How to get into black metal


An experienced music listener who is new to black metal asked for a doorway into the genre. This raises the question of how to appreciate black metal, which like most things in life is mostly mental preparation. Without context, black metal seems like any other loud genre, and it becomes harder to distinguish the newer tryhard junk from the original.

The best way to gain context is to walk through the history of the genre from oldest to newest. This approach, common in art, literature and philosophy, allows people to see what developed from what and what the reasoning for that was and therefore, what the reasoning is behind what is here now.

The result of this query was a simple list to urge people to explore this genre further. This list originates in the history of black metal music, but also in influences that can be identified among the bands as immediately relevant. Toward the end it extends more into general conjecture based on what shows up later in highly different form among the black metal works of relevance listed above it.

I. Proto- Metal

  1. Bathory – The Return
  2. Slayer – Hell Awaits
  3. Hellhammer – Apocalyptic Raids
  4. Sodom – Persecution Mania

II. Interim

  1. Sarcofago – INRI
  2. Merciless – The Awakening
  3. Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom
  4. Von – Satanic Blood

III. Black metal

  1. Immortal – Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism
  2. Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
  3. Burzum – Burzum/Aske
  4. Emperor/Enslaved – Split
  5. Darkthrone – Under a Funeral Moon
  6. Beherit – Drawing Down the Moon
  7. Varathron – His Majesty in the Swamp
  8. Havohej – Dethrone the Son of God
  9. Impaled Nazarene – Ugra-Karma
  10. Samael – Worship Him

IV. Second Wave

  1. Gorgoroth – Antichrist
  2. Graveland – The Celtic Winter
  3. Ancient – Svartalvheim
  4. Sacramentum – Far Away From the Sun
  5. Ildjarn – Forest Poetry
  6. Summoning – Dol Guldur
  7. Zyklon-B – Blood Must Be Shed
  8. Gehenna – First Spell
  9. Behemoth – From the Pagan Vastlands

V. Extended Contemporary

  1. Demoncy – Joined in Darkness
  2. Sammath – Godless Arrogance
  3. Mutiilation – Remains of a Ruined, Cursed, Dead Soul
  4. Absurd – Asgardsrei

For immediate death metal background to black metal:

  1. At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
  2. Carnage – Dark Recollections
  3. Godflesh – Streetcleaner

For heavy metal background to black metal:

  1. Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath
  2. Venom – Possessed
  3. Angel Witch – Angel Witch
  4. Destruction/Tormentor – Demos

For hardcore punk background to all metal:

  1. Discharge – Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing
  2. Amebix – No Sanctuary
  3. The Exploited – Death Before Dishonour
  4. Cro-Mags – Age of Quarrel

For electronic music background to underground metal:

  1. Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express
  2. Tangerine Dream – Phaedra

For progressive rock background to metal:

  1. King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King
  2. Yes – Tales from Topographic Oceans
  3. Camel – Camel
  4. Greenslade – Greenslade

For classical background to metal:

  1. Anton Bruckner – Symphony No. 4
  2. Richard Wagner – Tannhäuser
  3. Franz Schubert – Unfinished Symphony
  4. Mozart – Symphony 41
  5. Haydn – Symphony 82
  6. Bach – Partita No. 5 in G major

Burzum – The Ways of Yore


Neoambient gains another stronghold. This genre — constructed of film soundtracks, Dead Can Dance style medievalism, neofolk and dark ambient with some structural ideas from black metal — rose out of the ashes of black metal, with bands like Beherit, Neptune Towers (Darkthrone), Lord Wind (Graveland), Danzig (Black Aria) and Burzum leading. On The Ways of Yore, Burzum integrates organic sounds like vocals and guitar into the cosmic ambient that defined the last album, Sôl austan, Mâni vestan.

The Ways of Yore creates within the same spectrum of music stretching between Dead Can Dance and Tangerine Dream that marked the previous album but with even more of an ambient feel. Songs rely on repetitive patterns with layers of instrumentation and song structures that shift to develop melody or make dramatic contrast enhance the imitation of their subjects. As in ancient Greek drama, poetry and music merge with sole musician Varg Vikernes‘ spoken and sung vocals guiding the progress of keyboard-sample-based music. Melodies refer to each other across the length of the album through similarity and evoke themes from past albums, culminating in “Emptiness” which previously made itself known as “Tomhet” on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, the album that ended black metal by raising the bar above what others could imitate.

Somber moods prevail throughout this work which mixes melancholy with a sense of reverence for the past. Hearing Varg sing and develop harmonies with his voice shows room for expansion by this creative musician who previously let the guitars do the talking. Guitars show up on later tracks, distorted in the shuddering but mid-tone texture that gave Filosofem its otherworldly sound. Even though songs begin with simple note clusters, they expand to full melodies which match to a cadence and regulate atmosphere. The result demands attention through its conquest of empty space with the barest of sounds but over time reaches an intensity of expectation that resembles a ritual.

What makes people love neoambient is that it obliterates the pace of modernity and replaces it with a reverent, transcendental atmosphere. Burzum takes an approach that aims at a sound older than medieval, a primeval cave-dwelling primitivism that strips away the pretenses of developed culture. Its striking Nordic imagery, including songs to Odinn and Freyja, add to this mystery and the Burzum mythos as a whole. Escaping black metal, while controversial, granted Vikernes a chance to explore the development of melody in silence, and the result serves to expand atmosphere beyond our age to something that is both ancient and futuristic.