In this blog, Criminology lecturer Kevin Hoffin offers an insight into how Glocalization and Bricolage shape the Black Metal subculture, and what this means for the study of subculture going forward.
The study of youth cultures; the obstacles that youths come across and their proposed solutions has always been an area central to this researcher’s interests. Through research into Black Metal, it becomes apparent that a subculture is not a singular, behemothic structure that exists in a single form wherever it appears, but rather a bricolage of cultures, tropes and rituals found in proximity to individual iterations of that culture. Therefore, subcultures are best understood in the context of their surroundings, rather than a catch-all attempt.
For example, the Black Metal subculture enjoyed by Norwegian youths is unlikely to be identical to that enjoyed by British youths. The symbols and styles may appear in tandem but scratching beneath the surface reveals a myriad of differences, startling in their uniqueness. Hoffin (2018; 2019) speaks about the variance in interpretations of decay and wolves/personal sovereignty between the UK and Norwegian subcultures, this blog begins to address how the bricolage effect becomes one of the subcultural drivers.
The gulf of meaning in Black Metal
Small differences in semiotics presented by different iterations can often escalate into divergences within the subculture; the most telling example of this is the deviance exemplified by the Norwegian Second Wave (Moynihan & Soderlind 2003) in the early 1990s, considering that the subculture also exists in the UK, and has in its time produced many influential Black Metal bands (Cradle of Filth, Winterfylleth, and of course progenitors Venom to name but a few), transgressions have principally been kept to a ideological basis, with very few deviations into criminality. This comparison forms from the political, economic and social differences that separate Norway and the UK.
Norway is a relatively young country, only unified under a single administration since 1908, it also happens to be a highly oil-rich country, with a consistently socially democratic governmental model in operation. One of the most striking features of the Country is that their constitution states that 50% of ‘The Storting’ (Norwegian Parliament) must be practicing Christians. All Norwegian citizens are, by birth, members of the Church and have to elect to leave it.
This has led to an environment where many of the Country’s citizens live outside the reach of the Church, as they willingly leave it. It has a very low ratio of citizens with any degree of Christian belief. In essence, this leaves the Country with a disparate influence by Christianity, which is wholly unrepresentative of the Country’s inhabitants. Historically, Norway was one of the later Western Countries to be Christianised; after multiple attempts by various kings, who threatened death if Christian conversion was decided against. There is a deep reverence for the Pagan past, typified by the healthy mythology that permeates Scandinavia. Varg Vikernes, a notorious Norwegian Black Metal artist surmises that the Churches were built on Pagan lands, and why should they show respect for the Christians when they clearly showed none to Wotanism (Aites & Ewell, 2009). Due to this combination of factors, there is a deep-seated antagonism with the Christian Church, rebellion against the Church is also seen as a political rebellion.
In the UK, there is less tension between the Church and State, so the same levels of blasphemy do not present themselves in such deviant manners, although there are still anti-Christian and wider anti-religious sentiments embedded in the scene. One of the most notable examples of such deviance rearing its head in the UK was the 1998 arrest of ex-Cradle of Filth drummer Nick Barker and a few of their fans for breaching obscenity laws, after they were found to be wearing a Cradle of Filth t-shirt that proudly declares: “Jesus is a c***” (Epstein, 2015). Breaking an obscenity law is not really a transgression to the same physical degree as the numerous arson attempts on Churches that ran across Norway and Sweden.
The Bricoleur and subculture moving forward.
The ‘Bricoleur’, he/she who uses whatever is to hand to create their art, is central to the formation of a subculture. In this sense, the bricoleur takes components of their surroundings; whether cultural, social or political and melds them together into new shapes. Usually, the superficial elements which are visible to outsiders (the fashion, the symbols, the sound) can be transmitted easily and transported across to other areas, and subsumed by other groups, but the meaningful depth remains true to the original iteration.
Upon transposition, the meaning behind the symbols needs to be refilled. Inevitably, this will happen as local adopters use their own knowledge and schema in order to produce a plethora of references. This does not follow that meaning is disregarded- but rather, built upon and reconstructed. Meaning is simultaneously transient and fixed. The symbols; wolves, decay, death, Satan, remain the same, therefore presenting a global aesthetic- however, underneath the surface, there is much more pliant space for interpretation which then crystallises and becomes unique to each individual iteration.
In looking to pursue subcultural study moving forward, it is pivotal that researchers take note of such differences. Particularly when it comes to influencing youth policy and preventing/ameliorating issues with society’s youth. In cases where youth problems arise that have previously been seen and solved in other places, the immediate response would be to apply the same remedy as before. This is not necessarily the best option; although superficially similar, the hidden semiotics may prevent solution x from working in locale y, because the problem itself is unlikely to be fed by the same contributing factors. Each iteration of a youth movement needs a unique response in order to navigate these obstacles, otherwise authorities risk wasting limited resources by pursuing solutions that are not guaranteed to be effective at all.
Kevin’s paper: ‘Glocalization, bricolage & black metal: Towards a music-centric youth culture simultaneously exemplifying the global and the glocal,’ will be available in Metal Music Studies 6.1, due to be released in February/March 2020.
Aites, A. & Ewell, A., (2009), Until the Light Takes Us, Brooklyn: Variance Films
Epstein, D., (2015), ‘The story of the most controversial shirt in rock history’, Rolling Stone, June 25th 2015, [online] Available at: www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/the-story-of-the-most-controversial-shirt-in-rock-history-61183/ Last Accessed 7th Oct. 2019
Hoffin, K., (2018), ‘Decay as a black metal symbol’, Metal Music Studies, 4:1, pp. 81–94, doi: 10.1386/mms.4.1.81_1
Hoffin, K., (2019), '"Sans compassion nor will to answer whoever asketh the why": Personal sovereignty within black metal,' Metal Music Studies 5.2, pp. 151-162 DOI: 10.1386/mms.5.2.151_1
Moynihan, M. & Soderlind, D., (2003), Lords of Chaos, 2nd Edition, Washington: Feral House