A Bergen Girl’s Black Metal Story

By Liam Carroll

woman tattoo artist works on a client's right arm.
Jannicke Wiese-Hansen has a three year waiting list for appointments at her tattoo shop in Bergen, Norway. She has been a tattoo artist for 24 years. Photo by Liam Carroll.

Seated in her tattoo studio, wearing a black dress that leaves her fully-tatted arms exposed, Jannicke Wiese-Hansen reflected on her role in the madness of the black metal story.

Wiese-Hansen, 44, grew up on the west coast of Norway in Bergen, and began getting into heavy metal music around the age of 12.

“From 1986 I was really into bands like Anthrax and Slayer; then I was starting to move onto more German thrash metal bands such as Kreator and Destruction,” she said.

Sitting next to the skull of a pig, Wiese-Hansen recalled a time when she was younger and exploring her atypical interests: “I remember one time walking home from school one day. I saw a cat that had been run over and it was lying dead in the road, with its eyes hanging out its head. And all I could think was I need to take this cat home to boil it because that skull would look awesome. That was my first reaction and it just says something about the mindset we had in high school.”

Wiese-Hansen has designed the cover art and logos for numerous black metal bands including Burzum, Immortal and Enslaved.

The dark themes of the black metal music genre have been well documented in the western world, from Satanism, to the burning of churches, to the murder of Euronymous, a guitarist for the black metal band Mayhem. The genre is arguably more well known for the controversy it creates than its actual music.

Since the early 1990s, stories painting a bad picture of the genre have popped up in Norway, as well as in the United States and elsewhere. While the artists of the genre have always taken centre stage, Wiese-Hansen was behind the scenes creating the artwork that would be seen by thousands of black metal fans.

While the wave of Norwegian black metal was in its infancy, Wiese-Hansen spent her teen years hanging out with soon-to-be black metal stars Ivar Bjørnson of Enslaved and Abbath of Immortal. Wiese-Hansen had a front row seat to the rise of black metal  “I was there before black metal became black metal,” she said. “In the beginning Immortal was playing holocaust metal and Enslaved was playing Viking metal. From then on bands becam

Jannicke Wiese-Hansen in her Nidhogg Tattoo studio in Bergen. She says that as "bands became a little darker, I don’t think any of us got into black metal, it’s just the metal we were into became black metal.” Photo by Jenna Herrick
Jannicke Wiese-Hansen in her Nidhogg Tattoo studio in Bergen. She said that as “bands became a little darker, I don’t think any of us got into black metal, it’s just the metal we were into became black metal.” Photo by Jenna Herrick.

e a little darker, I don’t think any of us got into black metal, it’s just the metal we were into became black metal.”

Asked if she had ever played in a black metal band, Wiese-Hansen gave a quick “no” and giggled.  “I was not going on any stage because I had complete stage fright, I could play a little guitar but art was always more my thing, she said.” But her role in the black metal scene soon became clear. “I could draw and others could play instruments, we were all a bunch of friends hanging out. So I started drawing the logos and cover art,” she said. Wiese-Hansen went on to design multiple logos and artwork for bands such as Burzum, Enslaved, Immortal, Ancient and Satyricon.

Jannicke Wiese-Hansen holding her book full of newspaper clippings from stories about black metal. Photo by Jenna Herrick
Jannicke Wiese-Hansen holds her scrapbook full of newspaper clippings of stories about black metal. Photo by Jenna Herrick

As black metal grew in terms of popularity, so did the bad press it was getting. The negative reaction to black metal didn’t bother Wiese-Hansen. “I knew what was right and what was wrong so it didn’t affect me,” she said as she pulled out a book full of newspaper clippings. “I was a bouncer at the time. There was a lot of shit happening. Then, when Aarseth (aka Euronymous) got killed, things got much more serious.

“The scene distanced itself from all the other sub-cultures in the way we liked to walk in the forests at night and go into caves with a candle for everything to be a dark mood, we just came into this mindset,” said.Wiese-Hansen.

It’s a common belief that black

Jannicke’s tattoos a face onto her customer’s arm. She has been tattooing for 24 years. Photo by Liam Carroll

metal’s growing popularity was due to all the press it received, even if some of that press wasn’t always good. Growing up in Bergen, Wiese-Hansen was one of only a few girls who enjoyed the genre.

