Riffs and ritual – Iceland’s black metal bands photographed

Photographer Verði ljós has documented Iceland’s burgeoning black metal scene in all its glory for Ditto’s newest book Svartmálmur.

Through a series of portraits, live performance shots and impromptu moments, Ijós has captured the “veils, blood and ritualistic ephemera” that is the day-to-day lives of the country’s black metal bands.

“It was about capturing a vibrant and important scene, one that would be missed by people over here in Iceland and important to document in a warped historical kind of way,” says Ijós, who also goes by the name of Hafsteinn Viðar Ársælsson, and is the founder of solo music project Wormlust. “The way I see it is that this book is a sort of time capsule that hopefully brings validity and future interest in the scene.”

It was after discovering a vintage photo book by an Icelandic photographer of the 60s psychedelic scene that Ijós decided to create a similar record for the world of black metal, spending three years shooting images.

Bands are shown bedecked in skulls, shrouded in smoke or draped in veils, lending the whole affair a ritualistic slant – something Ijós says was part of doing the bands’ justice. However, despite their staged appearance, the photographer says the majority of shots were impromptu moments, with more focus on using objects and places as “visual anchors” that could help set the mood.

“The role I gave myself from the beginning of this project was to be a reflection on how the bands portray themselves and the lyrical and visual world they exist in,” he says.

“There were of course actual rituals photographed and preserved within it. It felt like having the keys to a secret society, and just letting them sit in your pocket made no sense. If you call yourself a photographer you would open that door.”

Svartmálmur is published by Ditto, and is available from 17 May