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Wannabe Norwegian diplomats are to be trained in the dark arts of black metal - the local flavour of heavy metal which might be described as KISS with added Satanism, murder, suicide, church burnings and National Socialism.

The improbable move comes in response to increased international interest in black metal, with the country's foreign ministry fielding a rising number of enquiries about the easy-listening genre.

Kjersti Sommerset, head of the ministry’s centre for excellence, told the Dagens Naeringsliv newspaper: "We now have 106 foreign service missions and they get many enquiries from people who want information about Norwegian black metal as a phenomenon.

"In the training programme, we have a large cultural programme in order to give the trainees a good understanding of Norwegian culture and the cultural industry."

Havard Rem, the author of a book on Norwegian black metal, reckons the ministry's got its finger right on the country's cultural pulse. He suggested that "for people under 40, it is [black metal] that they connect to Norway", and "even if one does not like the music, it quickly becomes a topic for discussion".

That black metal is now seen as fit for export demonstrates that it's moved on from the heady days of the early 1990s, when it was seen as the force behind a series of arson attacks on historic churches.

Leading exponents Dimmu Borgir recently shared an Oslo stage with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and the Schola Cantorum choir, indicating it's just a matter of time before the first album of black metal Abba covers hits the stores. ®

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