Going Down-Market: Satan Rules the Night at Jaxx

Springfield, Va. has improbably become an East Coast mecca for fans of Black Metal-- an intense, darkly anti-religious music genre.Video: Michelle Boorstein/The Washington PostEditor: Jacqueline Refo/washingtonpost.com
By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 2, 2008

It's showtime at Jaxx, a scruffy nightclub in a pink-neon-accented strip mall in West Springfield, and people are waiting politely in line to get their hands stamped so they can go inside and rock out to the very latest in Devil music.

"Sin stands for beauty, sin stands for life. Sexual sin is every man's right!! He will exalt the wicked of man: our king the Antichrist!"

Self-described Satanist Lord Ahriman, lead singer for the Swedish black-metal band Dark Funeral, is scream-growling at an internal-organ-rattling volume inside Jaxx's concert hall. Thrilled fans, many of them teenagers clad in black, shoot Devil-horn hand signs into the air. A horned, fang-toothed man-beast roars from a massive banner across the stage.

Most common T-shirt of the night: "The day you die is the day I smile." Most common adjective: brutal (in a good way). Most common piece of jewelry: It's a tie between chains and upside-down crosses.

These are Ronnie Bittinger's people. As with any tribe, sure, there are internal squabbles. The 23-year-old Fredericksburg auto technician finds the spooky whiteface makeup, pricey black fashion and showy Satan-worship a bit poserish. A bit commercial. "It's an insult to people who are actually Satanists," he says. But these are people who understand his draw to black metal, an increasingly popular musical genre that's moody, super-fast and blatantly anti-Christian.

"The more intelligent you are, the more unlikely you are to believe in God; it's a fact," says Bittinger, drinking a beer with a group of childhood friends at the Jaxx bar one Wednesday night. Music thunders from the adjacent concert hall. "People in the underground scene tend to have higher IQs -- my own being 143."

Bittinger is a good example of a black-metal fan because he's actually quite interested in religion. He is well read on the occult and the dark arts. Though not a Satanist, he can easily rattle off different Satanist sects, and he mocks black-metal fans who don't know that Saint Peter is said to have died upon an inverted cross. He knows all about black metal's connection with violence. (In the 1990s in Norway, members of two bands committed murder, and another group's lead singer killed himself; meanwhile, fans burned dozens of churches in a supposed tribute to pagan traditions wiped out by Christianity.) And Bittinger identifies strongly with the genre's clear theme: the role of evil in humankind and the world.

"Black metal is an outlet for darker things," he says. "It's mostly driven by anger, frustration, dark thoughts."

Fans generally describe this music as anti-religious, but saturated as it is in Judeo-Christian terminology, images and liturgy, black metal is frankly obsessed with the subject. In mood, trappings and lyrics, it explores man's wrestling with evil -- a key religious theme -- in a more direct way than most types of music.

And adherents of extreme metal bands are almost disciple-like. They separate themselves as purists by listening not so much to the big-name, old-guard groups like Black Sabbath or Metallica but to weirder offshoots. (Although weirdness is relative in a place where a 12-year-old walks by in a Goatwhore T-shirt -- yes, it's a band.) They have costumes and rituals: For example, the band Watain hurls animal blood on fans at shows.

Various sects abound. There's black metal, with its anti-Christian lyrics and famously gory lore. And death metal, with its technical guitar-playing and fascination with necrophilia. And Viking metal. And doom metal. And power metal. And offshoots of offshoots: progressive death metal, melodic black metal, and on and on.

But something else has been going on in the past few years that is shaking the scene and hardened fans like Bittinger: Extreme metal is getting hip.

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