Reviewed: July, 2020
Published: 2020, Independent
When is a book really a book? To elaborate on my question, what is the difference between an essay and a short book? I suppose it really doesn’t matter but this review is about a new piece of writing ‘TRVE”: THE NORWEGIAN BLACK METAL SCENE.
A colleague of mine, a Professor at a University in Edmonton, Canada suggested I might find this work interesting. I ordered it Amazon and it is one of those really short, print-on-demand things. The book is no more than 52 pages, so in my mind it is really just an essay manufactured into book form. All of that doesn’t really matter because content is king, but is nice to own a hard copy and the cover art is actually quite clever; a pile of sticks that references the in-joke about unreadable Black Metal logos resembling a pile of twigs. Please refer to your local internet for any number of fine examples.
TRVE was written by Kevin Hoffin but oddly enough the book doesn’t really include a biography. Internet to the rescue once again! Hoffin is Professor at a University Birmingham, UK with a background in Law and Criminology and an interest in Black Metal.
Coffin presents to us a brief essay (35 pages) and another 1 7 pages of appendices and citations. I can best characterize this as an excellent Introduction To Black Metal 101 with a view to explain how and why the more nefarious crimes of the Norwegian BM scene occurred. Broken into four short sections Hoffin tries, quite successfully I believe, to answer a few simple questions, what is Black Metal, what were the crimes, what were the politics behind the scene and how is the subculture constructed and maintained.
Citing any number of publications and authors who will be familiar to most Metallically inclined academics, Hoffin, just goes through methodically, analytically looking at the questions. He looks at a bit of history of Norway, the evolution of extreme music back to Venom, the main characters, (Varg and the boys) the key founding bands (you know who they are) and an overview of some of the crimes committed by various individuals.
Coffin views the Black Metal as less of a musical sub-culture but more of a gang, which makes sense if you know that you are reading this from the perspective of a criminologist. I thought this observation was quite insightful. I’ve often felt that myself, that Black Metal is not a broad well-defined culture, nor was it a well-organized criminal empire with a hierarchy like the mafia. The Black Metal scene was a bunch of very loosely organized, most drunk, pissed off kids ripping around, cranking Venom and Bathory, being anti-social, and committing ‘minor’ crimes (vandalism, graffiti etc.) all for their own amusement. Classic gang behaviour. Once it got out of hand with the arson and murder, the cops cracked down on the gang and it pretty much dissolved into legend and media hype. There is an elegant simplicity to the theory and I’m not alone in postulating that the scene was often made out by the media to be more than it really was. Even some members of scene suggest that it was fun, it was their own little thing that got messed up by politics, moreso than some grand design.
You can read TRVE in an hour and it is very affordable on-line, so I certainly would recommend tracking it down. That moment in time, the origins of the scene, is still so intriguing and curious in musical culture that many people, even criminologists, still write about it to this day. My score reflects only the brevity of the book and the limitations of a print-on-demand book, if you wish to judge the book on content alone, I’d bump it up a notch. It’s a great starting point for anyone who wants to explore what the Norwegian Black Metal scene was about.