Euronymous: Steering the Violent Symphony of Norwegian Black Metal

A character who not only pioneered the gritty core of black metal but also scripted a turbulent and dark saga in Norway’s music history, intertwined with genius and controversy.

Øystein Aarseth (Euronymous)
Øystein Aarseth (Euronymous)

The Mastermind of Norwegian Black Metal

At a time when Norwegian black metal was just beginning to find its voice, a prodigious figure emerged, orchestrating a movement that would redefine the boundaries of the music industry. Øystein Aarseth, renowned by his stage name Euronymous, became the beating heart of this fiery and transformative era.

Born on March 22, 1968, in the serene surroundings of Surnadal, Norway, Euronymous initially adopted the moniker Destructor, a name that hinted at the disruptive yet groundbreaking path his career would later take. With dark brown eyes that mirrored the depth of his music and a matching hair colour that became a trademark of his stage persona, Euronymous embodied the raw essence of black metal.

A Norwegian by nationality and embodying the ethnicity of his homeland, Euronymous took the music world by storm, leaving an indelible mark in a career that spanned nearly a decade, from 1984 to 1993. His relentless pursuit of originality and darkness found a home in the black metal genre, a space that revered his musical prowess and unique approach to artistry.

At the young age of 25, the curtains tragically fell on his vibrant life, leaving a void in the black metal scene that reverberates even today. The cause – a murder that sent shockwaves through the music community, marking the end of an era characterized by innovation, controversy, and raw power.

As a musician and producer, Euronymous poured his soul into his record label, Deathlike Silence Productions, fostering a generation of artists who adhered to his vision of unadulterated black metal. Yet, it was with the band Mayhem, where he served as the co-founder and the only constant member until his death, that Euronymous truly carved his legacy, transforming the Norwegian black metal scene and etching his name in the annals of music history.

A Portrait of Extreme Beliefs and Controversy

Euronymous was not just a musician; he was a whirlpool of controversy, extreme beliefs, and a harbinger of the early Norwegian black metal scene. His personality and life were deeply embedded in the fabric of the genre, often stirring the pot and pushing the boundaries of what was considered morally and socially acceptable.

His extreme misanthropic views often found an outlet in disdainful remarks about humanity, reflecting a deep distrust and dislike for the human species.

A self-proclaimed theistic Satanist, Euronymous revered Satan as a deity, a belief that stood starkly opposite to the symbolic representation of Satan in LaVeyan Satanism which emphasizes individualism and free will. His extreme misanthropic views often found an outlet in disdainful remarks about humanity, reflecting a deep distrust and dislike for the human species.

At the helm of the “Black Metal Inner Circle”, a secretive and exclusive group that operated like a militant cult, Euronymous cultivated an environment that thrived on secrecy and exclusivity. This group became the epicenter of the early Norwegian black metal scene, where Euronymous assumed the role of a leader, steering the direction of the genre towards darker, more controversial territories.

His penchant for controversy was further amplified by his reaction to the suicide of his bandmate, Dead. In an act of morbid opportunism, he utilized the tragic incident to enhance Mayhem’s “evil” image, alleging that Dead ended his life due to the commercialization and trendy shift of black metal. This sinister portrayal of Mayhem was not just limited to claims; Euronymous was known to have crafted necklaces with fragments of Dead’s skull, bestowing them upon musicians he deemed as worthy, a ghastly testament to his dedication to fostering an “evil” image for the band.

In the midst of creating music and stirring controversy, Euronymous was also entrenched in business ventures. His entrepreneurial spirit saw the birth of “Deathlike Silence Productions”, an extreme metal record label, and “Helvete”, a hub for black metal enthusiasts. Despite his intense and sometimes tumultuous relationships with other musicians in the scene, including several disagreements with Dead, Euronymous’ influence in shaping the early Norwegian black metal scene remains undeniable, marked by extreme beliefs and a knack for controversy.

Key Moments in Euronymous’ Life

The turbulent life of Euronymous was filled with significant events that not only shaped his personal trajectory but also left an indelible mark on the music genre he so passionately nurtured. His journey, marred by controversies and groundbreaking milestones, is a testimony to his relentless pursuit of a unique musical vision.

In 1984, the genesis of a legend occurred when Euronymous, alongside bassist Necrobutcher and drummer Kjetil Manheim, formed the now-legendary band Mayhem. Initially embracing the moniker “Destructor”, he soon found a deeper connection with the name Euronymous, a nomenclature inspired by the demon Eurynomos and a homage to a song by the band Hellhammer.

The summer of 1986 witnessed a musical camaraderie when Euronymous and his bandmates teamed up with Jon “Metalion” Kristiansen to visit the German thrash metal band Assassin. This collaboration birthed a demo recorded under the name Checker Patrol, with “Metalion in the Park” featuring Metalion lending his voice to the background vocals.

