“It was more run by idealism rather than good business sense”: The…

Euronymous quickly built a sense of unity, especially from mid-1991, when, with the help of friends including Stian Occultus’ Johansen (of early Norwegian black metal acts Perdition Hearse, Abhorrent/Thyabhorrent and briefly Mayhem) and Marius Vold (of Mortem and Thorns), he opened a record store in Oslo. Named Helvete, the Norwegian word for hell, its primary role was as a focal point for the scene, providing a place for those in the scene to hang out in the day and party or sleep during the night.

Øystein told me straight after Dead shot himself, We don’t want to have the house anymore, but I’m thinking to start a shop in Oslo’,” explains Marius. “‘Yes, you should do that, a place where we can hang out’. So he called me again when he started it and said, Come down.’ And I had so many ideas that he asked me to be a part of it. I told him that I wanted to be a part of it and wanted to contribute, because he needed the money. He had to pay 6500 kroner, I think, each month in rent, and I paid 2000 of that, and we had big, big difficulties getting that 6500 each month. I was kind of a part owner, when Øystein started the job, it was with the support, but not economic support, of Occultus, Thrasher, Metalion and one other guy, I can’t remember his name, all these guys from Sarpsborg. Occultus and I kind of took turns selling, he was there from midday until four or five, I was selling after work and at weekends. I never got any money for that. They lived there in the basement in the beginning then after a while got an apartment a few hundred metres from there. Living in the store wasn’t a good thing, every day all these people walking on your stuff – you had the sleeping bags in the cellar, but then people went in the cellar.”

For a little while I moved into the basement together with Varg [of Burzum],” recalls Tomas Samoth’ Haugen of Emperor. It was a shithole of a basement, and I can’t believe we chose to take residence there looking back at it. We hardly stayed there though. It was very dark and gloomy… and mouldy. I really dived deep into the darkness during that time of my life. There were a lot of parties in the shop with a lot of crazy shit going on. The shop wasn’t very organised looking back at it. Sometimes it was total chaos. It was more run by idealism rather than good business sense. But it became a good meeting ground for people who shared an interest in this music and the lifestyle that came with it back then. And it had an atmosphere. It was very different compared to how things are today. There were no black metal catalogue fans’ back then. It was total underground and there was a more genuine feeling amongst the bands and people involved.”

The shop was a meeting ground for people socially and a place to pick up albums and get insights,” concurs Kristoffer Garm’ Rygg of Ulver. You can’t really underestimate the influence of Helvete and Euronymous in the formative days of black metal in Norway.”

There were black metal parties,” recalls Mortiis. The mood was okay, some people would be ass-drunk, others would sort of sulk in corners, everyone wanted to live up to something I suppose. I remember I drove a map needle into my arm until the bone stopped it and I heard Euro once drove a spike into his forehead. I also remember that I broke a beer bottle over my own head during one of those parties. A guy once came in waving a gun – he might have been a member of Abhorrent/Thyabhorrent – all kinds of shit could happen.”

Helvete flyer

Obviously we had some crazy ideas about this and that… some stupid or weird ideas about humanity,” says Enslaveds Grutle Kjellson. But generally we had beers and we laughed… we didn’t sit there like this,” he frowns and crosses his arms, all the time.”

There weren’t really office hours at the shop,” recalls Satyr of Satyricon, they had opening hours, but it was pretty much open when it was ready to open and closed when it was ready to close. It was not just a record store but a society really – there were people living in the back office and the basement and people hanging out in the room behind the merchandise – and I later became one of those guys myself. But you would see Euronymous working on his music or his mail order and then people like Hellhammer and Faust would look after the store.”

It was also fairly cheap,” recalls Silenoz of Dimmu Borgir. He didn’t overprice the CDs and I doubt that he made any money from it really. He was all about getting this extreme underground stuff to the kids.”

Helvete Courtesy of Samoth from Emperor Dayal Patterson 2

It’s often imagined that the store was mainly selling black metal records, but at the time there simply weren’t enough of such items in existence to keep a store afloat, and Helvete stocked a great deal of material by bands that Euronymous himself had voiced a distaste for, such as Deicide and Napalm Death. These were essential to help pay the rent, which continued to be a concern.

Indeed, times were financially tough for most in the scene at this point. There is a tired stereotype of the Norwegian black metal movement being predominantly created by a group of rich kids’, rebelling against their own privilege, a stereotype so oft repeated that it tends to go unchallenged. In one high profile example from 2018, journalist Adam Lehrer wrote in (ironically) the business magazine Forbes: black metal was a white middle and upper class movement, strongly believed to be in actuality a reaction to the very high quality of life found in Norway… In essence, black metal was a counter-cultural movement rooted in white privilege and a kind of rebellion against the musicians’ own privileges.”

Ignoring the explicitly Norwegian-centric nature of this definition, and the fact the article claimed Faust to be the drummer of Mayhem, this remains a dangerous generalisation. It is certainly true that Norway is now a very wealthy country with a generation or two of financially privileged and somewhat sheltered youth, thanks mostly to the runaway success of the nation’s oil, gas and fishing industries. But though the country’s economy began its steady rise during the 1980s, the benefits hadn’t really kicked in for most of those living there in the early 1990s. Norway was already one of the richer countries in Europe, yes, but the economic background of the participants was far from uniform, with many bands, not least Mayhem, featuring at least some members from decidedly working class backgrounds.

Norway is now very wealthy. I wish I had as much money as my kid has – he doesn’t need it,” explains Marius with a laugh. Generally we didn’t have money then, it was difficult to buy stuff. Most of us were middle class, with some on the upper class and some on the lower class. But the middle class was the working class, the lower class was when most of the family was on welfare and you didn’t have extra money to fix your pants or buy new shoes, and then you had people like Varg who were in the higher class. I remember early in the morning they came with the fresh bakery things outside of the stores and we would sometimes take a few of those for Helvete. Because we didn’t have any money. If you wanted something to eat in Helvete you had to make it yourself and they only had these hotdog breads – because we stole those and if we didn’t steal them, it was still the cheapest form of bread you could get – and we didn’t have anything with them… maybe some cheese sometimes.”

The restored, expanded and definitive edition of Black Metal: Evolution Of The Cult is available to order now.

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Posted on February 2nd 2024, 1:00p.m.