Rummaging through the nether reaches of my digital graveyard, I came across the old laptop that served me well through a few years in college and a bit beyond. I was going through old photographs on its hard drive when I found a few images from part of a project I had done during my senior year.
I had been taking a class on the role of nationalism in 19th century chamber music, which was just the kind of class one should expect to find at a liberal arts college such as my alma mater.
Half of the lecture period was allotted to discussing the historical context and importance of certain musical pieces, and the other half was spent listening to our four professors, the women comprising the Colorado Quartet, who would then play the pieces onstage in a small lecture hall.
When it came time to choose our projects for the semester, I decided to do mine on nationalism and the history of Scandinavian black metal. I was in the midst of a full-fledged black metal obsession, fueled in part by having recently read Lords of Chaos, but in the previous semester, I had also taken a class on the image of evil in art history as well as a literature class in which we studied heroes and epics, including The Sagas of Icelanders, Táin Bó Cúailnge, The Song of Roland, well as the Norse Poetic Edda and Prose Edda.
I was familiar with some facets of black metal, but I hadn't yet heard the full story. I had loved Emperor since I discovered them in high school, and I liked Mayhem, but I didn’t know the whole story about Euronymous, Varg Vikernes, Dead, the stave church burnings, et cetera, until my buddy Christian gave me the abridged version one night over a few beers.
My introduction to black metal came about in a roundabout and very uncool way. I saw the Mortiis album, The Stargate, in a record store, and thought it looked like it would be ridiculous and heavy as hell. I bought it and took it home. It was a bit more of the former than the latter.
It was only after investigating the story behind my regretful purchase that I discovered that Mortiis was in a nascent form of Emperor. Having heard a bit of their catalog, I was sold. For my 16-year-old ears, I could get a better grip on the later stuff with clear production.
I was relatively certain that I was going to have a unique subject to cover for the class, but it turned out that another guy had the same idea, so it was proposed that we collaborate and either cover different aspects of the topic, or present together. The guy and I liked each other, but we were both solitary creatures, so we didn’t make any major effort to work together. Birds of a feather, just not flocking together.
I did my paper and prepared a presentation. The day came when we were supposed to present, and the other guy went first. I watched him give a great presentation, but halfway through, I realized I couldn’t go up and give my presentation immediately after him because not only was it all the same information, but he was smarter than I was, and he had done a much better job.
When it came time for my part, I deflected by taking one fourth of the professorial quartet aside and telling her that I had been distracted by a death of a friend of mine that had occurred a few days before. (This was true, but also admittedly a bit of a cheap move. I had done the work, but I had been on autopilot and a bit despondent, so I didn’t give the presentation as much thought as I could have. It would have been fine if I was the only one covering the topic, but no dice. I figured my friend wouldn’t mind if I invoked their passing as an opportunity to save my own ass, at least just this once.)
Granted the grace of an extra two days before I was supposed to give my end of the presentation, I concocted a plan. My then-girlfriend had rented out a video camera for part of an installation she was making for her senior show. My friends Christian and Paul and I were in a band, and though it was far from black metal (we had our own songs, but fleshed out most shows by playing covers by the Oblivians, Reatards, Persuaders, and Reigning Sound), I knew Christian could play black metal riffs and I knew Paul could whip up some blast beats in a pinch.
Some friends of ours had a basement that regularly housed off-campus shows, and it looked “necro” enough to pass as something befitting early incarnations of Mayhem or Emperor.
It wasn't sepulchral and brutal. It was just broke-ass and borderline asbestic.
I remembered there was an old, unwanted dresser down there. This would be my altar. My friend Zumi (who plays (or has played) saxophone with Black Lips, K-Holes, GØGGS) was always down to do something weird, especially if it involved some form of audience.
When I asked her if I could sacrifice her, she didn’t need to know why. She just said yes.
That night, Christian’s high school buddy, Richard, came into town. He was also always someone who loved doing something interesting and/or idiotic as long as it wasn't boring. When I asked him if he would put on corpsepaint and play black metal in a basement for about fifteen minutes, he was all about it.
(In retrospect, Greg Fox and Tyler Dusenberry, who both went to our college and later ended up in Liturgy, would have been perfect. I don't think I was aware they were black metal fiends at that time. I'm not even sure if I'd met them by that point.)
I went into a halloween store and got black and white makeup along with a sufficient amount of ingredients for fake blood. I paid my friends in beer for letting me do this to them, and for them being gracious enough to do this for me.
There was a party going on in the upper part of the house, so while spirits were high and helping hands were in abundance, at some point Christian got to the point of inebriation where you’re not fully blacked out, but your brain shuts the door on your short term memory for a little while. A number of times, he asked me why the fuck I was having my girlfriend put makeup on his face. If he started getting impatient and saying he was totally over looking like he was in a bad Kiss cover band, I'd just placate him with another beer. I knew that if I got him down to the basement and put a guitar in his hands, he’d be good to go.
With all four of us decked out in corpsepaint, the three dudes who would have to be playing instruments went down and started getting themselves in the right frame of mind. We didn’t have any real songs, original or otherwise, so I just told Paul to play drums as fast as he could. With the reverberative power of the cement walls in the basement, he didn’t even have to try to play loud. The wash of the cymbals and the speed of the blast beats would blend into a sort of white noise, if all went right. Christian would play all the black metal riffs he could think of. And just to simplify things, we didn’t plug Richard’s bass in. He was mostly there because I knew he had perfected the art of the windmill headbang. If everything went well, the music would be distorted through the low-quality video microphone, and it would sound almost legitimate.
When it came time for my presentation in the chamber music class, I went through about ten minutes of additional information about nationalism in black metal not covered by the other guy, such as its roots in classical music, borrowing imagery from their Nordic heritage, as well as the church burnings. Then I rolled out the television and hit play.
I watched the screen as my friends and I all summoned our sonic berserkers. Occasionally I would shift my attention to the bemused cadre of classically-trained musicians/professors and a room full of my peers as we all watched my dumb ass scream nonsense about Yggdrasil and Valhalla into a microphone and swing a giant fake sword at my victim on the altar that clearly was formerly used to hold underwear and socks and stuff.
The whole thing was ridiculous at the outset, but somehow Zumi turned it into something almost genuine. If it weren't for her, it would have been a videotape of me and my friends being idiots in a basement. Not atypical for a weeknight, except for maybe the makeup.
The video ends with feedback as she writhes on a dusty basement floor, putting on a legitimately devoted death scene, my girlfriend zooming in on her freshly cooling corpse caked in sticky, rust-colored, corn syrup blood.
My professors and classmates were amused and confused. The guy who had done the other presentation on black metal was in the front row, laughing his ass off. He loved it. Of the four professors, my favorite of the bunch smiled through the whole thing and came up afterward to tell me she thought it was great. The others weren't quite as enthusiastic, but they at least seemed to appreciate the deviation from protocol.
I don't know what happened to the tape itself. Evidently, at some point I decided to point a camera at the video while it played on a TV. As far as I know, that's all that remains of it now. The music didn't sound all that different from early Emperor or Mayhem demos. It was only any good because I was surrounded by supremely talented friends who didn't mind (for the most part) doing something loud, messy, and dumb.
I got a B+ on the project, and an A in the class.