I think most of us can agree that Black Metal isn’t what it used to be. I think this is largely caused by the advent of the Internet. I grew up in the 1990s which was an odd transitional period for music in general. While we did have the Internet, it wasn’t like I could stream or preview the things I listened to in the same way that I do now. We’re able to discriminate a lot more based on our personal tastes than we ever have. As dorky as this sounds, I remember my non-driving fourteen year old self dragging my mother around to four or five different record stores and exchanges seeking out Black Metal albums like a ravenous beast. I used to mow lawns back for pocket change back then and I can vividly remember going straight from getting paid to the record store and blowing every last bit of my money on music. There was nothing quite like looking at a sales floor filled with thousands of CDs and having to sift through authentically shitty music in order to find that one diamond in the rough that may prove to be an identity forming album. And even then, if the album art didn’t speak to me, I would instantly dismiss the music inside as shit. As I’ve gotten older I’m not nearly as fickle.
I definitely think that my musical tastes are more or less frozen in 1997 when it comes to Black Metal. And by Black Metal I not only mean the likes of a more purist sound like early ’90s Darkthrone, but also stuff that wouldn’t be considered Black Metal by the needless labeling that goes on now–like Covenant’s “Nexus Polaris,” or Therion’s “Theli.” In my world, if it sounded heavy, had Satanic undertones, and was hard to find in comparison to something like Metallica it was Black Metal. Because, a lot of stuff like Covenant and Therion aren’t considered Black Metal by today’s standards I decided to label the kind of music those bands make as “friends” to the Black Metal genre. Yeah, I know that it’s all considered to be Extreme Metal. But I’m not getting stuck on the inconsistencies of genres with this post, this is about what my sixteen year old self would’ve considered to have been a top ten in terms of music! So without further adieu…here’s a list my favorite shit I grew up on. Warning: It starts off very not Black metal. I save the very best for the top 5.
10. Arcturus – Nightmare Heaven
I picked up “La Masquerade Infernale” late into my formative years, which it’s why it’s not really on my list. As I’ve grown older I’ve learned to appreciate the importance that album. I always preferred their follow up to it though with “The Sham Mirrors.” I remember blasting “Nightmare Heaven” in my car on a loop singing along with my windows down to the breakdown at 4:11 like an idiot. Their follow up to “The Sham Mirrors,” entitled “Sideshow Symphonies” is not to be missed either. Arcturus is one of those few bands that popped out of Norway that did the symphonic black metal fusion thing right.
9. Bloodthorn – The Day of Reckoning
Bloodthorn’s 1999 “Onwards into Battle” was not only the first Black metal(ish) album I heard, but also the first extreme metal album I heard. It was a formative experience because it shaped my tastes for the dark and evil sounding. It was the gateway which ruined me forever. I remember blasting this in high school when my parents weren’t home and my brother freaking out to the evil lyrics “IT’S THE DAY OF THE BEAST.” He eventually came around to see the light, or should I say the dark–for himself. Good music is unmistakable.
8. Therion – The Birth of Venus Illegitima
This isn’t black metal. But it has Satanic overtones! I really love Therion a lot. “Vovin,” though it is technically a solo album stands out to me. It’s a pretty badass album. “The Rise of Sodom and Gomorrah,” “The Birth of Venus Illegitima,” and “Clavicula Nox” are a few of my most favorite tracks ever. The only reason Therion didn’t make it higher up on my list is the rest of the album doesn’t stack up as strongly to me as some of the others here. That said, “Vovin” is a much better album than most bands best efforts.
7. Hecate Enthroned – A Graven Winter
Say what you want about this band. Their first two releases which includes their repackaged demo “An Ode for a Haunted Wood” under the name “Upon Promethean Shores” and “The Slaughter of Innocence” are solid symphonic black metal. “A Graven Winter” represents symphonic black metal perfection to me while capturing that familiar first wave of mid nineties British Black Metal started by Cradle of Filth and perfected by the likes of Hecate Enthroned with ambitious release of their first demo. The melody at 2:43 just decimates. By far one of the most influential songs of my youth.
