Varg Vikernes: From Black Metal Pioneer to Controversial Icon

Once a pioneering figure in Norwegian black metal, Varg Vikernes' career took a turn as his musical innovations became overshadowed by legal battles and divisive personal beliefs.

A black and white photo of Varg Vikernes, looking contemplative as he gazes out of a prison window. He has a faint mustache and goatee, and his long hair is swept back. Vikernes is wearing a Burzum band long-sleeved shirt.
Varg Vikernes
Key Takeaways
  • Varg Vikernes, also known as Burzum, began his musical career in Bergen, Norway, and quickly became a pioneering figure in the Norwegian black metal scene​​.
  • His involvement in controversial acts, including church arsons and the murder of Mayhem’s guitarist Euronymous, significantly impacted and stirred debates within the black metal community​​.
  • Vikernes, convicted in 1994 and released on parole in 2009, remains a contentious figure, with his actions and music under Burzum continuing to influence and provoke discussions in the black metal genre​​.

Childhood Years

Louis Cachet, born Kristian Vikernes on February 11, 1973, would later become widely known as Varg Vikernes. His birthplace, Bergen in Hordaland, Norway, was the starting point of a life that would become deeply intertwined with the evolution of black metal music. Vikernes’ family background was somewhat typical for the region. His mother, Helene Bore, was employed by an oil company, indicative of Norway’s robust petroleum sector. His father, an electronics engineer, represented the technological and industrial advancement of the era. An elder brother, who pursued a career in civil engineering, completed the family picture.

In the shadows of a childhood spent between contrasting worlds, the seeds of an enigmatic future were sown.

Vikernes’ childhood was marked by an unusual experience that set him apart from many of his peers. At the tender age of six, he moved with his family to Baghdad, Iraq. This relocation, necessitated by his father’s job, introduced young Kristian to a vastly different cultural and social environment. During his time in Iraq, he attended an Iraqi elementary school for a year. It was here that Vikernes first encountered racial discrimination — a stark contrast to his life in Norway. Being white, he observed a different treatment in school, an experience that left a lasting impression on him.

The perspectives of Vikernes’ parents on race played a significant role in shaping his early worldview. They were very conscious of racial matters, exhibiting a preference for not associating with dark-skinned people. This racial consciousness within his family likely influenced Vikernes’ own perceptions and beliefs in his formative years.

A significant turning point in his early life was the divorce of his parents when he was around 11 years old. Such a family upheaval can have profound effects on a child’s development and outlook. This event, along with his unique childhood experiences, laid the groundwork for the complex and often controversial path Vikernes would follow in his later life.

Path to Black Metal

Varg Vikernes’ journey into the world of music began at the tender age of 14, when he started playing the guitar. This was a period of intense exploration for him, as he delved deep into music during his early teens. His burgeoning interest in the guitar was fueled by a strong affinity for heavy metal, a genre he had been captivated by since the age of 12. This early passion for heavy metal would become a defining element of his musical identity.

Around 1989, Vikernes formed his first band, initially named Kalashnikov and later renamed Uruk-Hai. This early endeavor in the music scene marked Vikernes’ initial foray into creating music that resonated with his artistic vision. The name Uruk-Hai, inspired by JRR Tolkien’s works, reflected his interest in fantasy themes, a motif that would later become a hallmark of his work.

Joining Old Funeral in 1989 was a critical juncture in Vikernes’ musical development. His time with the band, lasting until 1991, saw him contributing significantly to the band’s early sound. His work on the “Devoured Carcass” EP with Old Funeral was a crucial step in establishing his own musical identity. This experience with Old Funeral laid the groundwork for his future musical projects.

1991 marked a significant turning point in Vikernes’ career with the founding of Burzum, his solo project. Burzum quickly became a prominent name in the Norwegian black metal scene. The project was distinguished by its raw and atmospheric sound, which played a key role in defining the genre. Burzum’s early albums were noted for their combination of harsh vocals, and a mix of slow and fast tempos, interspersed with ambient elements.

Vikernes’ involvement with Mayhem, particularly his role in recording bass for their album “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” in 1994, was another pivotal moment in his musical journey. He joined Mayhem following the suicide of the band’s vocalist, Dead, and the departure of bassist Necrobutcher. His collaboration with Mayhem, though marred by later conflict, brought together two influential figures of the genre, Vikernes and Euronymous. His bass playing on this album contributed significantly to what is now regarded as one of the most influential black metal albums of all time.

