Top 10 Extreme/Black Metal (& Friends) songs of my Youth

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.

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Top 10 Extreme/Black Metal (& Friends) songs of my Youth

Satyricon’s “Rebel Extravaganza” as an Antinomian Statement–Breaking Away from the Romancing of Satanic Ritual Abuse in Black Metal

Satyricon’s 1999 album “Rebel Extravaganza” polarized the band’s fans more so than any of the other albums they’ve released to date. It was released during a time in which the black metal music was experiencing artistic growing pains. Many of Satyricon’s hardcore fans regard “Rebel Extravaganza” as an album that symbolizes their “selling-out.” To many it was regarded as their downward spiral into irrelevance.

Black Metal is the child of the Satanic Ritual Abuse movement of the 1980s. It’s aesthetics and standards are based upon a romanticizing of lies and imagery fabricated by the Christian right. “Rebel Extravaganza” is largely hated because it speaks out against this romancing of Satanic Ritual Abuse and the mimetic nature of Black Metal art. Lyrics from the “The Scorn Torrent” blatantly spell this out:

“Break down all conventional forms and create chaos to reinvent order
Rebel against all circles and dead ends
fight your way with your mind set on the masses
execute with mechanical aggression
arrogance and extravagance
march on unapproachable
shut out the outside pressure
or are you too weak?”

Black Metal bands during the 1990s made it a point to live up to the media portrayed expectations of what it meant to be a Satanist. Bands who romanced the Satanic Ritual Abuse movement were able to court an audience that also romanced the media portrayal of Satanism. Satyricon released “Rebel Extravaganza” to separate themselves from this, and push the genre forward.

Adam Darski aka Nergal of Behemoth fame writes: “Satyricon, one of the leaders of the Norwegian scene, released “Nemesis Divina”[…]it turned out that metal bands could do some really professional stuff. A forest and a random camera was [sic] not enough anymore.” (Darski)

Satyricon’s “Nemesis Divina” album from 1996 is largely regarded as one of the most important releases to come out of the second wave of Black Metal. It visually featured well-defined full color Pagan imagery coupled with professional photos of the band. The production values were clear, and for the first time it felt as though the scene was moving forward–away from the muddy obscure sound that Black Metal had become synonymous with.  “Nemesis Divina” created a new standard which forever changed the Black Metal movement.

Despite changing the standards of the movement, “Nemesis Divina” still fell within the standards that existed before it. These standards embraced a philosophy that romanced images of anti-Christian/Zionist occult imagery, ritual murder/sacrifice, as well as an affinity for all out death and destruction. These standards employed strategies used during the great Satanic Panic and twisted them to market their art to an audience who also romanticized the Satanic Ritual Abuse scandals of the 80s. These standards are still followed to some degree in the postmodern Black Metal movement. These are:

1. Living an authentic or “cult” Black Metal lifestyle. The main aim of this is to remove the “human” element from a band. If for any reason a band is outed as being “human” this illusion is shattered. In reality, this exists only because an audience wants to believe that there is an authentic and brutal “cult” phenomenon surrounding a group.

In the 90s being a “Norwegian” Black Metal band could fulfill this standard. This made bands authentic by assumed/national association to the Norwegian bands that came before them. The beginning of the second wave of Black Metal was led by Mayhem, Burzum, Emperor, and Darkthrone–all Norwegian. This time period was riddled with an extremely short history of violence, murder, suicide, and church burnings. This standard was later expanded to being Scandanavian, and later to simply being European after Black Metal began to root itself into popular culture.

“Before [Black Metal], I associated Norway and Sweden only with fjords, oil, and salmon. Black Metal changed that. Today even their diplomats know about the history of the genre–because as it turns out, the whole world associates the north of Europe with this cold and brutal music. It’s one of their export goods. When I got there for the first time, black metal was totally underground; only later would it ride on a white horse into the pop-culture world. I was fascinated by the fact that such radical music flourished in the place where even sixty-year old grocery merchants speak perfect English.” (Darksi)

One of the most famous incidents that helped to launch Black Metal into the eyes of the media was the suicide of Mayhem vocalist “Dead.” Euronymous of Mayhem, who was also subsequently murdered a few years after, said “Dead killed himself because he lived only for the true old black metal scene and lifestyle. It means black clothes, spikes, crosses and so on…But today there are only children in jogging suits and skateboards and hardcore moral ideals, they try to look as normal as possible. This has nothing to do with black, these stupid people must fear black metal![…]We must take this scene to what it was in the past! Dead died for this cause and now I have declared war!” (Moynihan 60)

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Dead…Dead. April 1991.
For years following this “dark period,” listeners and other bands romanced these incidents.  This romancing made Black Metal a marketable commodity.

A band can also use rumors and urban legend to “certify” authenticity. With regards to the effectiveness of Urban Legends, Occult expert Dr. Steven Flowers writes, “Urban legends almost always start with ‘A friend of a friend of mine said that…’ They are always close enough of specific enough to be effective, yet far away enough to be beyond confirmation. It is essential to the effectiveness of an urban legend that it not be subjected to verification. All urban legends that have been studied have been shown to be purely fictional creations.”(Flowers)

The main aim of Urban Legend is to build a “history” for bands. This history often comes in the form of outright lies. Regardless, if a band was able to convince their audience that a fabricated history has some validity to it they gain respect in the scene. This can also come in the form of not creating a history at all.

