It’s one of those esoteric questions that wanders in and out of the mind without a quick Google search to offer a definite solution. But today it dawned on me that if I don’t try to find an answer, it’s unlikely any one else will do a decent job at doing so. And given the fact that deathmetal.org is the number one site that comes up when you Google “death metal news,” I believe we have a journalistic duty to present the world with this information.
Since where to draw the line on what’s “true” death metal or not is a matter of opinion moreso than concrete fact, I determined that anything labeled “death metal” would be fair game whether it truly was a pure death metal band or not. Therefore I’d consider melodic death metal, black metal, and even deathcore in an effort to find who had conquered the greater sphere of death metal.
Unfortunately, the Nielsen record sale tracking data is not public and often does not identify how well an album has sold for many years after its release. Thus, I determined that the most accurate metric for mining this data would be to measure by Facebook likes. Yes, I know it’s not an exact science- many fans aren’t on Facebook, and many people click a band’s like button without really listening to them. But still, it was as good as I would ever get to finding who the most popular band in the greater bounds of “death metal” truly was.
I expected to see the favorites of the 90’s metal press and MTVX dominate- Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Decide, Death, and probably In Flames take the number 1 spot. Imagine my shock, that only one of these bands even cracked the top 5! I had always heard about Morbid Angel and Deicide had the highest album sales, but it appears neither band has been able to conquer the internet age.
So again, this list was populated within very forgiving boundaries (bands loosely considered death metal, whether or not I believed them to be), and the best metric I could come up with. Also, DO NOT FUCKING EVEN THINK OF CONFUSING THIS AS BEING A LIST OF THE BEST DEATH METAL- IT IS QUITE THE OPPOSITE!!! And finally, if there are any bands you think I missed please let me know in the comments below and I will gladly do a live update and give you credit- maybe.
Without further ado, here is – for the first time in history – a list of the most popular bands that people considered to be death metal, and an explanation to why I would endure the immense visceral hatred for even considering them:
When a band is accused of “selling out,” the first instinct most people have is to attack the definition of that phrase. In reality, “selling out” is easily delineated: changing your music/art/writing to reflect what the audience expects.
In metal, selling out usually consists of making the music happier, simpler, less tormented and more pretentious. This allows the people who are dedicated to not noticing anything real about their world to listen to it and have it confirm their existing bias that the best course in life will be to “keep on keeping on” by shopping, voting, bragging at the water cooler, watching television, eating fast food and otherwise being oblivious to everything.
Selling out can be compared to the difference between a home-grilled hamburger and a fast food burger. The home-grilled burger uses real meat, spiced and cooked with care, and does not look elegant but is a good balance of taste and nutrition. The fast food burger is made from ground-up bits of animals, filled out with soybeans and sugar, and most people prefer it because it tastes more like candy and nutrition, lol.
When a metal band sells out, it makes the conscious decision to alter its music to appeal to some audience. This can include an “outsider” audience that only likes ultra-lofi two-chord bands, or the usual meaning, where the music gets closer to big radio pop. When metal bands sell out, they damage metal by bringing in all the stuff metal tried to escape in the first place.
These five albums represent some of the worst sellouts in metal history.
At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul
The first At the Gates album took our breath away. A weird mix of metal, folk, progressive and classical, it achieved an idiosyncratic voice of its own the way early death metal was prone to do. Then the band faltered, losing a key member and recording albums that did not feel with albums. Suddenly, this new album burst onto the scene and the old school death metal heads rushed forward to find… the exact opposite of what made this band great. Instead of inventive death metal, Slaughter of the Soul brought a warmed-over version of Metallica Ride the Lightning that had been given the Swedish melodic metal treatment. Songs swung easily with simple melodies that would have fit better in a television commercial or schoolyard song, and song structures fit an entirely predictable mold. Nothing challenged the listener; everything was sweetened, like biting into a hot glazed donut with extra icing. It made you feel icky inside, as if you had just been assimilated by the vast mass of people in modern culture who forcibly ignore any incoming ideas which do not fit into their own ego-worship and denial. However, the album was a stunning commercial success and inspired the metalcore movement, in which post-At the Gates band The Haunted applied this template to late hardcore and created a whole new audience.