6. Satyricon – Woods to Eternity
I had a really hard time picking a favorite from “The Shadowthrone.” Ultimately, I chose the song that sent the most energy through my body. “Woods to Eternity” has an incredible payoff starting at 4:30. It’s nothing but build up until then, but everytime I get there I feel a powerful release coursing through my body! To me, this is one of those songs that really embodies an authentic Black Metal sound. It successfully fuses strong sound writing with subtle atmosphere that makes me want to continually fist pump until I put a hole in the wall. My sixteen year old self would whole heartedily approve this choice. Many circles consider “Nemesis Divina” to be the best old school release from Satyricon, but that album came up slightly more dry than this one for me. “The Shadowthrone” was one of those albums that would creep into your head at school during study hall that would cause the teacher lording over you to send you to the office for humming it. This song especially would cause long bouts of humming and whistling it when I didn’t have it on–it’s that catchy. For fucking reals!
5. Darkthrone – Kathaarian Life Code
Atmosphere aside, “Kathaarian Life Code” does so many things right. But let’s get real, I don’t know if it would be possible to get a production quality as clean and dirty as this one nowadays. Also the lyrics leave a nice visual:
“Baphomet in steel for the flesh of cain
A throne made by remains
Of 12 holy disciples”
I always figured this line to be tongue in check for the band’s name sake. A throne of remains. What the fuck does that even look like? Regardless, this is another song that I believe could be referred to again and again as a Black Metal song that embodies everything imitators would love to be able to channel. Unfortunately, there’s only one Darkthrone circa 1992, and they’re long dead!
4. Dawn – The Aphelion Deserts
Dawn. One of those bands that just don’t get the attention they deserve. “Slaughtersun: Crown of the Triarchy” is an unsung masterpiece of Black Metal that constantly is overshadowed by more gimmicky groups like Dimmu Borgir. Make no mistake, they are criminally underrated. I had such a hard time figuring out whether “The Knell and the World” or “The Aphelion Deserts” was my favorite track from these guys, but I ultimately settled on the latter since the melody that kicks in at 1:57 really takes me to where the song promises to take me. This album in general is perhaps the most visual on the list with the exception of my number one pick but hey, I think these guys come very close to that! “Slaughtersun” is not to be missed.
3. Covenant – Bizzare Cosmic Industries
Not technically Black Metal, but who gives a fuck! Covenant, aka The Kovenant, released an album that fully eclipsed Dimmu Borgir’s 1997 effort “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant.” There was always something much more interesting about the sound on “Nexus Polaris” than anything Dimmu Borgir had released at the time or since. It’s a shame that we never actually got a proper follow up to this album. Regardless songs like “Bizarre Cosmic Industries” and “The Last of Dragons” keep me coming back almost twenty years later to the watershed sound of my youth.
2. Emperor – I am the Black Wizards (demo version)
Where do I even begin with this? In terms of sound this version of this song will always be the best in my world. I love the raw aspect of it so much. The imperfections like the voice cracking at 4:10 drive me absolutely up a wall. “I am the Black Wizards” is quintessential Black Metal. Everything comes back to this song. It’s just wild as fuck. This version was the first Emperor song I ever heard. And only the third Black Metal band I had been aware of then. I remember the weird hissing noise bothering me. I kept asking myself why I had wasted money on it, until I listened to it over and over again since I really didn’t have much choice back then. It was either these guys or Cradle of Filth–speaking of which…
1. Cradle of Filth – Heaven Torn Asunder
“Dusk and Her Embrace” was the watershed album of my youth. I remember the first time I popped this baby into my CD player. After listening “Heaven Torn Asunder,” I felt like I was a different person when I came out on the other side of it. Without this song, or this album for that matter, I have no doubt that I would be a completely different person today. This is pure perfection for me. It really speaks to my soul above any other song on this list by leaps and bounds. When the lyrics “The most august sorcerers of Hades…” kicked in it take me back down to my basement room abode where I really started to figure out who I was. Totally and completely without equal.