As you may or may not know, I’ve been a Metalhead for well over half my life. Some of the first Black Metal bands I ever listened to were from Norway. That is what first got me really interested in the country. And as someone who loves Black Metal with a passion, setting foot in Norway always felt like something I just had to do.
Norwegian Black Metal
The history of Norwegian Black Metal is gruesome, dark and somewhat absurd in a very twisted way. Norwegian Black Metal was puked into existence at the beginning of the 1990s. It took the sound pioneered by the bands from the first wave of Black Metal, particularly Bathory, and of other influential bands from all over the world rooted more in Thrash Metal such as Sodom from Germany and Sarcófago from Brazil, but Norway redefined the aesthetics and sound of the genre.
Norwegian Black Metal from the 90s creates a bleak and harsh atmosphere, is raw and minimalistic in its approach and can be oppressive and chaotic—in fact, it is so distinctive that it is known as “the Norwegian sound.” It remains relevant as it continues to influence bands building on that foundation all over the world. Norwegian Black Metal influenced the aesthetics of Metal beyond sound; it gave birth to a global culture, and that makes Norwegian Black Metal Norway’s most important cultural export.
The early Norwegian scene was short-lived, as it was consumed by its own extreme nature. This period saw the suicide of Mayhem’s singer Dead in 1991, numerous church burnings and the murder of Euronymous by his former bandmate Varg Vikernes from Burzum in 1993. The criminal and disturbing aspect of the scene died down shortly afterward, but by then the plague of Norwegian Black Metal had spread across the entire world, and the albums recorded during those years revolutionized the world of Metal.
Satanic Black Metal in Hell
The epicenter of the early Norwegian Black Metal scene was a record store in Oslo called Helvete (Norwegian for “Hell”). Visiting Helvete, which is now called Neseblod Records, was on my bucket list. Specifically, I wanted to visit the store’s famous basement, where the “Inner Circle” of Norwegian Black Metal congregated.
Helvete was opened by Mayhem’s guitar player Euronymous in 1991. It was the gathering point of the burgeoning Norwegian Black Metal scene until the store was closed in 1993 due to increasing police scrutiny. Mayhem was at the forefront of the scene that saw one band form after the other from 1990 onward, with scenes developing mainly in Oslo and Bergen, and bands like Darkthrone, Immortal, Burzum, Emperor and Gorgoroth churning out vicious music. Other lesser known bands such as Ildjarn or Strid also proved highly influential.
As I began to travel and to experience Metal in other countries, I realized that it wouldn’t only be cool but important to visit the store. Helvete and its famous basement became the center of a global phenomenon, and seen from the point of view of music history it’s just an iconic and hugely relevant little place.
Norway in September
My trip to Norway was unfortunately off to a bad start from the beginning. On Friday I woke up feeling like I was definitely going to get sick. I even thought about calling the whole thing off but decided to go through with it. I mean, after all, I had only paid 25 euros for the flights, which was less than a one-way ticket from the airport into town as Norway is obscenely expensive, but I digress. I arrived in Norway and headed straight to my rental apartment, stocking up on ginger, tea and lemon on the way.
The next morning I walked from my rental apartment in the hip area of Grünerløkka along the river, through the semi-squatted area of Blå to the district of Tøyen, right by the old part of Oslo. My anticipation was growing. It was raining, and I was tired and feeling sick, but I was determined to go see Helvete, even if I spent the rest of my trip drinking tea and feeling miserable at my rental apartment.
I entered the store and heard the harsh sound of Black Metal. The walls of the store are covered in LPs, CDs and tshirts. Neseblod Records is infamous for being expensive, but most of the stuff they have there are collector’s items that you probably won’t find anything else and of which there are very few copies left in the market.
I took a look around, but was so overwhelmed by the amount of material that they have there that I couldn’t even keep an overview and decided to simply head to the counter and ask if I could go downstairs to the see basement. I went down the spiral staircase lined with countless t-shirts and got to the basement, where they keep their Punk section. I walked across rows of records and got to another room with a painting of Sodom’s EP “In the Sign of Evil” resting on a wall.
And there it was. The basement is smaller than it looks on pictures. I could only imagine what went on down there in the 90s when the “Inner Circle” gathered down there to listen to music and plot their infamous church burnings. Battling the symptoms of my cold I posed for a few pictures and went back upstairs. People kept coming in and out of the store. I headed to the counter and picked up a patch of the store, took a final look around and decided to call it a day. I headed back to my rental apartment, fixed myself some ginger tea with lemon and took a nap.
Later that evening I met up with a friend of mine from university and some of her friends. They asked me what I had seen of the city and I told them I had just been to Neseblod to see that infamous basement. We then started talking about Black Metal, and it turned out that they, even though they were not Metalheads, were very aware of Black Metal and were even into some bands or knew some of the personalities in the scene.
Even though Black Metal doesn’t seem to be nearly as popular in Norway as it is in Finland, it is still more present than in other places. Even the Norwegian tourism board is using Black Metal to promote tourism to Norway. By the way, tourists visiting Norway because of Black Metal are known there as “Blackpackers.”
Visiting Helvete/Neseblod was quite the experience. The store itself is a small Black Metal museum, and the basement a place of historical significance if you’re a Metalhead. It doesn’t have a dark or mystical atmosphere or anything, but it’s a place that I felt I had to visit as what was created down there had a big impact on my life.
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