Mythology, Virality, and (Toxic) Masculinity: The Case of Norwegian Black Metal

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Abstract / Description of output

Alternative music has long been a target of parental anxiety, often fuelled by histrionic press coverage; accusations of Satanism became common throughout the 1970s and 80s, coupled with fantastical allegations of sexual deviancy, violence, and even cannibalism. By the 1990s, fears shifted to the impact of rock music on mental health – suicide and self-harm were predicted to rise to ‘epidemic’ proportions, with blame laid at the feet of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and The Manic Street Preachers’ Richey Edwards. At the turn of the 21st century, these moral panics reached new, even punitive, heights – consider Marilyn Manson’s trial by media following the Columbine massacre, Russia’s attempt to ban ‘emo’ clothing and hairstyles, and, more recently, the racially-inflected links drawn between youth violence and UK drill music.

While such sensationalism is usually unfounded, one strand of alternative music has earned its notoriety more than most. Norway’s inward-focused, male-dominated black metal scene remains synonymous with actual instances of church burning and murder. Yet even these events were beset by a certain mythology – one that was initiated by the musicians themselves, but ultimately reinforced by relentless press coverage. Bands such as Mayhem and Burzum thrived on controversy. Their disjointed invocations of fascism, Satanism, and nihilism were deliberate provocation. The gambit worked, and lurid headlines were soon attributing acts of violence to demonic influence, rather than the insidious influence of nationalist and far-right ideology on these exclusionary male subcultures. Indeed, black metal’s interlinked themes of frustration, isolation, and the dark repercussions of toxic masculinity, resonate strongly today.

This paper will critically evaluate the sensationalist reporting around the black metal scene. It will explore what these controversies tell us about masculinity, sexuality, and mental health, and what lessons they teach about media responsibility and the need for critical thinking before the next moral panic inevitably arises.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 8 Sept 2020
EventViral Masculinities - University of Exeter (online conference via Zoom)
Duration: 31 Aug 202011 Sept 2020


ConferenceViral Masculinities


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