Friday, 23 April 2010
|Valhalla Rising Explained|
Death has dominion over this nauseating Nordic blood bath of a movie.
Just as last year's Bronson was a huge step forward for Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, from his Pusher trilogy, so too is Valhalla Rising a definitive progression in the forging of his identity as an auteur (Drive really confirms his skill). The tension of this slow moving story, punctuated with explosions of ultra violence and fountains of blood, is heart stopping. The dialogue is sparse; the protagonist is a mute Viking slave who has killed his masters and is accompanied only by a young boy who speaks on his behalf.
The film is set against dark and ominous Scottish Highlands occupied by Nordic pagans whose way of life is threatened by the spread of Christianity. A group of Christian Vikings find the pair and see the benefit of bringing the one eyed slave bezerker on a journey to Jerusalem for the first Crusade. After they embark, the Christians suspect that a mysterious fog that impairs navigation is a curse brought upon them by the pagan slave. He is too powerful to kill and at any point in the film when he is challenged there follows a gory scene with lashings of crimson and the barbaric sounds of axe cleaving flesh and splintering bone.
Without a background knowledge of the subject matter, the plot may seem far fetched and the violence gratuitous. It is remarkable that in fact every aspect of the film; from the decapitation of a chieftain whose head is then placed on a pole (a magic rite to pagan vikings), to the accidental discovery of Canada hundreds of years before Columbus, were things that actually happened. All the activities of these fictional characters are based on archaeological and mythological sources.
The linear story of an escaped slave finding salvation amongst Christians is brought into question. The slave never confirms his beliefs and is content to kill the Christians at the first sign of aggression. The name of the pagan protagonist is One-eye, a Viking nickname for their God of war Odin. When questioned by the Christians as to the origins of the slave, the boy responds, "he was brought up from hell." It seems that One-eye is more symbol than character. His emotions and intentions are never made clear. He is a source of fear for the Christians who mistake Canada for Hell, believing the pagan slave has led them there using magic. But he is also a guardian figure who takes the boy under his wing after killing the rest of his tribe.
The film explores the complex issues of cultural and spiritual conflict that were being played out in Europe 1000 years ago. The Christianisation of Europe, the slaughter of the pagans, followed swiftly by the first crusade and the slaughter of Muslims in the holy land are all addressed. While in Europe the pagans are said to live on "the edge of the world," hunted and killed in their thousands, in Canada the tables are turned and the pagan Indians hunt the Christians. The Viking landings in the new world ended badly and foreshadowed the colonisation of the Americas 500 years later. The repeating shots of crosses from obscure angles cut with One-eye's premonitions of extreme violence seem to be a message of the danger of Christianity. The Christian Viking leader's maniacal screams about "My new Jerusalem!" echo those of the early Christian settlers of America who made similar declarations before slaughtering native Americans.
The appeal of this movie for most will not be the spiritual message nor will it be the un-hurried cinematography and beautiful shots of the Scottish highlands. It will be violence. There is no denying the violent scenes are shockingly graphic, but they are too sparse to hold the attention of the average sociopathic gore-hound. Some sections are extremely drawn out and confusing, including a scene in which one viking inexplicably rapes another whilst under the influence of a hallucinogenic narcotic. Nothing is explicitly explained in the film. For some this will make the challenging story more intriguing, for others it will be simply bewildering.
Tuesday, 13 April 2010
Were the band always pagan?
Ank: It started in 1993 when the religious movement was a very hot topic. There were bands like Dark Throne and we wanted to do something similar but to our own taste.
How do you incorporate Estonian folk culture into your music?
Ank: It's more like it's subconscious.
Kaido: We don’t take stories directly from folklore, it's more like we use symbols. We have a song called Merekurat, the sea devil. This is not a story of a spiritual being. It is a story of a so called sea devil which would be a symbol of the beast that the Estonians are so well acquainted with. It has taken many lives.
So are you talking occultism here?