Metallica – Metallica
When metalheads first heard “One” on the radio, the general sentiment was worry. We all knew of the temptation of radio metal where bands toured in luxury buses and got loads of cocaine, chicks and fast cars. But …And Justice For All had its musical moments despite the awful rock-style drumming and simplified catchy songs, so the hope was that Metallica had gotten it out of their system. Then came the self-titled monstrosity. The first hint was the choice of eponymous name late in the career of Metallica, which suggested a break with the past. Then, the new logo: silver foil-embossed, stylized and slick. Then we heard “Enter Sandman” on the radio and fears were realized. Gone were the complex song structures and innovative riffs, but the use of melodic composition on guitar persisted from …And Justice For All, albeit in a form that fit well into the MTV lineup. Songs backed away from topics that might unsettle people into fairy tales about fears and personal drama, including the rage drama that Pantera was making famous. Metallica fans hung their heads, neatly folded their tshirts and put them at the back of the drawer, and covered their tattoos with black bars. Metallica had finally sold out.
Death – Individual Thought Patterns
As the 1990s progressed, death metal emerged as the clear next big thing. This came after nearly a decade of the music industry denying its existence, mocking it, and doing their best to conceal it. A number of them made overtures: if you could just drop the scary alienation, anger and post-human view of the world, maybe The Industry would work for you like it did for the Crue, AC/DC, etc. At this point, Chuck Schuldiner of Death was putting a lot of effort into making himself the founding father of death metal, and he fired his previous band for a mostly new group who came up with a heavy metal/death metal hybrid. That alone would have been bad, but what was worse was that he changed the music artistically as well as stylistically. The rage at a numb, callous and selfish world was replaced with personal drama, overplayed public compassion, and the kind of hollow rage that people sitting in air-conditioned homes direct at a world that “just doesn’t understand me.” Even worse, the music itself became saccharine. The wild lion of death metal became a neutered animal dependent on daily feedings of peer group approval. Not surprisingly, people loved it then and hardly mention it now.
Morbid Angel – Domination
After the public hounding that Ilud Divinum Insanus received, most fans forgot the previous great Morbid Angel disappointment that essentially fragmented the band. Thousands of death metal bands languishing in obscurity perked up when they saw Far Beyond Driven flirt with Exhorder-styled extreme metal and still make hordes of money. In the timeless and impeccably insane logic of record labels, it was suggested that death metal bands take the same route even though it would mean abandoning their fans and yet not being able to fully dumb down enough for the brocore generation. Morbid Angel came out with this disaster of a fourth album in order to try to bridge the gap and ended up (predictably) failing both. Where previous Morbid Angel albums showed inventive songs, Domination featured one interesting riff per song slowed down and mated with another couple of sludgy, partially doomy, and unforgivably bouncy Pantera-styled riffs. To accommodate the injection of nonsense into death metal songs, Morbid Angel broke them down into simpler songs that resembled the happy go lucky “beer metal” songs of the past: verse-chorus, chanty foot-tapping title of song repeated, and an artistic outlook which more resembled wounded anger than any kind of delving toward a hidden truth. After this album, the band fell apart and reconstituted itself in new forms, trying to recapture some vein of composition that might appeal to lots of MTV-reprogrammed listeners and yet still be death metal. Much like Bigfoot and the perpetual motion machine, it might be out there somewhere, but as of yet Morbid Angel has not found it.
