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date: 01 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Hardly any traces survive of the music of the Vikings, but considerable effort has been expended in the modern period in attempting to construct music that can represent the Vikings and their age for audiences attracted by the stirring and romantic role delineated for them by popular culture. Since the 1990s, “Viking metal”, a sub-genre of heavy metal originating in Scandinavia, has achieved lasting popularity and spawned its own sub-culture and concert circuit. This chapter traces the development of Viking metal from its origins to the present, exploring how music, lyrics, language and the visual imagery of bands have been deployed to fabricate a music that can successfully evoke a desired “Viking” Other. Band and audience members typically contrast a Viking Age depicted as exotic, authentic and exciting with a modern world stigmatized as dull, compromised and constrained. Beyond straightforward escapism, however, Viking metal also serves as a site for the exploration of a variety of other ideas. It has, for instance, been a focus for religious instincts: many scene members avow adherence to revived Norse paganism. More troublingly, a number of bands have framed their enthusiasm for the Vikings in terms that are explicitly nationalist or racist, extolling the superiority of a supposedly ‘pure’ primordial Scandinavian culture. In this way, Viking metal represents a telling reflex of the ongoing politically-charged appropriation of the medieval past across popular culture as a whole.

Keywords: Viking metal, Old Norse, nationalism, Bathory, Enslaved, folk metal, Norwegian black metal

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