by Niklas Göransson
Para Bellum of Blackdeath unveils the hidden history of a black metal scene harsher and more unforgiving than the Russian winter.
This is an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #8. The same issue also includes conversations with DESTRÖYER 666/BESTIAL WARLUST, AKHLYS, LEVIATHAN/LURKER OF CHALICE, BLACK WITCHERY, CULTES DES GHOULES, THUNDERBOLT, MISÞYRMING, NORDVIS/ARMAGEDDA, MORTUUS, DÖDFÖDD/REVERORUM IB MALACHT, and OFERMOD.
– It has been said that Russians have some degree of Oriental spirit – in that we are not entirely absorbed by material values, as is customary among Westerners. Perhaps this is why people here are so susceptible to notions of grandeur? We are easily inspired by stirring ideals. In the Russian Empire, the tsar was revered with an almost religious fervour. When the populace eventually realised that he would not grant them happiness, they embraced socialism at an equally mystical level. It became a real spiritual creed, which is why so much blood was spilt in its name. Roughly the same thing happened with Russian black metal; although, admittedly, with far less bloodshed.
In this conversation, we explore the Russian black metal scene of the 90s and early 00s – as told from the perspective of BLACKDEATH’s Para Bellum.
– Back in the early 90s, death metal usurped thrash and competed with grindcore. People were convinced that grind would be the end station of extreme music – and metal in general. The grunge wave had essentially killed rock and heavy metal; many tried and trusted veteran bands stopped playing. Almost everyone felt confused and disheartened, which is why black metal became such a life-changing discovery for many Russian metalheads. It was a genuinely mystical phenomenon: true metal music, very evil, and infused with a kind of otherworldly atmosphere.
After discovering the second wave of black metal, Para Bellum and his twin brother Abysslooker kept up to date on scene developments by reading ‘zines and corresponding with like-minded maniacs.
– The events in Norway really drove us crazy! We took all this deadly seriously; it became almost like a religion. We should also consider that the Soviet Union collapsed around the same time. Back then, my brother and I were far removed from social life and politics – though I can’t say this has changed to any greater extent these days – but the general confusion certainly affected us. Chaos reigned, and the former Soviet society was in a state of consternation. Perhaps that’s why the Norwegians became almost like messiahs to us?
In the spring of 1995, seeking to become more intimately involved with the underground, the brothers formed DRAUGWATH – the first incarnation of what is today known as BLACKDEATH. At the time, St Petersburg didn’t have much black metal presence.
– I think the entire black metal scene was comprised pretty much of the two of us. It turned out later that there were other bands around, but we knew nothing about them. In almost every Russian city, there either was or still is at least one act claiming to have played black metal before DARKTHRONE. We desperately wanted to become part of a global ‘movement’ but were utterly out of touch with it. In the early days of DRAUGWATH, the internet was still in its infancy – especially in Russia. My brother and I lived in an information vacuum, so we’d literally be trembling over every underground flyer we could get our hands on. We were only aware of a few people, and they knew even less about us. We wrote tonnes of letters but received few responses.
Also in 1995, Para Bellum started a label and distro called Hungry AK-47 Productions. Furthermore, he edited a ‘zine called Sotsirh Susii: ‘Jesus Christ’ in Russian, spelt backwards. The first issue was released in June 1996. Even though I can barely understand a word, it is immediately evident how much raw fervour fuelled this venture. At the time – seeing as how there was no serious coverage from regular metal media – the best way to keep up with black metal was through fanzines. This was possible only thanks to the numerous firebrands like Para Bellum, who plied boundless time and effort into their publications for little monetary reward.
– My strongest memory from this time is all the drafts and piles of papers: letters, newspaper clippings, hand-written notes, articles printed from the internet, pages from magazines, books, and so on. I also remember when Abysslooker called a regular customer of our distro, and his mother picked up the phone – there were only landlines back then – and said, ‘After reading your magazine, my son has become so wild and uncontrollable!’ The first issue featured interviews with SAMAEL, NECROMANTIA, ACHERON and so on, while EMPEROR, Mortiis, MASTER’S HAMMER and some other bands were presented in the form of articles; either full biographies or just translations of their lyrics. Even such rudimentary information was important in times of limited internet access.
There appears to be a number of essays in there – what are they about?
– Almost all of them were written either by me or Abysslooker; we were the main authors. After the collapse of Soviet ideology in Russia, we suddenly had access to all these philosophical teachings and movements. We started reading a lot – everything and anything – and tried our best to reflect this in the pages of Sotsirh Susii. The first issue had no purely philosophical articles; we just touched upon some black metal-related themes such as the Middle Ages, bloody murders, et cetera. Most of these texts were written in an overly audacious manner, so re-reading them today does not please me.
