Jannicke Wiese-Hansen – Burzum [Self Titled & Det Som Engang Var]
Creating the iconic imagery for one of modern music’s most influential and infamous musical scenes – BeatDust had the pleasure of speaking with Norwegian artist Jannicke Wiese-Hansen to discuss her avant-garde logo designs as well as the visuals on Burzum’s early releases Det Som Engang Var and the 1992 self titled debut on Deathlike Silence.
Heavily influenced by ancient Norse religions and a rejection for Christianity, Vikernes and members of Norwegian black metal scene (the Black Circle) attracted international attention by orchestrating a series of church burnings throughout the country. The Black Circle’s ideology spread further across the public consciousness by a sensationalist media and Varg’s loose tongue. This chapter in Black metal history concluded with the imprisonment of Vikernes for arson and the murder of fellow Black metal luminary and Deathlike Silence label owner Øystein Aarseth – also known as Euronymous. Apart from a bloody legacy – Vikernes musical tones, techniques and imagery crafted before his prison sentence helped pioneer and shape the sounds of the Black Metal genre for the following two decades.
Under the pseudonym of Count Grishnackh, the first two Burzum releases see Varg at his most raw and atmospheric. Taking black metal in new and interesting directions, primitive riffs are mixed elegantly with frosty, sweeping melodies – buzzing around like gusts of ice cold wind until the listener is encapsulated in its archaic, isolated lo-fi sonics. Unlike the overused, high pitched shrieks of the majority of his contemporaries – Varg’s anguished, desperate wails are some of the most beautiful and horrifying vocals in the history of black metal. Vikernes noted that “the two first albums are made for the LP format, meaning each side as a spell…the magic that would make the imaginary past, the world of fantasy, real (in the mind of the listener)”. To help flesh out and visualise his dark fantasy dreamscapes, Varg turned to Jannicke Wiese-Hansen, a young artist who had gained a reputation amongst the Black metal scene due to her poignant and profound pencil work.
“It was all just a coincidence to be honest, I met Vikernes as the new guy in Old Funeral, having known Olve Abbath Eikemo and Tore Alright Bratseth since 8th grade, I believe” notes Jannicke . “The metal scene was small back then, so we all knew each other pretty much. Burzum came a tad later and we had all the faith in the world for his music, having played roleplaying (Ravenloft/ MERP) with him as a GM while listening to the soundtrack of Der Todesking, a great inspiration for him”. Unbeknown to Jannicke, her first artistic job within the scene would pioneer a trend that spawned not only thousands of imitations but became a cornerstone within the genre itself.
In contemporary times, as one of the strangest (and cliched) quirks within the extreme metal scene (that has since trickled over into other genres); bands often opt to contort their logos into ornate, stylized, impossible-to-decipher fonts as a way to visually represent their music. Formulating this technique back in the early nineteen nineties, it was through the swift penmanship of Jannicke and Belgium’s Christophe Szpajdel that this ideology took shape – adding to the Black Metal aesthetic and influencing a new wave of logo designers.
“At the time, I was the one who was the best at drawing, so I was given the task of designing the Immortal logo” explains Jannicke. I insisted I’d never made a logo before and was not sure what to draw – so we looked at the Unleashed logo and the Mayhem logo to seek inspiration, but Immortal didn’t want theirs to be readable. They wanted people to recognize the shape and form of the logo, but not to really read it – buyers was going to have to read the side of the vinyl/cd. That was the idea behind it, so I went for it. I believe the first Burzum logo was next, then the first Burzum cover. After a few logos here in Bergen, I was very happy to make the Enslaved logos, and then it went from there. Whenever some friends needed something drawn, I did it”. Following the fundamentals of logo design, Jannicke brand architectures highlighted a superb use of space, form, consistency and clarity – all crafted with poetic beauty and an elegant, peripheral line that fortunately also carried over into her cover artworks.
Conveying the music in a visual context – Jannicke’s art on the 1992 Burzum self titled is the work of nightmares. “I was young and completely inexperienced” she notes humbly. “I was drawing dark pencil sketches any spare time I had”. In regards to the tools she used she notes “different ordinary pencils and a A3 white thick somewhat glossy paper. Nothing fancy for this 18 year old amateur. [I had a] tad more nerves knowing it would be a cover – but that fact was also very exciting of course”. Dripping in macabre monochrome, the strong mixing of black and white draws attention to the shadows and flowing lines that depict form. Covered in obscurity and murky foreboding mysticism, the hazy phantasm (sampled from The Temple of Elemental Evil, an adventure module for the fantasy role-playing game Advanced Dungeons & Dragons drawn by David A. Trampier) is propelled exceptionally by the hooded silhouette that draws attention and haunts the eye. But unlike the media perception of Norwegian Black metal being wrapped up in Satanism due to the corpse paint aesthetics, it was through Jannicke’s work that artists like Burzum and company were able to paint a clearer picture about the scene.
“At that time black metal wasn’t a term” reflects Jannicke. “Enslaved did their Viking Metal, Immortal did their Holocaust Metal etc but we were so tight knitted back then – completely into the atmosphere. [We were] going into the woods by night, have candles/torches exploring old Nazi-bunkers and caves around Bergen, playing role playing all night until the morning light killed the magic – that was what my world and art was about. Darkness, grimness, fantasy and friends, I didn’t draw one single colorful happy drawing those years – not one”. So instead of Satanic semblance or occult themes, it was these long nights of roleplaying pen and paper games that became the inspiration for Vikernes – spawning the ideas for both the self titled and more importantly the follow up release Det som engang var.