Dimmu Borgir – Enthrone Darkness Triumphant
As soon as black metal hit the newsstands with stories of church arson and murder, record company stooges devoted many hours of thought to the simple question of how they could re-package it for the Hot Topic kids. Dimmu Borgir found the first workable solution with Enthrone Darkness Triumphant which mixed mall-goth, Cradle of Filth, and carnival music to come up with a style that reveled in its own randomness and made its listeners feel profound for having picked up an incoherent but inscrutable mess. The lush keyboards of mainstream Gothic dance music mixed with the darker rhythms of Nine Inch Nails and guitar influences from rock/metal/rap hybrids in order to interrupt the occasional black metal riff so it never came to fruition. The result became the artistic equivalent of a pop tart: thin bread crust around mystery ingredients mixed with sugar. Naturally, people loved it because it allowed them to “be black metal” (ist krieg!) without leaving behind the same digestible pap they had been swallowing for years under the rock banner. But the CDs seemed to fly out of stores, and black metal fans changed from lonely dissidents to bloated mall denizens looking for a new thrill to blot out the days of tedium as they tried to pretend they wanted to even be alive. Even more importantly, this album opened the door to “black metal” as a container for whatever you wanted to throw in it, which made the truly dark hearts of the record company execs jump with joy and visions of bank transfers.
Image: would you trust a cigarette company with marijuana? Most likely, they would do to it what they did to tobacco, which is remove variety in flavor and replace it with innocuous but consistent brand-perfect sensations.
Early death metal (Bathory, Slayer, Hellhammer, Sodom, Master) emerged as an aggregate of the past, comprised of speed metal (Metallica, Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Testament, Megadeth), late hardcore (Cro-Mags, Amebix, Discharge, The Exploited, GBH), classic heavy metal (Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead) and thrash (DRI, COC, Cryptic Slaughter). As a result, most death metal bands exhibited some tendencies more than others, although the founding early death metal bands tended toward the type of tremolo-powered phrase-based riffing exemplified by Slayer.
For example, Deicide on its second album Legion arguably made the album that …And Justice For All wanted to be, with lots of choppy percussive riffing forming intricate textures from which a melody emerged. Early Master sounded more like a punk band with its simple song structures and emphasis on droning, protest-like vocals. Second-wave death metal like Death and Possessed had a tendency to apply speed metal song structures and riff styles. Even advanced death metal like Pestilence often sounded like a more technical and complex version of early speed metal.
But focusing on death metal requires we look at what was unique to it. Getting past the vocals and the intensity, what distinguishes it musically is its use of that tremolo-strummed phrasal riff. This in turn forced bands to escape from riffs integrated strictly with drums, and to as a result put more riffs into the song to drive changes that previous would have been done by the drums. That in turn forced bands to make those riffs fit together, what Asphyx call “riff-gluing,” so that songs avoided the “riff salad” plague that captured later speed metal.
These bands exploded onto the world from 1983-1985, inspired in part by Discharge’s Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing which hit the ground in 1982. Slayer in particular stitched together classic heavy metal and ambient hardcore like Discharge and GBH and ended up with its particular formulation, taking the tremolo and riffs independent of drums from Discharge and matching them to the complex proggy structures of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden with Motorhead speed and aggression. This was what launched death metal free from the shadow of speed metal, which was the first metal genre to break out of underground status despite being — for the time — fast, aggressive and dark.
If you want to get to the core of death metal, these albums might help. They’re albums I keep returning to year after year because they have enough complexity and that unquantifiable quality of having purpose and being expressive, perhaps even emulating the life around them and converting it into a beast of mythological quality, which makes them interesting each time I pick them up. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the players….
Slayer – Show No Mercy
While Hell Awaits has more expert composition, South of Heaven better control of mood and melody, and Reign in Blood more pure rhythmic intensity, Show No Mercy captures Slayer flush with the fervor of youth and the belief in big concepts. As a result, it is an intensity mystical album, uniting a narrative about war between good and evil with the actions of people on earth. It is not like Hell Awaits more solidly situated in a single mythology, nor like Reign in Blood and after an attempt to explore the dark side of modern existence in a literal sense. Instead, it is a flight of imagination mated to an apocalyptic vision of a society crumbling from within. As a result it is musically the most imaginative of Slayer albums, creating grand constructions of visions of worlds beyond that stimulate the fantasy dwelling within our otherwise obedient minds.
