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Black metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal. It is typically abrasive and usually makes use of fast tempos driven by blastbeat drumming, high-pitched electric guitars that are often played with tremolo picking, unconventional song structures and high-pitched shrieking vocals usually with lyrics concerning anti-Christianity, Satanism, paganism, nature or fantasy. It is prone to experimentation and certain elements typical to black metal are not always used by every band within the subgenre. Originally, many black metal recordings were created with low-quality production and recording equipment, but some bands still retain this recording style, favoring its primitive feelings over more modern recording equipment. Satanic and anti-Christian imagery and face paint have remained a staple part of this style of music since its inception.
The roots of black metal come from Venom's extreme take on thrash metal (Black Metal is obviously cited as a major Trope Maker, as well as Trope Namer), as well as bands like Bathory, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost and Mercyful Fate. Who was more important can lead to a Broken Base though ("Venom started it" vs "the media said that Venom started it!"), so be warned. A second wave started in the late 80s/early 90s, with bands such as Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum, Immortal, Emperor, Rotting Christ and Varathron. Black metal bands from the United States such as Von and Profanatica also formed around this time. Most modern black metal was built upon the groundwork laid by bands during this time period. Following a series of church burnings associated with black metal musicians and the murder of Euronymous of Mayhem by Burzum mastermind Varg Vikernes, the Norwegian black metal scene received considerable attention from the mainstream media. As of August, 2010 Immortal is the last of the "Second-Wave" Norwegian Black Metal bands that is still in operation; their closest musical contemporaries have altogether left the genre: Darkthrone have mutated into an almost electro-punk outfit and Satyricon have given up the genre in favor of "Black Rock" a sub-sub-genre of hard rock, though not heavy metal "proper". Immortal themselves formed a "new" band (adding two members) in 2006 named "I" and released the critically-acclaimed album "Between Two Worlds" which was one of the foundations for the "Black Rock" sound other bands (notably Satyricon) augmented their music into.
More frequently than not, later bands in this genre are dubbed "post-black metal" or "avant-garde black metal" because the genre name black metal is supposed to denote a very specific aesthetic. While bands of this ilk, such as Arcturus, Sigh, Solefald, Borknagar, In The Woods..., Ulver, Fleurety, Agalloch, Peccatum, Ved Buens Ende and others, can arguably be very different in style, they often use better production values and explore other genres of music at the same time.
Thanks to a focus on Satanic (or just anti-Christian) imagery, the mainstream media tends to frown upon the genre, but genres like fantasy (ie. Tolkien) and folklore are also common. Some black metal bands are even aligned with National Socialism. (On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, there are also the occasional bands aligned with anarchism or other left-wing ideologies, such as Wolves in the Throne Room, Blut aus Nord, Panopticon, Sorgsvart, and Skagos). Although there are exceptions, modern black metal as a musical style tends to make use of high-pitched tremolo picking, shrieked or growled vocals, blast beats, unconventional song structures and an emphasis on atmosphere over technical playing styles. Black metal rarely features verse-chorus structures, generally favoring a more basic style that features extended musical sections and repetitive guitar riffs. Guitar solos are a rarity in black metal, although they are featured prominently in the music of some bands (i.e. Peste Noire). Black metal often features very lo-fi, primitive recording quality reminiscent of the early days of the genre, but some bands have favored more professional recording techniques. While the harsh vocal style of black metal has become nearly universal, many bands still feature clean vocals, used either in conjunction with more extreme vocals or as the primary vocal style.
Black metal tends to be nationalistic in nature (so much that there is a whole subgenre for national socialist black metal, NSBM, which is covered below), so it is no surprise that many of the European scenes (particularly from Norway) look down on black metal uprisings in nations like the United States. There's also viking/black metal, or simply "viking metal," arguably first created by Bathory and later taken up by bands like Windir, Enslaved, and others of that ilk. Unlike most other artists from other forms of music, many black metal bands do not play live. Many bands, such as Burzum and Xasthur, are one-man studio projects, but many bands with full line-ups also prefer to avoid playing live. However, many black metal bands are also known for their theatrical live shows, with the shows of bands such as Mayhem and Gorgoroth being particularly notorious (once Gorgoroth played live on Polish tv on a stage surrounded by barbed wire with severed pigs' heads impaled on stakes and surrounded by live-size wooden crosses with naked female models -hooded- tied on...something you definitely won't see on U.S. prime time television.).