“It was nice that there was only a few girls liking black metal. When I first met Euronymous in Oslo we would tell them the Immortal guys in Bergen said hi and they would be like, ‘Oh, you must be Jannicke.’  We didn’t have the same problems girls have nowadays where if you wear a band’s T-shirt you get quizzed.

Jannicke Wiese-Hansen displays a scrapbook of a newspaper clipping titled: "Ha Krig Kristne." In English it means "Have War Christian." Photo by Jenna Herrick
Jannicke Wiese-Hansen displays a scrapbook of a newspaper clipping titled: “Ha Krig Kristne.” In English it means “Have War Christian.” Photo by Jenna Herrick

“There’s a lot of annoying stuff like that in the metal scene now. I remember – around that time – if you saw someone with long hair, you’d ask around and someone would always know who it was,” she said.

Asked if being a girl in a scene with so many males was a struggle, Wiese-Hansen said, “Being a girl was fine – you were completely equal. I would spend a night in Helvete (a record shop) drawing the No Mosh logo and it was just friends hanging out, rather then men and women. Of course, I was dating some of them, but that’s just natural,” she said with a laugh.

Oslo and Bergen both produced their fair share of black metal bands,  with bands Mayhem, Ulver and Tulus representing Oslo, while bands Gorgoroth, Immortal and Burzum came from Bergen. Wiese-Hansen said watching the black metal scene unfold in Bergen was a lot different from what it would have been like if she’d lived in Oslo. “The scene was so small in Bergen and I was working as a bouncer at the time, so I would sometimes see a group come over from Oslo and while the fans from Bergen were smiling, drinking and having a good time, the guys from Oslo would be there doing this (pulls a straight, moody face). They were a lot more serious and they wouldn’t really talk to people.”

an animal skull, sconces and paintings hang on a wall
A reindeer skull hangs on the wall of the Nidhogg Tattoo studio in Bergen, Norway. Photo by Liam Carroll

The popularity of Norwegian black metal isn’t what it once was but there are still many heavy metal festivals in Norway, such as Inferno and Beyond the Gates, which mostly focus on black/extreme metal, and Tons of Rock, which usually has a few black metal artists performing every year.

Wiese-Hansen doesn’t foresee a black metal revival. “Black metal was such a small scene and I guess what made it big was the secrecy around it and it grew due to the media,” she said. “There are some young black metal bands around now but it’s kind of hard to find your own sound. Before – in the 90s –  there was a huge difference in sounds from Immortal and Emperor but now it is really hard for a band to find their own path in it.”

After she designed a logo for Immortal in 1994, the owner of Bergen’s only tattoo shop asked Wiese-Hansen to become her apprentice, launching her 24-year career as a tattooist. Tattooing is something Wiese-Hansen loves. “I’ve always been drawing but I was always wondering how to use it in work because I didn’t want it to become commercialized. So I was very happy to just slide into the tattoo world, not on purpose, it just happened. I love tattooing!”

After tattooing for so many years, Wiese-Hansen has earned such an excellent reputation that she has a three-year waiting list: “I can now choose very much what I want to make. If there’s something I don’t want to do I just turn that person away. It’s nice to now be in this position. At the minute I have someone from Mexico booked in for 2020.”

Books, Buddha, raven and a skull on a shelf in Jannicke Wiese-Hansen's Nidhogg Tattoo studio. Photo by Jenna Harrick
Books, Buddha, raven and a skull on a shelf in Jannicke Wiese-Hansen’s Nidhogg Tattoo studio. Photo by Jenna Harrick

Wiese-Hansen gets her inspiration from Norwegian culture and beyond. “My art is very Viking inspired and, I mean, now you can take a lot of inspiration from what people put up on Instagram, there is so much good art on there,” she said.

Wiese-Hansen still plays a role in the black metal scene. She was influential in getting, Gaahl (former lead singer and founding member of Gorgoroth and currently vocalist for Gaahls Wyrd) to open his own gallery just below her tattoo studio in May.

In November of 2015 she also organized a black metal tattoo festival called BlekkMetal.
Ten black metal bands with roots dating back to the early 1990s played, including Helheim, Enslaved and Kampfar. It was also the debut concert of Gaahls Wyrd. “The festival was a lot of fun, it’s never to be organized again, though,” she said.

It seems black metal may be slowly fading since very few young bands play that style of metal. Nonetheless the sheer impact of the genre in Norway has undoubtably influenced thousands of artists worldwide. And the images of black metal, inspired by Wiese-Hansen or inked by her hands on the bodies of the people who love it, refuse to fade.