Massacra – Enjoy the Violence
Another early album in very much the style of Slayer but with intensity cranked to the ceiling, Enjoy the Violence shows a band intent on conveying intense energy through their music. To do this, they rely on not only near-constant breakneck speed but also vivid contrasts between the types of riffs that are used in a song, welding a rich narrative from riffs that initially seem simple like the scattered twisted bits of metal left after a battle. The result is closer to epic poem that punk music and blows conventional heavy metal and speed metal out of the water with the sense of unbridled aggression and lust for life that surges through its passages. In addition, it carries on the mythological tradition of Slayer but adds a Nietzschean spin whereby constant war for supremacy and domination is the only path not only to victory, but to personal integrity.
Morbid Angel – Abominations of Desolation
Most prefer the more refined versions of these songs from Altars of Madness and Blessed Are the Sick, but my ear favors these nuanced and unsystematic detail-heavy songs which feature more of a blending of textures into what sounds like a communication from another world heard underwater or through the croaking voice of a medium. Trey Azagthoth’s solos were best when he used his half-whole step leaps to make solos that sounded like the creation of gnarly sculptures, and these songs powered by Mike Browning’s drums and voice have more of an organic jauntiness to them than the later mechanistic tanks-crushing-the-shopping-mall sound of the full albums. In addition, this combination of songs strays from the later more interruption-based riffing this band would attempt and instead brings out their inner desire to rip all ahead go at all times, creating a suspension of reality like war itself.
Incantation – Onward to Golgotha
When the idea comes to mind of death metal at its essence, this album will be mentioned because it creates a sound unlike anything else. Incantation took the Slayer riff and song formula and slowed it down, doubled the complexity, and focused on alternating tempos and riff styles to create a building mood of immersive darkness. The result was not only aggressive, but melancholic and contemplative, like a warrior looking out over an abandoned bullet-pocked city. Detuned riffs collide and deconstruct one another, resulting in a sound like the inexorable flow of black water through underground caverns as civilizations collapse above. This rare group of musicians achieved a triumph here that none have been able to repeat individually, suggesting this album was born of a magic confluence of ideas more than a process (ham sandwiches on a conveyor belt).
Carnage – Dark Recollections
If you want “the Swedish sound” at its most powerful, Dark Recollections offers every component synthesized into a package that has not yet had time to become self-critical and neurotic, and thus is an unfettered expression of the thoughts of precocious adolescents translated into sound. The components of Swedish death metal are the modified d-beat, the use of melody to expand song development, a gritty electric explosion of guitar sound, and a tendency to write songs that are half searing budget riff and half horror movie sound track.
Sepultura – Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation
The first EP in this two-EP package is the more classic death metal version and packs a solid blast of inventive riffcraft staged with theatrical precision into songs that form narratives of the topics denoted in their titles. But the riffs are instant creations of their own, shaped from raw chromaticism and whipped into fury by two levels of rhythm, both in the change of chords and the texturing of the sounding of them. The result owes quite a bit to Slayer, Bathory and Hellhammer, but also to the punk hardcore underlying those acts and a good knowledge of dark metal of the time, and yet is still its own animal. Nothing sounds like this except it, and by giving itself a unique voice, it conjures a power of revelation that endows these songs with lasting enjoyment for the listener.
Like most of you, I experience a prevalence of dual-use time in my life. That is, I have to be here at the computer doing something, but like most things in “mature” “adult” “responsible” society it takes half a brain at best, so I put on some tunes and shift most of my brain and mind that way.
Originally, back in the dire proto-technological days of the 1980s, we had to manually throw on an LP, CD or cassette to hear music. Otherwise, there was the radio, but there wasn’t as much choice there. Radio was both the last resort, and a way to hear new music. It served a sacred role in the latter and could be an event in its role as the former.
If the rare metal show in your area showed up only one night a week, that became party night while you and your buddies checked in for the weekly connection to the world of metal. Sometimes, it was just for fun. It was easier to let someone else DJ and pick the tunes, and if the price you had to pay was every third tune being a stinker, no big deal.
Then in the late 1990s, people started getting crazy with the multi-disc changers. Now you could have five or six discs in rotation and just let them roll. Put in what you wanted, throw it on repeat, and listen for three hours or longer. I used to put my Harmon-Kardon on shuffle repeat and bathe people in music of disparate form but similar content, which created an immersive wave of exploration in that topic.