Controversies and Convictions

The early 1990s marked a period of intense anti-Christian sentiment within the black metal community in Norway, and Varg Vikernes was a central figure in this wave. He was deeply involved in a series of church arsons, a manifestation of the community’s ideological stance against Christianity. Vikernes was found guilty of arson in several high-profile cases, including the burning of the Åsane Church and the Storetveit Church in Bergen, the Skjold Church in Vindafjord, and the Holmenkollen Chapel in Oslo. His involvement in these arsons underscored a broader ideological opposition to Christianity and its historical influence in Norway.

Vikernes’ actions during the early ’90s reflected a stark and controversial chapter in the Norwegian black metal.

A pivotal and highly controversial moment in black metal history occurred in August 1993, when Vikernes fatally stabbed Mayhem guitarist Euronymous, whose real name was Øystein Aarseth. This incident, following a dispute, was claimed by Vikernes to be in self-defense. The murder of Euronymous significantly impacted the black metal scene, both in Norway and internationally, marking a moment of infamy and intense scrutiny.

In May 1994, Vikernes faced a consequential trial, resulting in his conviction of first-degree murder, church arson, and possession of explosives. His trial and subsequent conviction brought significant attention to the extreme and sometimes violent aspects of the black metal scene. Furthermore, the discovery of a large quantity of explosives and ammunition in his possession led to widespread speculation about his further planned activities.

Vikernes was sentenced to 21 years in prison, the maximum sentence under Norwegian law at the time. His imprisonment became a subject of much discussion and, in some segments of the black metal community, a point of glorification. This period in prison cemented Vikernes’ controversial status within the scene.

In 2009, after serving 15 years of his sentence, Vikernes was released on parole. His release elicited mixed reactions, reflecting the enduring controversy surrounding his figure. Following his release, Vikernes remained active in music and writing, frequently stirring controversy with his political and ideological stances.

Life Behind Bars

During his imprisonment, Varg Vikernes engaged in a range of activities that continued to shape his legacy and influence. One of his notable endeavors was the launching of the Norwegian Heathen Front. Founded during his time in prison, this organization was a part of Vikernes’ ongoing involvement in pagan and nationalist movements. Its aim was to unite various heathen (pagan) groups under a common banner, reflecting Vikernes’ ideological shift towards paganism and a departure from Christianity. This move underscored his deepening engagement with themes of nationalism and ancient Norse beliefs.

Even within the confines of prison, Vikernes’ influence expanded, weaving pagan ideologies into a broader cultural narrative.

Vikernes also turned to writing as a medium to express his views and ideologies. The books he authored in prison provided insight into his beliefs and perspectives. His first book, “Varg’s Speech”, written in Norwegian, served as a self-defense narrative, offering his account of the events leading to his criminal activities. Initially available online, it was later published in paperback. Alongside this, he wrote extensively on themes of paganism, European history, and his criticisms of modern society. These writings offered a window into the mind of Vikernes, revealing a complex interplay of historical, cultural, and personal beliefs.

In addition to his writings, Vikernes continued his musical pursuits by composing and releasing two ambient albums under his project Burzum. These albums, “Dauði Baldrs” (1997) and “Hliðskjálf” (1999), were a departure from his earlier black metal style. Composed using a synthesizer, due to the lack of access to his usual instruments, these albums showcased a minimalist and ambient sound. This shift in musical style reflected an evolving artistic direction, with Vikernes exploring new realms of expression even within the limitations of his incarceration.

A New Chapter

After his release from prison, Varg Vikernes embarked on a new chapter in his life by relocating to France. He settled in the Limousin region with his family, which included his French wife, Marie Cachet, and their children. This move signified a significant shift in his life, moving away from the public eye in Norway and focusing more on his personal life and activities in France. The relocation marked a period of somewhat decreased public visibility for Vikernes, as he adjusted to life outside of prison and immersed himself in his family life.

Vikernes’ move to France marked a transition from a controversial figure in Norway to a life of relative quiet and family focus.

In the digital age, Vikernes embraced new platforms to express his views, notably creating and actively contributing to his YouTube channel, ThuleanPerspective. This channel became a medium for Vikernes to share his thoughts on a variety of topics, including paganism, history, philosophy, and his critiques of modern society. However, his content often stirred controversy due to its ideological nature and eventually led to the deletion of the channel for violations of YouTube’s policies on hate speech and extremist content.

