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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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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.