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Black Metal History

Those of the Unlight: A Black Metal History Primer (1990 – 1993)

The gulf between Mayhem's seminal Deathcrush EP in 1987 and their first proper full length in 1994 was an industrious but often low key period in the genre's ascendance.

The gulf between Mayhem's seminal Deathcrush EP in 1987 and their first proper full length in 1994 was an industrious but often low key period in the genre's ascendance.

– 1991 –

The last Abruptum release to feature to feature All on vocals, the It-led duo would go on to far more experimental pastures two years later with Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectère Me, their first full length featuring two side-long compositions.

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This track was actually recorded for Beherit's 1990 demo, Demonomancy, but not widely circulated until the 1991 compilation The Oath of Black Bloodwas released pseudo-officially by Turbo Music. Little of this early material would re-recorded for later studio albums, so in spite of the band's objections to Turbo releasing the material the collection is widely esteemed among black metal fans as an early classic of the rawer end of the genre.


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Dissection weren't around long but they sure managed to cast a long shadow over the black metal genre. Unlike a lot of the Scandinavian black metal bands whose entire ethos was centered around the rejection of death metal, Dissection's Jon Nödtveidt never shied too far away from it, freely mixing the rhythms and melodic elements of death metal into his influential black metal sound. These first two demos demonstrate those shifting allegiances, with The Grief Prophecy in particular demonstrating a strong affinity for death meatl.



If there were a "Big Four" of Norwegian black metal, Immortal would unquestionably be among their elite ranks. While a little unpolished compared to later efforts, the Immortal EP stacks up as a solid attempt to separate the cacophony of the individual instruments rather than deliberately mesh them all together, as was common at the time.

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Master's Hammer are, like Root, early black metal entries from the Czech Republic, a country that did not unfortunately turn out to be a hotbed for the genre in spite of these two important progenitors. Unlike RootMaster's Hammer were more firmly within the stylistic boundaries of their Norwegian counterparts from the time of debut album Ritual in 1991, although they had been building up to this level of craftsmanship since their first demo in 1987, notable as the year Mayhem released their classic Deathcrush EP as well.


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Though not released until 1996, Out from the Dark represents Mayhem's last recorded rehearsal with Dead in 1991. Basically for completist's only, documented here more for the immense influence Dead had over the genre than any inherent essentialness.


Old Funeral: included, like the 1990 entry, solely as an early reference point for later Burzum frontman Varg Vikernes' participation on  guitar, Old Funeral were strictly a death metal band that Vikernes would generally tend to speak of dismissively later, when he bothered to acknowledge them at all.


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1991 found Root no more advanced in terms of actual brutality, with a lot of the guitar work sticking close to thrash and death metal (not unlike Japan's Sabbat) but Big Boss' unearthly vocals were too far beyond either of those genres to dismiss the band's music as black metal, even if ignorance of the outside world prevented Boss and company of adhering to any Northern ordthodoxy even if they'd wanted to.


Rotting Christ have given us a lot of looks over the years, with shades of goth, doom and even prog metal popping up here and there throughout their discography, but 1991's Passage to Arcturo finds them in the more well-known guise as pioneers of Greek black metal. Their later symphonic/progressive leanings are already foreshadowed here on "The Forest of N'Gai".


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Gezol's  vocals were always the main element that set Sabbat (Japan) apart as a black metal band rather than just a sloppy thrash ensemble, but one listen to 1991's Envenom and you can see how these guys might have been a prevailing influence on half of the current Hell's Headbangers roster. Future albums would see the band drift in and out of varying mixture of thrash and black metal, not all of which are compatible with this column.


Samael were one of the first erstwhile black metal bands to abandon their former sound for one in the electronic vein, but before the industrial keyboards took over they recorded a pair of bona fide black metal classics, starting with Worship Him.


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Thorns are one of the great "lost" bands of the Norwegian second wave. Centering around Black Circle affiliate Snorre Ruch, the band's earliest incarnation briefly boasted Bard G. "Faust" Eithun on his way to greatness with Emperor a year or so later. Long heralded by Fenriz of Darkthrone of having a lasting impact on the early sound of black metal, the band's first demo, Grymyrk, bears an odd, intensely distorted instrumental template longer on sustained, buzzsaw guitar riffs than blast beats… indeed, the 26-minute recording consists entirely of just bass and drums!


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