Black Metal Doc 'Until the Light Takes Us' Brings a Taste of Murder & Mayhem to Artist Series

Of the many things I love about black metal, perhaps the only extreme music genre with Wikipedia sections dedicated, in equal parts, to Satanism and church burning, it’s that conversations about it tend to be endless. This was veritably the case last Wednesday night following a full hour of discussion between writer/director, Audrey Ewell, Primer and Upstream Color multi-hyphenate, Shane Carruth, and the Roxy’s cinema manager, Illyse Singer. As part of the Roxy Cinema’s Artist Series, the Q+A came after back-to-back screenings of Ewell’s final film with late partner Aaron Aites, “Memory Box,” an 11-minute dark sci-fi drama starring Carruth alongside Halt and Catch Fire star, Mackenzie Davis, and the genre-defining black metal documentary, Until the Light Takes Us, Aites and Ewell’s first film.

With its noirish bondage-cabaret vibes, 2016’s Memory Box set the stage for the evening descent into the dark fixations of man. Davis, soon to be immortalized in the upcoming Blade Runner 2049, plays a woman who works for a company that live-streams recreations of people’s memories. After a scene goes awry with a fellow reenactor, played to the ultimate killjoy by Carruth, her motivations for working there are revealed to be a bit less honest than a daily paycheck. Its themes, including the emotional consequences unrestrained desire and the treachery of memory, echo back to 2008, when Ewell and Aites debuted Until the Light Takes Us. The film, which the NY Post called, “Dostoevsky meets Chuck Klosterman,” delves into the murders and myths surrounding the birth of black metal in Norway.

“Essentially, we wanted to watch the film,” Ewell explained at the beginning of the Q+A. “We assumed someone would have made the documentary already, and at the time, there wasn’t one. So we decided that we were going to have to make it if we wanted to see it.” Years of production and research later, including years spent living in the cold and unforgiving Scandinavian nation, the result is a 93-minute deep-dive into a genre and subculture mystical as it is inaccessible and downright off-putting.

“I look at it as a huge, crazy interesting chapter of my life,” explained Ewell. “It was this massive adventure going to live in Norway for almost two year,s and getting to tell a story that hadn’t been told at that time, and in a way that we wanted to tell it. It was this tremendous privilege. I look back on it with total fondness.” And it showed—though the film itself exists today as the de facto visual and ideological entrypoint into the esoteric world of black metal, it also stands on its own as an art-house achievement, atmospheric and epic with its oft-referenced interviews, amphibious use of ambient music, gritty, lo-fi cinematic style, and austere blend of archival materials (most notably a ‘corpse paint’ clown performance by Harmony Korine). Simply put, watching a thousand-year-old cathedral burn down to the ground, or seeing fire-breathing black metaller slit his arm open for an open-mouthed art world, has never looked so beautiful.

“I’m still wrapping my head around it,” admitted Carruth to Ewell after the film. “Is it an act, or is it an ideology?”

The rest of the things I love about black metal were there that night, too: tattooed longhairs wearing all-but illegible band names on black t-shirts, awe on the faces of audience members, and the absolute absence of an answer.


Words by Emerson Rosenthal

Photo Credit: Vice/Noisey