Disillusioned by a lack of coverage back home, photographer Verði ljós decided to become Icelandic black metal’s documenter-in-chief, shooting its stars over a period of three years for an all-encompassing portrait of the genre and scene.

Disillusioned by a lack of coverage back home, photographer Verði ljós decided to become Icelandic black metal’s documenter-in-chief, shooting its stars over a period of three years for an all-encompassing portrait of the genre and scene.

Despite an imposing reputation overseas, Iceland’s relationship with its black metal scene remains relatively indifferent.

Other than the occasional government grants for shows, or sporadic nods in a local music publications, most of the support and fanfare surrounding Icelandic black metal (an extreme sub-genre of traditional metal) comes via channels outside of the island.

For photographer Verði ljós – the alter-ego of Hafsteinn Viðar Ársælsson, founder of solo music project Wormlust – this lack of recognition was always troubling. After all, in his eyes, a small group of artists and musicians were single-handedly responsible for building the foundations of a subculture celebrated all over the world.

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“We have built both a sound that is unique to us, as well as [creating] a circle of artists that are supportive and influential to each other,” he explains.

“I don’t want to come off as pessimistic, but, to me, any other form of music that is popular over here doesn’t really seem to be done with the spirit of creating something unique.”

So, ljós decided to take on the role of black metal’s recorder-in-chief. Over the course of three years, he chronicled some of the genre’s biggest bands, creating an unparallelled portrait of one of Iceland’s most successful cultural exports.

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The resulting book – titled Svartmálmur – sees him blending documentary with fiction, interspersing other-worldly monochromatic shots of the Icelandic stars with lyrical excerpts from their music, creating the feeling, ljós explains, of listening to an album. (“Black metal albums usually have overarching concepts running through them – like books. Flipping that over from audio to the visual made total sense.”)

Though the scene has often been described as closed-off and insular in the past, ljós’ access ensures that Svartmálmur operates an all-encompassing record. For the photographer and musician, it’s a case of sharing “hidden knowledge”, as well as celebrating a genre and subculture that he feels deserves a greater deal of recognition.

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“When the economy crashed [in 2008], I thought, ‘at least there is always good music that comes out of calamitous times like this’. But I didn’t think that would happen in my own backyard.”

“I don’t have any desire that the subculture should float into the mainstream – just recognition of what has been accomplished through self-effort and talent alone by such a relatively small group of artists.”

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Verði ljós’ Svartmálmur is available now.

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