The Lost History Of Ketlingr By Kate Laity

The little-lamented dissolution of the pseudo-galdr heavy metal band Ketlingr ended a prospective career in magic as well as music. As musicians, the band seldom rose above the level of thrash metal cacophony. Their lyrics were the strongest part of their collective work and with their website being taken down for non-payment, it remains uncertain whether any other record of them remains beyond on band founder Arngrim’s notebooks, which seem to have disappeared along with all signs of the charismatic frontman.

Ketlingr LP coverTheir few hardcore fans seem to be of the opinion that the band was cursed from the start. Chatter on nordic metal boards seems to share the theory that the self-destructive quartet had little chance for success given their lackadaisical attitude toward reproducing their music on stage, along with drummer Asvald’s legendary imbibing episodes that landed him in hospital at least three times before his perhaps predictable demise. It’s worth noting, however, that a cadre or pagan-revivalist metal fans insist that the supposed demise is all part of Arngrim’s planned elevation to the Norse gods. A vocal minority, these so-called einherjar (who distinguish themselves from the band with a similar name due to its apparent ‘diffusion’ through the influence of folk music; as one fan who goes by the handle ‘Ragnar’ wrote on the Ketlingr fan forum, ‘No one who’s truly chosen [einherjar means ‘the chosen’ in Norse and refers to the dead warriors chosen by valkyries for Valhalla, the Norse ‘heaven’] would choose folk music’) suggest that the career of the band is perfect as it is and any further releases beyond their self-titled debut would be selling out.

Observers at the time of Arngrim’s disappearance, however, suggest that his YouTube videos and personal blog convey another more disturbing story, one with a supernatural twist. The band was just an outgrowth of his interest in esoteric power of galdr, the ancient magic of the Vikings. The budding musician and magician encountered the runic system thanks to his relationship with a Swedish exchange student. His interest in the magic of Odin survived the breakup with the young woman.

‘It was nothing but Futhark night and day with him,’ said former Ketlingr bass player Aki. ‘The rest of us were just into the music and chicks, but Arngrim took it real serious.’

Screen captures of his since-deleted website show his growing zealousness; he had discovered a text known as Hávamál, the so-called ‘Sayings of the High One’ that is said to detail a method for accessing the realm of the gods, Asgard. Arngrim became serious as the album debut date approached to create a live experience that would transport the band and audience to a supernatural realm via Bifröst, the rainbow bridge to Asgard.

‘I was never on board with that,’ keyboardist Agnar said to Rolling Stone at the time of Arngrim’s disappearance. ‘It had nothing to do with homophobia, either! I don’t know where Spin comes up with those stories, but it’s just not true.’

The final ritual, according to the tale pieced together by fans from screen caps, esoteric sites and a certain amount of conjecture, ended up being performed by Arngrim alone. For the solemn service, the musician had traveled to the remote glacier in Iceland, Snæfellsjökull. The precise details may be known to the adept himself only, but they have been said to include the carving of runes in blood (perhaps on his own flesh) and the singing of the bitra galdra or ‘magical verses’ that had been composed by the singer according to ancient texts.

What happened on the remote glacier (which is also a volcano and incidentally, the location where Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth also began) remains unclear. Arngrim had attempted to set up a Google hangout to share the event with some friends but found himself unable to negotiate the specifics of the technology in order to do so, though some brief video of him shivering in a worn Ketlingr t-shirt and leather pants are said to exist on the phone of one friend who has so far refused to share the footage even with Arngrim’s family.

Arngrim is yet to resurface. Believers say he crossed Bifröst to either join the einherjar or conversely, to kill the gods he found there and bring around ‘Ragnarök’—the supposed end of existence. Followers of the latter theory suggest the current weather patterns offer evidence of his success in the ritual:

Svört verða sólskin

of sumor eptir,

veðr öll válynd

Black become the sun’s beams

in the summers that follow,

weathers all treacherous.

Fans have set up Kickstarter to put up a memorial up in Snæafellsness, but contributions have lagged. It may be due to the band’s failure to take off in the metal charts or that so many questions remain about the disappearance of the singer/songwriter. Family members are not forthcoming when visited by members of the press. It is likely that this will remain one of rock music’s many mysteries like that of Victoria Squid or Richey Edwards. It’s possible the singer may never reappear.

Not everyone agrees. Arngrim’s former paramour, a Norwegian woman who prefers not to be named, suggests another reason for the band’s dissolution. ‘I hated to be the one to break the news. His girlfriend at the time had told him ‘Ketlingr’ meant “god killer” and they built the band around that image and the whole leather and blood thing. However, the word means “kitten” really. I thought they were being ironic. But Bobby [Arngrim’s given name was Robert Zimmerman] was devastated.’

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One thought on “The Lost History Of Ketlingr By Kate Laity”

  1. “Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called ‘the Pledge.’ The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird, or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course, it probably isn’t. The second act is called ‘the Turn.’ The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret, but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call ‘the Prestige.’”

    — From the 2006 film “The Prestige” starring Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, David Bowie, Michael Caine, and Scarlett Johansson

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