Black metal is a term that is so much more expansive than most listeners realize. Whereas clone bands have led many to believe that the majority of black metal bands are more or less alike, the true greats of the past and present are, of course, characterized by highly distinctive voices. The pioneering legend Vicotnik told Vice: "I think all the early '90s bands were originals. None of them sounded vaguely similar… For my generation of musicians, plagiarism was the greatest sin, while a unique style showed traits of self-reliance and individualism." In conversation with Machine Music, Vicotnik stated: "… this music we're creating now and calling black metal, it's not really one genre, it's more the mindset of the people who are creating it that defined the genre than the musical concept."
As Ulver's vocalist Kristoffer Rygg explained to explained to author Dayal Patterson in the book Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult: "… to be a force to be counted on in the scene, you had to create your own thing. This latter-day perception that true black metal only sounds like Darkthrone is just fucking silly, it's a lot of distortion on the original idea, which included stuff like Mercyful Fate, for crying out loud. The charisma of the music was really paramount." That's certainly very true.
If you don't consider yourself a fan of black metal, it might just be the case that insufficient exposure to the art form has filled you with preconceived notions and that your definition needs an adjustment. Today, we honor the groups who are so fantastically inventive that they are capable of transforming any type of music lover into a devoted black metal warrior. Without further ado, we present our list of 16 irresistible albums that have redefined the darkest genre of them all.
Mayhem — Grand Declaration of War (2000)
Mayhem's Grand Declaration of War is experimental art of the highest caliber, owing to the brilliant songwriting of guitarist Blasphemer. Grand Declaration of War marked young Blasphemer's first full-length album with the Mayhem after the historic EP Wolf's Lair Abyss (1997). Blasphemer told Metalorgie that he actually composed Grand Declaration of War in his head during long walks around Oslo that fueled his creativity. Blasphemer is an artist who has expanded the genre time and time again and never repeats himself. Accordingly, with Grand Declaration of War, Blasphemer crafted something that was too far ahead of its time for many listeners to process. This record is stamped Blasphemer's unique brand of perfectionism mixed with hawk-like creative vision.
The glorious Grand Declaration of War also benefited massively from then frontman Maniac's energy and Nietzschean lyrics. Maniac explained to author Dayal Patterson: "That record was really hard to record as Blasphemer pushed me very hard in all kinds of directions… He knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it. It's part of his genius, I suppose. The album is like surgery both musically and lyrically."
Slagmaur — Thill Smitts Terror (2017)
Formed in 2006 by General Gribbsphiiser, Slagmaur has gained a reputation as one of black metal's most terrifying and enigmatic outfits. These True Fosen Black Metal Hooligans have been known to turn their stage shows into ruthless yet highly professional public executions. Slagmaur draws inspiration from folklore, fairy tales, children's rhymes, local legends, and all that's ghastly. They combine the brutality of black metal with gorgeous classical melodies and a sprinkling of other musical influences. Sophistication is the ingredient that makes Slagmaur's barbarism all the more intoxicating.
Although we recommend Slagmaur's entire catalogue, the outfit's third full-length album, Thill Smitts Terror, is a great starting point for new listeners. In addition to guitar, bass, and vocals, this otherworldly offering also features piano, cello, and violin. The tragically deceased Steingrim Brissach Torson (1983-2009) and special guest Luctus, two of the founding fathers of Nidrosian black metal like the General, can each be heard on Thill Smitts Terror. Slagmaur's close accomplice, the wonderful Mr. Snorre Ruch, also assisted. We can thank the General, a superb photographer and filmmaker, for the stunning cover image. Thill Smitts Terror also includes incredible drawings by Dávid Glomba. With tempting eye candy like this and much more, Slagmaur has enough gingerbread in their arsenal to tempt and ultimately lead every type of listener astray. This band has even taken the time to honor all the devilish grannies out there.
Dødheimsgard — A Umbra Omega (2015)
"There is a place called reality hidden to all men.
