By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)
After Trad/Doom and NWOBHM really laid down their roots, some sub-genres began to form in the 80’s. Most commonly brought to mind are death and thrash metal but it was with the term “Black Metal” that British band Venom gave us which helped form a more descriptive concept of what was to happen next.
Some of the early bands which really helped shape Venom’s new term/sound were Hellhammer and Celtic Frost (Swiss) and especially, Bathory (Swedish) With this arsenal of influences, new bands were then inspired, namely in the Scandinavian lands into the 90’s and the infamous Norwegian Black Metal movement came about including Mayhem, Emperor, Darkthrone, Immortal and controversial to this day, Burzum. These are the most pivotal in the phenomenon which in turn inspired the rest of the world to turn to black metal and then begat scenes throughout Europe and America, though usually they still had the predominant aforementioned death or thrash overtones. (Death SS, Mercyful Fate, Blasphemy, Morbid Angel, Sabbat, Root, Master’s Hammer and Rotting Christ are prime examples.)
Since it is arguable among some passionate fans who is really the first Black Metal band, (many say Venom since they coined the term) it is perhaps most reasonable to mention the aforementioned bands first, from the region that fostered it to its “blackest.” And to examine why this occurred. Though in fact, many artists are/were nihilists or misanthropic at worst, satanic references abound in black metal lyrics, themes and supposed activities.
Aside from the infamous murders, suicides and church burnings, it is interesting to note that Quorthon, lead singer and lyricist of Bathory, a hallmark black metal band, eventually swore off these so-called satanic themes which came to originally define Black Metal and its lyrical content. And it was around this time (in the 90’s) when he rediscovered Viking and Norse mythologies and from then on embraced his country’s Pagan roots which led to the rise of yet another sub genre, Viking metal. Was he put off by his brethren’s behaviors? Did he truly have a deep experience with Norse paganism? It is difficult to say, but oddly even though it would seem that he as a leader in black metal his statements were taken out of context and other artists would go on to burn churches and do away with anything that was seemingly not of Scandinavian roots.
This is officially when Black and Viking Metal were divided in two… Oddly with Quorthon as a king of both realms.
However, also at this time, within the second wave of black metal artists who were already long standing and still performing had to contend with additional contemporaries such as Enslaved and Carpathian Forest who went on to embrace even more extreme theatrics. But it was Norwegian act, Gorgoroth, that became the ultimate visual culmination of the genre and seemed to outdo even their predecessors. It would seem that there was nothing left to do but get back to the music.
Up to this point black metal was typically under produced, lo fi and somewhat hard to come by – especially in other countries. Therefore, the performances, the shows, complete with corpse paint and hell fire was what grabbed fans. By the 2000’s, however artists such as Dimmu Borgir basically made Black Metal more of a “norm.” Interestingly enough, it was because of their theatrics. But with that they added symphonic elements to the music and really made it a more complicated genre which developed and that many finally had accessibility to. Such music was made more common perhaps because they adopted a more polished version of the sound. (As with many other types of music). It is not to say that such acts lack substance but rather that they simply put such music into a sort of limelight for many listeners, in their regions of the world and most notably into the ears of American teenagers who before maybe only knew of a few bands).
While this was indeed influential, it in a way marked the end of Black Metal being the original Scandinavian phenomena that it was. And up to now other places in Europe developed more cohesive pockets of their own attempts at the genre. In France, there was a group know as Les Légions Noires which included artists: Mütiilation, Vlad Tepes, Belketre and Torgeist. In neighboring Belgium, there were acts such as Ancient Rites which split a disc with the perhaps more well known, Enthroned. Bands emerged in the US such as Black Funeral and Judas Iscariot alongside any other metal genre. And still as always, back to metal’s birthplace, England with the most famous example of all these: Cradle of Filth.
A place that really put black metal back on the radar in one particular pocket is the Slavic lands. However, yet another subgenre would occur with their own interpretations of it, which would develop with the term blackened death metal and along with their own paganism, Slavic Metal. Stay tuned.
In addition to the some of the Black Metal classics that I chose for Picks of the Week, here is another list of picks for your consideration.
Interview with Bathory’s Quorthon
Bathory – Enter the Eternal Fire from Under the Sign of the Black Mark
Gorgoroth – Of Ice and Movement
Burzum – Fallen-Jeg Faller
Dimmu Borgir – Progenies of the Great Apocalypse