Jannicke Wiese-Hansen talks with reporter Liam Carroll about her experiences during the early days of Norway's black metal scene. Photo by Jenna Herrick
Jannicke Wiese-Hansen talks with reporter Liam Carroll about her experiences during the early days of Norway’s black metal scene. Photo by Jenna Herrick

Gaahl: The most evil man alive?

By Liam Carroll

Once dubbed ‘the most evil man alive’ by Terrorizer magazine,  the ex-lead singer and founding member of black metal giant Gorgoroth – Gaahl – sat down for a chat not long after completing a grueling, yet exhilarating, performance with his new band, Gaahls Wyrd.

Dressed in his usual black overcoat, with an upside down cross hanging from his neck, Gaahl sported left-over black marker around his eyes following his set at Tons of Rock, a three-day metal concert in Halden, Norway.

Bass player for Gaahls Wyrd, Frode “Eld” Kilvik stands high playing at Tons of Rock.

“Lets start the interview once I’ve emptied my bladder,” chuckled Gaahl, whose real name is Kristian Eivind Espeda.  Upon his return he quickly reviewed Gaahls Wyrd’s  performance on the opening day of Tons of Rock. “It went better than I felt prior. We were a bit amputated before the gig, due to a death, so our main session guitarist couldn’t join us.” Swirling his beer in a wine glass, he continued: “Only last week we had someone step in for us, so we had to learn a couple songs in very short notice.”

Gaahl has caused controversy in the past and spoke about church burnings  in Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (2005):  “Church burnings are, of course, a thing that I support 100 percent. It should have been done much more, and will be done much more in the future. We have to remove every trace of what Christianity, and the semitic roots, have to offer this world.”

He has also served time in prison for aggravated assault. More recently, however, the singer’s public image has been more positive. On Day Two of Tons of Rock he could be seen walking casually through the festival grounds, chatting with fans and letting people take pictures with him. Gaahl, who was born in the western Norwegian district of Sunnfjord, now spends a lot of his time in Bergen, where he opened an art gallery in May.  He is often seen around in Bergen and stops for pictures with people as well as speaking with people in his gallery.

Two huge parts of Gaahl’s life are his music and his artwork. His style could be described as hauntingly striking, and his paintings generally feature people in dark moments. Asked if he could choose between music and painting he gave it a quick thought and said, “no.” Opening an art gallery has been a different experience for him. “Yeah, at the moment, by all means the gallery is very new to me but the gallery is, at least, representing one of my passions.”

Active in the music scene since 1993, Gaahl has been in numerous bands, starting off with black metal band Trelldom and moving on to Gorgoroth, God Seed and Wardruna. Balancing his gallery and his music can be challenging, he said. “At the moment it’s a bit stressful, but I have a tendency to get into a proper focus when something tries to distract you ,so it might actually help me in the sense of becoming lazy,” and added, “I’m originally extremely lazy, so its good to have something that you can push yourself with.”

man in scary-looking make-up sings on stage
Gaahl used costumes and makeup in previous bands Gorgoroth and God Seed. He’s stuck with the aesthetic in his new band, Gaahls Wyrd. Photo by Liam Carroll

When performing, the members of Gorgoroth wore dark-inspired costumes and makeup. Gaahl favored a look featuring spikes coming from his arms and blood makeup covering parts of his body and face. Gaahl continues to use costumes and makeup when performing live with Gaahls Wyrd. He compared his love for creating artwork and costumes, “Performing live is sending out energy and that’s what you’re trying to do in music and as an artist. I’d say describing performance as a type of artwork qualifies.”

Gaahls Wyrd is currently recording new material and tells fans to expect “something unexpected.”  His enthusiasm waned and his answers grew shorter as two full plates of food were placed next to him. When asked if black metal is a big part of his life was, his response was, “It turned into it.”

The dark side of Gaahl’s life and career is well documented. Watching the singer once dubbed “the most evil man in the world” stopping to talk or take pictures with people he meets in the street is something new. Perhaps his public image is changing. Speaking about the possibility of a transformation Gaahl said: “A lot’s happened, so certain things have shaped me in some sort. But, then again, I have only walked the path I want to walk. So, (one) shapes ones own destiny, in that sense, but that’s what it has become.”

Video: Interview highlights

 

Datarock: Grumpy, middle-aged men making happy music

By Liam Carroll

A little girl wearing a Datarock outfit is perched on the shoulders of a Datarock band member as he stands in the crowd. Photo by Liam Carroll

The band Datarock took the stage at Miniøya in matching sweatsuits and large sunglasses, playing upbeat music that brings kids and parents right to the edge of the stage. After seeing this outburst of joy, you might be shocked if you heard lead singer Fredrik Saroea describe the band members as a “bunch of grumpy middle aged men.”

Maybe successful, charismatic, grumpy old men might be more accurate.

The Bergen-based band closed out the 2018 Miniøya children’s music festival in front of one of the largest crowds this year. In honor of the venue, the band members brought their kids and dressed them in dark red jumpsuits. At the end of their set, they danced with their kids in the audience and brought them up on stage.

During an interview after their set, lead singer Fredrik Saroea provided some context to the performance. “We’re a bunch of grumpy, middle-aged men making music in Norway,” he said. Even he’s not sure what makes the band so popular. “We just fit into a certain category.”

He said they’ve played huge shows, like Coachella and Reading and Leeds, and tiny club venues. But the biggest audience for their music has been in the world of video games and television advertising.

Datarock formed in 2000. The band has released four albums; the latest, “Face the Brutality,” was released in March this year. It is the band’s first album in nine years.

small boy in the crowd sits on his dad's shoulder
A young fan soars above the Minioya crowd as Bergen-based band Datarock performs. Photo by Liam Carroll

Datarock’s music has been featured on a number of video games, including Electronic Arts FIFA (soccer) video games. Their songs have also been the soundtrack for international advertisements for giants like Google and Apple.

“I don’t know why our music is used so widely,” Saroea said. “I want to know why so I can make more music to help the world.” He paused, smiled and said, “And then finally buy myself a Tesla.”

The Miniøya performance highlighted some of the traits that make Datarock such a consistent success. One trait is attention to detail. The Miniøya festival provides a sign language translator so hearing-impaired children can follow along. Datarock provided the translator with a pair of Datarock sweats, to make her part of their show.

One of the key elements in music is enjoyment, for both the listener and the artist, while Datarock brings another level of fun to the live concert experience through their upbeat songs, non-stop energy and active crowd participation whether that’s getting the fans to sing their songs or going out to perform alongside them, it’s interesting to see how playing their type of music affects them.

Video: Datarock interview highlights

Meteorôs Quartet’s unique approach helps children discover classical music

By Liam Carroll

Violin player for Meteorôs Quartet, Stephan Frolov shows a little boy how to hold a baton when conducting music.
Violin player for Meteorôs Quartet, Stephan Frolov shows a little boy how to hold a baton when conducting music. Photo by Liam Carroll

Familiar family-friendly musicians were all on hand to perform at the annual Minioya Festival – with artists such as electronic act Datarock playing a fun-filled set perfect for the crowd of dancing tots and Oslo-born rapper Hkeem, whose audience nodded heads to funky beats and lively vocals.

The atmosphere was decidedly different on one of the smaller stages right in the centre of Miniøya where the audience was treated to a multi-sensory experience with the Meteorôs Quartet, a classical ensemble of four string musicians all born in different countries.

Adding a participatory element to their 20-minute set, the quartet brought along an array of art supplies and distributed them to the audience. About 30 children sat down and let their creative juices flow,  drawing and colouring while listening to classical music.

Violinist Stephan Frolov said, “The point of our show is to make children interested in classical music and we’re trying to do something that makes them happy and not to play anything depressing.”

After the performance, children were invited to try their hand at playing the violin and conducting the band with Frolov’s guidance. Smiling students clamored to take a turn.

“In this age it’s very hard to start loving music just by ears, but bringing this social activity makes it much more easy,” Frovlov said.

A little girl uses magnetic notes and a board to write her own music.
A little girl writes her own music by adding magnetic notes to a board. Photo by Liam Carroll

The funding has had a positive impact on Meteorôs Quartet.  Frolov said, “We were involved in a beautiful organization in Norway which invites young quartets to be trained and also encourage us to find ways to enable children to enjoy the classical genre.”

The band will return to Oslo in late August for the Oslo Chamber Music Festival.

You can follow Meteorôs Quartet on their Facebook page.

The quartet’s unique approach has flourished under the Norwegian government’s recent increased funding of the arts. In a 2017 article, internationally recognized music magazine Pitchfork described the surge in Norway’s funding for music: in the six years from  2011 to 2017, the Norwegian government’s contributions increased by $28 million per year, from $19 million to nearly $47 million