The Black Arts 

Peter Beste at Yo Yo Boutique & Gallery

With its Cabinet of Dr. Caligari aesthetic of pale faces, black clothes and death-tripping groove, the Norwegian black metal scene has some surface similarities to other musical movements, from '80s goth to KISS stadium rock.

But an exhibition of New York-based photographer Peter Beste's images of members of Norwegian bands like Gorgoroth, Windir, Mayhem and Emperor proves that subculture is always more complex than surfaces allow. Nuances that seem unimportant to adults and outsiders are deeply significant to insiders.

Beste's photography, which has also appeared in magazines such as Face and Spin, helps highlight some of the peculiarities of the black metal scene in his documentary work, accompanied by interviews with key members tacked to the gallery walls.

Beste's mix of black-and-white and color photographs feature men in the signature armature of black leather, glowering expressions and curtains of hair, whose music and lifestyle advocate a return to the region's Viking and pagan roots. Though its features are culturally distinct, it's not hard to see an adoration of male power and violence that unites many male-defined subcultures.

Several of Beste's subjects preen with an eye toward masculine drama, whether in the Leni Riefenstahl-type shot of "Valfar of Windir" posed defiantly like a Norse warrior against snowcapped mountains, or in an image of "King Ov Hell of Gorgoroth," sporting the iconic black metal combination of white makeup, ebony hair and arm cuffs studded with metal spikes.

But the theatrics have a dark side. Musicians have been jailed for murder and church arson, which Beste's artist's statement says is meant "to rid Norway of Christianity and revert back to its Pagan/Viking roots."

Though Beste's work is clearly partly about male display and ritual, some of his most promising work shies away from band members' self-aggrandizing and instead features documentary shots of stage shows centered on theatrical blood and decapitated animals' heads. Images of Mayhem's "Maniac," whose arms are crisscrossed with scars, or "Samoth of Emperor," in a bleak rural setting with his small daughter, get to the people beneath the posturing and force us to look deeper.

Peter Beste. Through Sept. 8. Yo Yo Boutique & Gallery, 188-A Carroll St. Tues.-Thurs., 12-7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 1-8 p.m.; Sun., 12-6 p.m. 404-389-0912.

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