Rise Again: Norwegian Heavy Metal Fanzine Slayer is Back in Print

Media is a multifaceted prism through which we filter our entertainment—evaluating the opinions of reviewers and publishers and then deciding which albums, films, plays and books are likely to mesh with our own interests and appetites. The eldest and largest facet of this prism is the printed word, and although under attack in recent years by the encroaching tide of blogs, rss feeds and gossiping message boards, the fact that you—the reader—currently hold this publication in your hands, shows that the interest for the printed word endures.

At the wild and wooly fringes of print publications there is the fanzine. Intensely personal, erratically published and often difficult to obtain, fanzines exist as labors of love—documents promoted by word-of-mouth between the rabidly enthusiastic followers of a highly specific niché of entertainment. Fitting this exact description we find the publication Slayer, a fanzine for followers of extreme heavy metal, first published by Jon "Metalion" Kristiansen in 1985 in his hometown of Sarpsborg, Norway.

Although its intentions have always been to cover the broader expanse of extreme heavy metal—from the gurgles of death metal to the tendon-snapping riffs of thrash—American metal fans only associate Slayer zine with the genre of black metal, due to the prominent position given to Kristiansen's opinions in the book Lords of Chaos by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind. Thus far the definitive history of black metal's second wave, Lords of Chaos chronicles the activites of the Satanic metal "underground" in Northern Europe in the early-to-mid 1990s.

A quick history for those unfamiliar: In their dedication to evil and Satanic ideals, groups of black metal musicians and fans engaged in various nefarious activities including church arson, grave desecration, suicide and even murder. The pinnacle of activity was the murder of Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth of the band Mayhem by former friend Varg Vikernes of the band Burzum. As these activities centered largely in Norway, Kristiansen's Slayer zine sat perfectly positioned to capture the trust of the musicians while chronicling their activities. Though a prominent voice in defining black metal's second wave, Kristiansen protests the role of spokesman while simultaneously fulfilling the requirement that zines remain highly personal. Kristiansen clarifies:

I only speak for myself ... but following the extreme metal scene from the beginning obviously gives me a lot of knowledge about the history. There are so many people who were involved and everyone has their story to tell ... so I can only speak of me and how I saw things.

And in chronicling his personal vision of black metal's second wave, Kristiansen also exposed himself to no small degree of backlash from the legal fallout of the scene's activities. The local newspaper. The Sarpsborg Arbeiderblad, featured Kristiansen on its cover in 1996, at the peak of sensationalist journalism following the murders and arsons, "inspiring" Kristiansen to take a six-month holiday to Australia until things calmed down. Kristiansen relates:

[There] was a lot of personal stress and there was a period of time you didn't really know what the hell was going on. Especially when everything exploded and people were arrested ... So being brought in for hours and hours of questioning, the police raiding my place for letters; it was really bad. So of course it was not a smart thing to be on the cover of the newspaper. Even 'til this day, the local people of Sarpsborg remember and I still get shit for it. It is impossible for me to go out drinking here in bars because there is always someone who remembers and wants to start shit. Of course it was a smart move to go to Australia for a while to get a distance to everything, and Australia was a place I always wanted to go; good to get away and meet new people. The funny thing was, just a couple of days after I returned to Norway I was picked up by the cops again for more questions regarding a church fire here in Sarpsborg. But, since I did nothing, there was nothing they could do. But I think all this will follow me forever.

And perhaps some of the community's suspicions are warranted. While never an active participant in any illegal activities himself, Kristiansen has stated in interviews that he is in favor of at least the church arsons committed by Varg Vikerness, reasoning:

Christianity and all religions are pretty stupid to me, so I'd rather be without it. Of course it doesn't help much to burn a church, but things like that are OK by me.

In fact, like many fans of the genre, Kristiansen asserts that the destructive impulse in theory and in practice remains an essential component to the crafting of "true" black metal:

I think that to fully create good black metal it must be something more than music; maybe that goes for all sorts of music. There must be a driving force. I pretty much dislike phrases such as "true" because it can be everything. The most important thing is to be true to yourself and never compromise, but that doesn't really have anything to do with black metal. But I do think that if you call your music black metal it must somehow be connected to the darker sides of life. A lot of people think that black metal is just a sound ... but there must be more to it than that.

