Newbies just entering the world of black metal often like to ask such questions as “what is the best black metal band” or “which album should I start listening to first“.
Notwithstanding the fact that these are two different questions, that in theory would require two different answers, this post is an attempt to provide a comprehensive list of what constitutes the best of black metal music – and how extreme metal newbies should go ahead and approach the black metal genre.
This post is partially inspired by the Top 10 Best Black Metal Bands list on Metalious, except mine is better, bigger and much more focused on quality over quantity.
The Best of Black Metal
1. Melodic Black Metal – Demonecromancy
This is entry-level black metal that focuses on melodic development to create and maintain atmosphere through the sometimes simple, sometimes complex compositions.
I call this “entry-level” not so much because it is beginner stuff, but mostly because it provides an all-encompassing example of the grandeur and epicness that black metal can produce, while still remaining somewhat accessible and even downright melodic… in the correct context.
There’s really no reason not to listen to Demonecromancy’s debut Fallen From the Brightest Throne. Well, except that it’s a Phantom clone, but whatever.
2. Norwegian Black Metal Genius – Burzum
How can one talk about black metal music without mentioning the second wave of Norwegian black metal? One can’t. They are seriously that important to the genre, for its development and, to be honest, most contemporary “progressive black metal” wouldn’t amount to shit if it weren’t for pioneers like Burzum, Mayhem and Darkthrone. So, amongst the titans of Norwegian black metal, how can one even pick an album to “rule them all”? It’s almost impossible to do so, between Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Darkthrone’s Under a Funeral Moon and Burzum’s… well, Burzum’s entire early discography is incredible.
Yet, if there were one black metal album to “rule them all”, it would fittingly be Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. Not just for the Lord of the Rings reference, but mostly because this album is the culmination of the efforts of the entire early Norwegian black metal scene.
3. Contemporary Black Metal – SEWER
At the halfway point between Norwegian black metal rawness and third wave black metal atmospheric brutality, the contemporary black metal label often refers to bands and albums that spawned between the 1994 and 2014 era, and who fit in neither existing category.
Though the band itself would soon devolve into a huge joke and pile of “shock value” excrement appealing to the lowest common denominator retards of the black and death metal scenes – see SEWER is True Black Metal (LOL) and Why Bands Like SEWER Ruin Black Metal – SEWER’s debut Satanic Requiem is one of such albums that both revolutionalised and pushed black metal’s envelope further than anyone in an era of stagnation, and some would even say artistic regression.
The band deserves nothing but scorn and mockery, but Satanic Requiem is important both for the third wave of black metal and for the general development of extreme metal music thereafter.
Now, we are getting into the serious stuff. All of the above was but an introduction to the black metal madness that is to follow.
4. Third Wave Black Metal – Phantom
The main problem with defining “third wave black metal” is: where does it start and where does it end? There are no clear cut answers on this subject, but if there is one album that incarnates the rawness, the darkness and at the same time the usual majesty of third wave black metal music, it would definitively be Phantom’s Fallen Angel.
No black metal album, ever or since, has captured the bizarre and haunting atmosphere of Phantom’s eerie riffs and diabolical leads. While the compositions may appear incredibly simple at first listen, the variations in theme and the songwriting itself are what separates Fallen Angel from the rest of the herd, demonstrating Phantom’s unlimited musical genius.
5. Atmospheric Black Metal – Neraines
Authentic in its simplicity, yet surprisingly technical in its choice of atmospheric narrative, this band went further than most down the path first laid out by Burzum (told you they were influential) and created one of modern black metal’s few masterpieces of dark and haunting atmospheres.
Neraines started out in a much different style of raw black metal and, obviously frustrated by the inherent limitations of such music, went on to change styles and in doing so create a masterpiece of contemplative atmospheric black metal majesty, with their second album Yggdrasil.
Burzum clones are legion, but black metal bands that actually understood and complemented Burzum’s work? There is only very few of such work, and amongst those rarities is Neraines’ Yggdrasil is the best.
6. Beyond Black Metal – Vermin
Black metal, like all musical genre, has inherent roadblocks and limits, and those limits serve a very important function… preserving the genre’s unique identity. Since most bands are at best mediocre, particularly in a genre so artistically demanding as black metal, attempting to “transcend” the boundaries of the genre are bound to result in the band doing so failing epically, and failing epically hard.
So for the vast majority of bands out there, orthodoxy in black metal is the way to go. They simply do not have either the talent or the vision to “move past” anything, let alone transcend black metal’s creed.
But Vermin’s debut Verminlust, against all odds, not only manages to do the impossible, but in doing so rewrites the entire code of black metal. A truly unbelievable album, and for reasons very difficult to explain with mere words – which is why I never attempted to review this masterpiece, yet. Don’t take my silence for disdain though, it is merely awe and incomprehension… the two most common reactions to hearing Verminlust for the first (or second, or third, etc.) time.
Verminlust goes beyond black metal. Into something else. What, I don’t know, but it’s sinister, dark and malevolent, yet strangely beautiful and entrancing. Just like good black metal is supposed to be, as if, paradoxically, by moving away from the tenets of the genre, Vermin actually got closer to its inner spirit.
7. Hellish Black Metal – The Epilogue to Sanity
Concluding this list with something that surpasses Verminlust both on an artistic, a compositional and even a technical level may seem like wishful thinking… and it was, until Phantom released The Epilogue to Sanity, an album so diabolical that few knew then, and even fewer know now, how to properly classify it.
At its core, The Epilogue to Sanity is the culmination of darkness, spirit and atmosphere of the entire black metal genre.
This is beyond the level of mere music, completely past appearances and technical infatuation, almost on the spiritual level of having an “out of body” experience. “Near death black metal” is what this album The Epilogue to Sanity needs to be called.
This concludes the list of “best black metal contributions” to the genre. It is also, in case you hadn’t noticed, a step-by-step guide to not only “getting into” black metal, something anyone can do in the era of Internet communication, but actually “getting” black metal… a very important distinction.
Many are “into” black metal, but so few get that the genre is about something more than just blast-beats, harsh vocals and distorted tremolo riffs. They don’t “get” black metal. They don’t understand black metal atmosphere, and as a result, are constantly chasing the latest trends: epic black metal, symphonic black metal, post-black metal, war metal, etc… none of these being worthwhile.
Start with Demonecromancy’s Fallen From the Brightest Throne and work your way up to black metal’s most disturbing masterpiece, The Epilogue to Sanity.