Mystery has also worked in a marketing sense for people selling Black Metal. In the early 2000s this strategy worked well for Norma Evangelium Diaboli in their successful marketing of Deathspell Omega and the orthodox Black Metal movement.

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Darkthrone’s “Transilvanian Hunger.”
2. Following Black Metal Aesthetics. In the archetypical sense this harkens back to the Satanic Panic of the 1980s which falsely promoted that Satanists were medieval, demonic, murderers and baby killers who indulged in a world wide conspiracy to destroy Christianity. These aesthetics had a far reaching appeal by unstable individuals who both romanced them and used them for their advantage in an attempt to thwart the “evil empire of Satan” from rising up and conquering the planet.

Mayhem had the biggest influence on early Black Metal aesthetics. Infamous Black Metal pioneer Øystein Aarseth aka Euronymous “realized this responsibility that comes with being in a band that has decided to maintain a certain image[…]Aarseth would be a manifestation of the Black Metal aesthetic. He was always dressed in black from head to foot, his hair dyed black for added effect. He sported long aristocratic mustaches and wore knee-high boots. His black leather biker jacket was decorated with badges. His rather slim frame bore the mark of many hours in the gym, but could not hide the fact that his height was hardly imposing. When talking, he seemed stern and serious, sometimes with pomposity verging on the theatrical. He would do his best to maintain this façade towards outsiders and the younger members of the developing scene.” (Moynihan 72)

Satyricon’s contemporary, Darkthrone, had a large influence on the aesthetic of the scene. Their early Black Metal albums followed a strict formula which included black and white covers on their albums, and poor recording values. The catch phrase “True Norwegian Black Metal” was coined by Darkthrone upon the release of their 1994 album “Translivanian Hunger.” This style was extremely popular and has remained the formulaic archetype of which all other Black Metal has been measured.

In an interview from 1997 Front man Satyr is on record saying that Satyricon “musically it’s about working for progression…all the time. To develop as individuals, musicians, but also on an individual basis, and as a band.”

It is no surprise that Satyricon made an effort to continue their progression towards something new and different to separate themselves from a scene that was becoming more and more influenced by each other and the media. They wanted to cause waves, and that wave was called “Rebel Extravaganza.” Satyr shaved his hair and adopted a dirty industrial postmodern image that challenged everything he had contributed to the Black Metal scene prior to that point. He even went so far to attempt a re-branding of their musical style as “Norge,” to help them stand out from the goat-worshipping rabble. In 1999, this was a radical change from the static image so many bands were riding the coattails of. And because it was challenging to the scene to understand, “Rebel Extravaganza” was largely viewed as a betrayal to their roots and still to this day in many circles is a much maligned work of art.

Ketil Sveen writes: “A few years ago, you could record anything and label it Norwegian Black Metal, and it would sell. Today people are far more critical. Shoddily recorded and bad records won’t sell. All musical waves will develop after a while.” (Moynihan 44)

Black Metal, in it’s truest form is about progression, about moving forward, and Satyricon did just that.

Satyricon before their postmodern makeover, 1996 e.v.
Satyricon before their postmodern makeover, 1996 e.v.
“The principal elements of Black Metal in Norway reside as much in belief and outlook as they do in the music itself. There is a considerable berth given toward sonic experimentation as long as certain attitudes are prominently displayed by the musicians. At the same time, there is no set “rule book” to be followed, and the boundaries of the ideology shift as time passes. Such changes are usually effected at the hands of the more important members of the scene, for the genre is in many ways entirely defined by the dramatic personalities who have comprised it–and continue to forge it’s destiny.” (Moynihan 33)

Satyricon became immensely self-aware following the release of “Nemesis Divina.” Sure, they could’ve walked down the same path Slayer has walked down, releasing the same album again and again to great (financial) effect. But they pushed the envelope, and helped to break the Black Metal movement away from the very thing that would’ve eventually made the genre irrelevant. Devourers of stasis and stagnation Satyricon remain among the most relevant artists in the genre today. Who’s to say if they would’ve disappeared into obscurity like so many others had they chose to take the easy way out and record sequel after sequel of the same album over and over again? Luckily we won’t have to find out.

Satyricon during their “Rebel Extravaganza” period. Embracing a postmodern industrial look. 1999 e.v.
“Nemesis Divina” was: “We know who you guys are and what you want to hear.”

“Rebel Extravaganza” was: “We know exactly who we are and what we want to hear.”

Sources:

Darksi, Adam & Mark Eglinton. “Confessions of a Heretic: The Sacred and the Profane: Behemoth and Beyond.” Jawbone Press, 2015. Kindle File.

Flowers, Stephen E. “Lords of the Left Hand Path: Forbidden Practices and Spiritual Heresies.” Bastrop: Lodestar, 2012. Kindle File.

Moynihan, Michael & Didrik Søderlind. “Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground.” Venice: Feral House, 1998. Print.

Satyricon’s “Rebel Extravaganza” as an Antinomian Statement–Breaking Away from the Romancing of Satanic Ritual Abuse in Black Metal