In this week’s NME, Dayal Patterson, author of Black Metal: Evolution Of The Cult revisits the murder that came to define Norway’s black metal scene 20 years ago. We asked him to recommend five classic albums to start with, plus five modern bands carrying the torch (though not burning down churches with it).
Bathory: Under The Sign Of The Black Mark, 1987
Though it was Venom who invented black metal, it was a one-man Swedish cult that transformed it into what we know today. The outfit’s third album, Under The Sign…, captures a freezing cold Satanic atmosphere, introducing the hypnotic use of repetition that would become a hallmark for the genre in the years to come.
Darkthrone: A Blaze In The Northern Sky, 1992
Darkthrone were already a successful band when they discarded their technical death metal leanings and embraced the cold primitivism of black metal with this, their second album. One of the very first Norwegian black metal releases, it forged a monochromatic blueprint both sonically and visually – the catchy riffs and hellish atmosphere proving utterly timeless.
Emperor: In The Nightside Eclipse, 1994
Perhaps the pinnacle of the more symphonic end of the genre, Emperor’s debut album is cinematic, intensely atmospheric and as breathtakingly dramatic and majestic as the Norwegian nature that inspired it. Complex guitar work, detailed percussion, inhuman vocals and soaring synths communicate the chilling aura of the ‘90s black metal scene.
Mayhem: De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, 1994
With its multi-layered guitars, percussive assault and the otherworldly, nigh-on operatic vocals of Tormentor’s Attila Csihar, this much-delayed recording was well worth the wait. Featuring songs from Dead’s era in the band, lyrical restructuring by Snorre Ruch, guitar by Euronymous and bass by Varg Vikernes, it’s also a fascinating document of the era’s key protagonists.
Vlad Tepes / Belketre: March To The Black Holocaust, 1995
An underground gem. France’s Black Legions were an unbelievably insular cult who exceeded even Norway in their secrecy and dedication. This is one of the very few ‘official’ releases by the circle and captures two of the most primal and blasphemous Black Legion bands at their best, pushing the second wave of black metal into looser, more organic territories.
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Wolves in the Throne Room (North America)
Illustrating just how wide the impact of Norwegian black metal has been, Washington State’s WITTR built their foundations from the transcendental nature-worship of Emperor, Ulver and Burzum. They then channelled it through their own spiritual punk background, winning over both conservative black metal fans and newcomers to the genre in the process.
Deathspell Omega (France)
Having managed to largely conceal their identities despite the buzz around them, France’s Deathspell Omega are at the very forefront of contemporary black metal. Their technical and avant-garde approach has made them one of the most respected acts in the underground. Though forward-thinking in their sound, they have nonetheless proved resolutely Satanic and uncompromising in their vision.
A contentious act in almost all regards, Shining have given the black metal world the closest thing it has to a Jim Morrison-esque characterin Niklas Kvarforth, who founded the band age 14. Drawing on doom metal, classical, blues and hard rock, Shining’s elaborate music is as notable as their hard drug soaked, pro-suicide stance.
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Pronounced ‘mugwah’ (that’s ‘fog’ in Polish), Mgła have slowly won over underground fanatics with a series of EP releases and last year’s LP, ‘With Hearts Toward None’. Breaking away from the synth-heavy atmospherics of ‘90s Polish black metal, they maintain a rousing and immersive approach.
One Tail, One Head (Norway)
As bands such as Enslaved and Dimmu Borgir evolved and found mainstream metal acceptance, Norway developed a reputation in the underground for relying on past glories. Then came a new wave of bands such as One Tail, One Head whose primal, stripped down and utterly possessed sound summons the magnificence of the genre’s glory years.