K: No.... forget “the beast”. It’s the so called beast, the power of nature that works on the sea. There is a saying in
, “the sea gives and the sea takes.” This basically means that it can provide food but sometimes with a very high cost of lives. The song of the sea devil is not about a man with horns beneath the water, it's giving respect to the power of nature. Estonia
It addresses the nautical and spiritual history of
K: Yes. They couldn’t live without the sea but they also had to be wary of it. It’s a good symbol because it's not about us as mortals living here and gods in their pantheon. It's all mixed, entwined in everyday life. It is in us and it surrounds us.
Can you tell us about the Estonian god, Tharaphita, whom you are named after?
Kaido: He has the same roots as Thor. One thing you must understand about Estonian mythology and culture is that there is very little that we know about what people thought and what they wrote down because during all the wars that have happened here, lots of people were killed and couldn’t pass on their verbal knowledge.
As you may know, both the poetic and prose Edda (the principal texts of Norse mythology) were written centuries after the Viking era and by Christians. Nothing like that happened for Estonian folklore. Nobody wrote it down until about 1000 years after the Viking era. You can make the comparison between Thor and Tharaphita, but it doesn’t really make sense, because there is not so much information from our pagan times. In a way that’s good, because as a result there are no set images of any deities. It is all obscure. Set images can be open to personal interpretation, which people use to their own advantage. We have freedom of interpretation. This leaves a lot of room for a personal voyage in the maze of our inheritance. Its hard to put into words, because there are so few that can be said with certainty.
It’s instinctive perhaps?
Kaido: In a way yes. When we talk about being inspired by paganism, you can only relate to what you feel inside and your relationship with your surroundings.
How do you feel about the black metal bands whose interpretation of Nordic paganism has led them to controversial politics?
Ank: Everyone knows what he is doing; we do it our own way. We are not against other people’s views.
K: When you say you don’t like someone else because they have made a stand, you are forming an opinion. You force yourself onto their world. You must allow them to do what they think is best. Maybe it is best, everything has its own purpose.
Does it annoy you, being associated with things like church burning?
K: When something like that happens in a society, especially when it happens in a wave that a lot of people sympathise with and want to participate in, somewhere, something is quite wrong. Maybe it has its roots thousands of years back, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe its just a couple of pissed off kids. When something like that happens, there is a reason. It's not up to us to say It's good to burn any building, but is it good for society to let it come to that? Rather than being a problem in itself, it is probably the result of a problem.
Do you think it true that in
Estonia, folk practices have remained more active than in Western Europe?
K: Baltic countries like
were the last to submit to the church. Lithuanians still had a strong folk culture when Lithuania was already under various Christian rulers as a result of the crusades. Estonia
How do you see yourselves in relation to the black metal movement?
Ank: Yeah, we have black metal roots. Musically we are black, but not so much lyrically. We have dark and aggressive lyrics but we are not Satanists. My lyrics come like a flow sometimes. It cannot be controlled.
What do you think of
music week? Tallinn
Ank: for us it is unusual. The other bands here are totally different from us. We usually play with other metal bands. We are grateful that it is
music week. Tallinn
K: It is excellent that this kind of festival is happening in
. It is something we have been missing for half a century. We have been cut off. It's been almost 20 years since then end of occupation and there are still young bands who have no idea how to get a good recording and how to market it. We are comparatively old dudes, although we don’t feel very old. It’s excellent that they could get the knowledge to do well in 2 years while it has taken us 15 years. For some underground bands here, we are a role model. Estonia
Ank: (laughing) Still young musicians...
Thursday, 8 April 2010
I am highly amused by old English folk music.
The lyrics of this folk song tell of a man fixated on a woman, then it tells of a fox being chased by hounds into a churchyard where it disrupts a Protestant wedding by upsetting a parson. Then the singer starts talking about respecting the military and finally he freely admits that the song has no meaning. All of this is interwoven with references to his fixation on a woman named Nancy. WTF?
This song was written in Elizabethan times. In case you can't guess from the revolting lyrics, Watkin's ale means semen. The song tells of how women who partake of too much, become old and ugly before their years. It's kind of the nearest thing they had to those chlamydia adverts we see on tv nowadays.