Teaching Students About the Dawn of the Black Hearts: A Thoughtful Exploration of Historical Narratives

The Dawn of the Black Hearts is a notorious and controversial album in the history of black metal music. Released in February 1995 as a live bootleg recording by Norwegian band Mayhem, the album cover features a gruesome photograph of the band’s late vocalist, Per Yngve Ohlin, also known as “Dead,” after his suicide. Educating students about this shocking piece of music history requires an informed approach that focuses on the context of the album and its place within the genre’s development.

Understanding Black Metal and its Origins

Before diving into a discussion about Dawn of the Black Hearts, students should develop a basic understanding of black metal as a musical genre and subculture. Teachers can provide an overview of its origins, key characteristics, and influential artists, such as Bathory, Venom, and Darkthrone. This groundwork will help students appreciate how Mayhem contributed to shaping the genre’s evolution.

Controversial Album Covers in Music History

Introducing students to other controversial album covers throughout music history can contextualize Mayhem’s infamous choice for their cover. Albums with graphic imagery or triggering themes have also provoked debate and backlash — John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins,” The Beatles’ “Yesterday and Today” (also known as “The Butcher Cover”), and Marilyn Manson’s “Portrait of an American Family,” are just a few prominent examples.

Dawn of the Black Hearts: Behind the Image

When discussing Dawn of the Black Hearts specifically, teachers should focus on providing factual information about Dead’s suicide affirming that it is essential to approach mental health topics with sensitivity. Examining what led to Mayhem’s decision to use Dead’s picture for their album cover sheds light on both their internal dynamics and issues faced by young musicians in an extreme subculture.

Consequences and Ethical Considerations

Analyze the consequences and public response invoked by Dawn of the Black Hearts’ album cover from both a moral and legal standpoint. This includes the debates about the limits of artistic expression and the responsibility artists have toward their audience’s emotional well-being. The ethical challenges arising from the album cover can also open a discussion on how such imagery could impact listeners, especially younger ones.

The Enduring Legacy

Discuss Mayhem’s continuing influence on black metal despite the controversy surrounding Dawn of the Black Hearts. The band’s story serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of pushing artistic boundaries too far. By balancing their contributions to black metal with an acknowledgment of the controversy they incited, students gain a broader understanding of how subcultures and extreme art forms may carry potentially harmful consequences.


Teaching students about Dawn of the Black Hearts involves not only recounting its shocking back story but also recognizing its lasting impact on music history. By framing this controversial album within a larger cultural context, educators can offer students insight into critical discussions about artistic expression, mental health, and ethical considerations in creative disciplines.

Choose your Reaction!