Various Artists
"Until the Light Takes Us"

(Factory 25)

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RATING: 8.5/10

There has been more written in books/magazines and visually documented on film about the rise of black metal in the late '80s/early '90s than most would care to shake a stick at, much less a scythe. And almost all of it revolves around the infamous series of events that coincided with the rise of blasphemous form in Norway during the early '90s, including the anti-Christian/pro-Pagan rash of church burnings and MAYHEM's macabre carnival of murder and suicide. The difference with "Until the Light Takes Us" is that it serves at once as a history lesson, cultural treatise, and artistic statement during its 93 minutes, doing so without losing the viewer in a haze of minutiae or purposeless sensationalism.

No cobbled-together, on-the-cheap documentary or quick-buck cash-in that seeks the kind of notoriety that the book "Lords of Chaos" garnered for Norwegian black metal, directors Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell actually moved to Norway and hung out with the musicians involved to build relationships and gain a deeper understanding of what the original scene was all about. That's dedication, folks! It also pays off by allowing people like Fenriz (DARKTHRONE) to offer an insightful view into the historical/musical side and the ever-controversial Varg Vikernes (BURZUM) to offer a lucid, downright logical explanation of the cultural, heritage-based appeal of the subgenre without spiraling into rants of an overtly National Socialist nature. A range of other scene stalwarts, such as IMMORTAL's Demonaz and Abbath and the ubiquitous Jan Axel "Hellhammer" Blomberg (ex-MAYHEM, et al), discuss their views of the personalities involved and the gruesome fates that befell people like Euronymous and Dead, as well as the artistically significant strides made in a Scandinavian region that gave birth to seminal acts like BATHORY, MAYHEM, IMMORTAL, SATYRICON, DARKTHRONE, ULVER, and BURZUM.

The directors effortlessly weave intellectual discussion with visually striking and/or historical relevant visuals that include the legendary Helvete (record store) in Oslo, local hangouts, black metal art exhibitions, and original newscasts. Viewers also get a rare glimpse of a Frost (SATYRICON) performance art show in Italy that that is more than just grizzly and incendiary; it is a physically demanding portrayal of black metal as outrage against the established religious order.

The limited two-disc DVD edition of "Until the Light Takes Us" offers the best bang for the BM junkie's buck. Included across both discs are outtakes, deleted scenes, and visits with several black metal musicians not featured in the film, including Ted "Nocturno Culto" Skjellum (DARKTHRONE) and Jon Necrobutcher (MAYHEM) and additional conversations with the movie's "stars." The 45-minute class on the history of black metal taught by Professor Fenriz on Disc 2 is the cake taker. It is difficult to make a DVD that reinvents the story of the Norwegian metal movement and "Until the Light Takes Us" doesn't do it either, but it sure as hell tells the tale from some different angles in a way that makes it a sweepingly gratifying film experience and a mandatory purchase for the curious and the devoted.


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