But it all changed with broadband and the evolution of the MP3 codec. When we launched our radio station back in 1997, the Frauhnofer MP3 codec we used was really excellent. But since that time, innovations have occurred in variable bit rate, compression and sound dynamics that add on to that strong basis. Now MP3s are a better delivery mechanism than tape and, given adjustments for physical electronics degrading sound, almost as good as CD.
Listening to music via MP3 was different however. Generally, you saved a ton of MP3 files to some directory on your Winchester disk. Then you pitched those into a playlist and started somewhere. The player would, like a merciless harvester of ears, keep going until you told it to stop. So it was more like tuning into a radio station whose playlist you chose, but one which favored sequential albums. You could also randomize.
The problem with this style of listening — as you’ve guessed, doubtless, being the intelligent reader — is that it’s autopilot. Want to listen to Slayer? With two clicks you’ve launched everything beginning with “S,” and then the playlist begins again when it runs out of those. You can conceivably keep your entire record collection streaming in the background.
However that loss of choice can be disturbing. You’re no longer choosing to listen to something past the first choice. You get caught up in the playlist. If you randomize, it’s only a little bit better. In the end, it’s like radio without the human intervention of the DJ, and takes power away from you.
This is why I’ve come to enjoy YouTube. It’s like putting an LP on the record player more than anything else. I think of an album; I type the name and “full album” (LOL search engines) into YouTube, and up pops a version of it. I hit play, and sit back and listen to it. But then comes the magic: when it’s done, it’s done. I have to manually, physically and deliberately choose another piece of music or sit in silence.
In this, I get the best of both worlds. The (nostalgia aside) beauty of choice, where you have to walk to the shelves, think of an album, find it according to your filing system, and then manually put it on the player. And yet, the promise of digital technology and convenience of MP3s: no record you can scratch, no CD you can fumble, no cassette to entangle. The two are united by typing that search into the YouTube site.
There’s some ethical issues of course. I’d be happier if all bands posted official full albums so I could kick them the $0.02 per play that YouTube pays. In the end, that might pay more than traditional record contracts; I don’t know. Most bands don’t seem to care, as many of us using YouTube are doing so in places where we can’t bring our record collections, like work, friends’ houses, church, missile silo, etc.
But at the end of the day, what really matters about music is preserving the magic. That sense that behind the next corner, something amazing lurks. A buried treasure; an undiscovered secret. An explosion of imagination, or emotion, or even pure logical calculation. That life is ongoing, and infinite, and we’ll always find something new to quest after.
Ultimately, this is what makes YouTube compelling. It requires a choice. There is no constant rolling playlist. I must go to the site, type in the band name and album name, and start the process. This makes me the person in charge who then rapidly loses control as the music sweeps over me. This is the experience of listening, and in this sense, YouTube brings back the beauty of the LP with the convenience of the iPod.
Most people place the birth of black and death metal somewhere between Venom’s first album Welcome to Hell (1981) and Bathory’s third full-length Under the Sign of the Black Mark (1987). The exact moment of divergence from ancestors depends on the speaker’s level of metal puritanism and their favorite albums are from that era, and can sometimes seem a trivial dichotomy. Moot though it may be, my pick for the first discernible piece of death/black metal music is also, more importantly, the moment at which metal realizes it can be more than just warmed-over rock music.
Tom Warrior and co will forever be canonised in the metal pantheon for the early Hellhammer and Celtic Frost releases, which collectively shaped the sound of metal in a way that is only really matched by Slayer (who were probably influenced by Hellhammer in their change of sound between Show no Mercy and Haunting the Chapel). The first couple of Hellhammer demos however were only really third rate crust punk/Venom rip off played by three young guys who didn’t really know what they were doing. With the third demo and the introduction of Martin Ain to the writing team though, Hellhammer began introducing ideas that weren’t immediately noticed or appreciated by the rest of the world, prompting the band to less than twelve months later reconstitute itself as Celtic Frost and spend most of the next three decades trying to bury the Hellhammer name and the material associated with it.
