Norges Våpen: Cultural Memory and Uses of History in Norwegian Black Metal

  • Date:
  • Location: Humanities Theater, Engelska parken, room 22-0008, Uppsala
  • Doctoral student: Thompson, Christopher
  • About the dissertation
  • Organiser: Historiska institutionen
  • Contact person: Thompson, Christopher
  • Disputation

This dissertation examines uses of history and expressions of cultural memory in Norwegian black metal.

Formed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Norwegian black metal seemed at odds with many of the stereotypes of Norway. The genre is an extreme style of heavy metal music that has been associated with burning churches, desecrating graves, and committing murders. Yet, Norway is often perceived as wealthy with sublime natural beauty and high levels of equality. Since the late 1990s, Norwegian black metal has increasingly received positive recognition and support from Norwegian government agencies and cultural institutions who have deemed this style of music a cultural product of Norway.

In exploring the relationship between Norwegian black metal and Norway, two primary questions are asked: what makes Norwegian black metal ‘Norwegian’ and what are its influences? To answer these questions, a theoretical approach based on Astrid Erll’s cultural memory complex is used. Included in this cultural memory complex are notions of individual and collective memory, both of which include concepts of nationalism as outlined by Benedict Anderson and Michael Billig. The source base for this dissertation includes the musical releases of over five hundred Norwegian black metal bands which were gathered and analyzed. Three primary categories, with corresponding subcategories, were identified to account for the ways Norwegian black metal bands have used history and expressed cultural memory over a twenty-five-year period from 1988 to 2013.

This dissertation shows that Norwegian black metal has made frequent use of history and has actively negotiated parts of the identity-making process from nineteenth-century Norway. In connecting to Norwegian identity in such a way, these bands link to historically construed notions of likhet and egalitarian individualism as identified by the Norwegian anthropologists Marianne Gullestad and Thomas Hylland Eriksen. They actively reproduce many of the same essentialized notions of Norwegian identity that create and maintain ethnic boundaries on Norwegian identity. By using history and expressing cultural memory in the way that they do, Norwegian black metal bands communicate that they are firmly Norwegian while, at the same time, reinforcing ethnocentric notions of Norwegian identity.