the Hønefoss church burned down, Gaahl was naturally questioned by the press, and gave the quiet comment: “It makes me neither happy nor sad”. It should be noted that as far as I have been able to determine, the fire was due to poor construction and the lack of a proper alarm system. The building was also not one of the antique stave churches that have often served as a magnet for arsonists with Metal or ‘Satanist’ links.

The pale response to the church burning came when journalists quizzed the Black Metal rocker on the occasion of his winning the Homo of the Year Award. This honor cited his recent role as vocalist in the band Vardruna, as well as his part in the DNS musical and his time as Gorgoroth vocalist. ‘Came out of the closet in 2008’ is another accolade, and this one is perhaps most impressive – it isn’t easy causing waves in the Norwegian Black Metal scene, but this admission managed it.

Still, when all is said and done, I miss the old stories, when Gorgoroth caused international outrage and Gaahl was regularly up on assault charges. But I suppose everyone mellows, relatively, with age.

The links to these classic tales are full of quotes and details that you just can’t make up:

On stage there was blood everywhere. About ten decapitated sheep heads and naked people, alive, on large crosses. Everyone was painted with 100 liters of sheep blood. Also there were Satanist symbols everywhere. One of the hanging female models fainted and an ambulance had to be called.


‘Gaahl’s mother testified during the trial and found the accusation of blood drinking particularly hard to believe. “My son is a vegetarian and very fussy about food.” ‘

Well worth a read.

Norwegian black metal band shocks Poland

Black metal vocalist faces prison

Metal rocker convicted


2 responses to “Smoldering controversy

  1. Pingback: More metal tales « All the moose

  2. I will have to re-read this ( and related posts ) to absorb them fully.
    Currently in a state of shock regarding the sheep’s blood , “my son is veggie” comments and Black-Metal-goes-conventional-at-national- theatre. This could well make my best posts ever criteria !
    Incidentally, although I recall major press coverage of such burning events years ago when I lived in the UK, I most associate it, not with Yngwie Malstrom ( spelling probably there , apologies ) who was metal, but not Black ( although I bet he wanted to go there ! ) but with […walks next door to check bookshelf…] Pernille Rygg and her book ‘The Butterfly Effect’. I recall that a ‘church-burning’ was a significant part of the plot ( which also involved a cross-dresser ! ). Nordic (or is it Scandinavian, is there a subtle difference in the words used ) crime novels have been the top of my list for years., well before Henning Mankell and the BBC Wallender adaptions.

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