The first time I watched the film, Until the Light Takes Us, I found it rather rambling, perhaps self-indulgent, even vapid, but on my second viewing I had a very different opinion. Still, I found myself wanting more illumination of the music itself -- I felt that it was only briefly covered in terms of chording and make-up and iconoclastic "bad" production techniques, e.g., bad amps, using headphones as microphone, using dictaphone to record rifs, "necro-sound", and so forth. Also the lyrics were not covered.
The scenes where Gylve "Fenris" Nagell was walking around the exhibit by Bjarne Melgarde were sort of boring, I think, because there was no explanation of the context of the images and Fenris didn't really say much at all. Could've had more content and been more tightly edited. It seemed like the film was going to center around the development of this exhibit, but it didn't, it was like a sideline, where it could've been an anchor. This may have contributed to my initial impression that the film was disorganized.
I was, however, very interested in the coverage of the relationships between the individuals and the details of their lives. The coverage of the fellow, Per Yngue "Dead" Ohlin, who developed, I believe, the "corpse paint" and who would be carried on stage in a coffin, and blew his brains out, quite literally, with a shotgun. It was an interesting digression of the film from what I saw as the main theme, i.e., protest and dissidence from the invasion of Norway by Christianity, or as was termed, the "Middle East Plague".
I thought a lot about the political nature of burning churches. It's such an interesting way of attacking what could be perceived as the "core values" of a society without actually hurting anybody or by impacting the economic life of the society. Varg mentioned how it's hard to know how to oppose something, and how dissident voices are not tolerated.
As a sideline, I wondered about women in Metal, and come to that, it was of course presupposed that young men would be the only participants in the church burnings, for one. Monika Kruze in the German Techno scene for a long time. But that was the only mention of women in this kind of musical scene during the Fenris interview. Are there women in Metal? Why or why not? Why are we always shocked when women take part in social protest, even when the subject is only their own liberation? Women are perhaps just always assumed to be perfectly happy all the time, regardless of the reality of their situation. This is probably a very fraught and deep subject, and not touched on during the film, which may be telling, but I digress...
In the Middle East, and also in Europe of the mid-eighties, and the terror attacks in the nineties in the US, the terror attacks tend to be more nihilistic, although the Norwegian church burnings were perhaps characterized as so even though they are arguably the opposite. It's interesting how well Christianity, as opposed to American Capitalism, defends itself against such physical and ideological attacks. How did Christianity defend itself? As Varg "Count Grishnackt" Vikerner put it, they wanted us to be Satanists. Satan is a ready-made catch-all for badness which must be absolutely and unquestionably opposed, so attaching it to anybody who is a dissident is a handy, low-cost way of immediately and totally marginalizing these undesirable persons. Drug and sex crimes perform a similar function in secular society and jurisprudence. Characterizing the opposition and "on the side of Satan" automatically kicks in the Christian ideological immune system, so to speak. American Capitalism no doubt has similar icons (MIAOs) but that's a side issue, again, to the film itself, although it did mention the invasion of American Capitalism as something they opposed.
Karl van Wolferen's The Enigma of Japanese Power puts forward the idea that Japan may only be characterized in terms of a gigantic formless monolithic "system" which includes everything except the Communist Party and the Teacher's Union, having assimilated, for example, the Women's Consumer League back in the early seventies. Everything must be assimilated, Borg-like, their values considered and integrated into the whole in exchange for peaceful coöperation.
In the West, we make this contrast with the East and see this analysis as strange, though I would say it's wholly accurate, and that our power structures are different, more "sensible" (whatever that means), more easily subject to analysis, more logical, more "fair" (again, whatever that means). We see the adversariality of Western political and judicial and economic life as a positive quality, evidence of our respect for the search for truth and the right to free speech. As in Hamlet, we perhaps "protest too much" and if you have to mention something over and over again, it is probably strong evidence that the opposite of what you're saying is true. The adversariality of the Western exercise of power may be so much dross and window-dressing, giving the illusion of fairness and choice, but then again, the West arguably lacks the lengthy history of tradition and so is more "fearful" of non-conformatism, ironically, since it vaunts its love for individuality, the British and the Americans particularly.