Many of the tracks on Satanic Rites are in much the same vein as the first two demos, although better played and with greater surety about the morbid chromatic rock riffs. However, with “Buried and Forgotten,” and to a slightly lesser extent “Triumph of Death,” there is a real ‘eureka’ moment. Verse-chorus-verse, single groove writing gives way to longer structures that piece together like musical jigsaw puzzles, reminiscent of the best moments of Black Sabbath made more twisted and involving. The grimmer, more elemental, less blues-rocky riffs of Hellhammer also hint at emergent melodic shapes, whose detail unfurls piecemeal over the course of the track.
“Buried and Forgotten” for a little over two and half minutes builds one riff atop another towards an emotional plateau, each one referencing some element (however small) of the one that preceded it. The rest of the track then recombines and repeats all the material amassed over the course of the opening part, changing the order of and implied relationship between riffs. All except one slightly dodgy contrasting riff towards the end (which stands out by a mile), is built out of the same basic pool of ideas, and so each can be moved about and fit back together again as they are and create a neat, logical song structure.
This streamlined song-writing mentality also filters down quite brilliantly into the track “Messiah,” which is probably the most well-known, heavily covered Hellhammer song, and a borderline genius exercise in metal song-writing fundamentalism. Effectively the entire song is crafted out of one interval (the space between two notes, denoting their relationship to each other): a minor 2nd (or semitone), the smallest interval in regular Western music. Everything from the ponderous two-note verse riff, to the creeping chorus motif of four descending consecutive semitones, to the brief bridge section made up of the same rumbling low E that drives the verse and a major 7th above that (which, deceptively, is just an inversion of a minor 2nd, and so basically the same note relationship as nearly everything that has come before it in the song).
All of a sudden the focus shifted from form (and the resulting dramatic arc it creates) as something that comes from solely juxtaposing contrasting elements, to something that can grow out of only a tiny number of ideas, and through clever variation and development can became something much more journey-like. This makes this music unlike rock, jazz and more recent false-metal, and more like a Beethoven symphony or a Bach fugue. Needless to say, I’m not suggesting for a moment that Hellhammer is equal to the work of Bach. What I am saying however is that both classical music and the more inspired moments of this demo proceed from a similar sort of underlying sense of elegance in developing things methodically out of smaller details into bigger, consistent ideas.
The version of “Triumph of Death” on this demo is inferior to the one on Apocalyptic Raids (which has, surely, one of the greatest metal vocal performances anywhere, ever) and as far as Celtic Frost/Hellhamer goes my favourite work is probably To Mega Therion. Still, it’s hard to understate just how important this demo and the ideas it set in motion are to all of the metal that has followed it. Underground metal not only became scarier, heavier and less po-faced after Hellhammer, but from this demo (and the Celtic Frost/Hellhammer works that followed it) metal inherited a paradigm that enabled the construction of more complex, distinctive songs and would come to define underground metal.
As many acknowledge, metal is very much the devil’s music. It is obsessed with social rejection, the occult, the power of nature, warfare, death, killing, disease, horror and ancient ways.
When you pick up your average heavy metal record, it is the exact opposite of the message of good, which is that we can make a perfect society where raw power doesn’t rule and where everyone is accepted.
In the world of metal, all the best laid plans of mice and men go awry in the worst possible ways. There is no perfection to society, or humankind. It is warfare and predation, red in tooth and claw, fighting it out to the end.
For this reason, metal has exhibited a fascination with Satan since its earliest days. Where the blues showed a belief in Satan’s power to help individuals, metal went elsewhere and portrayed Satan as an active metaphysical force affecting us all. As time went on, that viewpoint went from fearful (“War Pigs”) to an outright endorsement.
