Ten years ago, Joren Vanger, known better by his stage name Necrothrål, disappeared into the aether.
You may not know his name, or even his stage name. His act was part of a niche market; the kind that refuses growth by its very nature.
The "black metal" genre, a dark offshoot of mainstream metal, has been sneeringly referred to as hipsterism for metalheads. This is because, if you've heard of them, then they probably aren't a black metal band. These are the guys that make Marilyn Manson or Alice Cooper look like posers.
The black metal scene has little to do with entertainment. The bands, fans, groupies, club managers, etc., all consider themselves part of something greater; a subculture that is about authenticity and not at all about spectacle. Many bands don't play live at all, though Desicræd did. Others refuse to appear in public unless it's to perform, and they treat their concerts like rituals. They pile their stages full with charming set pieces like severed animal heads, inverted crosses, pentagrams and other demonic symbols.
For the last twenty years, Desicræd, pronounced "DES-uh-Creed" has been one of the biggest names, if indeed the term "big name" can be used with this genre, in black metal, and it was owned and managed by Joren "Necrothrål" Vanger, who wrote their lyrics, arranged their songs, played lead guitar and was also their lead...bellower. For many, he was the band, and this was later proven by the fact that they completely fell apart after his disappearance.
Vanger, born in Askersund, Sweden in 1959, migrated to the US with his parents in 1972. After a bitter falling out with his family, he founded Skitpågud, his first band, in 1985. Skitpågud stayed together for just over a year before dissolving, and at that point Vanger, who began calling himself
Necrothrål, and his bass player H'arr Bŷngr (real name Kyle Cormier), became the founding members of Desicræd, along with drummer Kurtis "Baphomeat" Stocker and backup guitarist Lynsey "Sacrifeast" Cohen.
Listening to a Desicræd album is quite the experience, let me tell you. Vanger's shrieks sound like rapacious demons bursting from Hell to drag a terrified soul to the netherworld.
Desicræd exploded in the mid-eighties at the SkriptürPhage Festival, where they were a regular performer. Their concerts were more like bloody orgies, wherein Necrothrål would appear to bleed black blood, animal guts and semen were thrown on audiences, and occasionally there were actual murders that took place. The band members were in and out of prison numerous times. Necrothrål would repeatedly dare God to stop his "ritual", and would claim that "God is a liar and Satan is a pussy." The main idea behind Desicræd was that a lying god enslaved a weak, pathetic Satan, and that the only true gospel was that of Desicræd. Necrothrål claimed to be the true ruler of Hell, and that he and his band were weakening the barriers between this "false" reality we lived in, created by the liar god, and the "true" reality of the Hell that Necrothrål ruled.
They were hardly the first, or only, band in their market who made satanic or demonic claims, but they probably were the most brazen. Several bands approached the subject differently; many denied that such concepts as "God" or "The Devil" even existed, and therefore good and evil were mere fallacies. Others denied God as ruler and called Satan their master. Desicræd's position as Hell's true ruler, and their idea that they were literally attempting to bring about Hell on Earth, was relatively a new approach when they first entered the scene, and later bands that took that approach seemed to mix their approaches.
Necrothrål had a personal "glyph" that didn't seem to match any known glyphs from old Norse, Celtic or any other older mythologies that were popular among the black metal scene. He wore the glyph on his clothing, carved into the band's intruments and stages, and he would often personally carve it into the skin of concert-goers, as well as his own skin.
It adorned the cover of the band's first album, Carnal Cathedral, but strangely enough, when it appeared on their second album, Pentalurgy, it was slightly modified. Necrothrål claimed he, and the band, had entered "second phase".
Second phase lasted into the nineties. There was a third phase that ended in 2003, whereupon Joren "Necrothrål" Vanger disappeared.
Now, understand that in the world of black metal, becoming an "unperson" isn't all that hard. For one thing, it's not uncommon for some bands to simply never release their real names or identities to the public. That way, if they chose to stop performing, or if they die, no one knows where they went because no one knew who they were outside of their metal personae.
Joren Vanger's real name was known mainly because he had used his name in the early days of Skitpågud, and because on occasion Lynsey Cohen or Kurtis Stocker would agree to interviews and would openly use their real names. Vanger himself, by the time Desicræd had become huge in the scene, would only answer to Necrothrål and would speak of Joren Vanger as if he was a deceased former self.
