|Stylistic origins||Thrash metal, death metal, hardcore punk|
|Cultural origins||First wave: early–mid 1980s, European extreme metal scene
Second wave: early 1990s, Scandinavian extreme metal scene
|Typical instruments||Vocals, electric guitar, bass guitar, drums|
Black metal is an extreme subgenre and subculture of heavy metal music. Common traits include fast tempos, a 'shrieking' vocal style, highly distorted guitars played with tremolo picking, raw (lo-fi) recording, unconventional song structures and an emphasis on atmosphere. Artists often appear in 'corpse paint' and adopt pseudonyms.
During the 1980s, several thrash and death metal bands formed a prototype for black metal. This so-called "first wave" included bands such as Venom, Mercyful Fate, Bathory, Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. A "second wave" arose in the early 1990s, spearheaded by Norwegian bands such as Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum, Immortal and Emperor. The early Norwegian black metal scene developed the style of their forebears into a distinct genre. Norwegian-inspired black metal scenes emerged throughout Europe and North America, although some other scenes developed their own styles independently.
Initially a synonym for "Satanic metal", black metal is often met with hostility from mainstream culture, due to the actions and ideologies associated with it. Many artists express extreme anti-Christian and misanthropic views, advocating various forms of Satanism or ethnic Paganism. In the 1990s, members of the scene were responsible for a spate of church burnings and murders. There is also a small neo-Nazi movement within black metal, although it has been shunned by many prominent artists. Generally, black metal strives to be inaccessible to the mainstream and those who are not committed.
- 1 Characteristics
- 2 History
- 3 Stylistic divisions
- 4 Ideology
- 5 Media
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
Norwegian-inspired black metal guitarists usually favor high-pitched or trebly guitar tones and heavy distortion. The guitar is usually played with much use of fast, un-muted tremolo picking. Guitarists often use dissonance—along with specific scales, intervals and chord progressions—to create a sense of dread. The tritone or flat-fifth is often used, for example. Guitar solos and low guitar tunings are rare in black metal.
The bass guitar is seldom used to play stand-alone melodies. It is not uncommon for the bass guitar to be muted against the guitar, or for it to homophonically follow the bass lines of the guitar. Typically, drumming is fast and uses double-bass, blast beats, or both.
Black metal songs often stray from conventional song structure and often lack clear verse-chorus sections. Instead, many black metal songs contain lengthy and repetitive instrumental sections.
Vocals and lyrics
Traditional black metal bands usually use raspy, high-pitched vocals which include shrieking, screaming and snarling. This vocal style was influenced by Quorthon of Bathory, and is one of the traits that distinguishes the vocals of many traditional black metal artists from those of death metal, which usually uses low-pitched growls.
Black metal lyrics typically attack Christianity and the other institutional religions, often using apocalyptic language. Satanic lyrics are common, and many see them as essential to black metal. For Satanist black metal artists, "Black metal songs are meant to be like Calvinist sermons; deadly serious attempts to unite the true believers". Misanthropy, global catastrophe, war, death, destruction and rebirth are also common themes. Another topic often found in black metal lyrics is that of the wild or harsher aspects of nature – particularly the wilderness, forests, mountains, winter, storms and blizzards. Black metal also has a fascination with the distant past. There are many bands who write about the mythology and folklore of their homelands and promote a revival of pre-Christian, pagan traditions. For more information about black metal lyrics, see the ideology section below.
Imagery and performances
Many bands choose not to play live. Those who do play live maintain that their performances "are not for entertainment or spectacle. Sincerity, authenticity and extremity are valued above all else." Some bands consider their concerts to be rituals and often make use of stage props and theatrics. Bands such as Mayhem and Gorgoroth are noted for their controversial shows, which have featured impaled animal heads, mock crucifixions, medieval weaponry and band members doused in animal blood. A few vocalists are known for cutting themselves while singing onstage.
Black metal artists often appear dressed in black with combat boots, bullet belts, spiked wristbands and inverted crosses/pentagrams to reinforce their anti-Christian or anti-religious stance. However, the most stand-out trait is their use of 'corpse paint' – black and white face paint sometimes mixed with real or fake blood, which is used to create a corpse-like or demonic appearance.
The imagery of black metal reflects its lyrics and ideology. In the early 1990s, most pioneering black metal artists had minimalist album covers featuring xeroxed black-and-white pictures and/or writing. This was partly a reaction against death metal bands, who at that time had begun to use brightly colored album artwork. Many purist black metal artists have continued this style. Black metal album covers are typically dark and tend to be atmospheric or provocative; some feature natural or fantasy landscapes (for example Burzum's Filosofem and Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse) while others are violent, perverted, sacrilegious and iconoclastic (for example Marduk's Fuck Me Jesus and Dimmu Borgir's In Sorte Diaboli).
Low production quality was typical for early black metal artists with low budgets, where recordings would often be done in their homes or basements. Even when they were able to raise their production quality, many artists chose to keep making low fidelity (lo-fi) recordings. The reason for this was to stay true to the genre's underground roots and to make the music sound more "raw" and "cold". One of the better-known examples of this is the album Transilvanian Hunger by Darkthrone – a band whom Johnathan Selzer of Terrorizer magazine says "represent the DIY aspect of black metal". It was also an attempt to make black metal inaccessible to the mainstream and those who are not committed. Many have claimed that, originally, black metal was only intended for those who were part of the scene. Vocalist Gaahl said that during its early years, "black metal was never meant to reach an audience, it was purely for our own satisfaction".
