Until The Light Takes Us

Until The Light Takes Us


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

In the early 1990s, a new musical and aesthetic movement began in Scandinavia, taking the traditions of heavy metal and death metal and turning them on their heads, creating the raw, dissonant sound that became known as black metal. Beginning with artistic ambition and ending in an orgy of church burning, murder and allegations of Satanism, it was one musical rebellion that really made an impact. Until The Light Takes Us looks at its early years and asks what went wrong.

This is a film that has been mis-sold in places. Fans of present-day black metal are unlikely to find themselves represented here. The film's scope is quite narrow and focuses mostly on the pivotal figure of Varg Vikernes, also known as Count Grishnackh; but what it does, it does well. It's an interesting slice of history for black metallers themselves, with a lot of focus on musical ideas, and it's surprisingly accessible for outsiders.

Copy picture

What outsiders always tend to miss about scenes like this is the fact they're built, initially at least, on friendship and personal relationships, with all the warmth and humour that entails. Sure, there are some clichés here; it's easy to laugh at the artistic naivety of some of those involved, and at statements like "He's really more of a philosopher," but that's part of what makes the film challenging, because in the process of running through this familiar stuff it invites us to become fond of them, to think of them as essentially harmless, before it confronts us with, for instance, the fact one of them claims to have murdered a 'faggot' and another admires him for that...

At the centre, Vikernes himself is fresh-faced and charming, sitting in a brightly lit room which it can take a while to recognise as a prison cell (he was parolled just after filming ended, having served 16 years). A lot of what he has to say is well-argued and convincing, easy to sympathise with even if one doesn't agree, but then there are the little anti-Semitic asides that raise warning flags. There's also that dissonance, common in extremist nationalists, between his idealised notion of the people whose heritage he seeks to defend and his contempt for the fact that most of those people want nothing to do with him or his ideas. And there's just a hint of paranoia, gradually building into the stunning scene in which he gives his account of the death of guitarist Øystein Aarseth (known as Euronymous).

Although at first it appears to be telling it straight, this film actually leaves room for multiple truths. Did Vikernes kill to defend himself, as a result of delusion, in a calculated attempt to shock, or simply in defence of his artistic ideals? It's clear that he and several of his peers feel a deep disappointment at how black metal has developed, though they have the wit to understand that this happens to most such movements and that, well, "people like dressing up." For Vikernes there is also the frustration of being labeled a Satanist when he is, or claims to be, much more interested in Ásatrú - it's a simplification of a complex set of ideas, a commodification of something he initially became involved with partly out of a resentment of commercialism. He directly challenges the media over its responsibility for promoting the notion of a Satanist conspiracy, which led to several copycat arson attacks. None of which, of course, absolves him of his own responsibility...

Made on a low budget and showing it, with sometimes poor picture quality and a soundtrack that certainly respects the early black metal anti-production aesthetic, this is nevertheless an intriguing film with a lot to say for itself.

Reviewed on: 04 Feb 2010
Share this with others on...
Until The Light Takes Us packshot
A look at the history and aesthetic of Black Metal.
Amazon link

Director: Aaron Aites, Audrey Ewell

Starring: Varg Vikernes, Fenriz, Harmony Korine, Hellhammer

Year: 2008

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: US

Search database: