Norwegian black metal in major exhibition at the National Library of Norway

Author Hernan Osuna - 31.3.2023

Since black metal was first picked up by a small fringe in Norway in the 1980s, the distinctive sound of Norwegian black metal has evolved into a musical genre recognized all over the world. In a new exhibition this spring the National Library Of Norway explores Norwegian black metal as an art form and cultural expression. The exhibition, “Bad Vibes – Sonic Emotions In Norwegian Black Metal”, opened on March 29 at Solli Plass in Oslo.

Many key figures from the Norwegian black metal scene have contributed to the exhibition, including Jon “Metalion” Kristiansen, Kristoffer Rygg from Ulver, Ted Skjellum from Darkthrone, designer Jannicke Wiese-Hansen, Ivar Bjørnson from Enslaved, producer Eirik “Pytten”
Hundvin, Grete Neseblod and Jan Axel Blomberg from Mayhem.

Our cultural history is full of rebellion and resistance. We are aiming to explore black metal as one such countercultural art form, where outsiders from all over the world have come together and formed a community,” says Eline Skaar Kleven, department director for exhibitions, events, publishing and press at the National Library of Norway.

Dark and expressive in nature, black metal can be seen as a warped mirror image of the traditional world.

In its most primitive form, black metal is raw and fearless, tinged with discomfort in every note. If we dare confront this discomfort, there may be lessons to be learnt by us all,” says curator of the exhibition Thomas Alkärr.

Press photo for the exhibition «Bad vibes. Sonic emotions in Norwegian black metal» Thomas Allkärr, curator for the exhibition, and Marte-Kine Sandengen, head of exhibitions at the National library of Norway. Photo: Gorm K. Gaare/The National library of Norway

Sylvaine and Witch Club Satan marked the opening of the exhibition with a concert and performance on Wednesday 29 March at Solli Plass in Oslo.

Bad vibes
A shaded forest, a bedroom and a recording studio set the tone for what the audience can expect to see at the exhibition “Bad vibes. Sonic emotions in Norwegian black metal”.Through records, photographs, master tapes, books and fanzines, the exhibition invites the visitor to enter the soundscapes, contemplate the lyrics, admire the visual style, explore the cultural backdrop and delve into some of the stories behind the make-up.

Welcome to Hell
The sounds of Immortal, Mayhem, Darkthrone, and Burzum draw you into the darkness before Kris Rygg from Ulver and Ted Skjellum from Darkthrone read extracts from some of their lyrics, recorded especially for this exhibition. A flyer is asking you to “Go to Hell” and as you step over the original threshold to Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth’s legendary record shop, the black metal ambience is complete.

Press photo for the exhibition «Bad vibes. Sonic emotions in Norwegian black metal» Photo: Gorm K. Gaare/The National library of Norway

I’m Dead.”
This was how Pelle “Dead” Ohlin introduced himself in a letter to Jon “Metalion” Kristiansen in 1987. In the letter – which you can see in the exhibition – he shares some of his thoughts on what black metal can and should be. He has decorated the letter with symbols and drawings, and he talks about the crucified mouse that he had sent in the post to Mayhem. A year later Ohlin joined the band as a vocalist.

Press photo for the exhibition «Bad vibes. Sonic emotions in Norwegian black metal» Letter from Pelle “Dead” Ohlin to Jon «Metalion» Kristiansen (1987) Photo: Gorm K. Gaare/The National library of Norway

The exhibition also showcases every edition of Metalion’s legendary fanzine Slayer Magazine, and in a new article he talks about how he made his way into the inner circles of Norwegian black metal, with the friendships that entailed – as well as tragedy and death.

The sound of Norwegian black metal and the inspiring darkness The National Library is in possession of the master tapes of many of the immortal black metal classics. The exhibition gives visitors an opportunity to listen to some of them in brand new ways by allowing them to mix the various audio tracks themselves.

There is plenty of angst, fear and tension buried in our art and cultural history. These emotions – along with more recent pop culture – are the wells from which Norwegian black metal drinks. Theodor Kittelsen, Gustave Doré, J.R.R. Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons are amongst the sources featured at the exhibition.

From condemnation to embrace
Once feared and frowned upon, Norwegian black metal has finally come in from the cold. Norwegian black metal bands are enjoying considerable success with good record sales, sold-out tours and mainstream awards. The exhibition tells the story of this journey in the form of media coverage of 30 years of Norwegian black metal.

The exhibition opened on 29 March and runs until 16 September at the National Library, Solli Plass in Oslo. More info here: