"Count" Regrets Nothing (04.07.2009), by Rune Midtskogen
"Out of pure spite we pretty much always said the opposite of what the other said, no matter what they said, only to mark distance. That's how we ended up calling ourselves Satanists, despite the fact that we absolutely were not. There was not a single Satanist in the whole Black Metal scene in Norway in 1991 - 92. We called ourselves Satanists because in general, Death Metal musicians often were so very socially responsible and highly negative to Satanism.
I emphasized to the Court that I was not, that I had never been and I never would be a Satanist, but this was of course not a detail reporters wanted to disclose to the Norwegian people. They wanted me to be a Satanist, and thus they presented me as a Satanist. The milieu was quite simply Satanic because of the media's focus on Satanism."
[From Varg Vikernes' unpublished book.]
We drive through the dense forest, with steep mountains and valleys on each side. Sun shining from a clear sky, it is muggy and hot. We pass a petrol station as the mobile phone beeps. It is Varg Vikernes, also known as "Count". He wants to know if we are on our way.
20 minutes later we pull the car into a streetcar stop. In front of us is a tall, fair, and good-natured Bergen-native wearing jogging pants, sweatshirt and sneakers. We set a course for his new home.
The small farm, which was bought by a family member some years ago, is idyllically situated with nature as its nearest neighbor. For him and his French wife, who's pregnant with the couple's next child, and their 1 ? year old son, the farm has plenty of space for them to play and cultivate.
- It is completely random that we bought this place. We wanted a quiet and peaceful place with beautiful scenery outside the city. It is so beautiful up here. Here we can be self-sufficient. But it takes a lot of work to maintain all of the buildings, lawn and garden. I like to fix things and have always liked physical labor. There is no problem to get time to work, - said Vikernes.
It's only been a few weeks since the man, who in the 90's was one of Norway's most feared men, was released - after having spent almost half of his 36-year-old life behind bars.
He was only 21 years old when, on 16 May 1994, he was sentenced with Norway's strictest punishment - 21 years in prison for premeditated murder of his musical colleague Øystein Aarseth (25), three church fires, arson and several burglaries.
Trial, publicity, and journalists made it so that the young man from Bergen had an almost mythical status, both in Norway and abroad.
"Dagbladet" magazine has gained access to Varg Vikernes' unpublished book. The book, which Vikernes has written during his nearly 16-year prison stay, is his own version of what happened in the years from when the Black Metal community was formed in Norway in 1991, and until he was convicted for murder and church fires, three years later.
In the passage below Vikernes describes what happened when he was released after six weeks in custody in 1993 - suspected to be behind a number of church fires, he later was convicted for:
"I was very surprised when I came out of prison and got to see the picture the media had painted of the situation. It was page after page about the "Count", a nickname the journalists had gotten from Øystein, who called me that because I had used the pseudonym "Count Grishnack" on the debut album. I read everything from interviews with psychiatric patients to self-appointed experts on Satanism, although I had only used the term Satanism to provoke or to mean "against Christianity", as "Satan" after all, was a word that was translated "adversary". The Satanism I read about in the media was not concerned with understanding me, and had nothing to do with me or any of the others in the community for that matter."
- I am not the "Count" that has been presented in the media. It is just sad. Those who have known me a long time don't recognize what was written about me as the real me. But I have partial blame in that I and those in the Black Metal circle were presented as such. That's why I have written this book, which I hope to publish. I will be finished with this issue, and put what happened behind me. I will begin a new phase in life, - says the 36-year-old.
We sit under the farm's largest tree. On the table is a pot of coffee and two large bowls with home baked meringues.
- I love this tree and this place. I like to sit here and relax. It's quiet and peaceful.
It is the wife who provides for the small family.
- I never asked for help. Never needed to, either, - said Vikernes.
The bright summer's day Varg Vikernes got out, he had four rejections of the application for parole behind him. Criminal Relations' reason for rejection was that he was not ready for society. Now he has - on parole - the duty to report every fourteenth day the first three months, then once a month for the next nine months. If he commits a crime, it is straight into prison again.
- Of course, it was good to get out of prison and home to the family. It is wonderful that we finally can be together every day.
He pulls his hand through his light mane.
- I pressed the pause button when I was in prison, and pushed it on again when I got out. People are adaptable. I wrote, exercised, ate healthy and responded to life in prison very well.
- But I do not have anything nice to say about the Norwegian prison system. There is no rule of law in Norwegian prisons.
- I will only be provoked by Knut Storberget, who says that they take the drug problems seriously. It is just rot. Although I have never touched alcohol or drugs.
He was born in Bergen and grew up there. As small as a child, he was very active, curious and cheerful. In addition, he was very creative, loved to read, good in school, and he had an ability to engross himself in different things. He was a member of a rifle club, active in athletics and fighting - and was an early lover of music. In particular, classical and folksongs, but he never listened to pop.