I say that to speak to the idea that for about five or so years after his disappearance, no one thought it was strange that he was gone. That is, until Desicræd tried to put on a concert/ritual without him that was mostly H'arr Bŷngr screaming to Hell to give Necrothrål back, saying "His work on this plane is unfinished."
They later acknowledged that there was a planned "fourth phase", but that Necrothrål had disappeared right as it was about to begin. This made him somewhat of an anomaly. For a band to acknowledge that their founder really was missing, and not just dead or retired, was far from the norm. For a while, people still treated it like normal, expecting that at some point Vanger would reappear, and claim to have seen and conquered Hell.
When he didn't appear on the anniversary of the band's forming, and didn't appear when the "fourth phase" had been meant to end, Lickz Magazine decided to send me on a journey to find him. I objected at first, as I have never covered the black metal beat before, but after learning how long he'd been missing, and that he had been officially classified as a "missing person", well, I could not resist. I love a mystery, you see.
The first place I went was the offices of the SkriptürPhage Festival, which are presently in Tampa, Florida, though it moves every few years. I spoke to Lugrë Legion, the organizer of the festival, who had been the man behind Desicræd's first public appearance.
Legion is a 67-year-old Norwegian who speaks English quite well, with a light accent. His real name is Gunnar, though he wouldn't tell me his last name. His look is a more casual biker-from-hell ensemble, including tattoos of demonic symbols, evil faces and phrases, etc., nearly everywhere; up and down his arms, his chest, his face. He wears mostly black leather, his hair is long and ragged and he's pierced through the ears, nose, lips, tongue and God knows where else. Unlike Vanger, Legion acknowledges that most of what happens at his shows is purely to excite the crowd and get them to buy albums.
"I used to be a believer," he tells me. "But I been in this industry a long time. I seen nothing to tell me there's a Hell below, a Heaven above. And I decided long time ago that I don't care. This scene, it becomes your life, you know? I know nothing else. I live and die metal, ya?"
He didn't have any clue what had become of Vanger. "He always a bragger, you know? He was angry, angry at the world, angry with anything beyond it. He decide a long time ago that no one was fit to rule him. He would be the ruler, ya?"
I asked him about the glyphs that Vanger had used, and what they meant as far as the corresponding "phases".
"Glyph looked made up, ya? He said it was for ritual, that the phases were the removal of reality. I dunno. Never saw one like that."
Further questions with Legion went nowhere, so I decided to stop in at the offices of Excrement Throne, the label that Desicræd was last with. I spoke with a woman there who would only identify herself as Succubus, and who told me in no uncertain terms that they did not talk to the press.
Needless to say, Kyle Cormier wouldn't talk to me either, and I couldn't get ahold of Stocker or Cohen.
Vanger hadn't spoken to anyone in his family since first started performing with Skitpågud, so none of them were any help. He didn't keep a publicist or an agent, and if you need to ask why, you haven't been listening to anything I've said about the world of black metal.
It appears the disappearance of Joren Vanger will remain a mystery.
--Steven Faraday, Lickz Magazine
I wrote that article a year ago, and honestly, was glad to be finished it. My leads all quickly went nowhere, and the lone attractive element to it, the mystery, seemed little more than a poor effort to disguise the suicide/overdose/accident/retirement/whichever that had stolen their lead singer from them, all in an effort to retain some of the cred they'd developed over the years.
Never would I have dreamed that I would get an actual response. Few in the black metal scene likely even read the article and outside the scene, few people would have cared about Joren Vanger. But three days ago I received an email from a blocked address telling me that if I truly wanted answers, I should come to a local bar where I was to meet at a specific booth. In order to not draw undue attention to this place, I will refrain from naming the establishment.
At first I believed the email to be spam, but I read it again, and realized that if it was spam, it was a terrible example of the form. I wasn't being asked to send any of my personal information back to them, wasn't even being asked to reply at all. Just show up if I wanted answers.
I deleted the email but I was curious enough that on my lunch break I headed over to the bar and looked for the booth. It was dark back there, but I could see two people seated in the gloom.
One of them was easily seven feet tall and dressed like a biker, in leather and chains with big rings on his fingers and patches on his jacket. I couldn't get a look at his face, for some reason. The skin tone on his hands seemed all over the place, a mix of every skin tone known to man, all in one color that was all colors, and no, I don't mean it was white. I mean it literally looked like one color and all colors at the same time. I don't know how else to describe it.