List of black metal bands, categorised by subgenre:
"Traditional" Black, Raw Black, and Black/Thrash
"Traditional" black metal is the regular style of black metal, codified by the Second Wave (particularly in Norway). Raw black metal is a much harsher and simpler form of black metal codified by bands like Darkthrone. Black/thrash is, as the name suggests, black metal mixed with Thrash Metal; it tends to be applied to bands that combine the two genres that were not first-wave black metal.
Due to the overlap between the three subgenres, they have all been lumped together.
- Absu (later)
- Behemoth (Early material; they later changed their style to blackened death metal, eventually becoming straight-up Death Metal with very little black metal influence)
- Carpathian Forest
- Dark Funeral
- Immortal (Before At the Heart of Winter.)
- Impaled Nazarene
- Peste Noire
First-Wave Black Metal
The original black metal movement started in the eighties; first-wave black metal bands are, for the most part, thrash bands with much rougher production, and are not seen as real black metal by the majority of fans. Some of Bathory's music is an exception; a strong case could be made that the album Under the Sign of the Black Mark in particular is the Trope Codifier for black metal as it exists today.
- Bathory (Later
moved ontocreated viking metal.)
- Celtic Frost (Not strictly; they have also experimented with Hair Metal, Doom Metal, Gothic Metal and Avant-Garde Metal.)
- Death SS
- Mercyful Fate
- Sepultura (changed to thrash metal after their first album)
- Sodom (Later ventured into thrash metal)
Melodic Black Metal
As the name suggests, this is black metal with a much more melodic, and usually epic, approach than regular black metal. This genre tends to be much more accessible than usual black metal.
- Covenant (Their first two albums, before legal issues forced them to change their name to The Kovenant and their musical style changed along with it.)
- Dark Fortress
- Dawn (Sweden)
- Dimmu Borgir
- Epoch of Unlight
- Immortal (At the Heart of Winter onwards.)
- Keep of Kalessin
- Old Man's Child
- Rotting Christ
- Sacramentum (on their first album; after that they switched to Blackened Death Metal)
Symphonic Black Metal
Black metal with symphonic and orchestral elements. These bands tend to be a lot cheesier, and less serious, than other black metal bands. Like with melodic black metal, symphonic black metal tends to be a lot more accessible than other forms of black metal.
- Abigail Williams (early)
- Anorexia Nervosa
- Dimmu Borgir
- Keep Of Kalessin
- Limbonic Art
Black metal mixed with Folk Metal.
- Agalloch (Includes black and folk metal but is a slight case of Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly.)
- Ancient Rites
- ChthoniC (閃靈 - Shǎnlíng)
- Finntroll (vaguely)
- Moonspell (early)
- Negură Bunget
- Nokturnal Mortum
- Panopticon (on Collapse, anyway)
- Suidakra (their first album, anyway. Later albums are Folk Melodeath or Power Metal)
- Ulver (early)
Viking Black Metal
Black metal with lyrics and imagery regarding vikings. The overall genre of Viking Metal evolved from black metal, and as such most viking metal bands are black metal; however, there are some viking metal bands, such as Ensiferum and Amon Amarth, that have nothing to do with black metal (and, as a result, aren't seen as "true" viking metal bands by some black metal fans). A lot of the time, viking black metal overlaps with folk/black metal.
- Bathory (later)
See the Doom Metal page.
Depressive/Suicidal Black Metal
Black metal with an ultra-depressive atmosphere and a lyrical focus on suicide, self-mutilation and other things to do with depression. This is quite a Love It or Hate It genre; either this is one of the most brilliant forms of black metal, or the most Narmful. Very often crosses over with ambient black metal and black/doom. Burzum is often a significant influence, with some bands in this genre (Nyktalgia in particular, especially on their first album) almost sounding like Burzum tribute bands.
- Happy Days
- I'm in a Coffin
- Make a Change... Kill Yourself
- Nocturnal Depression
- Shining (Sweden)
- Thy Light
Industrial Black Metal
Black metal mixed with electronic music, often but not always Industrial.
- ...And Oceans
- Abigor (on their last two albums)
- Alien Deviant Circus
- Anaal Nathrakh (Vaguely; they also have elements of Death Metal and Grindcore.)
