Blood, Black Metal, and Torture: The A to Z of Gorgoroth

From church-burning to fashion lines, we break down the lurid history of one of Norwegian black metal's most infamous bands.

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Jun 4 2015, 6:51pm


Photo by Christian Misje / courtesy of Gorgoroth

Gorgoroth is one of Norwegian black metal’s most iconic names. Originally formed in 1992 by Infernus (a.k.a. Roger Tiegs), the band has released some truly classic material and persevered through the kind of obstacles (and scandals) that would fell a lesser group. When you’ve released an album as great as Antichrist (or if your singer has been arrested for literally torturing someone), one would think that it’d be safe to assume that your legacy is secure. However, as time goes by, it gets harder and harder to keep tabs on what the hell is actually going on with Gorgoroth.

Something’s been rotten in the state of Norway for a good long while now. The classic lineup of Gaahl, King ov Hell, and Infernus imploded in a messy tangle several years ago (things got complex enough to warrant an entire “Gorgoroth name dispute” page on Wikipedia). A rotating cast of fill-in members have stepped in to try and fill the twin voids, but the acrimonious split—which robbed the band of both its imposing vocalist and the pretty-boy bassist who’s often been credited with shouldering the lion’s share of the songwriting—has left Gorgoroth a shadow of its former self. While Gaahl has effectively quit metal outright and King ov Hell has busied himself with other, less Satanic projects, Infernus has soldiered on ahead, armed with the rights to the Gorgoroth name and—according to the new song that aired earlier this week—an arsenal of workmanlike Norsecore riffs.

The future of the band remains uncertain—though Infernus is nothing if not persistent—but its colorful, claret-stained past is well worth exploring. Whether you’ve got an original pressing of Pentagram or are a newcomer to the idea that a band called Gorgoroth even exists, this A-Z guide will hopefully serve as a handy primer on one of Norway’s most notorious musical exports.

A is for Assault

Gaahl and Infernus have both been arrested for violent, lurid crimes, a fact which has both helped to further their reputation as a big, bad, real-deal Satanic band, and, one assumes, made it difficult for them to cross borders. Gaahl’s been sent down twice for assault, and Infernus spent four months in prison for a particularly wretched offense. More on that later.

B is for Blood

In 2004, Gorgoroth landed in hot water after a now-infamous concert in Poland. Their stage set up for the Black Mass Krakow show took the guise of a grandiose Satanic spectacle, complete with sheeps’ heads impaled on stakes, and naked, bloody models mock-crucified onstage. A full eighty liters of sheep’s blood was involved, and soon, so were the police. The band was accused of cruelty to animals and violating Polish anti-blasphemy laws; though the band was cleared of any wrongdoing, the resulting snafu got them dropped from their then-label, Nuclear Blast. Blood also played a part in two of Gaahl’s arrests, wherein he allegedly threatened to drink the blood of one victim and to force the other to chug a cupful of the victim’s own.

C is for Church-burning

Gaahl has repeatedly voiced his support for church-burning, and has been under investigation by the Norwegian authorities for statements like “Church burnings and all these things are, of course, things that I support 100 percent and it should have been done much more and will be done much more in the future. We have to remove every trace from what Christianity and the Semitic roots have to offer this world. Satanism is freedom for the individual to grow and to become Superman. Every man who is born to be king becomes king. Every man who is born to be a slave doesn't know Satan."

D is for Dissection

Gorgoroth toured with Swedish black metal greats Dissection back in 1996, and also played their first-ever live gig with them (as well as soon-to-be-legends Dark Funeral, Enslaved, Marduk, and Gehenna) on May 3, 1994 at a black metal festival in Oslo. Many years later, Dissection drummer Thomas Asklund (also known for his work with Dawn, Dark Funeral, and his Monolith Studios) joined the Infernus-led incarnation of Gorgoroth. He’s engineered several recent Gorgoroth records, and remains a member of the band.

E is for Espedal

Espedal is the remote Sunnfjord valley wherein Gaahl spent his youth. It’s is also part of his given name, as this pillar of Satanic might was born a Kristian—Kristian Eivind Espedal, to be exact.

F is for Fashion

Gaahl made headlines in 2008, when he revealed his involvement in designing a women’s fashion line. Called Wynjo, the collection was part of a collaboration with designer Sonja Wu and modeling agent Dan De Vero; “wynjo” is an ancient Norwegian word for “happiness.” Gaahl’s foray into fashion scandalized conservative black metal fans and helped stoke longstanding rumors about his sexuality that soon became moot when he confirmed to Rock Hard Magazine that he and De Vero had dated for several years.