Back to the church burnings and the contrast between nihilistic terrorism and this new kind of terrorism, a purely demonstrative terrorism. It's interesting, because the Black Metal church burnings can almost be compared to the opposite of a neutron bomb, which kills all the people but leaves the buildings standing, in that it destroys the building, the symbol, but leaves the people, their children, and their economic livelihoods standing. It provides a great shock, in that people might feel the ground cut away beneath them, but in fact it harms no one.
Israël has been attacked by terrorists who shot up their schools, killing children. The Israëli response, of course, was to arm the teaches and the attacks stopped overnight. Attacks in the US like Columbine and Newtown and elsewhere are also nihilistic in that they provide maximal shock value and harm people in such a way, killing and putting their children at extreme risk such that they have to react, but they do so without reflection. It's hard for Americans to look at the September 11 attacks and say "Oh, this is so shocking, we should really look at our colonial policies and change them that it not happen again" or when somebody goes crazy or whatever and shoots up a school, the reaction is, reasonably, "we have to stop this immediately and make sure it never happens again" instead of "we should look at the wrong things that caused this and work to change them".
I am not a big fan of the concept of intention. It's a bad thing to burn a church, carry out a terrorist attack, or shoot up a school, or such. The intention of the shooter or the arsonist does not matter. It's still bad, no matter what. All that matters is the impact that the action has, usually on the population, or perhaps the government. Typical terrorist attacks are a kind of political sledgehammer, and produce clumsy reactions in the targeted populations. Unless Osama bin Laden or others intend (whatever that means) to cause the West to wage all-out war on the Middle East, on Islam, and to thereby exhaust themselves and destroy what is left of their claim to moral character and the so-called "democratic values" which make their societies worthwhile. The point is that such acts of terrorism hit the victim where he lives, and he has to react strongly to defend himself, so it is just like regular war, maybe one step below a guerrilla.
The church burnings are different. Nobody gets hurt. Nobody comes to his storefront on Monday morning to find it burned out so that he can't make his living. There are no family members to rush to the hospital or to mourn over. Even the government is not hurt since churches don't pay taxes and such. It's a dramatic and destructive gesture against the mainstream society, but in the end everybody can just shrug and they don't have to rebuild since it doesn't make any difference, unlike when you must rebuild if your home or business is destroyed, or if your family or friends are killed and you must seek justice or revenge. Even if only the schools themselves are burned down, the children must still be looked after, so the impact on society is huge.
Even if you applaud the actions of the hacker group Anonymous, they still attack businesses and governments, so there are victims and the need to rebuild afterwards, even if they take the political message to heart when they do so. With a church, there really is no real impact to anybody.
It's interesting commentary that such things like church burnings don't happen more often, that we should see this Norwegian experience as such a strange thing. It says interesting things about the nature of Christianity and the power it has in our society.
I initially thought that Varg's comment about their focus on the idea that in order to build something new you have to destroy the old was facile and cliché, but after my second viewing of the film, I came to see that the ugliness of the Black Metal aesthetic was not really about the idea that everybody has to worship death and cut themselves and listen to extreme and ugly music and worship Satan (which was a mischaracterization anyway), but more about portraying some kind of a contrast and counterpoint to mainstream modern Christianity and also an unmasking of the ugliness beneath the pious surface, and that this counterpoint was put forward as a transitional state, a stepping stone, to some other place which could not be clearly identified since it cannot be defined in terms of comparison and contrast to the current norm, since such a comparison would ultimately limit and distort and pollute it.
Even if the counterpoint is "sloppily" constructed, i.e., it is not based of any sort of thorough and well-considered deconstruction of Christianity per se, anything that is perceived as being "against" Christianity will serve that purpose, however nihilistic or slapdash it may be.
But the system continues to defend itself. Gylve pointed out that the sales of black lipstick skyrocketed after the church burnings started, and he lamented the coöption of Black Metal by posers. "People like dress-up" as he said. Assimilation of the superficial trappings eviserates the basic message. So, much like the Women's Consumer's League of Japan, Black Metal, or a facsimile indistinguishable by the uninitiated, becomes part of the mainstream society. However, unlike the adventure of the Japanese Women's Consumer League, in assimilating them Japanese industry did take their ideas and truths to heart, and mercury-poisoned babies missing limbs and eyes stopped being born. Western children may yet have to wait for their system to admit truth and soften heart.
Another recent famous Norwegian domestic terrorist attack was the Anders Behring Breivik incident in 2011 and his 1,500-page manifesto that went along with it.