By Liam Carroll
Seated in her tattoo studio, wearing a black dress that leaves her fully-tatted arms exposed, Jannicke Wiese-Hansen reflected on her role in the madness of the black metal story.
Wiese-Hansen, 44, grew up on the west coast of Norway in Bergen, and began getting into heavy metal music around the age of 12.
“From 1986 I was really into bands like Anthrax and Slayer; then I was starting to move onto more German thrash metal bands such as Kreator and Destruction,” she said.
Sitting next to the skull of a pig, Wiese-Hansen recalled a time when she was younger and exploring her atypical interests: “I remember one time walking home from school one day. I saw a cat that had been run over and it was lying dead in the road, with its eyes hanging out its head. And all I could think was I need to take this cat home to boil it because that skull would look awesome. That was my first reaction and it just says something about the mindset we had in high school.”
The dark themes of the black metal music genre have been well documented in the western world, from Satanism, to the burning of churches, to the murder of Euronymous, a guitarist for the black metal band Mayhem. The genre is arguably more well known for the controversy it creates than its actual music.
Since the early 1990s, stories painting a bad picture of the genre have popped up in Norway, as well as in the United States and elsewhere. While the artists of the genre have always taken centre stage, Wiese-Hansen was behind the scenes creating the artwork that would be seen by thousands of black metal fans.
While the wave of Norwegian black metal was in its infancy, Wiese-Hansen spent her teen years hanging out with soon-to-be black metal stars Ivar Bjørnson of Enslaved and Abbath of Immortal. Wiese-Hansen had a front row seat to the rise of black metal “I was there before black metal became black metal,” she said. “In the beginning Immortal was playing holocaust metal and Enslaved was playing Viking metal. From then on bands becam
e a little darker, I don’t think any of us got into black metal, it’s just the metal we were into became black metal.”
Asked if she had ever played in a black metal band, Wiese-Hansen gave a quick “no” and giggled. “I was not going on any stage because I had complete stage fright, I could play a little guitar but art was always more my thing, she said.” But her role in the black metal scene soon became clear. “I could draw and others could play instruments, we were all a bunch of friends hanging out. So I started drawing the logos and cover art,” she said. Wiese-Hansen went on to design multiple logos and artwork for bands such as Burzum, Enslaved, Immortal, Ancient and Satyricon.
As black metal grew in terms of popularity, so did the bad press it was getting. The negative reaction to black metal didn’t bother Wiese-Hansen. “I knew what was right and what was wrong so it didn’t affect me,” she said as she pulled out a book full of newspaper clippings. “I was a bouncer at the time. There was a lot of shit happening. Then, when Aarseth (aka Euronymous) got killed, things got much more serious.
“The scene distanced itself from all the other sub-cultures in the way we liked to walk in the forests at night and go into caves with a candle for everything to be a dark mood, we just came into this mindset,” said.Wiese-Hansen.
It’s a common belief that black
metal’s growing popularity was due to all the press it received, even if some of that press wasn’t always good. Growing up in Bergen, Wiese-Hansen was one of only a few girls who enjoyed the genre.
“It was nice that there was only a few girls liking black metal. When I first met Euronymous in Oslo we would tell them the Immortal guys in Bergen said hi and they would be like, ‘Oh, you must be Jannicke.’ We didn’t have the same problems girls have nowadays where if you wear a band’s T-shirt you get quizzed.
“There’s a lot of annoying stuff like that in the metal scene now. I remember – around that time – if you saw someone with long hair, you’d ask around and someone would always know who it was,” she said.
Asked if being a girl in a scene with so many males was a struggle, Wiese-Hansen said, “Being a girl was fine – you were completely equal. I would spend a night in Helvete (a record shop) drawing the No Mosh logo and it was just friends hanging out, rather then men and women. Of course, I was dating some of them, but that’s just natural,” she said with a laugh.
Oslo and Bergen both produced their fair share of black metal bands, with bands Mayhem, Ulver and Tulus representing Oslo, while bands Gorgoroth, Immortal and Burzum came from Bergen. Wiese-Hansen said watching the black metal scene unfold in Bergen was a lot different from what it would have been like if she’d lived in Oslo. “The scene was so small in Bergen and I was working as a bouncer at the time, so I would sometimes see a group come over from Oslo and while the fans from Bergen were smiling, drinking and having a good time, the guys from Oslo would be there doing this (pulls a straight, moody face). They were a lot more serious and they wouldn’t really talk to people.”
The popularity of Norwegian black metal isn’t what it once was but there are still many heavy metal festivals in Norway, such as Inferno and Beyond the Gates, which mostly focus on black/extreme metal, and Tons of Rock, which usually has a few black metal artists performing every year.
Wiese-Hansen doesn’t foresee a black metal revival. “Black metal was such a small scene and I guess what made it big was the secrecy around it and it grew due to the media,” she said. “There are some young black metal bands around now but it’s kind of hard to find your own sound. Before – in the 90s – there was a huge difference in sounds from Immortal and Emperor but now it is really hard for a band to find their own path in it.”
After she designed a logo for Immortal in 1994, the owner of Bergen’s only tattoo shop asked Wiese-Hansen to become her apprentice, launching her 24-year career as a tattooist. Tattooing is something Wiese-Hansen loves. “I’ve always been drawing but I was always wondering how to use it in work because I didn’t want it to become commercialized. So I was very happy to just slide into the tattoo world, not on purpose, it just happened. I love tattooing!”
After tattooing for so many years, Wiese-Hansen has earned such an excellent reputation that she has a three-year waiting list: “I can now choose very much what I want to make. If there’s something I don’t want to do I just turn that person away. It’s nice to now be in this position. At the minute I have someone from Mexico booked in for 2020.”
Wiese-Hansen gets her inspiration from Norwegian culture and beyond. “My art is very Viking inspired and, I mean, now you can take a lot of inspiration from what people put up on Instagram, there is so much good art on there,” she said.
Wiese-Hansen still plays a role in the black metal scene. She was influential in getting, Gaahl (former lead singer and founding member of Gorgoroth and currently vocalist for Gaahls Wyrd) to open his own gallery just below her tattoo studio in May.
In November of 2015 she also organized a black metal tattoo festival called BlekkMetal.
Ten black metal bands with roots dating back to the early 1990s played, including Helheim, Enslaved and Kampfar. It was also the debut concert of Gaahls Wyrd. “The festival was a lot of fun, it’s never to be organized again, though,” she said.
It seems black metal may be slowly fading since very few young bands play that style of metal. Nonetheless the sheer impact of the genre in Norway has undoubtably influenced thousands of artists worldwide. And the images of black metal, inspired by Wiese-Hansen or inked by her hands on the bodies of the people who love it, refuse to fade.