Spreading Darkness: Norwegian Black Metal and Cosmopolitanism
Emerging in the early 1990s from deep religious and socio-cultural controversy, black metal music has more recently been hyped as Norway’s largest cultural export product, with a profound impact on global metal scenes. Artist Bjarne Melgaard compares its contemporary extreme expressions with those of Edvard Munch, and claims that both these artistic practices have evoked a fear in their contemporary Norwegian publics. At the same time, Norwegian identity and traditions are vitally articulated within the black metal genre, performed and embodied by musicians. Appropriations and reconstructions of Nordic heritage and themes (not limited to, but including music) in black metal performances is a critical part of this history. The status transformation that Norwegian black metal underwent from its controversial beginnings in the early 1990s to the national exemplar and cultural diplomatic statuses it holds today, is the springboard of inquiry to this doctoral research project.
Spreading Darkness is an interdisciplinary study that examines how cosmopolitan subjectivity in aesthetics and mediations of Norwegian black metal performance practices articulates with Nordic/domestic culture. Emphasis on ideological assumptions about Norwegianness in music and media, as well as performativity and representation of central performers, illuminates how musical meanings play significant and unexpected roles in constitution of identities and cultural readings. Seen in connection with other social and cultural conditions, such as internationalization of Norwegian economy and media, black metal can tell us something about how the meaning of Norwegianness has changed during the last thirty years. Questions emerging from the materials include problems of subjectivity and cultural identity in contemporary cosmopolitan scenes, such as: What happens to the meaning of the national/local in the cosmopolitan context of these aesthetics? How might we understand black metal performativity as an articulation of cosmopolitan subjectivity? In what ways has black metal impacted Norwegian identity through its appropriation of Nordic themes and heritage?
By gathering up examples of and interpreting performance practices which contribute to define the status of Norwegian black metal, and by examining ideologies which inform and are produced by these practices, the project uncovers meanings at critical points where black metal articulates a play between the distant and the domestic. The theoretical framework and methods of the project are anchored in hermeneutic and media archeological scholarship. Inspired and informed by recent works in critical musicology, popular music and media studies, the study especially draws upon the works and ideas of Lawrence Kramer, Stan Hawkins, Derek Scott, Will Straw, Richard Leppert, Keith Kahn-Harris, Robert Walser, Marshall McLuhan, Antoine Hennion, and Siegfried Zielinski.