Which ’zines were you influenced by?
– The first underground publication we ever came across was Abnormal Mag, from which we borrowed some information about EMBRYONIC for our EMPEROR feature. But more than any other magazine, I’d say that Nordic Vision was the lodestar for Sotsirh Susii. Like everyone else, we tried to portray true black metal as we understood it. We also glorified the phenomenon of black metal mafias.
As did many black metal devotees of the mid-90s, the brothers sought out a scene faction to align themselves with: The Black Wolves.
– In those days, black metal mafias were an indispensable condition. Belonging to one was a sure sign of being a true black metaller… but if you just listened to the music without getting actively involved, you were a false one. Something like that. The Black Wolves was an organisation founded by Darklord Damien of Belarusian Black Blood Productions. Werwolf – editor of The Horned, the first black metal ‘zine in Russia – became his closest comrade-in-arms. Initially, I kept my musical involvement secret. They didn’t know me as Para Bellum from DRAUGWATH; only as Dimitrije, editor of Sotsirh Susii.
The three of them – Dimitrije, Werwolf, and Damien – became the so-called Inner Circle of The Black Wolves.
– The state of things was a bit naïve back then, it must be said. To become part of our mafia, all you had to do was write an ideological letter to Werwolf. Besides membership, successful applicants would also receive a complimentary copy of The Horned #1. Werwolf often consulted with me; I received tonnes of forwarded applications from various individuals who wanted to join. In my opinion, those letters were very flattering to Werwolf’s ambition: he believed almost everyone. I wasn’t quite as easily convinced, as many of them seemed dubious to me. I didn’t want to get involved with these people – instead, I insisted that we reform The Black Wolves and vet each candidate in person, as we did with our local Ingermanlandian department. But to no avail, Werwolf paid me no heed.
What about Darklord Damien?
– Damien didn’t even bother responding to my letters; I received only one written message from him during the Black Wolves years. I got it through the bassist of GREAT SORROW after they toured Belarus with GODS TOWER, and Damien accompanied them. His note said that the Belarusian division of The Black Wolves was in trouble and had to lay low, but soon he would definitely answer all of my letters. I’m not entirely sure what he was referring to, but I do know that several churches burned in Belarus around 1994. Then another one in the Far East, as well as in some other region. Here in St Petersburg, the state of things wasn’t quite as radical: only a few churches and cemeteries were desecrated.
Contact with their Black Wolves brethren took place primarily through hand-written letters or the occasional long-distance phone call. However, the brothers also had plenty of local acquaintances of similarly unhinged inclination.
– A friend of ours was studying at a medical university in St Petersburg. One day, he arranged a trip for us through some interesting locations in his alma mater – such as the dissecting room. We were mesmerised by the sight of a formalin-fixed corpse, which served as a teaching aid for students. Bearing in mind concepts like the Hand of Glory, we inquired with our comrade about the possibility of a souvenir.
According to European folklore, the Hand of Glory is a powerful magical artefact made from the hand of a hanged man. If it came from a murderer, the hand which carried out the deed was selected.
– Dragging an entire carcass home with us would’ve been impractical, so this guy – paying heed neither to fellow students nor their cries of ‘What the hell are you doing!?’ – just snapped the whole arm off, with both the shoulder and collarbone attached. We had no problems with it, except for the overpowering stench of formaldehyde. This is a long story about novice necromancers, but I can only recommend to, please, never cut formalinised human bone with either a wood or metal saw.
Said hand, wearing a spiked bracelet, adorns both BLACKDEATH’s ‘No folk / No post / No depressive / No symphonic’ emblem and the re-issue of DRAUGWATH “Dwellers of the Cursed Forest”. Furthermore, Para Bellum wore it on a chain around his neck for the first concert of BLACK DRAUGWATH – as the band was called before its current form – in April 1997.
– For a range of reasons, this hand was ‘ritually drowned’ at some point in the late 90s. And just for the record, our university acquaintance later became a dentist and a criminal – simultaneously. Actually, during the same visit, he kindly offered to slice the ears off of three other corpses. But as it turned out, only five ears were left: one had already been stolen. Later, these shrivelled beauties accompanied death threats mailed to ‘false’ black metallers and followers of LaVey in various Russian cities, demanding an immediate cessation of their activities. As you might remember, back in those days everyone threatened everyone else; it was quite the nature of things.
Like any self-respecting black metal mafia, The Black Wolves engaged not only in various antichristian mischief but also – most importantly – warring with rivals within the scene.
– We had obtained the home address of the editor of Vamp’ Zine from Moscow, so he received one of our ‘black marks’. The man died not long afterwards, but he was known to be a heavy drinker so I doubt there was much sorcery involved. Also, we sent another such gift to a one-man project from Essentuki in southern Russia. His crime? He had the gall to declare himself more true than all the black metal acts in the north. I don’t even remember the name of his band now, but he did leave the scene for good because of this. Even funnier is that we sent one of the ears to MOR.
Preparing for this conversation, seeking to educate myself about the lay of the land in 90s Russian black metal, I went down a rabbit hole of Google-translated message boards and old interviews. As such, I recognise that name – MOR was a band from Moscow with confirmed LaVeyan leanings.
– Actually, this was not the Moscow MOR – we didn’t know their address – but ‘the true’ MOR from Murmansk. The band of R Possessed, editor of Gothic ’Zine. He was also a member of The Black Wolves, although he would later deny it. Well, R Possessed and Werwolf started having problems, so the latter asked me to ‘take revenge’ in his stead. By then, I was also disappointed with the guy, which is why I willingly complied. So yes, The Black Wolves also had internecine ‘wars’ because, as I can openly admit now, everything was built on personal ambitions. Everyone wanted to be number one; that was the whole point. Such is the problem with any organisation or movement. I should also clarify that, nowadays, we are not proud of our actions under this brand. Nonetheless, even if it sounds ridiculous, all of this was natural behaviour for true believers.
In the fall of 1995, two residents of Brest, Belarus – Pavel Petrovsky and Sergey Shiryaev – were arrested for murder. Petrovsky was the creative force behind SALVA, the first Belarusian black metal band. The project’s only known recording, a demo called “Winter”, has sadly been lost to time. He was also responsible for a string of church burnings, one of which involved Shiryaev.
– I don’t know the exact number or how successful they were, but it is indisputable that several arsons took place. Well, a mutual friend of Pavel and Sergey’s threatened to report their crimes to the police, so they decided to kill him. The murder occurred in October 1995 on the banks of the Mukhavets river; they just bludgeoned their victim to death. At the time, Petrovsky was sixteen years old, whereas Shiryaev was only fifteen. They carried out their deed in an extremely sloppy fashion, so both guys were arrested just two days later.
In an interview published in Chaos’ Zine #1, Petrovsky comments, ‘What can you do? It’s not every day that you kill someone, so we were still unskilled in such matters.’ He recalls that his accomplice first stunned the victim with a club, following which they took an axe to his head. According to Petrovsky, ‘he wouldn’t stop wheezing, gurgling, and making other unspeakable sounds’, so they put the club over his throat and stood on either side, ‘after which he finally shut up’. In a 1996 interview with local newspaper The Brest Courier, Petrovsky stated that his only regret was leaving behind so much evidence. ‘If they didn’t stop me then,’ he says, ‘I would’ve caused a lot more trouble.’ Another noteworthy mention is a disturbing dream where the murder victim appeared to him with a bandaged head, asking in confusion, ‘Do you remember what happened to me?’ Petrovsky also references ‘satanic leaflets’ distributed locally by ‘poseurs’.
– It was actually the Belarusian division of The Black Wolves who spread these leaflets – I remember discussions about it in the Inner Circle. So, as we can see, Pavel dissociated himself from The Black Wolves. It’s possible they had a conflict before, as this is common when it comes to black metal mafias. That murder led to real police terror; for a while, they did nothing else than confiscate records and magazines from Belarusian black metallers. Also, some concerts were cancelled. GODS TOWER suffered the most, so they sent curses to Pavel who, in turn, vowed to take revenge on them as soon as he got out.
In the Brest Courier story, Petrovsky expresses disappointment in many of his former comrades. He speculates that most of them will eventually become ‘normal people’ who only occasionally, when drunk, throw on some of their old metal records. He further states that black metal should be expressed not only in image and appearance but also through direct action. ‘It doesn’t matter if you fight for or against something; what’s important is the struggle itself.’ On that note, The Black Wolves started unravelling at some point in 1996, after members of ВОЛЧЬЕ ЛОГОВО (WOLF’S LAIR) desecrated The Holy Spirit Cathedral in Minsk, Belarus, with antichristian graffiti.
– I don’t know the details of this case except that someone ratted them out to the police. At first, I was very intrigued by what had happened, but then I just got fed up with everything. Apparently, this was the last action of the Belarusian division of The Black Wolves. Damien remained at large, so he was probably not involved in any actual crimes. I do know that he was interrogated though, following which he promptly abandoned black metal. Even back then, Belarusian police were very harsh. Of those who were involved, only Algkult from PAGAN and Werewolves Records remains active.