The second man was smaller and easier for me to get a look at. He wore a natty little pinstriped suit with a bow tie. His hair was golden blonde and his eyes were of a deep, pure blue. There couldn't have been more of a difference between he and the big one, yet here they sat, together.
I had the sense upon seeing these men that I should turn around and leave, and pretend I never saw them. Somehow I could just tell that meeting them wasn't supposed to happen. But as I was turning, the larger man called out to me.
"Steven Faraday?" he boomed. His voice sounded deep, like Ving Rhames, only louder and carrying further. "Come, sit. Have a drink with us. We're buying."
"He's buying," said the other man. His voice sounded like every used car salesman you've ever heard.
Slowly, hesitantly, I sat. Even sitting at the booth it was hard to get a look at the big guy's face. It was almost more like I couldn't look directly at it, like any attempt to get a closer look ended with me perusing the wall beside him instead.
"We understand," said the smaller man. "That you're interested in the whereabouts of Joren Vanger."
"Well," I said. I still wasn't sure I should even be here. "More of a professional curiosity, really. I didn't know the man, or anything."
"Yet you're the only person to ask directly about his whereabouts since his disappearance," said the big guy. His voice was so loud, but no one else in the bar seemed bothered by it.
"Well, ask the right way," said the little guy, "No ritual needed, no demands made of the afterlife. Just a question."
"And you two know the answer," I said, somewhat incredulously.
"We do," said the little guy. "And believe me, we don't usually divulge information like this. But good old Necrothrål was a special case." He spoke the name as if it amused him.
"Few people actively seek to bring the realm of the damned to this realm," said the big guy. "Joren Vanger did, and he got closer than even he ever realized he could. He understood that knowledge of that forbidden act would not be found on this realm, so he sought it in other realms."
"That glyph," said the little guy. "I'm still trying to find out how he got his hands on it, but he never should have had it. We'll just say that much."
"When you issue challenges to the Supreme Being," said the big guy. "Most of the time you're just beating your fists against a brick wall. How could any mortal truly challenge the Divine? Most of these challenges are not issued with any sincerity, whatever the challenger may say, but when they are, it can be rather amusing to see what happens when the challenge gets answered."
"But it wasn't enough for Necrothrål to challenge just Heaven," said the little guy. "He had to declare the Devil a mere pawn himself."
"And in that, he was more right than most," boomed the big guy. The little guy seemed to quiver a little, then regained his composure.
"Whatever the case, Vanger found this glyph and began modifying it, using it in his rituals, making sacrifices to it, and using it to peel back the layers of reality until he really did come close to reaching his goal; becoming the only human to see the Valley of the Lost without actually shuffling off this mortal coil, as they say."
"Wait, wait," I said. "Slow down. You're saying he managed to find the gateway to Hell?" I shook my head. These guys were clearly having one over on me.
"No, no, not at all," the little guy continued. "There's no gate. Not in the literal sense, at any rate. But Vanger was like the rest of you, and figured there had to be. And he thought he'd found the key."
"But it was more like a one-way ticket," said the big guy, with a soft chuckle. "The thing is, people don't get what they deserve. They get what they long for. That's another misconception about the afterlife. You don't go to Heaven for being good, and you don't get sent to Hell for being bad. You are sent to Heaven if you truly desire to go there, and the same is true of Hell."
"He wanted to rule it," said the little guy. "But he didn't understand, that's never part of the bargain. If you actually go to Hell, you're automatically a prisoner there. No one there gets to rule." He shot a dirty look at the big guy.
"But he did truly desire to go there," said the big guy. "And now, that's where he is."
I sat for a little while in quiet disbelief. Finally, I thanked them for the drink I hadn't touched, and left the bar.
I think back to that afternoon in the booth though, quite often. I think back to the amused voices of two drinking companions who seemed each other's exact opposite, and who didn't seem to like one another much, but both of whom spoke assuredly of a man who had done all he could to reach the pit of damnation.
I've listened to a few Desicræd songs since meeting these two men, and I think my estimation of Vanger's lead vocals was off. They don't sound like demons screaming anymore. They sound like the agonized howls of a man being tortured beyond the imagination of even the sickest soul.