The following depiction follows a classification according to which pioneers like Venom, Bathory and Hellhammer were part of a "first wave" and the "second wave" was begun by the early Norwegian scene; especially by Mayhem vocalist Dead's suicide, Mayhem's leader Euronymous, who founded the Norwegian scene after Dead's suicide, and Darkthrone's album A Blaze in the Northern Sky. There are also other definitions according to which other albums like Sarcófago's I.N.R.I. or Samael's Worship Him began the "second wave".
The first wave of black metal refers to those bands during the 1980s who influenced the black metal sound and formed a prototype for the genre. They were often speed metal or thrash metal bands.
The term "black metal" was coined by the English band Venom with their second album Black Metal (1982). Although deemed thrash metal rather than black metal by today's standards, the album's lyrics and imagery focused more on anti-Christian and Satanic themes than any before it. Their music was fast, unpolished in production and with raspy or grunted vocals. Venom's members also adopted pseudonyms, a practice that would become widespread among black metal musicians.
Another major influence on black metal was the Swedish band Bathory. The band, led by Thomas Forsberg (aka 'Quorthon'), created "the blueprint for Scandinavian black metal". Not only was Bathory's music dark, fast, heavily distorted, lo-fi and with anti-Christian themes, Quorthon was also the first to use the "shrieked" vocals that came to define black metal. The band played in this style on their first four albums: Bathory (1984), The Return of the Darkness and Evil (1985), Under the Sign of the Black Mark (1987) and Blood Fire Death (1988). With Blood Fire Death and the two following albums, Bathory pioneered the style that would become known as Viking metal.
Hellhammer from Switzerland "made truly raw and brutal music" with Satanic lyrics, and became an important influence on later black metal; "Their simple yet effective riffs and fast guitar sound were groundbreaking, anticipating the later trademark sound of early Swedish death metal". In 1984, members of Hellhammer formed Celtic Frost, whose music "explored more orchestral and experimental territories. The lyrics also became more personal, with topics about inner feelings and majestic stories. But for a couple of years, Celtic Frost was one of the world's most extreme and original metal bands, with a huge impact on the mid-90's black metal scene". Tom G. Warrior of Hellhammer and Celtic Frost credited English hardcore punk band Discharge as "a revolution, much like Venom", saying, "When I heard the first two Discharge records, I was blown away. I was just starting to play an instrument and I had no idea you could go so far."
The Danish band Mercyful Fate influenced the Norwegian scene with their imagery and lyrics. Frontman King Diamond, who wore ghoulish black-and-white facepaint on stage, inspired what became known as "corpse paint".
Other artists usually considered part of this movement include Kreator, Sodom and Destruction (from Germany), Bulldozer and Death SS (from Italy), whose vocalist Steve Sylvester was a member of the Ordo Templi Orientis.
End of the first wave
In 1987, in the fifth issue of his Slayer fanzine, Metalion wrote that "the latest fad of Black/Satanic bands seems to be over", the tradition being continued by a few bands like Incubus and Morbid Angel (from the United States), Sabbat (from Great Britain), Tormentor (from Hungary), Sarcófago (from Brazil), Grotesque and Treblinka/early Tiamat (from Sweden).
Other early black metal bands include Sabbat (formed 1983 in Japan), Parabellum (formed 1983 in Colombia), Salem (formed 1985 in Israel) and Mortuary Drape (formed 1986 in Italy). Japanese band Sigh formed in 1990 and was in regular contact with key members of the Norwegian scene. Their debut album, Scorn Defeat, became "a cult classic in the black metal world".
In the years before the Norwegian black metal scene arose, important recordings were released by Root and Master's Hammer (from Czechoslovakia), Von (from the United States), Rotting Christ (from Greece), Samael (from Switzerland) and Blasphemy (from Canada), whose debut album Fallen Angel of Doom (1990) is considered one of the most influential records for the war metal style (also known as war black metal or bestial black metal). Fenriz of the Norwegian band Darkthrone called Master's Hammer's debut album Ritual "the first Norwegian black metal album, even though they are from Czechoslovakia".
In 1990 and 1991, Northern European metallers began to release music influenced by these bands or the older ones from the first wave. In Sweden this included Marduk, Dissection, Nifelheim and Abruptum. In Finland, there emerged a scene that mixed first wave black metal influences with elements of death metal and grindcore; this included Beherit, Archgoat and Impaled Nazarene, whose debut album Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz Rock Hard journalist Wolf-Rüdiger Mühlmann considers a part of war metal's roots. Bands such as Demoncy and Profanatica emerged during this time in the United States, when death metal was more popular among extreme metal fans. The Norwegian band Mayhem's concert in Leipzig with Eminenz and Manos in 1990, later released as Live in Leipzig, was said to have had a strong influence on the East German scene and is even called the unofficial beginning of German black metal.
