Your new book, Lords Of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of The Satanic Metal Underground, seems to have generated a great deal of interest and it's not even in the stores yet -- it has only been issued as proof copies, sent to a handful of reviewers. Are you surprised at the initial response the book has generated?
Michael: I'm heartened by the positive response, that's for sure. When you work on something as involved as a book (this one is 375 pages long, and it entailed pulling a huge array of disparate material into a cohesive whole) you begin to lose all perspective on it. You are simply too close to the work, too involved with the minutiae of it. So to find out that you successfully conveyed some bit of distant but real-life history to the reader and engaged their interest for the span of the book -- that's a rewarding realization. On the other hand I knew that since the material in the book was quite fascinating to me, there are probably going to be a few others out there who will find it equally intriguing. One thing that s encouraging about the positive reactions is that they've come from a wide range of people: other writers, professors, critics, media personalities. Hopefully that is a sign that the book has appeal beyond just those into a fairly obscure music genre. By the time this interview appears the book will be available all across the country, although from what I've heard a number of the larger chain stores (like Barnes & Noble and Borders) seem scared to carry it. But if people start special-ordering it, maybe they'll begin to stock it in earnest.
Certainly the Black Metal/Death Metal scene is a small sub- genre of rock music in a general sense -- why do you suppose it has generated the interest that it has?
Michael: It's specifically the chronicling of Black Metal that was of interest to me, and admittedly this had as much to do with their non- musical activities as it did with the music (although some of the albums put out by Black Metal bands are extremely impressive). There have been periods in history, the 60s for example, where artistic/musical forms of rebellion coalesced with more "real" events but this was generally co- opted at a certain point. Punk aspired to a similar intensity, yet it was sucked up into the music industry almost instantly. As someone who both appreciates music as well as who tries to understand the reasons why people "step over the line" so to speak, Black Metal was a perfect subject to write a book on -- since the whole thing went to such extremes with the church burnings, suicides, murders, and so on, and it was all intertwined allegedly with philosophies that justified such behavior.
Has Feral House done much in the way of promoting the book?
Michael: Adam Parfrey, who runs Feral House, has been supportive of the book from the beginning and encouraged me to pursue writing it from the outset. I think it fits in well with other Feral titles, and people who are dedicated followers of the stuff Adam puts out will probably find it enjoyable. As far as promotion goes, there is only so much that small independent publishers can do. Review copies are sent out, and one hopes that people will take notice of your work. Adam has taken some significant extra steps in pushing my book, like printing up some intense looking color full-sized posters (with the cover photo of a 19th Century Swedish church in flames) which we hope will show up on bookstore and record shop walls and windows. We also sent out advance galley copies of it, which is a luxury not afforded to all books coming out from Feral House. Based on these advance copies we've already started getting radio attention, as well as the positive reactions from a number of the reviewers who ve seen it.
You personally visited Varg Vikernes in the prison in Norway, where he is incarcerated for killing fellow musician Euronymous. What were your initial impressions of Varg, an admitted murderer?
Michael: I should point out that Varg does not consider himself a murderer; he insists that he killed Euronymous in self-defense. We look at this from all perspectives in the book and people can judge for themselves whose story sounds the most credible, although of course Euronymous was not available to tell his version of it... As for visiting Varg and talking with him, he s a very gregarious character and I do believe that he probably used his charisma to encourage others to involve themselves in the church arsons. Varg is not at all a one-dimensional "evil villain" like he was presented in the Norwegian tabloids -- he's motivated, intelligent, and can be extremely charming. He also often lets loose with remarks that seem almost calculated for their shock-value, and he has the tendency to constantly re-interpret his own actions in hindsight which can make it very difficult to accept whatever his current explanation for his behavior is.
Was there anything outstanding about him that would set him apart from others?
Michael: I doubt most criminals see their actions in a meta-historical or even spiritual light, which he claims to. He has all the markings of a true fanatic, and that extends to his sometimes extremely irrational statements.