At 14 years old he got a guitar. It would be the start of his musical career.
"It is quite ironic to think that I never dreamed about any kind of fame or notoriety. On the contrary, when I started my one-man band, I wanted to remain anonymous. I used a pseudonym on the disc, used a picture where no one could recognize me, and neither wanted to play concerts nor be publicly connected with music."
Vikernes was active in several bands, and at only 17 years old he was member of the group Old Funeral - a Death Metal band from Os outside Bergen. The following year, he started a one-man band called Burzum - which today are considered one of the pioneers of Black Metal, and which remains one of the most famous bands in the genre.
The number of discs sold is unknown, but we are probably talking in the hundreds of thousands, according to estimates by the music experts.
- Burzum was a fresh breath of air in the 80's, which was characterized by intensity and aggression. Burzum introduced an intense ambience, which is a missing page piece in music history, - says founding-member and drummer in one of the most successful Norwegian Black-Metal bands, Gylve "Fenris" Nagell of Darkthrone.
Vikernes has already finished writing nine songs to a new Burzum album, which he hopes to publish next year. He says that several record labels interested in releasing the first album in eleven years.
- I want plenty of time, so I can get it the way I like it. There is metal, and fans can expect real Burzum, - he says.
06 June 1992 Norway wakes up to news that one of Bergen's most popular tourist attractions, Fantoft Stave church, is complexly destroyed in a fire. In the course of six months three more Norwegian Stave churches are burned to the ground. The police put large resources in the hunt for the cause of fire, but it will be eight months before the police take action against Varg Vikernes.
"When the Fantoft church burned down in June 1992 Øystein got it into his head that it was I who was behind it, because we'd had a conversation a few weeks or months earlier about burning churches, after a church was burned down because of lightning. He was very eager to use this to promote Norwegian Black Metal, and scare away "trendy shit kids in bright jogging pants" and other weak personalities. He spread it around that I had burned down Fantoft church, and it was eventually common knowledge in the underground. All "knew" that I had burned Fantoft church, they believed, because Øystein had spread this rumor. They did not even bother to ask me if it was true when we met, so I didn't bother to try to debunk the rumors. I didn't take it particularly seriously, nor did I think anything would come of it. It is striking that no one in any of the bands that were seen as "true" was ever indicted or prosecuted for standing behind the church fires, with the exception of yours truly of course. Why would we burn churches or do anything extreme, when we already were seen as "true"? There were other, usually younger individuals, who were behind the church fires, and they burned them first and foremost to be accepted and respected by Øystein, us, and others."
- Do you know who burned the churches?
- I knew it, but had no interest in informing. They did exceptionally well to get themselves convicted without my help. I didn't speak with the police at all, because I had no confidence in them. They had no interest in revealing the truth, just in getting me convicted.
Vikernes was accused of five church fires, Eidsivating Court found him guilty of three: Holmenkollen Chapel in Oslo, Skjold Church in Vindafjord and Åsane Church in Bergen. In addition, he was convicted for the arson of Storetveit bell tower in Bergen. Vikernes was tried on the basis of eyewitness accounts from people in the Black Metal circle. Several of them were also convicted as accessories in some of the fires.
He describes this time in his book as follows:
"When the chance to give an interview to a major Norwegian newspaper appeared in January 1993, we seized the opportunity. Øystein and I agreed that I should give an interview where I would scare the minds of the people and promote Black Metal. We thought it would promote "Helvete" ("Hell"- Øystein Aarseth's record store in Oslo that sold Black Metal, editor.), and thus he would get more customers. With lots of theatricality and acting, I met a Christian journalist, and as agreed with Øystein I told him Satanists were behind the church fires, and the fictitious organization that was behind it.
I explained to the police that I had not burned a single church, and when they asked me if I knew who had done it, I said that yes, maybe I did, but I had no plans to tell it to them. As a naive and gullible 19-year old, I was disappointed, entertained and frightened of the meeting with the police. They lied under questioning, they made up witnesses who placed me in places I had never been, and even managed to say that they had me in a film outside of the burning churches. The police also deliberately used the media in an attempt to pre-judge me."
- It was because the press went to the police and turned me in, that the police got scent of me, - said Vikernes.
- Do you regret your decisions?
- Who are you today?
- I'm still not the person the man-in-the-street thinks they know something about.
The total reconstruction cost of the churches was at the time estimated at 45 million. Insurance requirement for Vikernes was 19 million, but he says he has never paid any of it. He owes the city of Oslo 23 million after the burning of Holmenkollen chapel. He said several times in recent years, he has received a letter to pay several million dollars on short notice.
- I have zero in income and will never be able to repay what I owe. The only way out is bankruptcy. Then I can perhaps earn my own money in five years.