Despite these controversies, Vikernes remained creatively active, continuing to produce music and write. He released several more music albums under the Burzum name, including “Belus” (2010), “Fallen” (2011), “Umskiptar” (2012), and “The Ways of Yore” (2014). His post-prison music largely retained the black metal and ambient styles that Burzum was known for, demonstrating his enduring commitment to the musical forms he helped shape.

Alongside his musical endeavors, Vikernes continued writing, both in book form and on various websites. His work included contributions to his official website,, and his personal blog, Thulean Perspective. His writings continued to delve into his ideological beliefs and perspectives on European history and culture, reflecting his ongoing engagement with these themes.

Ideological Journey

Varg Vikernes’ personal beliefs have been a complex and evolving aspect of his life, marked by controversy and extreme views. During his adolescence, Vikernes was associated with the National Socialist skinhead movement. His early beliefs were shaped by a strong admiration for German National Socialism, combined with a disdain for the British and Americans. This early alignment set the stage for his later ideological development.

Vikernes’ ideology in the mid-to-late 1990s prominently featured a blend of Odinism and Esoteric Nazism. Odinism refers to a form of modern paganism centered on ancient Norse deities, while Esoteric Nazism incorporates mystical and occult elements into Nazi ideology. This combination reflected his extreme right-wing views, which were particularly evident during this period.

A significant aspect of Vikernes’ beliefs has been his advocacy for a return to a pre-industrial European pagan society. He envisioned a society rooted in pagan values and practices, reflecting his opposition to modernity and the influence of Abrahamic religions in Europe. This viewpoint was closely linked to his broader ideological stance against Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and economic systems like capitalism and socialism, which he viewed as detrimental to his ideal of a traditional European society.

Despite his earlier alignment with Neo-Nazism, Vikernes later distanced himself from these labels. He claimed to differ from Nazis in not being socialistic or materialistic and in supporting ancient Scandinavian democracy. However, critics have continued to consider his views far-right.

In the late 1990s, Vikernes developed and promoted “Odalism”, an ideology that was anti-modern, based on pre-Christian Nordic and Germanic beliefs, and openly racist. This ideology symbolizes his continued commitment to extreme right-wing views and racialist ideologies.

Vikernes has also propagated controversial and erroneous views on evolution and race. He claimed that white Europeans are descended from Neanderthals and are biologically more intelligent. Additionally, he has asserted incorrect historical theories, such as the idea that ancient Norsemen were akin to Neanderthals.

As an anti-vaxxer, Vikernes’ beliefs extend beyond common myths to include adherence to an international Jewish conspiracy theory. He views many aspects of modern European culture through the lens of this conspiracy theory and is skeptical about the Holocaust.

Lastly, Vikernes lives a prepper lifestyle, advocating for stockpiling resources and withdrawing money from banks. His move to rural France aligns with this lifestyle, providing him the means to accumulate resources and potentially prepare for conflict. He has discussed the possibility of violent actions against perceived invading forces in Europe, framing it as a right to self-defense.

Shaping Black Metal’s Legacy

As the final chapter in the story of Varg Vikernes, it’s crucial to acknowledge his role as a major figure in the early Norwegian black metal scene. Through his work with Burzum and involvement with other bands like Mayhem, Vikernes played a pivotal role in shaping the sound and aesthetics of the genre. His music, combined with his ideology and notorious actions, including church burnings and the murder of Euronymous, significantly contributed to the genre’s dark and rebellious image. His influence extended beyond music, impacting the ideological and visual aspects of the scene and influencing the themes and imagery associated with black metal.

Burzum, Vikernes’ solo project, stands as a highly influential act in black metal history. Widely regarded as one of the most pivotal in the genre, Burzum’s early albums, especially “Burzum” (1992), “Det Som Engang Var” (1993), and “Filosofem” (1996), are considered seminal works. These releases are noted for their raw production, atmospheric soundscapes, and the fusion of aggressive and ambient elements. Burzum’s music played a significant role in influencing the direction of black metal, inspiring numerous artists and shaping the genre’s evolution towards more atmospheric and experimental sounds.

The project’s notoriety was further enhanced by Vikernes’ criminal activities and public persona. His actions and the aura of controversy surrounding them made Burzum synonymous with the mystique and dark allure of early black metal. Vikernes, through Burzum and his various endeavors, left an indelible mark on the genre, one that continues to resonate and influence artists and fans alike.