Again greatly visually influenced by the cover art of The Temple of Elemental Evil, Det Som Engang Var (Norwegian for “what once was”) expanded both the musical and visual milieu of Burzum.
“For both of the Burzum covers, I was given a roleplaying book where I was to make a darker pencil version of the book cover” explains Jannicke. “I did not improvise much at all, just trying to do a good job in making it darker and more haunted. We preferred the atmosphere of pencil drawings rather than the polished glossy cover art of that book, so I just went for the right mood of the drawing. As Burzum expanded and sonics from the 1992 debut, Jannicke too developed and grew upon the atmospherics of her first drawing – even incorporating the original piece into the new artwork with a depiction of the “reaper” and the tree shown on Burzum’s first album visible at the bottom of the Det Som Engang Var picture.
Awash in the same lo-fi qualities that made early Norwegian Black metal so unique, Jannicke use of grey and circulism shading techniques gives her artworks a sense of grim solidity – replete with textures, depth, and mass. With a vast range of lights and darks and the deliberate lack of strong line work throughout the entire piece, there are varied, unending, overlapped and intertwined shading patterns, building transparent layers. As her skills and style grew so did her list of admirers, including Øystein Aarseth (Euronymous), founder of Deathlike Silence records and often credited as the godfather of Norwegian Black metal.
“I did work for bands outside Bergen” notes Jannicke. I remember Øystein asking me to do a cover for Sigh (Japanese extreme metal band signed to Deathlike Silence) – but that was a bit too big and scary for me as I recall, so I ended up not doing any work for them. I also remember drawing the Deathlike Silence “No Mosh” logo – a skinny arm with spikes and a mace/club. Drawing for people in Oslo was exotic enough for me”.
Additionally, it was due to her iconic works and links to the figureheads within the scene that Jannicke was able to forging an illustrious career in the field of tattooing that has spanned over twenty years. “I’ve done a lot more artwork and logos after the bands rose to their heights. Also, the Immortal logo was the direct reason for me being a tattooer now. My boss since 20 years saw that logo and approached me to ask if I was the designer behind it and some months later I became his apprentice. We still work together. Being busy with work and family nowadays, I turn down a lot of requests for artwork from bands, but occasionally I will do some stuff, especially if friends ask. That’s how I ended up doing the logo for the Seattle based band Inquinok, the only foreign band I’ve designed a logo for.”
In terms of her standing within the scene itself, she still has her feet firmly planted. “I still hang around with the Bergen scene (except Vikernes) and have contact with several in other parts of Norway. We are friends after all. I am a tattooer now so now I draw on them, in addition to for them”.
Artworks aside – it is near impossible to discuss any aspect of Burzum or in fact the whole Norwegian Black metal scene without the topics of church burnings, murder and the media created ‘satanic subculture’ being touched upon. As someone who was a first hand participated within the scene – Jannicke is poetically up front and offers BeatDust a fascinating insight.
“The ‘drama’ that exploded in the scene back then was somewhat devouring. I still hate that Øystein was killed – he was a genuinely nice guy. The churches burnt, well, I see where it was coming from, although I never went or wanted to go that far myself. We rolled our eyes at the sensationalism of media, laughed at the different ‘experts’ who thought they knew us, but at the same time I had the bad feeling of things getting out of hand. We (my closest crowd) had all been so deep into the atmosphere and suddenly we got teared into reality quite brutally. I still remember the mockery from the “normal” crowd when walking down the street, about being the mistress of Vikernes and such silly remarks. I hated how the scene wasn’t ‘ours’ anymore”.
She continues “at the same time I saw the bands getting bigger and more known abroad as well as at home. TV stations from other countries came to report from the Norwegian scene and black metal was suddenly a ‘thing’. It was fascinating to watch, even though some of the magic had disappeared and it is still amazing to see what this genre has become. It is still funny and great to see just how huge crowds the bands from Norway pull. But its very annoying, having been around these people back then, knowing them personally, to see opinions based on lies and childishness about Vikernes vs Euronymous etc – I guess I’ll never get used to that”.
Being the definitive visual artist for an entire subculture – despite the strong affinity towards the works she created, when reflecting back upon her legacy, Jannicke is submerged in tides of conflicting feelings. “To be honest, I’ve had very many different emotions towards the albums and having drawn them. On one hand I’ve been proud of having made the art,- proud when seeing strangers wearing the picture as a patch or shirt. On the other hand – Vikernes and I fell out after a while, quite suddenly. I spent years hating him for several reasons, the killing of Øystein being one of them. I testified in his court case, as most of us did and refused to listen to his music. But energy is wasted on such hate, so I let that go ages ago now. I am more appreciative of what was, of having done the artwork these days and I am slowly realizing that there might just be a legacy there. the artwork seems to mean a lot to many people, more than I could have ever imagined when being 18 years old and drawing it. I guess the cover art grew with the bands and it has been fun to stand on the sidewalk seeing what became of it, as also of the logos I’ve done. I recently saw a beanie with the Enslaved logo on it and it was still kind of odd, I do wonder if I’ll ever become indifferent to such sights”.
As visionary and instrumental to the creative side of Black Metal as the musicians she worked with, Jannicke Wiese-Hansen’s artwork was the melancholic beauty that balanced out the brutality that the subculture was unfortunately overshadowed in. From a young spark to torchbearer (recently she was an organizer of Norway’s successful BlekkMetal event)- as long as there are artists like Jannicke ready to share the stories and skills of the early scene, there will be a blaze in the northern sky for many years to come.