The second wave of black metal began in the early 1990s and was spearheaded by the Norwegian black metal scene. During 1990–1993 a number of Norwegian artists began performing and releasing a new kind of black metal music; this included Mayhem, Thorns, Darkthrone, Burzum, Immortal, Satyricon, Emperor, Enslaved, Carpathian Forest and Gorgoroth. They developed the style of their 1980s forebears into a distinct genre. This was partly thanks to a new kind of guitar playing developed by Snorre 'Blackthorn' Ruch of Stigma Diabolicum/Thorns and Øystein 'Euronymous' Aarseth of Mayhem. Fenriz of Darkthrone described it as being "derived from Bathory" and noted that "those kinds of riffs became the new order for a lot of bands in the '90s". The wearing of corpse paint became standard, and was a way for many black metal artists to distinguish themselves from other metal bands of the era. The scene also had an ideology and ethos. Artists were bitterly opposed to Christianity and presented themselves as misanthropic Devil worshippers who wanted to spread terror, hatred and evil. They professed to be serious in their views and vowed to act on them. Ihsahn of Emperor said that they sought to "create fear among people" and "be in opposition to society". The scene was exclusive and created boundaries around itself, incorporating only those who were "true" and attempting to expel all "posers". Some members of the scene would be responsible for a spate of church burnings and murder, which eventually drew attention to it and led to a number of artists being imprisoned.
Helvete and Deathlike Silence
During May–June 1991, Euronymous of Mayhem opened an independent record shop named Helvete (Norwegian for 'hell') in Oslo. It quickly became the focal point of Norway's emerging black metal scene and a meeting place for many of its musicians; especially the members of Mayhem, Burzum, Emperor and Thorns. Jon 'Metalion' Kristiansen, writer of the fanzine Slayer, said that the opening of Helvete was "the creation of the whole Norwegian Black Metal scene". In its basement, Euronymous founded an independent record label named Deathlike Silence Productions. With the rising popularity of his band and others like it, the underground success of Euronymous's label is often credited for encouraging other record labels, who had previously shunned black metal acts, to then reconsider and release their material.
On 8 April 1991, Mayhem vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin (who called himself 'Dead') committed suicide while alone in a house shared by the band. Fellow musicians described Dead as odd, introverted and depressed. Before going onstage he went to great lengths to make himself look like a corpse and would cut his arms while singing. Mayhem's drummer, Hellhammer, said that Dead was the first to wear the distinctive 'corpse paint' that became widespread in the scene.
He was found with slit wrists and a shotgun wound to the head. Dead's suicide note apologized for firing the weapon indoors and ended: "Excuse all the blood". Before calling the police, Euronymous bought a disposable camera and photographed the body, after re-arranging some items. One of these photographs was later used as the cover of a bootleg live album: Dawn of the Black Hearts.
In time, rumors spread that Euronymous had made a stew with bits of Dead's brain and had made necklaces with bits of his skull. Euronymous gave some of these necklaces to musicians he deemed worthy. He used Dead's suicide to foster Mayhem's 'evil' image and claimed Dead had killed himself because extreme metal had become 'trendy' and commercialized. Mayhem bassist Jørn 'Necrobutcher' Stubberud noted that "people became more aware of the [black metal] scene after Dead had shot himself [...] I think it was Dead's suicide that really changed the scene".
Two other members of the early Norwegian scene would later commit suicide: Erik 'Grim' Brødreskift (of Immortal, Borknagar, Gorgoroth) in 1999 and Espen 'Storm' Andersen (of Strid) in 2001.
Musicians and fans of the Norwegian black metal scene took part in over 50 arsons of Christian churches in Norway from June 1992 to 1996. Some of the buildings were hundreds of years old and seen as important historical landmarks. One of the first and most notable was Norway's Fantoft stave church, which police believed was burnt by Varg Vikernes of the one-man band Burzum. The cover of Burzum's EP Aske (Norwegian for 'ashes') is a photograph of the Fantoft stave church after its destruction. In May 1994, he was found guilty for burning down Holmenkollen Chapel, Skjold Church and Åsane Church. To coincide with the release of Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Vikernes and Euronymous had also allegedly plotted to bomb Nidaros Cathedral, which appears on the album cover. The musicians Faust, Samoth, (both of Emperor) and Jørn Inge Tunsberg (of Hades Almighty) were also convicted for church arsons. Members of the Swedish scene started to burn churches in 1993.
Those convicted for church burnings showed no remorse and described their actions as a symbolic "retaliation" against Christianity in Norway. Mayhem drummer Hellhammer said he had called for attacks on mosques and Hindu temples, on the basis that they were more foreign. Today, opinions on the church burnings differ within the black metal community. Many, such as Infernus and Gaahl of Gorgoroth have praised the church burnings, with the latter saying "there should have been more of them, and there will be more of them". Others, such as Necrobutcher and Kjetil Manheim of Mayhem, see the church burnings as having been futile, with the latter claiming that many arsons were "just people trying to gain acceptance" within the black metal scene. Watain vocalist Erik Danielsson respected the attacks, but said of those responsible: "the only Christianity they defeated was the last piece of Christianity within themselves. Which is a very good beginning, of course". Abbath Doom Occulta from the band Immortal said he doesn't support burning churches and was against it saying "The reason we were never, you know, involved in the church burning is because... if you burn a church, the government builds it up again. You know... and uh, the government... uh... takes our money to build it up. You know, we [Immortal] were never part of any of those side activities... And also politics, you know, all that shit." Grutle Kjellson from the band Enslaved spoke his view on burning churches saying "The church burning as a 'symbolic' act I can understand. I mean kind of a revenge, in a bigger historical point of view. I mean Christianity has been one of the most violent religions of them all. So in a historical point of view a bigger picture I guess they kind of deserve it"
Murder of Euronymous
In early 1993, animosity arose between Euronymous and Vikernes. On the night of 10 August 1993, Varg Vikernes (of Burzum) and Snorre 'Blackthorn' Ruch (of Thorns) drove from Bergen to Euronymous's apartment in Oslo. When they arrived a confrontation began and Vikernes stabbed Euronymous to death. His body was found outside the apartment with 23 cut wounds – two to the head, five to the neck, and sixteen to the back.
