Oil and water.
Orange juice and toothpaste.
Black metal and Christianity.
These are things that, by rule, are not supposed to mix with one another. It’s either physically impossible to fully assimilate the two, or the act of mixing will create discomfort… even tension. If it’s one thing the Second Wave of Black Metal in Norway taught us was this stance on Christianity. The anti-Christian messages, imagery, mockery, and demonstrations proved to the world how tight these bands held on to their convictions.
People feared the Norwegian black metal pioneers, and some were compelled enough to follow their misanthropic beliefs on life and organized religion. So, what do you get when someone successfully releases an album that sounds, looks, and all appears to be black metal but with Christian lyrics instead of anti-Christian lyrics? You get Horde, and Hellig Usvart, the start of the Christian black metal movement.
Horde is the solo project of Jayson Sherlock, who at the time was most notable for being the ex-drummer of Christian death metal band Mortification. Around the year 1993, he started listening more and more to the new black metal coming from Europe, but as a Christian himself, wasn’t fond of the messages in the music. He then set out to create an alternative for anyone else that may have felt the same way he did. It’s a pretty simple formula that many other Christian metal bands have used in the past; take the music as it is and just replace the lyrics and themes with Christianity. And in 1994, Hellig Usvart was released on Nuclear Blast Records.
"Release and Clothe the Virgin Sacrifice"
Musically speaking, Hellig Usvart is pretty true to the Norwegian black metal sound. Intentionally lowered production quality, blast beats everywhere, buzzing guitars, ambient keyboards, and gurgling dying-like vocals are all present. It has pretty much contains all of the elements other black metal efforts popularized in Norway, and probably could even be mistaken for Norwegian black metal if you didn’t know who you were listening to.
Even the album artwork follows the trends with a high contrasted photo and spikey logo design. And if you didn’t know what “hellig usvart” translates to, you might even think it’s some sort of malicious, anti-something phrase (it’s even got “hell” in it!). It’s a perfectly camouflaged package for possibly the most controversial endeavor a Christian has done in the metal music world.
Hellig Usvart was not just a repackaging of black metal with a Christian theme, but also could be seen as a kind of parody. The name, “hellig usvart” is translated to “holy unblack”, which is a play on the slogan used by Darkthrone, “unholy black metal.” Sherlock himself recorded all the instruments on the album and is only credited as “Anonymous.” This was to literally conceal his identity but is also said to be a jab at the pseudonym of Euronymous.
And perhaps the biggest bit of satire lies in the actual track titles. Not only are they Christian, they’re also anti-satanic. My favorites are “Release and Clothe the Virgin Sacrifice”, “Invert the Inverted Cross”, and “Crush the Bloodied Horns of the Goat.” Although Sherlock maintained that the project was never meant to poke fun or even mock black metal, you really can’t help but chuckle a bit at some of these little bits of detail. It’s all really entertaining and I think can be just as hilarious as it is earnest.
“Crush the Bloodied Horns of the Goat”
Now obviously, this bold move did not go unnoticed. The most famous backlash of Hellig Usvart were the death threats sent to Nuclear Blast Records and Horde demanding to pull the album and/or release the identity of “Anonymous”. Obviously, these threats were unsuccessful, and in fact Sherlock never directly received those threats, but only heard of them.
Horde is also generally credited for godfathering the genre of Christian black metal, a.k.a. unblack metal, (although similar bands existed before the release of Hellig Usvart, the album was the first to achieve mainstream success and widespread acclaim). And there are still unblack metal bands today still making music with more to come. But this also sparks another bit of debate about the genre’s existence in general, that might have to be explored in more detail in another article.
One strong belief in the black metal community is that the phrase “Christian black metal” is simply an oxymoron. During the Second Wave of Black Metal, Euronymous and many others made it clear that black metal is any type of music so long as it’s heavy and satanic. Black metal is so much more ideological than other forms of metal that the true definition of black metal is still subjective even today. Some people now feel that black metal doesn’t need to be satanic but can be pagan, or just not religious at all, or that black metal lies in the music and not the lyrics.
However Sherlock adhered to Euronymous’ definition. He claims that while Horde sounds just like black metal, it didn’t have the same spirit of black metal, therefore, it was unblack. While the general themes of black metal are dark and malicious, unblack’s messages are bright, uplifiting and Christian. So technically, Sherlock didn’t blend black metal with Christianity, he created a new subgenre. And, the pioneering of Horde allowed other bands like Antestor, Frosthardr and Crimson Moonlight to enter into a new scene of metal.
Whether you think Horde is actually black metal, or if Christian black metal can truly be a genre, you can’t deny Horde’s place in the history of black metal. Horde was definitely the first band emerging in black metal that was not shy in proclaiming its Christian faith in a musical world that not only thought they were foolish, but also had hostility towards. And even if you don’t like the music, you can at least appreciate the boldness of Sherlock, going headfirst into a world that never wanted him.
"Thine Hour Hast Come"