Until the Light Takes Us (2008)
By: Devon B. on December 13, 2010  | 
Shock | All Regions, PAL | 1.77:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 2.0 | 93 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Directors: Aaron Aites, Audrey Ewell
Starring: Gylve "Fenriz" Nagell, Varg "Count Grishnackh" Vikernes, Jan Axel "Hellhammer" Blomberg Kjetil "Frost" Haraldstad
Country: USA
External Links
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While my Black Metal music collection currently consists of a few Vintersorg CDs, I've long had a fascination with the genre, and for a while was buying almost any Black Metal release that I could. A large part of my fascination revolves around Varg Vikernes. To me, Varg's music is definitive Black Metal: Ethereal, dynamic, fierce and pagan. I don't have any of his albums, though, because he's the only musician whose music I enjoy but that I can't bring myself to get any of it because I don't want to support the artist. This doesn't mean I won't immediately check out things where he's interviewed, and in Until the Light Takes Us he gets plenty of screen time.

The film is an overview not so much of Black Metal but of the Norwegian second wave of Black Metal. As such, if you're curious about Venom or Bathory this isn't the film for you. Until the Light Takes Us begins with Darkthrone's landmark album A Blaze in the Northern Sky, and the film continues to focus heavily on Fenriz from Darkthrone. The other band the film hones in on is the one that has by far the most controversy around it, Mayhem. The story of Mayhem is a unique one that deserves telling. Unfortunately for the makers of Until the Light Takes Us, portions of the story have been told a few times already and it was the focus of the earlier docos Once Upon a Time in Norway and Cult of Aggression. I haven't seen Cult, but it's clear that rather than cover the same ground and interview subjects as the previous films, Until the Light Takes Us instead interviews one of the most important people involved in the story that wasn't in either doco, and he's unquestionably integral to the early days of Norwegian Black Metal.

Yes, Until the Light Takes Us has a good deal of Varg, and as I said, this guy is fascinating. Not just because he is an excellent Black Metal musician, but because his thought processes are unique, if not always respectable. Whenever I hear him speak I spend the time trying to work out if he's lying, confused or just insane, or maybe all three. Varg may have the facts right in some of his stories, but his interpretation of events is where things get interesting. His jumbled idea that Christianity wanted to wipe out indigenous cultures worldwide and Americanise them is a good example, because Christianity's spread to Norway would've been back when Americanising something would mean introducing smoke signals and wigwams. Varg places the blame for modern life's troubles on Christianity (which I think is a bit unfair because other religions can take some of the blame, too) and in the early days of Norwegian Black Metal he went to war on Christianity.

Varg and company started attacking the churches, and church burning became something they actively encouraged and participated in. The idea was to treat the Christians as an invading force and to try to reclaim Norway's ancient heritage. The media portrayed this as Satanists burning the churches, and, as often happens with underground movements, people saw the media representation and started copying that. The message got skewed and the reasons behind the burnings got muddled, and Until the Light Takes Us does a solid job of clarifying what was happening. Anyone that's bothered to do even a modicum of research on the burnings should've uncovered this information already, but this documentary isn't so much for the diehard Black Metallers as it is for people that only know a little bit or are curious about the scene.

While I find the church burnings interesting, I find the mentality of those behind them much more so. This is a group of people that mocked trend following within their scene, but "honour" one of their ranks for killing a "fucking faggot." How it's wrong to live by uniform rules in their scene but also wrong to break out of the "norm" of sexuality is beyond me.

Another thing the filmmakers took great interest in was how the original scene, or Fenriz anyway, perceives the cultural ramifications and commercialisation of Black Metal. The trade off for following Fenriz to a gallery presenting a Black Metal inspired selection is that there's not a lot of run time left for musical numbers. For a music doco there's very little of the profiled music played, which is a bit of a disappointment.

Until the Light Takes Us has been accused of being pro-Varg, but I didn't get that sense. It's true he and Fenriz get the most screen time, but there are other bands interviewed, like those kings of comedy photos Immortal. As for being pro-Varg, I really just assumed this was meant to be a companion piece to the other Mayhem docos, and the filmmakers just let Varg talk. He is what he is, and the special features highlight that his account of things may not be completely reliable. In his final moment on screen his facade seems to slip a little, which just made me pity this clearly troubled human being.

While Until the Light Takes Us isn't breaking new ground I found it engaging, and can recommend it to anyone that has even a passing interest in either the scene or the sound.

The film's R rating is presumably due to showing the extremely graphic suicide photo of Mayhem's vocalist Dead.
There is some vault material that's a bit rough, but most of the new interviews have decent picture quality. Some of the set ups look better than others, but aside from one interview conducted in the basement of Helvete the footage is good. There're a few compression issues since there's a lot on the DVD, but if there's one thing that should be able to get away with being a bit raw it's a doco on Black Metal.
The sound is a 2.0 mix, and there is some distortion but most of that is in the same interview with the poor video quality. Most of the time the viewer can clearly hear what's been said, and when the audio becomes unintelligible subs are provided.
Extra Features
The DVD is loaded with extras. There's an alternate ending, the trailer, a few minutes of outtakes, a roughly 10 minute piece on Mayhem (which includes an interview with Necrobutcher who's only briefly in the main film), and about 36 minutes of deleted scenes. Enslaved pop up briefly in the deleted scenes, but the main thing to look out for here is a section that's vital to understanding the difference between Varg's version of events and what actually happened. In one deleted scene Varg tells a story, and then his story is played back to Fenriz who gives his interpretation of events. Suffice it to say, Varg's version is warped and Fenriz's makes sense. While not directly related to the main feature, also included is a 77 minute documentary called Black Metal Satanica. The film is awkwardly narrated and very tightly letterboxed (though the aspect ratio opens up when one of the interview subjects runs away), and features interviews with more recent bands than those found in the main feature. The film is about Satanists and devil worshippers in the Black Metal scene, so the viewer gets some idea of what arose in the aftermath of the pagan uprising detailed in Until the Light Takes Us. Black Metal Satanica is not a good film on its own, unless you like to listen to pretentious gits wax eloquent about themselves and their belief system (they are Satanists after all), but it works really well complementing the main feature as it mostly features bands that made up the next wave of Black Metal. Most of the interview subjects come off as twonks, with the notable exception of a festival organiser, but coupled with the main film I found this worth a look.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
As an overview of the culture, group and situations that lead to Norwegian Black Metal, Until the Light Takes Us works well. One of the main points of the film is to dispel the Satanic stereotypes that became commonplace in the 90s, and it succeeds in this regard. There's not a lot of new information for those up on their Black Metal history, but if there're people in your life that rabbit on about devil worshipers burning down churches, this is a good film to show them and set them straight about the surprisingly logical motivations behind the crimes in Norway. The DVD is good value, as long as you overlook the few compression issues, and given the way the two feature films work together it's obvious someone's put a lot of thought in compiling the material on this disc.

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