It has been speculated that the murder was the result of either a power struggle, a financial dispute over Burzum records or an attempt at "outdoing" a stabbing in Lillehammer the year before by Faust. Vikernes denies all of these, claiming that he attacked Euronymous in self-defense. He says that Euronymous had plotted to stun him with an electroshock weapon, tie him up and torture him to death while videotaping the event. He said Euronymous planned to use a meeting about an unsigned contract to ambush him. Vikernes claims he intended to hand Euronymous the signed contract that night and "tell him to fuck off", but that Euronymous "panicked" and attacked him first. He also claims that most of the cuts were from broken glass Euronymous had fallen on during the struggle. The self-defense story is doubted by Faust and other members of the scene.
Vikernes was arrested on 19 August 1993 in Bergen. Many other members of the scene were taken in for questioning around the same time. Some of them confessed to their crimes and implicated others. In May 1994, Vikernes was sentenced to 21 years in prison (Norway's maximum penalty) for the murder of Euronymous, the arson of four churches, and for possession of 150 kg of explosives. However, he only confessed to the latter. Two churches were burnt the day he was sentenced, "presumably as a statement of symbolic support". Vikernes smiled when his verdict was read and the picture was widely reprinted in the news media. Blackthorn was sentenced to eight years in prison for being an accomplice to the murder. That month saw the release of Mayhem's album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, which featured Euronymous on guitar and Vikernes on bass guitar. Euronymous's family had asked Mayhem's drummer, Hellhammer, to remove the bass tracks recorded by Vikernes, but Hellhammer said: "I thought it was appropriate that the murderer and victim were on the same record". In 2003, Vikernes failed to return to Tønsberg prison after being given a short leave. He was re-arrested shortly after while driving a stolen car with various weapons. Vikernes was released on parole in 2009.
The second wave outside Norway
Black metal scenes also emerged on the European mainland during the early 1990s, inspired by the Norwegian scene or the older bands, or both. In Poland, a scene was spearheaded by Graveland and Behemoth. In France, a close-knit group of musicians known as Les Légions Noires emerged; this included artists such as Mütiilation, Vlad Tepes, Belketre and Torgeist. In Belgium, there were acts such as Ancient Rites and Enthroned. Bands such as Black Funeral, Grand Belial's Key and Judas Iscariot emerged during this time in the United States.
A notable black metal group in England at the time was Cradle of Filth, who released three demos in a black/death metal style with symphonic flourishes, followed by a studio album, which featured a then-unusual hybrid style of black and gothic metal. The band then abandoned black metal for gothic metal, becoming one of the most successful extreme metal bands to date. John Serba of AllMusic commented that their first album "made waves in the early black metal scene, putting Cradle of Filth on the tips of metalheads' tongues, whether in praise of the band's brazen attempts to break the black metal mold or in derision for its 'commercialization' of an underground phenomenon that was proud of its grimy heritage [...]". Another English band called Necropolis never released any music, but "began a desecratory assault against churches and cemeteries in their area" and "almost caused Black Metal to be banned in Britain as a result".
The controversy surrounding Absurd drew attention to the German black metal scene. In 1993, the members murdered a boy from their school, Sandro Beyer. A photo of Beyer's gravestone is on the cover of one of their demos, Thuringian Pagan Madness, along with pro-Nazi statements. It was recorded in prison and released in Poland by Graveland drummer Capricornus. The band's early music, however, was more influenced by Oi! and Rock Against Communism (RAC) than by black metal, and described as being "more akin to '60s garage punk than some of the […] Black Metal of their contemporaries". Alexander von Meilenwald from German band Nagelfar considers Ungod's 1993 debut Circle of the Seven Infernal Pacts, Desaster's 1994 demo Lost in the Ages, Tha-Norr's 1995 album Wolfenzeitalter, Lunar Aurora's 1996 debut Weltengänger and Katharsis's 2000 debut 666 to be the most important recordings for the German scene. He said they were "not necessarily the best German releases, but they all kicked off something".
After the second wave
In the beginning of the second wave, the different scenes developed their own styles; as Alan 'A. A. Nemtheanga' Averill says, "you had the Greek sound and the Finnish sound, and the Norwegian sound, and there was German bands and Swiss bands and that kind of thing". By the mid-1990s, the style of the Norwegian scene was being adopted by bands worldwide, and in 1998, Kerrang! journalist Malcolm Dome said that "black metal as we know it in 1998 owes more to Norway and to Scandinavia than any other particular country". Newer black metal bands also began raising their production quality and introducing additional instruments such as synthesizers and even full-symphony orchestras.