As one writer noted:
He asked me if I worshipped “the Devil,” looking at my iPod’s screen, where the gloriously disgusting cover of Cannibal Corpse’s The Wretched Spawn was displayed…
After shooting him a sideways glance that I hoped would be conveyed as Satanic, I thoughtfully sipped my Jack Daniels. Then I leaned in closely, asked if my black nail polish gave me away, and added that, duh, everyone who listens to metal — especially chicks –practice secret Satanic rituals that work best with the blood of an unsuspecting male. – “Is Heavy Metal Really The Devil’s Music?” by Lauren Wise, Phoenix New Times, July 23, 2012
The article goes on to have a balanced view of the metal equation, in which some newer material that is pro-Jesus gets some airplay. However, the lingering question remains… isn’t the majority of metal evil? Doesn’t the exception prove the rule?
To that end, we present the most blasphemous metal we can assemble so that you, too, might enjoy the blessings of evil:
Slayer – Altar of Sacrifice
Back in the 1980s, when Tipper Gore and her big-hair people ruled the censorship committees, this song seemed designed to fit into their worst fantasies. Its lyrics read like a Satanic ritual and its sound dwarfed anything else on the record store shelf.
Beherit – Lord of Shadows and Goldenwood
This album opens with a recited text from the Church of Satan, and then launches into some of the most primitive and evil-sounding metal ever created. This particular song hails the dark lord in a manner that by being mystical and metaphorical is almost more threatening than direct assaults.
Hellhammer – Satanic Rites
Three proto-black metal bands founded the genre: Bathory, Sodom and Hellhammer. Slayer gets some credit for technique as well, bypassing Venom who were fundamentally a heavy metal band and not really black metal in any distinctive way. Of these, Hellhammer came up with the best tribute to Satan ever invented. Obey the ritual!
Darkthrone – In the Shadow of the Horns
No list would be complete without the band who inscribed “As Wolves Among Sheep We Have Wandered” and “Darkthrone is for all the evil in man” on their early albums and claimed to be the most hated band in the world. One of the best bands in the world, if you ask me, and filled with delicious hatred for goodness.
Demoncy – Impure Blessings
If you are curious as to what it will sound like when Satan takes possession of earth, this song should tell you. Occult lyrics combine with a sound like an ineffable mechanical devourment of earth itself by forces opposed to all goodness and beauty.
Deicide – (Discography)
We could write several articles about which Deicide albums or songs are the most blasphemous, but it really is splitting hairs. From their eponymous debut to their last great album, Once Upon the Cross, this band blasted Jesus with hatred and mocked God, proclaiming Satan’s order on earth. The only reason they might not be qualified as evil is that they probably drove hordes of people to church in horror.
Blasphemy – Ritual
The Satanic Skinheads from Ross Bay brought us this disturbed homage to Satan and evil ritual. You can imagine a cemetery desecration and the broken wings of angels scattered across a dystopian wasteland, while elegant fragments of music from a more orderly time fade out on the toxic wind.
Mayhem – Life Eternal
This song smashes the idea of a pleasant afterlife with its image of eternal death. Although it does not mention God, Jesus, angels, etc. by name, it does refute the theories of these notions with a darker and more unforgiving concept.
Von – Satanic Blood
Apocalyptic evil emerges in this song that sounds like an air raid alarm being played over the chants of those who would destroy this world for Satan. Possibly one of the most minimalistic black metal bands ever, Von influenced others with its droning call to blasphemy.
Hypocrisy – God is a Lie
Threatening to choke the life out of God with their own hands, Sweden’s Hypocrisy launched into a tirade of righteous anger that has few comparisons in the world of music. This is the wrath of anti-god and it affirms that metal truly is the devil’s music.
Samael – Into the Pentagram
Named after a demon whose name is supposedly the key that unlocks the death of God, Swiss evil metal slingers Samael unleashed a torrent of occult and mystical works that refute the Bible and the best wishes of its minions. This particular track seemed custom-cut to delight those who relish apostasy.
Unleashed – For They Shall be Slain
No list of blasphemies in metal would be complete without this Viking explanation of how the Christian invaders must be destroyed and cut down where they stand. This is blasphemous, but more importantly, it’s a call to war that many heeded and still more are appreciating.
Burzum – Lost Wisdom
No assault on God would be complete without a litany of the sins of the Christians and the philosophical crisis brought on by dualistic monotheism. In this short hymn, murderer and fervent anarcho-nationalist Varg Vikernes encourages us to remember how Christianity displaced knowledge into symbols and cut out actual experience of life. It’s less rage and more an unsettling sense of deep opposition.