- The Axis of Perdition
- Black Hole Generator
- Blut Aus Nord
- Havoc Unit
Ambient Black Metal
Black metal with elements of dark ambient. The early developments of this genre can be found in early 90's projects such as Burzum, Moëvöt, Ildjarn, Mütiilation and Crimson Moon.
- Abigail Williams (later)
- Crimson Moon
- Lurker of Chalice
- Paysage d'Hiver
- Velvet Cacoon
- Wolves in the Throne Room
Avant-Garde/Progressive Black Metal
Black metal either possessing significant avant-garde tendencies, influenced significantly by Progressive Metal, or both. Uncommon Time is not uncommon, Epic Rocking is frequent, and occurrences of Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly are not unheard of. A large portion of bands classifiable within the avant-garde metal subgenre either count as black metal, or are significantly inspired by black metal due to the genre's fondness for disturbing imagery, ideology, and atmosphere, all of which are pretty useful when you want to prog out as a band.
- Deathspell Omega (Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice onward, if the Manifestations albums don't count)
- Diabolical Masquerade
- Emperor (later)
- In the Woods... (early)
- Negură Bunget
- Ne Obliviscaris
- Shining (Norway, on Blackjazz)
- Ved Buens Ende...
- Wolves in the Throne Room
Post-Black Metal and Blackened Shoegaze
Two closely related subgenres of black metal incorporating elements of post-rock and shoegaze, respectively. Generally more melodic and arguably more accessible than more traditional black metal. This is something of a Love It or Hate It genre; many people adore it but black metal purists often attack it as watering down black metal for a hipster audience.
- Alcest (starting with Le Secret; note, however, that quite a bit of their songs from Souvenirs on are straight-up shoegaze with virtually no black metal influence whatsoever, but there is still at least one black metal song on the albums after Souvenirs)
- Altar of Plagues
- Ash Borer
- Cold Body Radiation
- Dernier Martyr
- Fell Voices (although there is quite a bit more drone metal influence than anything)
- Negura Bunget
- Panopticon (on some of their releases)
- Wolves in the Throne Room
While not technically different subgenres as the bands described within have wildly varying musical styles, the following subtropes are ideologically different to most other forms of black metal, and are often considered subgenres of black metal; as such, they have both been given their own place on the list.
National Socialist Black Metal
As the name suggests, this is black metal with a lyrical focus on "national heritage" and "being proud of your race/culture". In normal terms, this translates as "black metal with nazi lyrics". Musicians hold far-right, nationalist political beliefs, and they use their music to get their views across.
As a side note, don't just list artists with members (or sole members) holding NS beliefs, such as Burzum. Make sure that the lyrics themselves are racist, or strongly nationalist, before adding a band.
- Aryan Terrorism
- Grand Belial's Key
- Hate Forest (although it's worth noting that Drudkh contain almost exactly the same lineup except for the drummer and explicitly disavowed radical politics upon signing to Season of Mist)
- Nokturnal Mortum (They switched to Heavy Mithril with their latest album The Voice Of Steel, and frontman Knjaz Varggoth has begun distancing himself somewhat from National Socialism)
- Thor's Hammer (Not to be confused with Thorr's Hammer, the American death/doom band featuring the future members of Sunn O))).)
Red and Anarchist Black Metal
Basically the complete polar opposite of NSBM. Most of these bands are fairly new, although Profecium formed in 1993. As a result this particular strain of black metal isn't as infamous or widely known as NSBM yet. There is a strong environmentalist streak in much of this music, and many bands from the Cascadian region of the United States and Canada fall here. There is also a strong overlap with crust punk. A few lesser known bands overlap with unblack metal below, but others are explicitly atheistic, pagan, or (in Profecium's case) Satanic in ideology.
As with NSBM, don't list an artist just because they hold socialist or anarchist political views; they have to express their ideology in their lyrics and/or packaging. (Unfortunately, in some cases, such as Blut aus Nord and the explicitly anarchistic Ash Borer, it's difficult to know whether the views are expressed in the lyrics since only the bands know what the lyrics are (although Blut aus Nord did release lyrics for one of their early albums). Ash Borer take this one step further by not naming several of their songs).
There's a lot of information on both NSBM and RABM in this article.