By the late 1990s, the underground deemed many of the Norwegian pioneers, like Emperor, Immortal, Dimmu Borgir, Ancient, Covenant/The Kovenant, and Satyricon, to have commercialized or sold out to the mainstream media and "big bastard labels".
After Euronymous's death, some bands went more towards the Viking metal and epic style, while other bands went deeper into the abyss". Since 1993, the Swedish scene had carried out church burnings, grave desecration and other violent acts. In 1995, Jon Nödtveidt of Dissection joined the Misanthropic Luciferian Order (MLO). In 1997, he and another MLO member were arrested and charged with shooting dead a 37-year-old man. It was said he was killed "out of anger" because he had "harassed" the two men. Nödtveidt received a 10-year sentence. As the victim was a homosexual immigrant, Dissection was accused of being a Nazi band, but Nödtveidt denied this and dismissed racism and nationalism. The Swedish band Shining, founded in 1996, began writing music almost exclusively about depression and suicide, musically inspired by Strid and by Burzum's albums Hvis lyset tar oss and Filosofem. Vocalist Niklas Kvarforth wanted to "force feed" his listeners "with self-destructive and suicidal imagery and lyrics". In the beginning he used the term "suicidal black metal" for his music. However, he stopped using the term in 2001 because it had begun to be used by a slew of other bands, whom he felt had misinterpreted his vision and were using the music as a kind of therapy rather than a weapon against the listener as Kvarforth intended. He said that he "wouldn't call Shining a black metal band" and called the "suicidal black metal" term a "foolish idea".
According to Erik Danielsson, when his band Watain formed in 1998 there were very few bands who took black metal as seriously as the early Norwegian scene had. A newer generation of Swedish Satanic bands like Watain and Ondskapt, supposedly inspired by Ofermod, the new band of Nefandus member Belfagor, put this scene "into a new light". Kvarforth said, "It seems like people actually [got] afraid again". "The current Swedish black metal scene has a particularly ambitious and articulate understanding of mysticism and its validity to black metal. Many Swedish black metal bands, most notably Watain and Dissection, are [or were] affiliated with the Temple of the Black Light, or Misanthropic Luciferian Order […], a Theistic, Gnostic, Satanic organization based in Sweden." Upon his release in 2004, Jon Nödtveidt restarted Dissection with new members whom he felt were able to "stand behind and live up to the demands of Dissection's Satanic concept". He started calling Dissection "the sonic propaganda unit of the MLO" and released a third full-length album, Reinkaos. The lyrics contain magical formulae from the Liber Azerate and are based on the organization's teachings. After the album's release and a few concerts, Nödtveidt said that he had "reached the limitations of music as a tool for expressing what I want to express, for myself and the handful of others that I care about" and disbanded Dissection before committing suicide.
A part of the underground scene adopted a Jungian interpretation of the church burnings and other acts of the early scene as the re-emergence of ancient archetypes, which Kadmon of Allerseelen and the authors of Lords of Chaos had implied in their writings, and mixed this interpretation with Paganism and an interest in Nationalism. Varg Vikernes was seen as "an ideological messiah" by some, although Vikernes had disassociated himself from black metal and his neo-Nazism had nothing to do with that subculture. This led to the rise of National Socialist black metal (NSBM), which Hendrik Möbus of Absurd calls "the logical conclusion" of the Norwegian black metal "movement". Other parts of the scene oppose NSBM as it is "indelibly linked with Asá Trŭ and opposed to Satanism", or look upon Nazism "with vague skepticism and indifference". Members of the NSBM scene, among others, see the Norwegian bands as poseurs whose "ideology is cheap", although they still respect Vikernes and Burzum, whom Grand Belial's Key vocalist Richard Mills called "the only Norwegian band that remains unapologetic and literally convicted of his beliefs".
In France, besides Les Légions Noires (The Black Legions), a NSBM scene arose. Members of French band Funeral desecrated a grave in Toulon in June 1996, and a 19-year-old black metal fan stabbed a priest to death in Mulhouse on Christmas Eve 1996. According to MkM of Antaeus, the early French scene "was quite easy to divide: either you were NSBM and you had the support from zine and the audience, or you were part of the black legions and you had that 'cult' aura". Many French bands, like Deathspell Omega and Aosoth, have an avantgarde approach and a disharmonic sound that is representative of that scene.
In Australia, a scene led by bands like Deströyer 666, Vomitor, Hobbs' Angel of Death, Nocturnal Graves and Gospel of the Horns arose. This scene's typical style is a mixture of old school black metal and raw thrash metal influenced by old Celtic Frost, Bathory, Venom and Sodom but also with its own elements.
