The subject of Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell's documentary is Norwegian black metal, a scorched-earth subset of thrash that materialized around 1990 and gained international attention when churches started burning. Until the Light defines Norse black metal as a combination of image (morbid corpse paint), philosophy (rejection of post–A.D. 600 history; anti-Judeo-Christian, pro-Odin), and music. As with any sect, arguments supersede doctrine—and the primary divide is illustrated via two elder statesmen: Gylve "Fenriz" Nagell, drummer for the long-lived Darkthrone, and "Varg" Vikernes, of the equally venerable one-man band Burzum. Fenriz is supposedly apolitical, an aesthete who compares his music's dredging horror to Edvard Munch. Varg is the hardcore lived-it Thoreau of the movement's early years, a self-styled ultranationalist prophet, interviewed while in prison for arson and internecine murder. Since this film's completion, Varg has been released and has announced a new album, The White God. The cover art is borderline Tom of Finland; unfortunately, the homosocial/homophobic schizophrenia of black metal is herein unexplored. (As is the actual music.) Maybe the filmmakers "don't judge their subject," but in giving Varg a soapbox while being too timid to dare him out of his comfort zone and push him to articulate the less-palatable aspects alleged of his philosophy (enthusiasms for Quisling, eugenics, etc.), they only indulge his cult of personality, letting Varg and the audience off easy.
One of the Nordic rockers.
Runs at Grand Illusion, Fri., Jan. 15–Thurs., Jan. 21. Not rated. 93 minutes.