- What thoughts do you have about the church burning today?
- Nothing especially. I have not sacrificed so much as a thought for many, many years.
Under the warrants at the home of Vikernes in Bergen in 1993, police found 150 kilograms of explosives and about 3000 bullets of various calibers. The media speculate he was planning to blow up Nidarosdomen.
- Nonsense. I was getting this in order to defend Norway if we were attacked any time. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union could have decided to attack us. We have no reason to trust either the government, the royal family or the military because of what happened last time we were attacked. We are left to ourselves, - he said.
Vikernes squints against the blazing sun and takes a bite of meringue. It is warm and quiet on the farm, in the distance, a car motor rumbles. Near Vikernes is his son, playing with toy cars. Beside him sits his heavily pregnant French wife, whom he met while he was in prison. Last year they got married in Skien, they had a small, private ceremony. There are only a few weeks left before their new baby arrives.
- It is very fun with children. We look forward to it, - says the father of two, patting his youngest lovingly on the head.
- Will you tell your kids about your past?
- Of course. My daughter (17 years old), is studying music at school in Bergen, and everyone knows there. It has never been a problem, - he said.
- It went well with me when Varg was inside, but of course it was tough. There was a lot of responsibility to live on a small farm alone with a small baby. Now we're happy, - said Vikernes' wife in ringing Norwegian.
In late summer of 1993, the relationship between Øystein Aarseth and Vikernes was becoming strained. According to Vikernes, Aarseth had fallen as the leader, and laid the blame for this on Vikernes, who was receiving more attention.
On the eighth of August that year, the following takes place, according to Vikernes: at home in his apartment in Bergen, he gets a call from a mutual friend of his and Øystein Aarseth. Vikernes is told that Aarseth has concrete plans to kill him. This, despite the fact that Vikernes and Aarseth had finished negotiating a record-deal with Aarseth's underground company, "Deathlike Silence Production".
"He wanted to be done with me, I must be gotten rid of. He would use a stun gun to hit me with. Then he would tie me up, throw me in the trunk of a car and take me out to the woods, where he would tie me to a tree and torture me to death."
Vikernes writes in his book that the day after this phone call he receives a letter, of which police later took possession, from Aarseth. The letter asks that Vikernes come to Oslo, so they can sign contracts. That same evening Vikernes decides to travel to Oslo - according to him, with the intention of signing the contracts. With his friend, he takes the long trip over the mountains. They take turns driving and sleeping through the night.
"I would deliver the contracts to him right away, so that he no longer had any reason to meet. We had nothing to do with each other anymore, and it was only those contracts that could give him a pretext to get near me again."
According to Vikernes, they park the car at about three or four in the morning outside Tøyengata in Oslo, where Aarseth lives. Vikernes rings.
Here is an excerpt from the dramatic night of Aarseth's death, as it appears in the book:
"Because of the phone call and the false letter, I was angry at Øystein, and when I got there, he must have seen it on me, because he seemed very afraid. Either that or he thought of his own plans to take my life, and felt discomfort in that I suddenly was there. He wouldn't have further excuse to do as much as write another letter to me. I would not have anything more to do with him. While I spoke I took a step forward, which must have seemed very threatening for Øystein. He must have been panicked, because suddenly he kicked me in the chest, but struck the breast bone so that the blow had no effect. I pulled in his foot and threw him to the ground. He looked toward the kitchen. I had been in his apartment earlier, and knew he had a kitchen knife there, and I saw that it was what he was going for. He got up suddenly as soon as he could and ran toward the open kitchen door. At the same time I jumped up in front of him. I pulled out a small knife I had in one pocket. It was actually a boot knife, with a blade that was about ten centimeters long. The knife was not sharp, but fairly pointed, and I struck him in the face. It was the first time I had stuck anyone with a knife, and it gave me half a heart attack. It felt very unnatural and wrong to stab another man with a knife.
All aversion to stabbing another man disappeared with the first cut. The barrier was broken. I had to deal with a person who planned to torture me to death, and that no doubt would try to implement his plan. Øystein shouted for help and stopped to fight. I parried the blows with his knife, so that each blow was a slash in his arm or body."
Aarseth was later found killed several floors below his own apartment, with 23 stab-wounds. Vikernes admits to being guilty of intentional murder, but he was convicted of premeditated murder. His friend of the same age who had driven with him to Oslo was sentenced to eight years in prison for accessory, despite the fact that Vikernes said that he was innocent. According to Vikernes, his friend was outside the apartment the whole time.
