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‘A great heathen fist from the North’: Vikings, Norse Mythology, and Medievalism in Nordic Extreme Metal Music

The_Varangian_Way_by_Turisas‘A great heathen fist from the North’: Vikings, Norse Mythology, and Medievalism in Nordic Extreme Metal Music

By Ashley Walsh

Master’s Thesis, University of Oslo, 2013

Abstract: Viking metal is a dynamic and popular subgenre of metal music of burgeoning popularity coming primarily from Nordic countries. These musicians use their nations Viking histories and saga material as inspiration for their lyrics and nostalgic reimaginings of the past are used to make commentaries on modern society and hopes for the future. Viking metal bands use the Middle Ages and the Viking Age as a screen upon which to play with nostalgic imaginings of what life was like then or at least how it should have been based upon aspects of the collective memory of their communities which can include the works of historians and that of artists and political figures. They use this as a means of criticizing the modern Christian world they perceive as being weaker than the ancient one. The three main components of Viking metal are:

  • The idealization of a national past from which an ethnic identity can be constructed on a national, Scandinavian, or pan-Nordic level.
  • A staunch opposition to Christianity that is based on the perceived oppression of their ancestors in the Viking Age for which they lust for vengeance. This vengeance is described as taking place in a grand Ragnarok-inspired battle between the pagan forces and the Christian.
  • The romanticization of the natural primordial world and its dark forces . The legacy with their ancestors is contained within the ethnic blood of the people and tied to the land.

Introduction: The Viking Age has captured the imaginations of many and has provided fertile ground for reimaginings and reinterpretations in various forms of literature, art, and music since the nineteenth century. Any post-medieval representation of the Middle Ages can be called a medievalism. Medievalisms can reveal much about the way history is viewed and used, attitudes about the contemporary world, and the creator’s hopes for the future. Medievalism in popular music can reveal opinions and attitudes about contemporary society and culture in interesting ways. Metal music has often been described as a method of rebellion, particularly for youth, but it can also be a constructive force which provides alternative cultural identities to those accepted and promoted by the cultural, religious, and/or national pressures of the location where the music is produced and consumed. One example of pop-culture medievalism that aids in the construction of cultural identity is the musical subgenre of Viking metal. Viking metal mixes the aural brutality of extreme metal music with lyrics recounting Norse myths and epic Viking battles. The subgenre started in Sweden and has developed and become established in the Nordic countries within the past twenty years and has exploded worldwide to the point where there are bands in countries as removed from the subject as Spain or Brazil writing lyrics and epic music extolling the bravery of the Vikings and the superiority of Norse paganism.

Click here to read this article from the University of Oslo

See also: Barbarians and Literature – Viking Metal and its Links to Old Norse Mythology


See also: “A Furore Normannorum, Libera Nos Domine!” A Short History of Going Berserk in Scandinavian Literature and Heavy Metal