- Profecium (Ur Example/Trope Maker)
- Bustum (Croatia; confusingly, there is also a Polish group of the same name that has connections to National Socialism)
- Fall of the Bastards
- Wolves in the Throne Room (probably the Trope Codifier, or at least the group most responsible for making people aware that left-wing black metal exists)
- Jarost Marksa
Do you love black metal, but hate all that stuff about Satan? Well, this is the perfect genre for you! Unblack metal, also known as "white metal", is black metal with Christian lyrics and themes. These bands are often strongly hated by the rest of the black metal fandom because of the rather negative attitude held towards Christianity by said fandom.
- Antestor (Trope Maker / Trope Codifier)
- Crimson Moonlight
- Deborah (An all-female Mexican band.)
- Frost Like Ashes
- Holy Blood
- Horde (Trope Maker)
Arabic Anti-Islamic Legion
In many cases with black metal bands, it is difficult to determine how much of the artists' work is meant earnestly and how much is just posturing (especially in the case of NSBM, as there are persistent reports of musicians only adopting this stance for the black metal equivalent of street cred). With the Arabic Anti-Islamic League, however, it is pretty much a given that they are deadly serious, for the simple reason that if their identities were determined they would probably be killed. This is also one case where the black metal reliance on pseudonyms is pretty much mandatory for the musicians' well-being. Several of these bands are also female-fronted. Music tends to be incredibly raw and to-the-point (with suitably blasphemous song titles like "Sex with Muhammad's Corpse" and "Nuke Mecca"). There is also an unavoidable element of political protest to this music given that the musicians come from theocracies. Their stuff is often difficult to find, but you can find most of their songs on their website here.
- Janaza (Iraq)
- Seeds of Iblis (Iraq)
- تدنيس / Tad-ness / Desecration (Saudi Arabia)
- مسجد الشيطان / Mosque of Satan (Lebanon)
- False Allah (Bahrain)
(Note that the last two acts do not appear to have released material yet).
The black metal genre exhibits the following tropes:
- Archive Panic: Band members tend to collaborate with each other a lot (particularly in the Norwegian second wave scene) and have several side projects, so if you want to collect everything an artist has ever released, good luck. And a lot of releases are hard to find anyway.
- Black Speech: Plenty of bands borrow Tolkienic motives for their names and some even write entire songs in pseudo-Black Speech. The growling makes it hard to tell the difference anyway.
- Completely Missing the Point - The reason black metal bands and listeners started thinking that opposition of Christianity = support of Satanism.
- Creator Backlash - The most notable example would be Varg Vikernes, who greatly dislikes the modern Black Metal scene and classifies his music as Thrash Metal rather than BM. The late Quorthon of Bathory also distanced himself from the genre and then pioneered Viking Metal.
- Epic Instrumental Opener - Shows up a lot in Melodic Black Metal.
- Epic Riff - Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (yep, the whole album) is the most often-cited example of this in the genre, but there are examples in many other songs as well.
- Epic Rocking - A fair portion of black metal songs. Arguably the rule rather than the exception, actually.
- Evil Is Cool
- Fan Haters - Within the genre, fans of the scrappy bands bands mentioned below are widely mocked. Outside of it, there are a fair number of metalheads who (while not necessarily hating the music) hate the stereotypical Black Metal fan: Some pretentious moron who won't shut up about how much the world sucks, ditches bands faster than a hipster on PCP, and hasn't got much interest in anything besides Black Metal. That these fans are very much a Vocal Minority, and widely mocked by other fans doesn't seem to matter.
- God Is Evil: Many musicians and fans profess to hate Christianity for replacing the pagan traditions of Europe, leading to several widely publicized church burnings. Hellhammer drummer Mayhem spoke in a Guitar World interview about his dislike for "Christianity and its pitiful glorification of the weak", but went on to say that he was not a Satanist because "Satanists always end up burning themselves out, and I'm not going to do that." He cited paganism as his primary inspiration.
- Green Aesop: Common.
- Grim Up North
- Heavy Metal
- Heavy Mithril - When the lyrics aren't Satanic or philosophical, chances are they will be fantasy-based.
- I Am the Band - It's fairly common for bands to consist of only one or two permanent members who play all the instruments.
- It's Popular, Now It Sucks - The mindset of quite a few vltra-serious black metal fans.
- Memetic Mutation - Immortal. Varg Vikernes is also quite the memetic fellow.
