Session 5: The Vikings are Coming (Again)

4th Global Conference


Heavy Metal Generations

Wednesday 9th May – Friday 11th May 2012
Prague, Czech Republic

Viking Heritage: The Creation of a Personal and National Identity through History and Metal
Ashley Walsh
University of Oslo, Denmark

One of the major themes of Black and Folk metal is a rejection of modernity and they often instead favour the idea of an idealised and glorified heathen past. Many Scandinavian bands reinterpret their nations’ Viking histories and/or Norse mythology in order to create a different identity for themselves and what a “true” Scandinavian should be had they not been influenced by the weaknesses of the modern world. Often the main source of this perceived weakness was the introduction of Christianity. The meek and forgiving Christ and his followers are usually feminized in comparison to the harsh Norse gods and the pre-Christian Viking warriors. The bands thrive on the outdated scholarship and images of the raiding and church-burning Vikings to the exclusion of the peaceful trading and assimilating aspects of Viking history. Even when the Vikings are not necessarily portrayed as anti-Christian warriors they are romanticized heroes whose bravery, masculinity, and debonair attitude towards death make them ideal role models for the modern Nordic man. This type of treatment of Viking history is not original but is seen first in the Victorian Viking revival where English people looked to the Vikings as their progenitors instead of the less popular Anglo-Saxons and they produced a flurry of translations and artistic works based the sagas. Viking history was also manipulated to a more negative angle by the Nazis who promoted a shared Germanic heritage and used the Vikings as an example of the pure Germanic/ Northern European race. Both of these uses have been highly influential on the treatment of Vikings in metal and how they are used by people who scorn the modern world to create a self-identity.

Nordic Heavy Metal as a Representation of Place
Mark Deeks
Independent Researcher, United Kingdom

Throughout the history of rock and metal, numerous bands have suggested that their geographical environment has in some way influenced their musical sound. Examples include the industrial heartland of Birmingham in relation to Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, or how the isolation of Seattle was a catalyst for the angst and loneliness in the lyrical content of grunge bands, such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam, of the early 1990s. In the last twenty years or so, album artwork has become an increasingly effective vehicle, allowing metal bands to represent visually their place of origin, or the landscapes of their lyrics and album concepts more overtly.

Visual images of landscapes, mountains, forests, skylines, lakes and fjords have become particularly prevalent, and Nordic bands have been some of the most active in this field. Examples from Norway have included bands such as Enslaved (Frost, 1994), Ulver (Bergtatt, 1995) and Windir (Sóknardalr, 1997). Similar examples can be seen in the artwork of bands from Sweden – Bathory (Twilight of the Gods, 1991) and Vintersorg (Till Fjälls, 1998) – and Finland: Wyrd (Huldrafolk, 2002) and Moonsorrow (Tulimyrsky, 2008).

Download Draft Conference Paper (pdf)