The early American black metal bands remained underground. Some of them—like Grand Belial's Key and Judas Iscariot—joined an international NSBM organization called the Pagan Front, although Judas Iscariot sole member Akhenaten left the organization. Other bands like Averse Sefira never had any link with Nazism. The US bands have no common style. Many were musically inspired by Burzum but did not necessarily adopt Vikernes's ideas. Profanatica's music is close to death metal, while Demoncy were accused of ripping off Gorgoroth riffs. There also emerged bands like Xasthur and Leviathan (whose music is inspired by Burzum and whose lyrics focus on topics like suicide), Nachtmystium, Krallice, Wolves in the Throne Room (a band linked to the crust punk scene and the environmental movement), and Liturgy (whose frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix wants to replace traditional black metal's "death and atrophy" with "life and hypertrophy"). These bands eschew black metal's traditional lyrical content for "something more Whitman-esque" and have been rejected by some traditional black metallers for their ideologies and the post-rock and shoegazing influences some of them have adopted.
The year 1993 saw the formation of Melechesh in Jerusalem, "undoubtedly the first overtly anti-Christian band to exist in one of the holiest cities in the world". Melechesh began as a straightforward black metal act with their first foray into folk metal occurring on the title track of their 1996 EP The Siege of Lachish. Their subsequent albums saw the group straddling the boundaries between black, death, and thrash metal. A younger band, Arallu, was formed in the late 1990s and has relationships with both Melechesh and Salem. Both Melechesh and Arallu perform a style they describe as "Mesopotamian Black Metal", a blend of black metal with Mesopotamian folk music.
Since the 2000s, a number of anti-Islamic and anti-religious black metal bands—whose members come from Muslim backgrounds—have emerged in the Middle East. Janaza, believed to be Iraq's first female black metal artist, released the demo Burning Quran Ceremony in 2010. Its frontwoman, Anahita, said that her parents and brother were killed by a suicide bomb during the Iraq War. Another Iraqi band, Seeds of Iblis, released their debut EP Jihad Against Islam in 2011 through French label Legion of Death. These bands, along with Tadnees (from Saudi Arabia), False Allah (from Bahrain) and Mosque of Satan (from Lebanon), style themselves as the "Arabic Anti-Islamic Legion". Another Lebanese band, Ayat, drew much attention with their debut album Six Years of Dormant Hatred, released through North American label Moribund Records in 2008.
Regarding the sound of black metal, there are two conflicting groups within the genre: "those that stay true to the genre's roots, and those that introduce progressive elements". The former believe that the music should always be minimalist – performed only with the standard guitar-bass-drums setup and recorded in a low fidelity style. One supporter of this train of thought is Blake Judd of Nachtmystium, who has rejected labeling his band black metal for its departure from the genre's typical sound. Snorre Ruch of Thorns, on the other hand, has said that modern black metal is "too narrow" and believes that this was "not the idea at the beginning".
Since the 1990s, different styles of black metal have emerged and some have melded Norwegian-style black metal with other genres.
- Symphonic black metal is a style of black metal that incorporates symphonic and orchestral elements. This may include the usage of instruments found in symphony orchestras (piano, violin, cello, flute and keyboards), "clean" or operatic vocals and guitars with less distortion.
- Viking metal is characterized by a common lyrical and thematic focus on Norse mythology, Norse paganism, and the Viking Age. With origins in black metal and Nordic folk music, it is typically manifested as Nordic folk-influenced black metal. Some common traits include a slow paced and heavy riffing style, anthemic choruses, use of both clean and harsh vocals, a frequent reliance on folk instrumentation, and, often, the use of keyboards for atmospheric effect. Viking metal developed in the 1980s through the mid-1990s as a rejection of Satanism and the occult, instead embracing the Vikings and paganism as the leaders of opposition to Christianity. It is similar, in lyrics, sound, and thematic imagery, to pagan metal, but pagan metal has a broader mythological focus and utilizes folk instrumentation more extensively. The origin of Viking metal can be traced to the albums Blood Fire Death (1988) and Hammerheart (1990) by Swedish band Bathory. Enslaved, Burzum, Emperor, Storm and Falkenbach helped further develop the genre in the early through mid-1990s. Though originated from black metal, some death metal bands such as Unleashed and Amon Amarth are included in the style.
- Pagan metal is metal music with lyrics and imagery that focus on paganism. The Norwegian band In the Woods... was one of the first bands commonly viewed as pagan metal. In the mid-1990s, Irish bands such as Cruachan and Primordial began to combine black metal with Irish folk music.
- Blackened death metal melds death metal with black metal. Examples of blackened death metal bands are Belphegor, Behemoth, Akercocke and Sacramentum.
- Black-doom, also known as blackened doom, melds doom metal with black metal. Examples of blackened doom bands are Barathrum, Forgotten Tomb, Woods of Ypres and Katatonia.
- War metal, also known as war black metal or bestial black metal, is an aggressive, cacophonous and chaotic black metal style, described by Rock Hard journalist Wolf-Rüdiger Mühlmann as "rabid" and "hammering". Important influences include first wave band Sodom, first wave/death metal band Possessed as well as old grindcore, black and death metal bands like Repulsion, Autopsy, Sarcófago and the first two Sepultura releases. War metal bands include Blasphemy, Archgoat, Impiety, In Battle, and Zyklon-B.
Unlike other kinds of metal, black metal is associated with an ideology and ethos. It is fiercely opposed to Christianity and the other main institutional religions. Many black metal bands are Satanists and see Satanism as a key part of black metal. Others advocate ethnic Paganism, "often coupled with nationalism", although the early Pagan bands did not call themselves 'black metal'.
