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1349's Lead Singer Breaks Down the Finer Points of Black Metal

When asked to define black metal, there is a long pause from Olav Bergene, lead singer of Norway's 1349. A second passes and then another and then, in his Norwegian accent, he explains the fundamentals of the loud, fast, and heavy musical genre that his life revolves around. "Black metal has to evoke darkness and grimness and all the feelings that are looked upon as forbidden. Black metal is a way to deal with these emotions instead of taking them out on another human being."

Ravn, which is Bergene's stage name, was drawn to music at a young age. "I was inspired and fascinated by drumming," he remembers. From the age of 6, he was banging on every object at the playground. When he was 10, his parents finally relented and bought him a drum kit. It was love at first smash.

"Music of a heavier quality resonated in my soul. I had a hunger for extreme music. When I heard Slayer, it was a revelation. They knew exactly what it was about. Then I heard Mayhem."

Mayhem are the black metal godfathers. Formed in 1984, the Norwegians spearheaded the whole genre. "The Norwegian tabloids labeled them as Satanists without ever listening to the music. But I guess that helped them sell a lot of newspapers." Like 1349 and many other black metal bands, Mayhem hailed from Norway. "It's the old Viking heritage in our backbone,” explains Ravn. “We don't obey to other cultures. We're cold, distant.”

Ravn explains how Mayhem was the first black metal act to paint their faces in a way reminiscent of Kiss, though with less emphasis on the partying. "The makeup is referred to as corpse paint. Their singer, Dead, started it so his face would look like a corpse. He was fascinated by death and eventually killed himself."

At a young age, Ravn was happy just to be a fan of black metal bands like Mayhem. But then in the mid-’90s, he noticed a change. "All the aggression and the darkness was gone. Bands with synthesizers were now considered black metal. I wanted black metal to sound a certain way and decided to do something about it."

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So he formed 1349, a four-piece band named after the year when the Black Plague first struck Norway. Over the course of two decades and six albums, his band has aimed to stay true to the black metal fundamentals. 1349 plans to write and record a new album later in 2016. "The darker it gets, the more inspiring I find it. We aim for the audience to feel what we feel when we perform. For me to create that feeling in another human being is something to strive for as an artist."

Miami will have a chance to experience 1349 when the group makes its first sojourn to South Florida since 2007 when it played Culture Room. It was an experience Ravn describes affectionately as "hellfire.” The band will be coming to Churchill's on January 9.

Like all their shows, 1349 will be clad in black clothes and corpse paint, though Ravn is quick to point out the reason why he paints his face is different from those of many other black metal acts. "A lot of people in black metal do it because it separates you from other bands. When it first showed up in the media, people were terrified. It doesn't have that factor anymore, but it has become a tradition. For me, I use it as warpaint. The makeup becomes a ritual that I am getting ready for war. You step into character and it helps you focus on the part of you that is black metal."

1349. 8 p.m. Saturday, January 9, at Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-757-1807; churchillspub.com. Admission is free.

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