"While I was isolated in the cell, the police issued proceedings in the media, assisted by the press corps. They presented the matter as if I had murdered Øystein in cold blood, and that there was a long-existing a power struggle between us, which was about the management of the Metal environment. People got the impression that it was about a kind of hierarchical organized Satanic organization, which had been led by Øystein, and that I tried to take over the leadership by murdering him. I had no interest in being the leader figure in this environment. Music for me was something I did because I was disillusioned after the Cold War's end and did not know what I wanted in life. To be a leader figure in this environment was the last thing I wanted. Had Norway at that time been in the habit of burning witches at the stake, I would have been guaranteed to be burned alive, without conviction and without trial, then and there. Instead, they had to satisfy themselves with the media circus. They pre-judged me to such a degree, and stirred up such strong feelings toward me that even the once so "tough" and "bone hard" Black-Metal musicians almost queued outside police stations around the country to convict me, and piled the blame for everything that had happened onto me. It is clear what had happened, I had the murdered their idol in a battle for leadership in Øystein's fictitious organization."
- Do you regret that you killed?
- I can not regret that I took the life of one who would kill me. I was threatened by his plans, but it was never my plan to kill.
- Can you kill again?
- All people can kill. But there is less chance that I will kill again, because I've been in that situation before, and so I know better how to tackle it. It is not possible to know how to behave in threatening situations before you even end up in such a situation yourself. Had I been in the same situation today, I would have contacted the police first. People make simple choices at a young age. There was a certain tone in the environment I was in. It is not good to be careless, it's dangerous.
Vikernes served his sentence in Oslo, Ringerike, Trondheim and Tromsø, where for the last couple years he has been in a so-called open prison. During these years he has been linked to neo-Nazi and racist groups.
- I have never founded or been a member of such organizations. The only organization I am member of, is Riksmålsforbundet (Organization to preserve Riksmål as a written standard of Norwegian language).
During his stay in Oslo county jail Vikernes writes about the shock that met him:
"Of 36 men in the department, there were besides me, only two other Norwegians. Of the 33 others, there were Poles and a German, and the rest were Africans, Pakistanis and Arabs. In the other departments, the situation was about the same. Some of the Pakistanis didn't even speak English, but spoke only Urdu, and the entire prison stunk like a bazaar. Is this really Norway? Is this Oslo?"
In 2003, Vikernes was sentenced to 14 months of additional imprisonment after he did not come back from leave of absence from Tønsberg prison. When police arrested him, they found, among other things, an AG-3 automatic rifle, a number of small arms and around 700 bullets in the car.
- I've never been a Nazi, and I'm not one now. It is crazy to say that I have started racist propaganda groups. If you are opposed by the prison, you can become frustrated, aggressive and impressionable of other communities. What I did was a rebellion against those who I feel have treated me badly. It was just stupid, but there and then it felt right. You can be quite alone if you're isolated all the time, and so many people are against you.
- But I have my positions clear. I see that it's going to hell with this country - and I try not to be pulled down by it. This is not Norway. We are about to be replaced by strangers, both culturally, religiously and genetically speaking. Take a look at our population today, and compare it with that we had 50 years ago.
- Are you racist?
- Yes. But I hate no one. Hate is irrational. I am a rational person.
- Are you proud?
- Do you understand that people are afraid of you?
- I understand that from the basis of representation in the media.
We walk across the farm, which is covered with flowers and grass, and step into the house and the "work space". Here Vikernes makes music and write books. He plans to write both fantasy and science fiction-book, in addition, he's working on a role-playing game. Previously, he has published two books, which, among other things, has been translated into Russian.
The family is being well received in the community.
- Here we have everything we wanted. The family and I love it.
He praises the country folk, calling them thoughtful.
- I no longer have any friends. In prison, they actively sabotaged me, no matter what I did in all the years I sat there. That is what they call rehabilitation.
- How can you be without friends?
- It's okay. I have a good relationship with the family.
The magazine has been in contact with Øystein Aarseth's family to ask about Vikernes' allegations, and new information that emerges in the book. Aarseth's family does not want to comment on the matter.
District Attorney Bjørn Soknes takes opposition from Vikernes against allegations that he was pre-judged, that the police extorted information from witnesses and fabricated evidence.
- Rot, - says Soknes, who was prosecutor in the trial.
- Is the phenomenon of "Greven" media created?
- Of course not. He had a desire to become nationally known.
Acting Deputy of Criminal Relations in the central administration, Elisabeth Barsett, had the following to say for Vikernes' claims that he was pre-judged:
- I do not want to comment on the case specifically.
Anja Hegg covered the trial of Vikernes in "Dagbladet".
- Is the phenomenon of "Greven" media-created?
- No. But in retrospect, one can safely say that it could have been done with a more nuanced picture.
- Was he pre-judged?
- I don't think so. We tried to get a more nuanced picture through interviews with defender Tor Erling Staff, Vikernes, the Black Metal circle and his friends, without success.
Author: Rune Midtskogen (© 2009 Dagbladet)
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