One of Norway’s Biggest Exports is Black Metal Music

Eirkik Hitland Johannesen, of Bergen, Norway.
Designer Eirik Hitland Johannessen, of Bergen

Yesterday we met a man named Eirik Hitland Johannessen, a 30-year-old graphic designer who is about to open a retail store in the center of Bergen.  He’s made his living selling tee shirts with clever designs, playing on familiar words with ironic twists.  Some of his designs: a play on the familiar World Wildlife Fund design using WTF.   A riff on the ever popular Che Gavera silhouette that says ‘cli-che.”  He’s even got a baby tee shirt with the baby’s teething ring as gold bling. My personal favorite was his Vandelay Industries design.

We asked Johannesen about living in Bergen and how life is going in his various enterprises. One product that he said was a big hit that he designed was a candle in the shape of a local church. This alluded to a church that was burned down in Bergen. “Burn down your own stave church” was the tagline.  The product appealed to a large segment of music fans who greatly value one of Norway’s top exports, Black Metal music.  Black Metal?

He explained that bands in this country have been making music in this hard core genre for years, with names like Mayhem, and usually, logos that are difficult to read and written in gothic print.  The music is hard to listen to, it’s as heavy a metal as you could play, and the lyrics are also tough–because the musicians scream with fury and rage, and the only way to decipher them is to read the liner notes. Johannesen explained that many of these Norwegian black metal bands are far more popular in Germany, Italy and the US than here in Norway. Sometimes, he said, people make up tee shirts with common Norwegian words using that same gothic typeface that actually mean something other than the sinister death-oriented band names. Blowdryer. Office. Ear Muffs. It’s a little Norwegian joke.

Like all Norwegians, the events that happened near Oslo on July 22 greatly affected him. He said that for the first time he understands the concept of national grieving. After shooting 70 people, long after the mayhem had begun,  the shooter lay down his weapon. I speculated that in the US, the cops would have continued shooting and killed him on the spot. “If we had killed him we would have been as bad as he was. Now he has to live with these consequences, and we as a country do too. Muslims were being hassled in Oslo before it came out that the guy who did it was Norwegian.”