G is for Gorgoroth name dispute

This situation got pretty fucking complicated, but the Cliffs Notes version is as follows: Infernus started Gorgoroth in 1992, cycling through several different members before solidifying the lineup with Gaahl in 1998 and King ov Hell in 1999. The band carried on more or less happily until 2007, when Infernus announced that the band would be splitting up. Gaahl and King ov Hell quickly released their own statements disputing this, and saying that they had in fact kicked Infernus out of the band and would be continuing with a new lineup. Infernus announced that he’d be recording a new Gorgoroth album, and the band’s current label, Regain Records, voiced their support or Infernus. King filed a trademark application for the name “Gorgoroth;” his application was accepted by the Norwegian Patent Office, and announced that work had begun on a new album. Infernus countered by filed a lawsuit against King and Gaahl, which went to trial in January 2009; it ended in the court’s decision to declare King’s trademark invalid after deciding that King and Gaal had willingly excluded themselves from the band in 2007. Infernus carried on with Gorgoroth, and King and Gaahl formed a new project, God Seed, using the material they’d written for their version of Gorgoroth.

H is for Homosexual

Gaahl came out as gay back in 2008, an admission that prompted a considerable reaction from fans and the metal press. Metal publications handled it with their usual “delicacy,” but the majority of the coverage was supportive. Gaahl’s coming out followed in Judas Priest god Rob Halford’s footsteps, and marked only the second instance of a high-profile heavy metal musician publicly identifying as gay. His stoney-faced resistance towards any sensationalization of that fact and obvious comfort with himself gave the metal community a chance to confront its attitude towards homosexuality and problems with homophobia. On January 27. 2010, he was presented with a “Gay Person of the Year” award at the Bergen Gay Gala, which he regarded with some bemusement—”I think that handing out awards on the grounds of sexual orientation or race is silly. Still, it might mean a lot to others, so I accepted it.”

I is for Infernus

Guitarist, Force of Satan Records founder, and the sole remaining original member of Gorgoroth, which he founded in 1992.

J is for Jotunspor

One of the many satellite projects circulating within the Gorgoroth orbit. Jotunspor is King’s noisy black metal project with former Gorgoroth drummer and Gaahl’s current Wardrune bandmate, Kvitrafn. He’s also founded or been involved in Ov Hell (of course), God Seed, Audrey Horne, Sahg, I, and Temple of the Black Moon, and has just announced that he’ll be playing bass for Abbath. He also had his son, Trym, contribute vocals to a God Seed record, which is a total Cool Dad move. Gaahl’s been no slouch either, contributing to Nordic folk outfit Wardruna as well as to black metal project Trelldom and raw industrial black metal hybrid Gaahlskagg. Infernus has preferred to concentrate his energies on Gorgoroth, though he does moonlight in a Von tribute band, Norwegian Evil, played on a few albums with Orcustus, and has filled in for Borknagar.

K is for King ov Hell

Former Gorgoroth bassist, prolific heavy metal and hard rock musician, and English schoolteacher.

L is for Lord of the Rings

The word “Gorgoroth” itself comes from J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings. Gorgoroth was a desert plateau in the black land of Mordor that was covered in volcanic ash and served as the base of Mount Doom.

M is for Myspace

A majority of the public statements Infernus and his ex-cohorts exchanged were posted via Myspace blog and bulletin (remember those?), which at the time made sense, but now seems as strange and unwieldy as sending engraved stone tablets through the mail.

N is for Norway

Norway’s black metal scene is beyond legendary: it’s so important to the country’s cultural identity and tourism industry that Norwegian diplomats are given black metal classes. Gorgoroth remains one of the most important bands to have come out of the country—they’ve even been nominated for a Spellemanprisen, the country’s highest musical honor. Norwegian folklore and culture informs a great deal of Gaahl, King ov Hell, and Infernus’ musical endeavors, and up until fairly recently, Gorgoroth lyrics were sung exclusively in Norwegian.

O is for October

Gaahl and King ov Hell staged their own October Revolution in 2007 when they announced that they were kicking out Infernus and inadvertently launched a legal battle that would drag on for several years.

P is for Philippines

It may come as a shock, but in a world littered with duplicates, the band name “Gorgoroth” has only been claimed by one other entity—a Filipino Satanic black/death metal band who released one demo in 1995 then split up. I don’t blame them; I wouldn’t have wanted to compete with the ascendant Norwegian version or risk incurring the wrath of Infernus at that point, either.

