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Burgundy, Barolo: Meet Black Metal

Steven Grubbs explores the unlikely connection between Norwegian black metal and wine, both in his own life and via the endeavors of Satyr, one of original members of the black metal scene.

black metal records and burgundy

Satyr can’t keep the darkness out of his voice. Two decades spent shrieking into a microphone have left it sonorous and automatically grim, perceivable even over the phone. Nordic inflections complete the effect.

Satyr—born Sigurd Wongraven—is the singer of a band called Satyricon, one of the original members of Oslo’s black metal scene—an enclave that, in the early 1990s, gained infamy for church burnings, murder and a bizarre rumor of cannibalism. (Google “Mayhem” + “suicide” + “Euronymous ate the brain” for the tale. Warning: graphic stuff lies ahead.)

Yet the voice on the other end of the line is talking about Barolo. Specifically the commune of Castiglione Falletto, a place known for nebbiolo that is structured, but perfumed and elegant despite its formidability.

“Steven Spurrier in his book says that Serralunga d’Alba is wine for opera singers. But Castiglione Falletto—it is a Barolo for the poet,” he says.

Satyr has been making and selling a Barolo from Castiglione Falletto since 2010.  He sources fruit from a monopole cru owned by the Roagna family, a venerable bastion of Piemontese winemaking tradition. Luca Roagna handles the vinification, and Satyr assembles the final product—a blend of wine from various parcels within the cru. He sells it under his family name: Wongraven.

Under most circumstances, I’d keep the conversation firmly focused on wine, as I have no shortage of questions about how he got hooked up with Roagna. Yet I sense myself regressing into that pimply teenaged weirdo, the one religiously perched in front of Headbanger’s Ball. But I contain myself. I don’t ask him about the dreary horror stories that continue to circulate about the Oslo metal scene in the ’90s, even though black metal has largely moved on from the violence that defined its early days.

Sure, wine comes from a particular patch of earth and that place bestows essential character, but we fill in the rest. Who can say that Barolo Made By Singers in Black Metal Bands isn’t a totally new category? We are free to define and adorn wine how we like.

Today black metal remains vital—eruptive even—and constantly developing, finding new incarnations and avenues of influence. This year, an American band called Deafheaven released an album called Sunbather to wide critical acclaim. Sunbather makes thorough employ of black metal’s screechy vocals and stacked minor chords, but also admixes what feel like references to ’80s Brit-pop or shoegaze, replacing the typical gory metal album cover with a layout involving both the color pink and a white text that looks more South Beach than Sons of Northern Darkness.

The absorptive capacity of culture never fails to amaze: The wines of the Jura are no longer obscure; black metal is now hip.

I ask Satyr what he thinks about bands borrowing from the very fringe style of extreme music that he and his Oslo friends helped create. I expect him to say they are frauds contributing to the demise of the form, an attitude that has been common among the Norwegian hardcore faithful. But he doesn’t.

In fact, Satyr remains surprisingly generous with the term. “It is like the blues,” he says. “Black metal is a particular feeling, and an experienced listener can recognize it pretty easily.”

Still, nothing feels as unexpected as Satyr making wine. Black metal is a genre steeped in bleakness and an obsession with death.  A T-shirt for Taake, a band from nearby Bergen, bears the slogan:


It is punctuated with the icon of a downturned thumb. The message is a difficult one. And it doesn’t leave much room for the bon vivant.

But winemaking isn’t the first break Satyr has made with old Oslo form. Satyricon was the first to sign a major label record deal, and adjusted their sound toward something that is more like dark, heavy rock than pure black metal. He credits the life on the road that ensued with introducing him to good food. Wine came as a natural consequence.

I ask whether his friends in the metal scene think it is odd that he is making wine. “I think the majority think it’s pretty cool, actually,” he says. “For them wine is this thing that is kind of mysterious and unapproachable.”

When it comes to wine, Satyr is quick to describe himself as a traditionalist, preferring the old Piemonte style, wines of medium weight and stern tannins and acidity. “I like wines that are representative of their places,” he says, sounding much more sommelier than Satanist. The sentiment is echoed in what stirs him about black metal. “It is the music of my people, my place,” he says.

satyr live in phoenix

Satyr performing “Phoenix” live with Satyricon

A streak of old Norse folk melody is bred heavy into black metal’s lines, and the music is ultimately an expression of Norway itself: cold, bleak and dark. The effect is intentional, and not formed without thought. Don’t let the battle-axes and codpieces mislead you—the minds behind the music are a very artful bunch.

That doesn’t imply, however, that wine and black metal make a natural pair. I’ll admit I met Satyr’s winemaking with hesitation. I tend to house my metal and my wine in opposite ends of my mind. I am certainly game to explore both a bottle of Marcel Lapierre Morgon and the new Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult record at the same time, but what if one gets physically involved with the other?  Doesn’t that undermine the aesthetic thrust of each?  What if Marcel joined the band?  How would he look in fake blood and corpse paint?

Then again, we are growing out of the old modes. We have traded away many of wine’s former rituals.  Not many of us are living in grand chateaux, commanding butlers to fetch Latour for our dinner. It is okay to unhinge our associations. We can form new ones wherever we like. Culture doesn’t only absorb. It recombines.

Some combinations may seem unnatural at first, but we are entirely free to make them. Sure, wine comes from a particular patch of earth and that place bestows essential character, but we fill in the rest. We take a glass of liquid and invest it with story, sentiment and legal classification. We endow it with a particular category and create its context. Who can say that Barolo Made By Singers in Black Metal Bands isn’t a totally new category? We are free to define and adorn wine how we like. These sensations are up to us. They always have been.

Days after my conversation with Satyr, some friends and I went to see another member of the original Norwegian scene, Enslaved, a band that combines traditional Norwegian chants and atmospheric prog-rock with strong elements of old black metal. They have been doing this with incredible skill for over 20 years. Before the show, I brought out some of my favorite Burgundies and we put on some records. Tribut Chablis and Fourrier Gevrey La Combe Aux Moines, Bathory’s self-titled, Taake’s Doedskvad. And on the way to the venue I anticipated hearing my favorite Enslaved song—a writhing, powerful tune entitled, fittingly, “Fusion of Sense and Earth.”