Variance Films

Until the Light Takes Us

Until the Light Takes Us

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Everything is meaningless,” says Varg “Count Grishnackh” Vikernes, former leader of pioneering Norwegian black metal band Burzum and a convicted murderer and church arsonist, in Until the Light Takes Us. That goes for Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell’s documentary as well, a fan-perspective depiction of the Nordic black metal scene so superficial and poorly assembled that it not only crucially fails to address the cultural forces that might have spawned the country’s prime musical export—a metal variation notable for its practitioners’ ghoulish make-up, anti-establishment lyrics, death-vampirism imagery, and unconventional arrangements—but it also neglects to include more than cursory snippets of the tunes themselves. Aites and Ewell spend considerable time chatting with two of the genre’s seminal founders, Vikernes and Gylve “Fenriz” Nagell, the latter an inarticulate bore who offers little insight into his own motivations, interests or inspirations, and the former a self-important wannabe-guerilla warrior who, for reasons never properly explicated, rebelled against his idyllic childhood life by raging against a Judeo-Christian society (down with the church, McDonald’s, America, and democracy!) he believes decimated his true pagan heritage. Until the Light Takes Us repeatedly touches upon the musicians’ spate of early-‘90s church burnings and related murders. Yet because the filmmakers are content to rely on black metalers for perspectives on these events, it does little more than uncritically empathize with the notions that black metal was a legit vehicle for fighting the status quo, and that its tragedy was eventually transforming into the very type of trendy brand it decried. Aites and Ewell’s film hews so closely to a one-sided POV that it winds up having no clear vantage point on its subject matter, which in turn reduces its portrait to one of an underground scene populated by volatile, intellectually immature, anti-Semitic and homophobic wannabe-nihilists prone to celebrate a drummer’s murder of an innocent gay man and express understanding for their fellow genre-mates’ pointless crimes. Why black metal arose, the reasons for its initial and continuing popularity, and the way in which its ethos has been changed by notoriety all fall by the wayside, leaving only a snapshot of menacing leather-clad, laughably nicknamed men pivoting their lives around extreme Halloween-revolutionary fantasies.

Variance Films
93 min
Aaron Aites, Audrey Ewell
Varg "Count Grishnackh" Vikernes, Gylve "Fenriz" Nagell, Jan Axel "Hellhammer" Blomberg, Harmony Korine