Havohej – Weeping in Heaven
Sounding like rebel angels who picked up instruments casually scattered around Hell in order to wax lyrical about the joys of evil, Havohej oppose all that religion and good bring with it. I vomit on God’s child!
…and last but not least…
Bathory – The Return of Darkness and Evil
Not many people understand the profundity of this song’s undoing of the Revolution that brought us goodness and light. It posits a world outside the well-intentioned order of the church and its humanist allies in which predation, war and violence rule the day instead of morality. After a millennium of trying for Utopia and creating dystopia, Bathory argues, we should return to the primitive ways before consciousness of morality, as those had better results. Unsettling.
What to take away from this all?
First, metal is the devil’s music. Even if you were Christian, like Slayer’s Tom Araya, you would want to make music that sounded evil and opposed the do-gooder notion of a moral order. Metal is not protest music, but it is discontent music, and discontent of a type that affirms all the fears humans have of life outside our social and moral order.
Next, Satan has some killer tunes.
Finally, it makes sense to look at metal in a historical context. See if the following description makes any sense to you:
Romantic poets cultivated individualism, reverence for the natural world, idealism, physical and emotional passion, and an interest in the mystic and supernatural. Romantics set themselves in opposition to the order and rationality of classical and neoclassical artistic precepts to embrace freedom and revolution in their art and politics. – “A Brief Guide to Romanticism” by the Academy of American Poets
Many of the themes that rock throughout metal would be at home in Coleridge, Blake, Milton, Goethe and Wordsworth. Like Romantic poets, metal struggles with the new world order that came about in the 1700s based on the Enlightenment. In this order, the morality of the herd was at its full power and it used the Church as its shield and justification.
And like metal, they rebelled against it then, much as blasphemy echoes the halls of rock now when metalheads compose their micro-symphonies to Satan and hymns of praise for evil.
Many have expressed emotions of extreme shock and awe after discovering the explicitly Christian lyrics and aesthetics of my newest album, Deus Vult. How could I, the former singer/songwriter of New Jersey’s most popular Satanic band, find God and religion after 15 years of playing in bands with misanthropic, anti-Christian themes? What would cause a complete 180 degree change in lifestyle, a complete about-face in world view? And why would I recklessly proclaim such a change in heart to a world of black and death metal that would so surely respond in confusion, mockery, and utter malice?
To even consider the answers requires a great deal of courage and intellect, as most in the world of extreme metal have extensively conditioned themselves to the idea that metal, in all of its rebelliousness, is the antithesis to Christianity. But since the spirit of metal is one that has historically challenged authority and convention in a quest for deeper truth, those who truly understand its foundation will not cower from the mere suggestion of radical thought. And to those to I can assure that a long quest for logic and wisdom has unexpectedly led me at the foot of the upright cross. Not only did this provide happiness and fulfillment for the first time, but the foundation for meaning and purpose that many metalheads are currently in a vast search for.
In an attempt to explain as objectively as I can, this is how I came to embrace Christianity as my faith, and what it meant for my relationship with metal music.
Cash grab alert! After giving the classic board room “fuck you” to cornerstone musician Abbath, the corporate conglomerate of Demonaz and Horgh have secured the legal rights to the band name “Immortal” and are now positioned to promptly squeeze their fans to blindly buy music and merch advertised as that of a Norwegian black metal legend. Although the pair have only played together on one album out of 12, they’re billing this as “the comeback of Immortal!” and have already gotten the infamously money-hungry Nuclear Blast records to set up the most overused rock n’ roll ponzi scheme.
Together, the pair have released a new song “Northern Chaos Gods,” the title/intro track of their first foray into commercialized rehash. So how did the miraculous (fake?) recovery of Demonaz’s tendonitis work out? Exactly how far into the waters of retro-rehash did the band wonder? Have they evolved even the slightest as musicians or do they remain forever trapped in the 90’s? As trust fund life-dropouts living in the woods at the expense of their family might say: