“I was asked to photograph a concert for one of the bands, and from the get-go I was visualising a book,” says Icelandic photographer and musician Verði ljós. “Black metal bands have a really strong look. It’s like its own aesthetic world.”
His book Svartmálmur is a portrait of Iceland’s thriving black metal scene, designed to take the reader on a journey akin to listening to an album. ljós is also known as Hafsteinn Viðar Ársælsson, founder of solo black metal project Wormlust, and was able to give an insider’s insight into the genre – which though celebrated overseas, is often overlooked back home.
“The only [local] media that ever mentions its existence is a Reykjavik tourist magazine not even aimed at the natives,” he says. “It’s partly why I wanted to document us. The scene is singularly important culturally and I’m proud that I was the one to photograph it.”
Familiar with the “awkward dance macabre between the band and the photographer” from both sides of the lens, ljós was keen to show off the musicians’ “consistently strong work ethic and uniqueness” as well as his own otherworldly approach to photography. Initially he thought of showing them striped down without their makeup, or in ordinary locations with their families, but he decided this would be a “disservice” to the bands and their carefully-crafted images.
“I’m interested in vulnerability and all but that wasn’t my angle on this,” he says.
Instead he drove the musicians out to scenic spots in Iceland’s extraordinary landscape and attempted to capture something of their aesthetic; he also hoped to create unexpected photographs, he says, shots that “people normally wouldn’t get access to”.
After three years he started to piece the book together, and the finished publication includes pages of lyrics by the bands, just as an album might include sleeve notes. “As a musician, in terms of concepts I always think of albums, like making melodies and riffs,” he explains, “I wanted it to be atmospheric.”