Kristiansen is quick to assert, however, that Slayer played no role in directly encouraging any type of illegal activity, stating:

You can't blame any actions on Slayer [Magazine]. Whatever people do is just their personal instinct. As far as I'm concerned, I never tried to manipulate anyone to do anything. Slayer is just a zine. Of course, Slayer did contain some slogans and darker-related articles, but I never think that anyone was influenced by that. Our main cause was the music, but of course, the personal view on Christianity and society popped out once in a while. Slayer [#] 10 had a drawing of a burning church on the back cover, but I really don't think anyone started to burn churches after that.

And regarding black metal's most disturbing and virulently ugly component—support of National Socialism, Aryanism and White Power—Kristiansen shares these enlightened thoughts:

An important thing of the past was for me to get connections all over the world. To trade tapes, flyers or whatever ... it was especially interesting to get connections in less-known places. So it was a great thing when I started to get letters from South America. I remember trading albums with Max [Cavalera] of Sepultura for instance. So in that sense, every person was equally important. It was no concern what the color of your skin was. It was a worldwide phenomenon with people being genuinely into extreme metal. So, all this Nazi shit, judging people by skin color, was just fucking stupid to me ... I do believe in treating people with respect, if they do the same to me.

But hassles from community and the law haven't been the primary struggle during Slayer's 23-year history. Like many who fill the ranks of self-publishing, burnout remains the number one challenge. At the risk of sounding like a jaded old fart, Kristiansen discusses how difficult it is to remain excited about a genre after so many years, bands, trends, and the glut of releases and promotions currently out there:

In the last decade or so, it is just too much of everything, at least to me. And there are so many uninspired releases, so of course I'm not overly excited about much of today's bands— it is rather dull to me. But as you grow older as a person, you find other things that fascinate you.

Fortunately for Kristiansen and fans of metal fanzines, the saving grace for the "zine publisher approaching burnout" which has several times prevented the Slayer project from landing in the scrap heap is a highly flexible publishing schedule. With gaps of up to three years between issues of Slayer, many fans (and even those who've only heard of the zine) might be surprised to hear the zine is even still active. But for Kristiansen, the zine remains a project in which he must be entirely satisfied before it is released to the public. Kristiansen explains:

It is a labor of love and that is all it ever will be. I'd rather do it the way I do and keep it as real as possible to myself. Of course with some work, it could have been bigger or more popular, but that was pretty early on and I would never do it that way. It feels better to be in total control and release a new issue when I want to. If I went the more commercial way I feel it would lose some of the unique feeling I find in it. There was never any point from my side to make any money ... the main thing was to be a part of a movement and some sort of unity occurred.

With 19 issues behind him and a 20th issue scheduled for release in fall of 2008, Kristiansen remains as staunchly independent now as he did at issue #1. Indifferent to the pressures of publicists and record labels, blithely enduring the whining of bands given poor reviews, Jon "Metalion" Kristiansen sketches a stoic portrait of his role in the current, highly image-conscious and very digital metal world:

I don't really understand if there is an underground anymore. I'd rather keep the zine personal and people can call it whatever they want ... The magazine was born in the 1980s and it is faithful to that tradition: to put everything together by yourself. It is not like anything you can find on the Internet. It is important for me to create something you can hold in your hands. By putting articles on a blog, I just feel it misses something; it is like you haven't put enough dedication into it. So that is why I ask every band featured to send material by regular mail; that proves you are genuinely interested and that you are willing to go that extra mile to provide everything by mail. It is old-fashioned, but bloody hell, it works by me ... I know that Slayer Magazine really has no place in today's metal scene and I realize that past glories are behind us, but at this level, I really don't care anymore. We are not really here to make new friends—but it is nice when it happens, of course. We live in a world on our own, so either accept it or not.

Expect Slayer issue #20 in fall 2008 or early winter 2009. All previous issues are sold out; however, there may be a book coming in the future collecting the earliest issues of Slayer. For more information on Slayer Magazine, contact Jon "Metalion" Kristiansen at: P.O. Box 447 1703 Sarpsborg, Norway. www.myspace.com/slayermagazine.