“…but at least I’ll be going to Albania soon”[Images from an Imagined Utopia]
In 1991, Euronymous (real name Øystein Aarseth) and Dead (real name Per Yngve Ohlin), the guitarist and vocalist, respectively, for the infamous Norwegian Black Metal band Mayhem, gave an interview with the important underground metal zine Slayer. In the interview, Euronymous discussed not only his view of the current state of Black and Death metal in Europe and beyond, but also his own connections to politics. It is curious to note that Euronymous professed a marked interest in Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, in particular in their Southeastern European varieties. Throughout the course of the interview, he specifically mentions communist Albania and Romania several times, claiming to be a member of an Albanian-inspired communist group in Norway and asserting that “I don’t know if I have any ultimate goal, for me it would be perhaps to play live in Albania, North Korea, Laos, Vitnam [sic], or Kampuchea.” He laments that he did not have time to visit communist Romania “like [it was] in the old days,” but says “at least I’ll be going to Albania soon.” Euronymous apparently never visited Albania (two years later, in 1993, he was murdered by his bandmate Varg Vikernes, a neo-fascist). Even if he had, however, in 1991 he would have found a country that had toppled the statue of its former dictator, and held its first democratic elections in the wake of the collapse of communism in the Eastern Bloc, and following what was—for Albania—a particularly harsh and lengthy period of national Stalinism.
This project investigates this curious case of appropriation and exoticization. Black Metal’s ethos is typically associated with paganism and Satanism, its political leanings with fascism, and its natural imaginary with the cold, snowy forests of Scandinavia. However, “…but at least I’ll be going to Albania soon”seeks to explore the ways that Euronymous’ obsession with extreme modes of politics seemed to find a compatible utopic space in communist Albania. That Euronymous exoticized Albania is without question, but this particular case of Orientalizing discourse—isolated and authoritarian Albania imagined as a utopia for Black Metal’s politics and cultural agendas—is unique. “…but at least I’ll be going to Albania soon”seeks to explore the gap between realities and fictions circulating around communist Eastern Europe and Albania in particular, by representing a possible vision of what Euronymous might have projected onto the country. The project uses a 1984 multilingual publication entitled 40 Vjet Shqipëri Socialiste [40 Years of Socialist Albania]—a photobook produced for export, in order to propagandize the prosperity of the socialist nation to the world. Through interventions in the book itself, meant to aesthetically recall the visual language of underground metal zines (corpselike faces, bullet belts, spiked clubs, pentagrams, inverted crosses, and so on), the project suggests the gaps and continuities in visual languages. It explores how one extreme political imaginary became fruitful grounds for an extreme cultural movement that was almost as far removed aesthetically as one could imagine.