Albanian Communism and Norwegian Black Metal: Missed Connections?

In light of the recent workshop I facilitated on “Creative Writing in/and Art History,” I think it may be worth returning to this blog, if still quite sporadically. In the course of researching for my thesis on the Vlora Independence Monument in Albania, I’ve been reminded of a number of different almost-completely-unrelated themes and topics which might be of interest, especially to those working on the Balkans and on Albania in particular.

Almost a year ago, I came across a truly bizarre congruence: that between communism—especially the dictatorial variety which characterized countries like Albania and Romania—and Norwegian Black Metal. In an interview in the eight issue of Slayer magazine (Spring 1991), Euronymous (Øystein Aarseth), the lead guitarist for the (in)famous black metal band Mayhem responds to a question about his opinion of the situation in Eastern Europe at the time. He says,

The question is a bit difficult because there are two answers. All the revelutions [sic] you have seen in E.E. are just as they could be taken from MARX/LENIN/MAO, and the party I’m in is totally supporting it, because communism means total freedom, and that it should be people who decide things, not the government or the capitalists. But on the other hand, I’m personally very fascinated by countries like Albania, North Korea, or Kampuchea, which have been running a very hard line and which have been closed for the rest of the world. I really regret that I didn’t get the chance to go to Romania while it was like in the old days, but at least I’ll be going to Albania soon.[1]

Earlier in the interview, Euronymous notes, “No, that [writing about his political viewpoint in the lyrics of Mayhem songs] will never happen. Even though I’m active in the most extreme communist party here (Albania inspirations), I leave to the Punks to write about that in the lyrics.”[2] (According to later interviews, he never made it to Albania.)

Euronymous’ interest in extreme, dictatorial communist states in Eastern Europe and elsewhere has already been noted. However, I think that—while there is certainly still a great deal of thinking to be done about Euronymous’ communist leanings—it is more interesting to take examples such as this one as an opportunity to rethink the significance of Hoxha’s communist model. Hoxha is so consistently identified with Albania that it is easy to forget that there are still ‘Hoxhaist’ parties elsewhere in the world which look to the example of communist Albania for inspiration. The fact that Euronymous was a member of one such party reminds us that Hoxha’s heritage is not significant only in Albania, nor even only in the Balkans more widely.

More specifically, what would it mean to think about Hoxha’s Albania as a truly global phenomenon—one which served and serves as a point of reference for the conceptualization of political ideas as seemingly unrelated as those of Mayhem’s guitarist? This is emphatically not to suggest that Albanian communism should be treated as merely an example of a universal (or global) phenomenon—whether it be ‘communist dictatorship’ or ‘totalitarianism’ or any other framework; the insistence on the specificity of the Albanian context is entirely warranted. Likewise, it is not to say that we should somehow take quite seriously the idea of Hoxha’s Albania as the last bastion of ‘true socialism’ in Europe, surrounded by the ‘imperial-revisionist blockade’ (although it might be worth taking Hoxha as a thinker of communism more seriously than authors like Arshi Pipa have done). It is to insist on the inapplicability of ‘authenticity’ to the question of (the experience of) Albanian communism—that is to say, to insist that Hoxhaist communism is really known only by those who lived it, or that their experience is the only experience of it. Of course it is true that the most significant Hoxha leaves behind is in the memories and actions of those who lived in Albania while it was under his control. However, this fact should not exclude from consideration the ways in which Hoxha’s Albania was perceived from ‘outside’—the ways in which it became an important (if starkly ‘inauthentic’) point of political and existential reference.

Part of this external experience, of course, is premised upon a lack of encounter—the fact is, Euronymous never went to Albania. (One can imagine that, if he had, he would have arrived in time to see this, which might have been a rather bitter welcome to a zealous follower of an extremist communist party.[3]) This position of externality does not, I would argue, make the significance that Albania (and Romania, and North Korea, and so forth) held for Euronymous any less worthy of consideration and scrutiny.

What would it mean to look at Albanian communism, particularly that of the Hoxha years, not as something concentrated and bounded in space and time, but rather as something dispersed, distorted, reinterpreted, misunderstood, spread thin across the world and picked up in the strangest of places: Helvete, the record from which Euronymous contributed to the short and controversial rise of black metal, another ‘national’ phenomenon which would take on a decidedly transnational character in the wake of his own death.

[1] Jon Kristiansen, Metalion: The Slayer Mag Diaries (New York: Bazillion Points, 2011), 210.

[2] Ibid., 209.

[3] The idea of the shock of the ‘reality’ of Hoxha’s Albania encountered for the first time by foreign sympathizers is explored in one of the narrative threads of Diana Çuli’s Diell në Mesnatë. 

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