Monday, September 04, 2006

THE NEWCOMER’S GUIDE TO BLACK METAL

Black metal is a difficult genre to break into, if you don’t know much about it. It’s well documented that a few bands inspired what would become black metal: Bathory’s misanthropic lyrics and lonely ambience, Venom’s kitschy Satanic thrash, Mercyful Fate’s over-the-top kabuki makeup and melodicism and Celtic Frost’s pummeling tough-guy bravado. But what people consider modern black metal—with its impossibly fast, blasting drum beats, symphonic guitar parts and lo-fi Luciferian snarls—didn’t really form until Oslo, Norway’s Mayhem issued their almost-unlistenable Deathcrush EP in 1987. From that point, black metal would begin to take on many new shapes, especially in Norway and the rest of Scandinavia. In the mid-‘90s, US bands would start to embrace its sound, pushing its ambient limits to greater heights. Like hardcore, punk’s most extreme genre, some Nazis and other hate groups would embrace black metal, but once you become accustomed to the genre’s core bands, it’s easy to avoid these artists and not let a few shitty bands spoil the bunch. With that in mind, here are a few non-fascist black metal records, any of which can serve as a starting point for one of music’s most exclusive genres. FYI: some bands list “True Norwegian Black Metal” on the back of their albums; as Gorgoroth’s King Ov Hell once told me, this represents bands that are fully into the Satanic ideology of the music and not just the aspect of recording and writing it. (And yes, tr00 black metal kvlt friends, I realize “hepping” people to the genre might just lose me all credibility, but Jesus, how did you discover these albums?)

Celtic Frost, To Mega Therion (1985) – Tom G. Warrior’s growl and down-tuned riffage would affect almost every current black metal band from Darkthrone to Goatwhore.




Bathory, Blood Fire Death (1988) – On this album, frontman Quorthon rasped over intricate, symphonic odes to Viking conquests. This is the starting point for true Scandinavian antichristian metal.



Burzum, Burzum (1992) – The first (alleged) church burner’s debut release took Bathory’s archetype and made it even more lo-fi and depressing. Note to genre newcomers: any Burzum release after 1996’s Filosofem has expressed his newfound Nazi viewpoints. If you support that, feel free to buy the records and stop reading my blog.

Beherit, The Oath Of Black Blood (1992) – These Finnish black meddlers formed in ’89 and would eventually devolve into an atmospheric darkwave band. This album, however, exemplifies the genre’s fast tempos and raw aggression.


Immortal, Pure Holocaust (1993) – Immortal’s “war painted” frontman, Abbath, were clearly influenced by Mayhem’s Satanic look and orchestral-styled guitar work. The first Hole In The Sky festival in Bergen would pay tribute to Immortal drummer Grim, who committed suicide in 1999.


Mayhem, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994) – Mayhem’s first full-length had better sound than their influential Deathcrush EP, and even features Burzum’s Varg Vikernes on bass! Vikernes would later murder Mayem mainman Euronymous.


Emperor, In The Nightside Eclipse (1994) – When Emperor released their debut album, none of the members were 20 years old. Haling from central Norway, between the country’s two metropolitan centers, they revitalized the symphonic aspect of the genre, later pushing the boundaries to its proggiest extremes by their 2001 breakup.


Darkthrone, Transilvanian Hunger (1994) – Essentially only two members, Darkthrone epitomizes Norway’s old school to this day, with their hyper-distorted guitars and raspy-throated lo-fi vocals. They’ve lately started sounding more death ‘n’ roll à la Celtic Frost, but this album shows their truest black metal roots best.

Gorgoroth, Antichrist (1996) – A black metal ‘zine publisher I met on my recent trip to Bergen pegged Gorgoroth by calling them the last true “evil” Norwegian black metal band. While every other band has mostly abandoned the Satanic shtik, Gorgoroth has stuck with it, by using severed goat heads on stage and live crucifictions.


Judas Iscariot, Thy Dying Light (1996) – Based out of Dekalb, Illinois, Judas Iscariot were the first important American black metal “band,” really just the work of one man, Akhenaten. Their second album, Thy Dying Light, found them following in Burzum’s footsteps with ambient, echoes of dark chords.


Xasthur, Telepathic With The Deceased (2004) – Located in Alhambra, California, Xasthur could be considered the first US “suicidal black metal” band, also just one person known as Malefic. His inhuman drum machine patterns make Telepathic all the more claustrophobic. Mood is everything to Xasthur, and Malefic contrasts light and dark with ease.


Leviathan, Tentacles Of Whorror (2004) – One-man-band Wrest, who masterminds San Francisco’s Leviathan, would later team with Xasthur in a USBM supergroup called Twilight. But on his own, Wrest plays aggressive black metal similar to Xasthur, but with less contrast and more full-on screaming. Wrest has also recorded as Lurker Of Chalice.

Enslaved, Isa (2004) – Norway’s Enslaved made their debut in 1993 on a split CD with Emperor, but would forge their own sound in years to come, focusing not on Satanism, but their true Viking heritage. Progressing more and more with each album, Isa, which would win Norway’s prestigious Alarm award (which Darkthrone’s Fenriz opted his band out of), due to its brilliant songcraft and listenable (née hummable?) melodies.


Craft, Fuck The Universe (2006) – Formed in 1994, Swedish black meddlers Craft hit their creative stride with their third album, Fuck The Universe. While pushing black metal’s ideological boundaries with their previous albums—2000’s Total Soul Rape and 2005’s Terror Propaganda (its title a “fuck you” to post-9/11 America)—Craft found the perfect blend of musical belligerence and misanthropic lyrical nihilism on Fuck The Universe.

Not a novice anymore and wondering "What next?" Check out albums by bands like 1349, Satyricon, early Samael, Goatwhore, Deathspell Omega, Revenge, Venom, Borknagar, Dissection, Thorns, Ulver and Watain. From that point on, it's wide open. Enjoy.

1 comment:

a n e k said...

don't feel being a newcomer, but still found lot if interesting stuff, mainly from the usbm which i didn't penetrate yet.. and finally someone who likes (i suppose) the lo-fi bm and actually not nsbm.. how i hate those fuckers for raping bm. still i don't totally agree with varg being a nazi after 96. he sure is racist in ideology, however according to his writing he got rid of this term.. on the other side when you see his nowadays photos.. this one makes me particularly sad, for the burzum stuff is just incredible, including texts..