Partly for his love of metal and partly because he’s fascinated by the violent history and extreme nature of the Norwegian black metal scene, New York-based photographer Peter Beste spent close to seven years hopping back and forth to Norway in order to shoot some of the scene’s most influential and interesting personalities. His just-released book, True Norwegian Black Metal (Vice Books), chronicles the time he spent there.
What sparked the idea for the book?
I grew up on metal. I read all these really insane accounts of everything that was going on in Norway in the 90s, with church arsons and all that. I was really drawn to it because there seemed to be more cultural significance and such a heavy influence of old Norse and pagan mythology. I found that really fascinating: they’re drawing from Norway’s ancient history, using that and heavy metal to fight back against Christianity, which is a pretty priceless combination.
A lot of these guys aren’t known to be really friendly people. How did you get them to agree to be photographed?
They’re definitely not approachable. It was a long process I started via e-mail in 2000, and then I met Marduk, Dimmu Borgir and Gorgoroth when they came to the States. I took a few photos, e-?mailed them the results, and they were into it. I’d go for long periods of time just hanging out with these guys; it was kind of an organic process.
Did anyone flat-out refuse?
Varg (Vikernes, of Burzum). He wants nothing to do with black metal and wrote me a letter saying he thinks sewer rats deserve more attention than low-talent black metal musicians.
How do you hope the book is received?
The book isn’t meant to be a history of black metal; it’s more my journey through it all. It’s about seeing into the lives of these guys – their onstage and their private personae. Maybe you just see them a little bit more as individuals. I’m not trying to de-mystify them.
Any concern that people might only come away with an ironic appreciation of the music?
I think that’s unavoidable because the guys take themselves so seriously. There is a comic element to it. Although I have great respect for all the people involved, you’d be missing the point if you didn’t see a little humour in a 35-year-old guy wearing Viking-attire and face paint.