As the wheels of time turned, 1988 brought a fresh wave of change in the Mayhem camp, witnessing the inclusion of Per “Dead” Ohlin as the vocalist and Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg assuming the drummer’s mantle. This period marked the beginning of a heightened phase of creativity, albeit accompanied by increasing internal tensions. By 1991, the friction between Dead and Euronymous reached a boiling point, exacerbated by their close living quarters near Kråkstad, a space that doubled as their rehearsal studio.

The year 1991 bore witness to a tragic turn of events when Dead chose to end his life, a dark moment that Euronymous chose to immortalize in the most controversial manner – using a photograph of Dead’s lifeless body as the cover of a bootleg live album. This morbid act sent ripples of shock and controversy through the metal community, cementing Mayhem’s sinister image.

The discovery of his body, bearing 23 stab wounds, marked the end of an era, closing the chapter on a life that was as fierce and untamed as the music he created.

The final act of Euronymous’ tumultuous life narrative came in August 1993, when he met a violent end at the hands of fellow musician and former bandmate Varg Vikernes. A complex web of power struggle, financial disputes, and a race to “outdo” a previous stabbing incident were speculated to be the motives behind this gruesome act. The discovery of his body, bearing 23 stab wounds, marked the end of an era, closing the chapter on a life that was as fierce and untamed as the music he created.

Crafting the Soundtrack of Norwegian Black Metal

Euronymous left behind a rich and controversial musical legacy. His discography is proof of his profound influence on the genre, echoing his relentless pursuit of crafting the extreme and dark sounds that became synonymous with Norwegian black metal.

At the heart of his discography lies his work with Mayhem, a band that pushed the boundaries of metal music. The journey began with the ruthless and raw energy captured in “Pure Fucking Armageddon” (1985), followed by a series of releases that bore the hallmark of Euronymous’ dark creativity. With albums like “Deathcrush” (1987), and “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” (recorded between 1992 and 1993 but released in 1994), Mayhem sculpted the very essence of black metal, paving the way for a new generation of metal enthusiasts. Notable among these releases is “Dawn of the Black Hearts”, a controversial album featuring a photograph of Dead’s body on its cover, reflecting Euronymous’ penchant for the dark and extreme.

Apart from Mayhem, Euronymous also collaborated with Checker Patrol, contributing to the 1986 release “Metalion in the Park”. His influence extended to working with Burzum, where he made uncredited appearances, playing the gong in a couple of tracks and contributing a guitar solo to the song “War”.

Euronymous’ musical journey, though cut short, remains a significant chapter in the annals of black metal, showcasing a relentless pursuit of a sound that was as controversial as it was groundbreaking. His discography stands as a stark reminder of a time when black metal was redefining its boundaries, echoing the darkness and intensity that Euronymous brought to the genre.

The Fascinating and Fraught Legacy of Euronymous

In the annals of black metal, Euronymous stands as a behemoth, a figure both revered and controversial. His pioneering spirit crafted the very essence of Norwegian black metal, infusing the genre with a raw, unpolished sound that resonated deeply within the underground music community. His guitar playing techniques have become emblematic of black metal, leaving an enduring mark on the genre.

With a life steeped in controversy, Euronymous nevertheless ascended to a sort of cult status within the black metal community. His anti-commercial and anti-mainstream ethos, combined with a life that seemed to embody the very spirit of black metal, have garnered him a following that regards him with a sense of reverence. Through Deathlike Silence Productions, he became a stalwart promoter of pure black metal, fostering a space where the genre could flourish in its rawest form. The label’s mantra, “No Mosh, No Core, No Trends, No Fun”, became a rallying cry for those seeking refuge in the extreme boundaries of the genre.

His anti-commercial and anti-mainstream ethos, combined with a life that seemed to embody the very spirit of black metal, have garnered him a following that regards him with a sense of reverence.

Despite the reverence, Euronymous’ legacy is not without its detractors. Some critics cast him as a figure who exploited the scene for commercial gains, pointing to his use of Dead’s suicide photos for an album cover and the creation of merchandise from Dead’s skull fragments as examples of this exploitation. These actions have stirred ongoing debates about the fine line between maintaining the purity of the genre and venturing into the realm of commercialism.

Yet, decades after his tragic end, Euronymous continues to be a central figure of fascination in the metal community. His life, an intricate tapestry woven with threads of music, controversy, and tragedy, beckons new generations of black metal aficionados. Many contemporary black metal bands herald Mayhem and Euronymous as significant influences, a testament to his enduring legacy and the indelible mark he left on the genre.

In recent years, the intricate and tumultuous narrative of Euronymous’ life has found its way into various mediums, including books, documentaries, and films. These portrayals present him as a complex character, a man deeply passionate about music yet ensnared in a web of extreme ideologies and criminal activities. His life story, a riveting tale of passion, controversy, and a tragic end, continues to be a subject of intense discussion and analysis, solidifying his place as a perpetual enigma in the rich tapestry of black metal history.