Until the Light Takes Us (2009)

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"Until The Light Takes Us" tells the story of black metal. Part music scene and part cultural uprising, black metal rose to worldwide notoriety in the mid-nineties when a rash of suicides, murders, and church burnings accompanied the explosive artistic growth and output of a music scene that would forever redefine what heavy metal is and what it stands for to other musicians, artists and music fans world-wide. The film goes behind the highly sensationalized media reports of "Satanists running amok in Europe" to examine the complex and largely misunderstood principles and beliefs that led to this rebellion against both Christianity and modern culture. To capture this on film, directors Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell moved to Norway and lived with the musicians for several years, building relationships that allowed them to create a surprisingly intimate portrait of this violent, but ultimately misunderstood, movement. The result is a poignant, moving story that's as much about the idea that reality is composed of whatever the most people believe, regardless of what's actually true, as it is about a music scene that blazed a path of murder and arson across the northern sky.

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Critic Reviews for Until the Light Takes Us

All Critics (23) | Top Critics (8)

Unfortunately, everything the neo-Vikings say is unchallenged.

Feb 19, 2010 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

Their dedication to giving the players their moment on the podium prevented Aites and Ewell from asking provocative questions, or, it would seem, any questions at all.

Feb 11, 2010 | Rating: 1.5/4 | Full Review…

In interviews with a few of the key players, the film desensationalizes the story without really demystifying it. It's an intriguing but shallow examination that never really finds a point of view about its subject.

Jan 29, 2010 | Rating: 2.5/5 | Full Review…

This is worth seeing for its snapshot of countercultural delusion and the comedy of Varg "Count Grishnackh" Vikernes, pompous crypto-Nazi and incarcerated murderer, whining that the media have distorted his subtle social critique.

Jan 8, 2010 | Full Review…

That's all fascinating as far as it goes, but to some degree Vikernes is playing his liberal American guests.

Dec 10, 2009

Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell's absorbing, low-key documentary "Until the Light Takes Us" recounts how a few Norwegian musicians hijacked an obscure offshoot of heavy metal and made it world famous.

Dec 4, 2009 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Until the Light Takes Us

Good enough to have kept me awake in its entirety. Apparently, more than good enough would have been more appreciated.

familiar stranger
familiar stranger

Super Reviewer

½

Sometimes disjointed but never dull, Until the Light Takes Us offers an insider's point of view into the oft misunderstood culture of Norwegian Black Metal.

Randy Tippy
Randy Tippy

Super Reviewer

"Music. Arson. Murder. Art. Black Metal." If you think metal bands in America are extreme wait until you see and listen to the people behind the Black Metal scene in Norway. In America we have Slayer, a band who sings lyrics like, "God Hates Us All." In Norway they have Banda like Mayhem, who take a picture of their bandmates dead body after suicide and put it on an album cover.  This documentary is really about a few members of the Black Metal scene and how they took their extreme views to new heights with the burning of churches. Now if your a fan of metal, like myself, you've already heard of these church burning and the bands involved. Like their music, these bands go way to far just to be extreme. I think I can speak for most in saying that the Black Metal music is pretty horrible. But that's not what this documentary is about. All in all it's about the extremes some of these musicians went to. For such a fascinating subject as this is, you would expect a entertaining and equally fascinating documentary. Until The Light Takes Us is anything but fascinating and entertaining. It's actually the complete opposite; it's boring. These filmmakers took a subject that you couldn't possibly believe could be boring and they did it. They didn't dive in deep enough. It didn't seem like they wanted to question these people for what they are, complete freaks. It's almost like the filmmakers are afraid of them. They could have taken a chance and really tried to get into the minds and psyche of these musicians, but they didn't. This documentary is really just a blown opportunity. Not worth the watch at all. Other documentaries have talked about it in less detail and with less time and got more out of it then this. Look at Sam Dunn's metal documentary for a better look at the Black Metal scene then this.

