Since their formation in 1992, Carpathian Forest have established themselves as one of the more unique black metal bands to emerge from Norway. Lead by hedonistic frontman Roger “Nattefrost” Rasmussen, the group has been unapologetic with the themes they’ve incorporated into their music. Some of their songs not only depict sexual sadism and sadomasochism, but also revel in the subject matter. Despite an ever-changing lineup, they carry on, and as a title from Nattefrost’s 2008 solo album proclaims, they’re ‘Still Reaching for Hell.’ To the unfamiliar or casual listener, it would be easy to dismiss their discography as misogynistic and misanthropic, with release after release full of what their first demo was entitled: Bloodlust and Perversion. And sure, it’s easy to pigeon hole anything not conforming to normal standards as vile or transgressive, but there’s always more to art than what is on the surface.

Take into consideration the Marquis de Sade. Some have described him as a pornographer and purveyor of filth, a writer whose work contains little merit, with the only real contribution being the word “sadism,” which was derived from his name. As was depicted in the Quills (2000), those who objected to his work either made no attempt to understand it, or were themselves carrying out the deeds and actions that were chronicled within the text. If one takes away anything from Matthew Lewis’ gothic novel The Monk (1796), it’s that those who exude the highest morality are easily corruptible, susceptible to temptation, and can become the most hypocritical in that regard.

An echo of Sade’s philosophy of the libertine and the unrestrained pursuit for pleasure can be found in Carpathian Forest’s 1998 full length, Black Shining Leather. As an album, it explores hedonism while maintaining a unique atmosphere and not once becoming repetitive or stale. Lurking beneath the blistering chord progressions and Nattefrost’s guttural rasp are elements that reflect the ideologies that Sade explored. Not limiting itself to only these topics, songs such as “Lunar Nights” and “The Northern Hemisphere” paint images based on the landscapes of Norway. However, it’s Nattefrost’s forays into violent sexuality that stand out the most, and elevate the album to its place among their catalogue as a truly Sadiean work of art. It’s something that could be described as ‘Libertine Black Metal.’

For the libertine, sex is the ultimate act of self-fulfillment. An experience of carnal pleasure, that no matter how immoral it may be, exists for the sole purpose of gratification. One of the definitive texts from Sade on the subject matter is Juliette, or Vice Amply Rewarded (1797). Juliette, the title character, is the epitome of self-indulgence and one who revels in hedonistic activities. Rejecting the morality taught to her when she was raised in a convent, every action is destructive at the expense of the people she comes into contact with. For her, vice is a natural progression, with each crime becoming more and more sensational than the last. The libertine can always justify their actions, no matter how far they reach. Juliette’s character arc represents that what one person may consider deviant and reprehensible, another may find pleasurable and satisfying. “Sadomasochistic reflects this behavior.

Whipped and pierced.
You misbehave.
Underneath the whip
To soothe the beast
Burn a candle from my soul.
For I will never do the same.
‘Cause I see beauty in other things
And that is light in the wilderness alone.”

Nattefrost’s declaration of ‘seeing beauty in other things,’ referring to the pleasures of sadism, is itself a very Sadiean remark. The proclamation of vice as a splendid thing brings to mind a quotation from Juliette on embracing a life of depravity: I love crime, and see all the means of crime at my disposal. O my friends, how sweet is this thought, and how much sexual juice it has made me lose!” The libertine inspired themes are further explored on the albums title track, in which the pain inflicted upon the unwilling is depicted.

Deep red,
Face soaked in blood.
Black shining leather.
I fuck you up with sadistic intent.
I plunge into the wastelands of my heart
And left it there in ruins.
The sun shines once a lifetime.
I will leave you in the cold
In the dead of the night
-“Black Shining Leather”

It’s almost impossible to discuss Juliette without mentioning her sister, Justine, the title character of Justine, Or The Misfortunes of Virtue (1791). While Juliette embraces depravity, Justine’s naïve nature and belief in goodness leads her down a path of sexual humiliation and relentless abuse. Within the two sisters Sade gives us an in depth look at the choices one makes, and the consequences that emerge from doing so. More than simply being just virtue and vice, it becomes a division of independence and servitude. By rejecting the morality of her Christian upbringing, Juliette gains a new identity that’s almost Machiavellian. Sade, who described himself as “atheist to the point of fanaticism,” strongly embodied these anti-Christian ethics. In “Pierced Genitalia,” there exists this sort of mindset. It’s the threat of either being the victim, or choosing to be the one who holds the whip.

The toes that you step on today may be
connected to the ass you’ll be kissing tomorrow.
These feelings are left from you.
Like a vast burning field
And then you submit yourself to me.
Perversion of the flesh.”
-“Pierced Genitalia”

The process in which the libertine graduates from sexual deviation to murder is the subject of “Death Triumphant.” Vividly depicted in The 120 Days of Sodom (1904), it’s the addict, needing a higher dose to calm the craving. In what Sade described as the “most impure tale ever written,” the audience is plunged deep into a world where deeds are unchecked, and those who embody morality, power, and law are themselves the perpetrators of the most wretched villainy ever conceived. Throughout the text, the passions of vice are set ablaze, and every conceivable boundary is pushed to the absolute limit. To dismiss it as simply being pornographic is lazy thinking. Within its pages we’re granted entry to a world were the corruption and hypocrisy of power are placed on display for all to see.

Blood on my hands.
Blood on my lips
I took the frail bliss of your eyes
And it’s darker than you think…
I violate.
I come at night.
My great endurance of body, mind and heart
Let me take you through…
A gust of wind.
Torrent of rain.
Blood and semen
Murder is art
The cold blade.
The cold blade.”
-“Death Triumphant”

Considering the strong moral values upheld in Norwegian society, and its strong Christian ethics, Carpathian Forest continue to defy social morays. Black Shining Leather takes us to a place that’s darker than we think, just as the writing of Sade does. Simone de Beauvoir once posed the question “Shall we burn Sade?” The answer of course is an emphatic no, at least from me. Nor should we ignore any form of art that forces us to take a deeper look at both ourselves, and the world we live in. This will always be a necessity.