Q is for Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt

The first full-length from the new, gutted and revamped version of Gorgoroth was hailed as the band’s best album in years (seriously, it rules). The album got great reviews, and featured the reappearance of vocalist Pest, who previously appeared on several classic late 90s Gorgoroth albums like Under the Sign of Hell and Destroyer; it also marked the recorded debut by new members e debut of Tomas Asklund on drums and Bøddel (a.k.a. ex-Obituary bassist Frank Watkins). It was released during the height of the Gorgoroth name dispute, and apparently, Infernus wrote the majority of its songs while he was in prison.

R is for Rape

Infernus’ legal history gets way uglier than a mere name dispute. In 2003, he and a friend were arrested for allegedly raping a woman at an afterparty, and in 2005 were both sentenced to a three-year prison term. In 2006, they appealed the court, and the resulting trial and eventual decision proved to be rather confusing; Infernus alleged that he’d been inebriated at the time so could remember nothing, and the end result was a rape conviction for the first man, and an acquittal of all charges for Infernus. However, he was convicted of aggravated sexual assault—more specifically gross negligent rape—and spent four months in prison as a result.

S is for Satan

Satanism has been Gorgoroth’s driving force since the band’s earliest beginnings; Infernus formed the band as an outlet for his theistic Satanist beliefs, and was joined by the virulently anti-Christian Gaahl, who believes that Satan represents purely “freedom.” King ov Hell went along with it for awhile, but since his departure from Gorgoroth, has publicly noted that he is not a Satanist. He’d previously left the band in 2006, citing ideological differences.

T is for Torture

Black metal is rife with aspiring evil-doers (and a few honest-to-god criminals), but Gaahl too things to a new level by literally torturing someone. He;s been arrested twice for assault; both instances involved kidnapping, violence, and in the words of one victim, “torture.” In 2002, he was sentenced to one year in prison after severely beating a 41-year-old man and threatening to sacrifice him and drink his blood, supposedly handing the man a cup to catch the drops; at the trial, Gaahl defended himself by saying that he’d only wanted to ensure that his victim “wouldn't make such a mess in my house.”Then, in 2006, he was handed a fourteen-month sentence for holding another man captive, torturing him for six hours, and generally being fucking terrifying. Since then, Gaahl’s avoided further brushes with the law.


Photo by Christian Misje / courtesy of Wikipedia

U is for Unpublished lyrics

Gorgoroth has never printed lyrics for their songs, and Infernus in particular reacts very negatively to even fan-made transcriptions (as this cease-and-desist letter shows) I supose it makes sense that a band so steeped in controversy and blasphemous ideals would want to keep a at least a few secrets.

V is for Vice

In 2007, legendary photographer Peter Beste (in conjunction with Vice) produced a five-part documentary called True Norwegian Black Metal. The controversial series focused heavily on Gorgoroth and particularly on Gaahl’s life, which gave rise to plenty of colorful quotes—though none quite as scintillating as this clip from Metal: A Headbangers Journey, which shows Gaahl uttering one of the most famous heavy metal interview quotes ever:

W is for Wardruna

Wardruna is Gaahl’s sole current musical project, and one of his most successful. Centered around Norwegian paganism and folk traditions, the music utilizes traditional instrumentation and rhythmic chanting; it’s a far cry from Gorgoroth’s icy blasts, but conveys an entirely different depth of emotion and ritualistic dedication. The band is currently signed to Norway’s Indie Recordings, and has logged performances at many prestigious international festivals. W is also for wine, a huge passion of Gaahl’s.

X is for Xecutioner's Return

Up until 2007, current Gorgoroth bassist Bøddel was known best as a member of Florida death metal icons Obituary. After the release of the critically-lauded comeback album, Xecutioner's Return, Watkins announced that he’d be heading North to join the new version of Gorgoroth. He appeared on one more Obituary, 2009’s Darkest Days, before quitting outright. Watkinds hasn’t forgotten his swampy roots completely, though—"Bøddel", which means "executioner" in Norwegian.

Y is for Young men

In an interview with Vice, Gaahl expressed his strong preference for younger men, referring to himself as an ephebophile (someone who is attracted primarily to teenagers). At the time, his current boyfriend was several decades his junior. Gaahl has expressed his appreciation for the mental and emotional aspects of youth, saying, “The will to discover the individual, to become something unique, that I think is very strongly present in the young man, prior to being colored by his surroundings—when you’ve exited the fantastic universe of childhood and are in the finishing stages of the hardest and most chaotic transitional period. I can’t explain why, but I know that this is something I’m deeply captivated by.”

Z is for Zardonic remix

Here's that drum and bass remix of "Procreating Satan" you were looking for, thanks to this metal-obsessed Venezuelan DJ.

Kim Kelly is carving giants on Twitter: @grimkim