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“Severed Ways” is Black Metal Incarnate

“Severed Ways” is Black Metal Incarnate (photo)

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Director Tony Stone’s first feature “Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America” is, on its surface, a story about two Vikings marauding their way through the forests of the New World 485 years before Columbus did. But more than that, “Severed Ways” bears the spirit of black metal, crafted into an audacious movie between the hammer of an HD camera and the anvil of Stone’s wild musings.

For the uninitiated, black metal is an angry, dark and tortured subgenre of heavy metal known mainly for the controversy it’s inspired. Church burnings, murder, Satanism, Nazism — these are the shadows it casts from its origins in Norway. These horrors aren’t just hyperbole on the part of detractors, but they don’t illuminate the ideological movement from which the musical genre has sprung either. At its heart, black metal is a reaction to Judeo-Christian society from a people whose cultural roots reach deep into an earthy, mythic past. The music, like the film, is a raw exploration of Norse mythology and a rejection of modern Western culture.

Geographically, Scandinavia and Norway in particular were isolated from Christian influence longer than the rest of Europe. Christendom took its continental hold when Constantine made it the state religion of Rome in the 4th century, but the Norse, not part of the Roman Empire, were kept in the dark (or spared from it, depending on your vantage point). For centuries longer, they retained their distinct brand of “paganism,” and it still shows today.

Black metal is “made by people whose ancestors were Vikings, angry that their culture’s been watered down,” Stone said when I had the chance to raise the issue with him over the phone. “What’s depicted 1000 years ago in the film is still happening today in Norway,” he added, in reference to a conflict that erupts between the Norse duo and Christian monks they stumble upon between gorging on wild salmon and defecating on camera. Anti-Christian sentiment in Norway is very real. Those churches, which stood where there were once shrines to Odin, didn’t burn themselves.

Burzum is probably the most notorious artist in the genre. Widely featured in “Severed Ways,” he was actually convicted of arson in connection with several church burnings, along with the murder of another Norwegian musician. Of course, that’s the extreme end of the spectrum, and not all black metal is violent, nor are a majority of its players. The heavier stuff on the soundtrack of “Severed Ways” may perturb the suspension of disbelief for some, but it does link the Vikings and their modern descendants to “the raw power of nature, its primitive screams,” as Stone puts it. For all their dissonant brutality, the Vikings are in rhythm with nature, not dissimilar from Native Americans whose realm they intrude upon.

03132009_SeveredWays2.jpgThere’s a calm and ambient strain of the genre, too, which is employed liberally in the film, along with Brian Eno and instrumental Krautrock band Popol Vuh, who scored several Werner Herzog films, a similarity that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Most of the soundtrack is in this vein and serves to enhance what Stone refers to as “the daunting isolation” of the characters. Without much dialogue, the music also helps develop them, as if they aren’t colorful enough hacking their way through the trees, butchering animals and being raped (one of the Vikings, played by Stone himself, gets drugged and molested by a hot native woman).

The Dark Ages describes the tumultuous period after the fall of the Roman Empire, named for its lack of progress and an absence of surviving written work coinciding with social chaos during which Christianity continued to spread. Though it is out of fashion as an academic term, it is useful here to illustrate the historical background of the film, which imagines the twilight hours of the Vikings’ culture, before it was broken by a new Christian age, before their “severed ways.” The Norse discovery of America did occur several centuries before Columbus, a fact indisputably supported by archeology, but not widely taught in our institutions. Part of the film was shot on location at Leifsbudir in Newfoundland. Renamed L’Anse aux Meadows by the French, it is a small Norse settlement excavated in the 1960s and proof of the title’s premise.

Black metal is a battle cry, mostly of Northern Europeans, who seek the return to a pre-Christian ideology. It’s also a “modern backlash against American corporate consumerism… of greedy self interest,” Stone opines. Though perverse at its edges, it’s easy to nod along with these days. It might make you wonder where we’d be if the pagan Norse, the first Europeans to settle America, had endured.

“Severed Ways” features music by Popul Vuh, Burzum, Morbid Angel, Brian Eno, Dimmu Borgir, Queens of the Stone Age, and Judas Priest. It opens March 13th in New York.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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