The early 1990s Norwegian black metal scene is credited with creating the modern black metal genre and produced some of the most acclaimed and influential artists in extreme metal. It attracted massive media attention when it was revealed that its members had been responsible for two murders, one suicide, and a wave of church burnings in Norway.
The scene had an ethos and the core members referred to themselves as "The Black Circle" or "Black Metal Inner Circle". It consisted primarily of young men, many of whom gathered at the record shop Helvete ("Hell") in Oslo. In interviews, they voiced extreme anti-Christian and misanthropic views, presenting themselves as a cult-like group of militant Satanists who wanted to spread terror, hatred and evil. They adopted pseudonyms and appeared in photographs wearing 'corpse paint' and wielding medieval weaponry. The scene was exclusive and created boundaries around itself, incorporating only those it deemed to be "true" or committed. Musical integrity was highly important and artists wanted black metal to remain underground and uncorrupted.
In August 1993, several of its members were arrested and in May 1994 were convicted variously for arson, murder, assault and possession of explosives. Most showed no remorse for their actions at the time. The Norwegian media covered events closely, but the reporting was often sensationalist. Some referred to them as "Satanic terrorists" and one Norwegian TV channel interviewed a woman who claimed Satanists had sacrificed her child and killed her dog. The early Norwegian black metal scene has since been the subject of books and documentaries.
Norwegian black metal singer Gaahl wearing corpsepaint
During the 1980s, black metal was a loose grouping of a handful of heavy metal bands who shared Satanic lyrics, although most of the "first wave" bands referred to Satanism only for shock value. During 1990–1992, a number of Norwegian artists, who were strongly influenced by those bands, began performing and releasing a new kind of black metal music. The surge of interest and popularity that followed is often referred to as the "second wave of black metal". The Norwegian bands developed the style of their 1980s forebears as a distinct genre of heavy metal music. This was partly thanks to a new style of guitar playing developed by Snorre 'Blackthorn' Ruch of Stigma Diabolicum/Thorns and Øystein 'Euronymous' Aarseth of Mayhem, in which guitarists played full chords using all the strings of the guitar in place of power chords using only two or three strings.Gylve 'Fenriz' Nagell of Darkthrone has credited them with this innovation in a number of interviews. He described it as being "derived from Bathory" and noted that "those kinds of riffs became the new order for a lot of bands in the '90s".
Visually, the dark themes of their music was complemented with corpse paint, which became a way for black metal artists to distinguish themselves from other metal bands of the time, yet some bands such as Emperor and Satyricon ceased wearing corpse paint, often citing its loss of meaning or trendiness due to use by so many bands.