Melvin White
Melvin White

Super Reviewer

I haven't been writing much about other films because nothing has been stirring me. But I've watched this, and another film which I will surely tackle later, repeatedly, a zombie drawn to flesh, and I think it's because I'm hoping there is more material there than there is. As a metalhead, I know the rough story, and I have seen Sam Dunn's treatment of these incidents and probably some tv segments on it, but the only thing yet that has compelled me to do the research, or more importantly, listen to the music was this doc. Apparently, doing the research, reading interviews and journals, I listen to some of these guys' influences, but I even noticed when watching Sam Dunn's Headbanger's Journey that death metal is a big gap in my metal listening education where I haven't ticked off the canon. The third time I watched this film - in the background because I find it so generic that I've never watched exclusively the film in entirety, only in pieces, plus I've listened and watched with the entirety in the periphery about eight or nine times as of now - I was also reading Varg Vikernes' burzum.org writings, and I realized I must get some of this stuff. As Varg intends with Burzum, each album is like a spell; Mayhem is raw and back to the real roots of metal; DarkThrone performs some ingenious feats of metal composition; and I thank the film-makers for impelling me to these aural introductions. Now onto the bashing. Considering WHO these film-makers were given access to and how open most of the interviewees seemed, I think there needed to be more pressing questions for clarification in the many instances of homicide and arson being discussed. The film-makers I suppose will claim objectivity and I'm sure playing cool makes people reveal more, but there comes a point where you have to wield your power as the documentarian and uncover truths, use that whole "we're cool" relationship you've been building to find out the critical life and death information - the pieces of a documentary that make it soar in revelation, moments that this crew didn't get that were just ONE poking question beneath the surface. And this extends into their greater documentation of the feature players: They display the Dawn of the Black Hearts cover as a shocking endcap to the Dead "story" but never explain the story of that album's printing (which there are several stories but the only persistent link is that Euronymous wanted it made). The film alludes that Bard "Faust" Eithun may have killed a gay man in a hate crime but they never say that he was actually convicted of murder and served over a decade in prison; when they interview him, he appears in silhouette, without title, and voice distorted as he cryptically discusses church burnings (which on the Emperor site, his band, it declares that he went with Varg and Euronymous to burn the Holmenkollen Church the day after he committed the murder, and the film-makers let Varg talk casually about how Faust "sold him out" in jail). But to bring it around to the subject which has me coming back to this film and that film-makers too are clearly a bit too enamored with him, Varg Vikernes is totally allowed to be just Varg, unchecked, which is sad considering his paradoxical existence, one that I think is more common than rare. As Burzum, Varg has composed some sublime songs (and this I recognized in one listening, which is rare) and he clearly has a rich intellectual life. However, Varg has political views that many other people would disagree with, views that he feels his government actively oppresses and jailed him for, but added to that is the intrigue that he killed a one-time bandmate and often business partner Euronymous (he claims self-defense and has a persistent story across interviews, police interrogation, his own site posts, but part of his story is this persistent reinforcement that Euronymous had become "useless" to the scene, inferences that Varg saw him as an inferior lifeform, "a braindead metalhead", and there is the added story, backed up by Hellhammer, that Euronymous was plotting to kill Varg, but Hellhammer also mentions that Varg was plotting to kill Euronymous). Everyone acts like the Euronymous issue is settled, but having served his time, Varg nearly boasts on his site that he did the world a favor by killing Euronymous, but regardless of how scummy he was, maybe someone - these interviewers - should take that opportunity when presenting when Varg is harping away telling his tale of killing Euronymous to interject, "Did you realize that when you pursed Euronymous with the intent of killing him, after he had fled the scene, and you were no longer in any danger, that you could no longer say you were defending yourself, that at that moment your actions shifted to voluntary manslaughter? Furthermore have you never considered that statements you've made yourself since Euronymous's death suggest a self-satisfaction enough to indicate motive for premeditated murder, not to mention the fact that you fled the scene, and were actively conspiring with Snorre (Mayhem's then guitarist) to conceal evidence of your trip and the murder?" They also never poked him about the burnings; no one really has, they just accept the story of "I joked about it to a press guy trying to sell records and he took me seriously and called the police, and then all these metalheads went with that story trying to sell more records". They just added those arson charges to Varg's sentence based on testimony of people who cut deals to reduce sentences and/or thought it enhanced the black metal scene to own up to church burnings. Like all of their subjects, with perhaps the exception of Gylve who feels like he is being prodded and examined by the crew, Varg is given an open podium (and the most screen time, which actually I'm fine with because even when he's not talking about the controversies he was involved in, his views on music are enlightening and his views on his society are just saddening/maddening). Maybe these guys have never had the chance to speak unchallenged on camera before (Varg certainly had no problem speaking on his site), but it just seems irresponsible and for me it is personally irritating to let Varg talk without any restraint from the interviewer, if not challenges on his views, at least there should be some prodding for expansion (though Varg is often a thorough guy; Hellhammer is probably the most guilty of needing provocation to expound). Varg's plight, and I think it sparks many black metal musicians in Norway, is that he sees his homeland becoming increasingly assaulted and permeated by foreign cultures, his native culture nearly destroyed by the bombardment, and he wants to protect his heritage. Being an American, this is hard for me to empathize with. Being a New Orleanian, this is much easier for me to understand, though the forces that threaten my culture are typically natural (and then political), and everyone assimilates into our local culture well without ruining the roux. The tragedy here is that people like Varg all over the world can rage against assimilation however they like, and I have no right to criticize how they counter-assault what is perhaps the most important losing battle for their nation/culture/race until their methods include physical violence and murder.

_kelly .King
_kelly .King

Super Reviewer

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