- Metal Scream
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness - Usually a 9 or 10, although some of the more melodic/folk-influenced/symphonic bands are an 8, and some of the more noisy bands could be considered to go Up to Eleven. Then again, sometimes bands produce ambient interludes that barely even qualify as a 1. Burzum is a frequent and early example of this - see, for instance, "Tomhet," the closing song on Hvis lyset tar oss.
- Narm - For some, although it depends on the band. Immortal's probably your best bet.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly - As described above, there is a whole subgenre of "avant-garde black metal" bands that exhibit this trope.
- No Trve Scotsman: Commonly evoked by Fan Dumb to the point of massive Memetic Mutation.
- Ominous Latin Chanting: See Black Speech above. Some bands actually use actual Latin, rather than just psuedo-Latin, in their songs, such as Funeral Mist, Sigh, and Deathspell Omega. The Italian duo Nazgûl take this one step further by writing all of their lyrics in Latin (and they're all Tolkien-inspired).
- Public Medium Ignorance - To many, Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth and maybe Emperor are the only Black Metal bands. This may be a contributing factor to the massive backlash against the former two bands in the black metal underground, although many people just don't think they're very good.
- Reclusive Artist - Many bands don't play live and don't release the lyrics to their albums (Gorgoroth are the bands most famous for this), but some of them go further into this. Drudkh are probably the best example of this - they never give interviews, they never play live, there are no known photos of them, and they don't release the lyrics to many of their albums. Deathspell Omega are another example - no one even knows what the complete band roster is.
- Refuge in Audacity - The live shows of Mayhem and Gorgoroth.
- Religion Rant Song - The most common lyrical theme
- Rock Me, Asmodeus - Given that genre founders like Venom, Bathory and Mercyful Fate all invoked this trope, it's not surprising that it has been utilised by legions of bands in the genre.
- Ruined FOREVER: Even fans of Dimmu Borgir miss Vortex.
- Sampling - Happens occasionally. The Seventh Seal is a particularly common source of this - excerpts of the soundtrack show up in, at the very least, Funeral Mist's Salvation, Panopticon's On the Subject of Mortality, and L'Acephale's Stahlhartes Gehäuse.
- The Scrappy - Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth get massive amounts of hate from black metal fans, being perceived as sellouts by aiming for a more mainstream audience. Both bands are disliked by the metal community in general, but black metal fans hate them the most - which is strange in the case of Cradle of Filth, because they never played black metal.
- For example, despite being the most commercially successful black metal band in existence, Dimmu Borgir does not have a page on this wiki. And are unlikely to get one in the future.
- In terms of black metal scenes, American black metal (known as "USBM") gets the most hate. As for black metal subgenres, there's Unblack Metal.
- Serious Business - And in this case, the musicians can be as serious as the fans.
- Spikes of Villainy - Common fashion for black metal musicians.
- Spin-Off - Viking Metal.
- Stage Names - Almost all black metal bands use them.
- Surprisingly Gentle Song - Particularly common in the ambient black metal genre.
- Three Chords and the Truth - Used by many bands in the genre. Strongly averted by most of the avant-garde and progressive groups however.
- Trope Maker - First-wave black metal was kickstarted either by Venom (also Trope Namer) or Bathory. It's unclear who first played second-wave black metal, but people will generally agree on Mayhem.
- Uncommon Time - A surprising number of bands in this genre employ this from time to time, probably for the purpose of making the music even more disorienting.
- Xtreme Kool Letterz: It's quite common to see "f"'s" changed to "v"'s, "c"'s changed to "k"'s and "u"'s changed to "v"'s in song titles and so on, so "cult of doom" (for example) becomes "kvlt ov doom".
- Note, however, that most of their albums after Aspera Hiems Symfonia have almost nothing to do with black metal apart from the band's ancestry. The only song beyond that point that could legitimately be called black metal is "Radical Cut" on The Sham Mirrors. Apart from that, barely any of the songs even have harsh vocals. All of their work is awesome however.
- It's worth noting that the term "post-black metal" can have two completely different meanings depending upon who is using it. In one form, it is simply a fusion of black metal with post-rock. In another, it is essentially to black metal what post-punk is to punk: music that builds on the foundation of black metal and takes it in completely different direction. The latter term is the older one, but the former is more commonly used now.
- It's also worth noting that Euronymous was a noted communist, although he didn't express his views in his music (and his stances as expressed in interviews were considerably more authoritarian than those of most bands found in this section, although his actions elsewhere would seem to contradict what he said about himself)