Individualism is also an important part of black metal, with Fenriz of Darkthrone describing black metal as "individualism above all". However, followers of Euronymous tended to be anti-individualistic, and it has been noted that "Black Metal is characterized by a conflict between radical individualism and group identity and by an attempt to accept both polarities simultaneously". Black metal also tends to be misanthropic and hostile to modern society. It is "a reaction against the mundanity, insincerity and emotional emptiness that participants feel is intrinsic to modern secular culture". Aaron Weaver from Wolves in the Throne Room said: "black metal is an artistic movement that is critiquing modernity on a fundamental level, saying that the modern world view is missing something". As part of this, black metal glorifies nature and has a fascination with the distant past. Sam Dunn noted that "unlike any other heavy metal scene, the culture and the place is incorporated into the music and imagery".
In his master thesis, Benjamin Hedge Olson writes that some artists can be seen as transcendentalists. Dissatisfied with a "world that they feel is devoid of spiritual and cultural significance", they try to leave or "transcend" their "mundane physical forms" and become one with the divine. This is done through their concerts, which he describes as "musical rituals" that involve self-mortification and taking on an alternative, "spiritual persona" (for example by the wearing of costume and face paint).
Black metal was originally a term for extreme metal bands with Satanic lyrics and imagery. However, most of the 'first wave' bands (including Venom, who coined the term 'black metal') were not Satanists and merely used it to provoke. One of the few exceptions was Mercyful Fate singer and Church of Satan member King Diamond, whom Michael Moynihan calls "one of the only performers of the '80s Satanic metal who was more than just a poseur using a devilish image for shock value".
In the early 1990s, many Norwegian black metalers presented themselves as genuine Devil worshippers. Mayhem's Euronymous was the key figure behind this. They attacked the Church of Satan for its "freedom and life-loving" views; the theistic Satanism they espoused was an inversion of Christianity. Benjamin Hedge Olson wrote that they "transform[ed] Venom's quasi-Satanic stage theatrics into a form of cultural expression unique from other forms of metal or Satanism" and "abandoned the mundane identities and ambitions of other forms of metal in favor of religious and ideological fanaticism". Some prominent scene members—such as Euronymous and Faust—stated that only bands who are Satanists can be called 'black metal'. Bands with a Norwegian style, but without Satanic lyrics, tended to use other names for their music. This view is still held by many artists – such as Infernus, Arioch, Nornagest and Erik Danielsson. Some bands, like the reformed Dissection and Watain, insist that all members must be of the same Satanic belief, whereas Michael Ford of Black Funeral and MkM of Antaeus believe black metal must be Satanic but not all band members need to be Satanists. Others—such as Jan Axel Blomberg, Sigurd Wongraven and Eric Horner—believe that black metal does not need to be Satanic. An article in Metalion's Slayer fanzine attacked musicians that "care more about their guitars than the actual essence onto which the whole concept was and is based upon", and insisted that "the music itself doesn't come as the first priority". Bands with a similar style but with Pagan lyrics tend to be referred to as 'Pagan Metal' by many 'purist' black metalers.
Others shun the belief in Satan, seeing it as "Judeo-Christian" in origin, and regard Satanists as perpetuating, and playing a part in, the "Judeo-Christian" worldview. Quorthon of Bathory said he used 'Satan' to provoke and attack Christianity. However, with his third and fourth albums he began "attacking Christianity from a different angle", realizing that Satanism is a "Christian product". Nevertheless, some artists use Satan as a symbol or metaphor for their beliefs. This includes LaVeyan Satanists (who are atheist) and others. Vocalist Gaahl, who considers himself a Norse Shaman, said: "We use the word 'Satanist' because it is Christian world and we have to speak their language [...] When I use the word 'Satan', it means the natural order, the will of a man, the will to grow, the will to become the superman". Varg Vikernes called himself a Satanist in early interviews but "now downplays his former interest in Satanism", saying he was using Satan as a symbol for Odin as the 'adversary' of the Christian God. He saw Satanism as "an introduction to more indigenous heathen beliefs". Despite the high amount of Satanism in black metal, some black metal bands such as Carach Angren, Immortal and Enslaved don't have Satanic-themed lyrics and have lyrics with completely different themes.
National Socialist black metal
National Socialist black metal (NSBM) is black metal by artists who promote neo-Nazism or similar beliefs through their lyrics and imagery. Their ideology typically melds aspects of neo-Nazism or White nationalism with ethnic European paganism. However, some bands meld these beliefs with Satanism or occultism. Some commentators see this ideology as a natural extension of the black metal worldview. Varg Vikernes is credited with popularizing such views within the scene, although he now refers to his ideology as 'Odalism'. The NSBM movement began to emerge in the mid-1990s and was spearheaded by artists such as Absurd (from Germany), Graveland, Infernum and Veles (from Poland), Nokturnal Mortum (from Ukraine) and Grand Belial's Key (from USA). It is particularly strong in the former Eastern Bloc. Some black metal bands have made references to Nazi Germany for shock value, causing them to be wrongly labeled as NSBM.