Another name that came up several times during my research was The Black Metal Brotherhood, which was led by Gorruth of Stellar Winter Records and a fellow who went by the name of Behemoth. Apparently, they were feuding with a rival Moscow group called The Black Metal Union. Reading an old interview with a member of the former – Lord Seth from SATARIAL – one learns that there was ’a war going on’ in the Russian scene. He claims to have beaten up ‘the organisator’ of The Black Metal Brotherhood after receiving anonymous threats over the internet. There are also references to ‘stupid statements about some bombs placed in cathedrals that somehow did not explode.’
– I don’t know who it was that Lord Seth beat up; as far as I remember, Behemoth was a pretty tough guy so probably Gorruth. Ah yes, the cathedral: in January 1997, The Black Metal Brotherhood tried to disrupt the divine service in the Yelokhovsky Cathedral, which was to be attended by Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow and All Russia. On that day, Moscow police received an anonymous tip about a bomb planted in the cathedral. Allegedly, the assailants failed to activate the explosive device… instead, they gave an interview to the largest Russian newspaper, Moskovskij Komsomolets. No bombs were found, so it looked like just a prank phone call.
In the aforementioned Moskovskij Komsomolets piece, an unidentified member of The Black Metal Brotherhood claims that they had to abort the mission after realising there would not be enough time to vacate the building before the explosives went off. It is strongly believed but unconfirmed that Behemoth gave this interview.
– I didn’t really know Behemoth. We only spoke face-to-face once: in the summer of 1997. Besides Abysslooker and myself, Peter Massacre – co-editor of Sotsirh Susii – attended the meeting. Representing The Black Metal Brotherhood were Behemoth, Volgast, and Lord Demon; the latter two being FULLMOON RISE’s vocalist and ‘producer’, respectively. It seemed to us that they wanted the support of our’ zine in their fight against The Black Metal Union, but we were not interested in working with them. We had our own business while they were just making small talk. The negotiations led nowhere.
Nonetheless, when Sotsirh Susii #II was released in October of that year, it contained harsh criticism of MOR – the Moscow-based LaVey adherents this time – and SATARIAL, both of whom were affiliated with The Black Metal Union.
– It wasn’t the usual ‘you are fakes’ stuff, but deep analytical criticism. Soon after it was released, we visited Moscow and sought out the venue where The Black Metal Union gathered. Some confrontations arose, as they were trying to prove something. There were many words, yet little fighting. Indeed, the incident became a ‘high-profile case’ and was even chronicled as part of my interview in Raven’ Zine #3. Mind you, it also included testimony from independent eyewitnesses. Unlike other ‘mafias’ here in Russia, we were never afraid to face those we had declared black metal outcasts. In addition, we used photos without corpse-paint on our early releases, precisely because we didn’t want to hide our appearances. Everyone here knew us by sight long before the advent of social media. Neither of us was afraid of problems caused by our convictions; we were true believers and remain the same today.
Simultaneously, The Black Metal Brotherhood appears to have undergone a split. In a June 1999 issue of Kommersant – a major Russian newspaper – Behemoth was identified as the head of a ‘satanic sect’ called Black Dragon. In this capacity, he had become a person of interest for the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service. Its counter-terrorism department had picked up chatter about an occult order having obtained weapons and large amounts of explosives they planned to use in a series of attacks against churches during Moscow City Day. As such, Behemoth was placed under surveillance. After being lured into a supposed arms deal, the twenty-two-year-old Satanist was arrested. When the Taurus revolver stuck under his belt was discovered, Behemoth explained that ‘the operational situation’ in Moscow was ‘rather complicated’. A raid of his house yielded two hundred grams of TNT, a three-litre jar of sulphur, weapons, esoteric literature, and a database of presumed co-conspirators. They also found photo documentation of ‘black masses’ and animal sacrifice. Investigators suspected that the same group was behind several cemetery desecrations and church burnings, but at the time of the newspaper story there was no evidence to corroborate this.
– To my understanding, Black Dragon was the reformed Black Metal Brotherhood – without Gorruth. It seems to me that Behemoth decided to break the law to look more true. I think he wanted to prove that his new mafia was the strongest compared to The Black Metal Brotherhood. The problem was that he also liked to talk publicly about his plans, so the police took an interest in him. Behemoth didn’t return to the scene after he was let out; prison broke his spirit.
This was an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #8. The same issue also includes conversations with DESTRÖYER 666/BESTIAL WARLUST, AKHLYS, LEVIATHAN/LURKER OF CHALICE, BLACK WITCHERY, CULTES DES GHOULES, THUNDERBOLT, MISÞYRMING, NORDVIS/ARMAGEDDA, MORTUUS, DÖDFÖDD/REVERORUM IB MALACHT, and OFERMOD.