NSBM artists are a small minority within black metal, according to Mattias Gardell and Benjamin Hedge Olson. They have been criticized by some prominent and influential black metal artists – including Jon Nödtveidt, Tormentor, King ov Hell, Infernus, Dark Funeral, Richard Lederer, Michael Ford, and Arkhon Infaustus. Some liken Nazism to Christianity in that it is authoritarian, collectivist, and a "herd mentality". Olson writes that the shunning of Nazism within the scene "has nothing to do with notions of a 'universal humanity' or a rejection of hate" but that Nazism is shunned "because its hatred is too specific and exclusive".
Since the mid-1990s, there have been a few artists who have adopted the typical black metal sound and esthetic, but promote Christianity through their lyrics and imagery. These artists have been labelled 'Unblack metal'. The first Unblack metal record was Hellig Usvart (1994) by Australian artist Horde. It was seen as a provocative parody of Norwegian black metal; it included song names such as "Invert the Inverted Cross" and the sole bandmember was credited as Anonymous (a pun on Euronymous). The album caused great controversy and death threats were issued against Horde. Anonymous was later revealed as Jayson Sherlock. Norwegian Christian band Antestor began releasing Unblack metal music in 1998.
Many in the black metal scene see "Christian black metal" as an oxymoron. On the documentary Murder Music: A History of Black Metal (2007), all interviewed musicians stated, when asked about the matter, that black metal cannot be Christian. The term "Christian black metal" drew mocking replies from black metal musicians, for example Martin Walkyier of Sabbat commented: "'Christian black metal?' What do they do? Do they build churches? Do they repair them? (laughs)". In fact, the early unblack metal groups Horde and Antestor refused to call their music "black metal" because they did not share its ethos. Horde called its music "holy unblack metal" and Antestor preferred the term "sorrow metal". Horde member Jayson Sherlock later said "I will never understand why Christians think they can play Black Metal. I really don't think they understand what true Black Metal is." However, many current unblack metal bands, such as Crimson Moonlight, feel that black metal has changed from an ideological movement to a purely musical genre, and that is why they also call their own music black metal.
Documentaries on black metal
- Det svarte alvor (1994)
- Satan Rides the Media (1998)
- Norsk Black Metal (2003) was aired on Norwegian TV by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK).
- Metal: A Headbanger's Journey (2005) touches on black metal in the early 1990s, and includes an extensive 25-minute feature on the DVD release.
- True Norwegian Black Metal (2007) is a five-part feature from VICE. It explores some of the aspects of the lifestyle, beliefs and controversies surrounding former Gorgoroth vocalist Gaahl.
- Black Metal: A Documentary (2007), produced by Bill Zebub, explores the world of black metal from the point of view of the artists. There is no narrator and no one outside of black metal takes part in any interview or storytelling.
- Pure Fucking Mayhem (2009) tells the story of the black Metal band Mayhem and the tragedies surrounding them.
- Murder Music: A History of Black Metal (2007)
- Once Upon a Time in Norway (2008)
- Black Metal Satanica (2008)
- Until the Light Takes Us (2009) explores black metal's origins and subculture, featuring exclusive interviews and including rare footage from the Black Circle's early days.
- Out of the Black – A Black Metal Documentary (2012), an examination of the musical and social origins of black metal while exploring the full spectrum of the religious ideology within the scene. Also examines black metal in America and the multiple differences between the American and the Scandinavian scene.
- One Man Metal (2012) explores the lifestyle and thoughts of the members of the three one-man bands Xasthur, Leviathan and Striborg.
- "Attention! Black Metal" (2012)
References in media
- A black metal mockumentary Legalize Murder was released in 2006.
- The cartoon show Metalocalypse is about an extreme metal band called Dethklok, with many references to leading black metal artists on the names of various businesses, such as Fintroll's convenience store, Dimmu Burger, Gorgoroth's electric wheelchair store, Carpathian Forest High School, Marduk's Putt & Stuff, Burzum's hot-dogs and Behemoth studios (the man who owns Behemoth studios is also named Mr. Grishnackh). In the episode "Dethdad", Dethklok travels to Norway to both visit Toki's dying father and the original black metal record store, much to the dismay of the band members when they find out the store does not sell any of their music, described by the owner as being "too digital".
- A Norwegian commercial for a laundry detergent once depicted black metal musicians as part of the advertisement.
- Black metal bands such as 1349, Emperor, Behemoth, Dimmu Borgir, Enslaved and Satyricon have had their videos make appearances on MTV's Headbangers Ball.
- Comedian Brian Posehn made a visual reference to Norwegian black metal bands in the music video for his comedy song "Metal by Numbers".
- A KFC commercial screened in Canada (2008) and Australia (2010) featuring a fictional black metal band called Hellvetica. Onstage, the band's singer does a fire-eating trick. Once backstage, he takes a bite of the spicy KFC chicken and declares, "Oh man, that is hot".
- An episode of Bones featured the discovery of a human skeleton at a black metal concert in Norway. The episode was called "Mayhem on a Cross" and is the twenty-first episode of the fourth season.
- There are many references to black/extreme metal bands (Bathory, Marduk, Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir) in Åke Edwardson's 1999 crime novel Sun and Shadow (Sol och skugga). The plot involves the music of a fictional Canadian black metal band called Sacrament. As part of the inquiry, Inspector Winter tries to distinguish between black and death metal artists.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Black metal music groups.|
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