You can reach it through insanity but never to return again."
The fifth full-length album by "Norway's premier experimental extremists" Dødheimsgard, A Umbra Omega, is recognized as a radically innovative masterpiece. Ironically, Vicotnik co-founded Dødheimsgard with Aldrahn in order to play more traditional black metal because Ved Buens Ende, which he formed shortly before, about thirty years ago, with Carl-Michael Eide, had progressed so quickly. Dødheimsgard has managed to present listeners with something new with each offering. DHG's sixth and most recent offering, Black Medium Current, is a special victory that literally opened new mental galaxies for us. Although Black Medium Current is totally different from its predecessor, Vicotnik used A Umbra's fifth track, "Architect of Darkness," as a starting point.
Dødsengel — Bab Al On (2022)
Formed in 2007, Dødsengel has long been known for their ingenuity. While Dødsengel's sophomore album, Mirium Occultum (2010), has been ranked by Loudwire as one of the greatest BM records of all time, we hope that the duo's other works will be remembered with this same reverence. Dødsengel's fifth full-length effort, Bab Al On, one of MetalSucks' top records of 2022, will leave receptive listeners with jaws agape. Bab Al On is a burning offering so intense that it just might bring on the paralyzing symptoms of an overdose, as it evokes your deepest memories, fears, desires, and so forth. Kark masterfully implements a variety of vocal approaches and displays dramatic abilities that are sure to make thespians turn green. He beautifully handles guitar, bass, and the album's production. Kark's partner in crime and fellow Thelemite, is the extraordinary drummer, lyricist, and scholar Malach Adonai. Although Dødsengel summons the forces of chaos with the utmost success, their work is still lofty enough to please any intellect. For the purposes of this article, we'll state that Dødsengel mines inspiration from an eclectic mix of influences: Mozart, Bach, Wagner, Pink Floyd, Metallica, blues, soul, philosophy, poets like Lord Byron, Aleister Crowley, cinema and other forms of visual art, etc.
Fleurety — Department of Apocalyptic Affairs (2000)
Formed in 1991, Fleurety is one of the black metal poster children of eccentricity. The Fleurety duo consists of Alexander Nordgaren and Svein Egil Hatlevik. Although the former served as Fleurety's original vocalist, he damaged his voice very early on in the band's history. Thus, Svein Egil provides some vocals. The group has collaborated with a long list of guest vocalists as well various other types of musicians. Min tid skal komme (1995) marked Fleurety's historic full-length debut. The very different and insanely eclectic Department of Apocalyptic Affairs (2000) is Fleurety's wild sophomore album. It seems to feature everything, including saxophone. The wordsmith Svein Egil crafted terribly fascinating English-language lyrics for this effort. Fleurety continued down their path of fearless artistic exploration and served up new surprises on their most recent record, The White Death (2017).
Kall — Brand (2020)
The highly influential Kim Carlsson is not only a man of many projects, but he is also an artist of superhuman talent. The emotional intensity of his performances slices you like a blade to the wrist. Ultimately, however, his work is a source of strength. Kall rose from the ashes of the legendary Lifelover, who called it quits following the death of co-founder B, or Nattdal. Kall makes use of the saxophone and incorporates various influences, including pop and post-rock. The mind-warping, shoegazing, ritualistic majesty of Kall will work its way under your skin like a dirty needle. Yet, this outfit actually focuses on bettering oneself and finding freedom. The remarkable Brand represents Kall's sophomore album. Although Brand might just blow you away, it also offers some down-to-earth wisdom. Mr. Carlsson seems intent on crushing our inflated egos: "Like all leaves, you are meant to fall."
Ved Buens Ende — Written in Waters (1995)
The avant-garde black metal pioneers Ved Buens Ende first released the gorgeous demo Those Who Caress the Pale in 1994 and their only album to date, Written in Waters, in 1995. These mesmerizing masterpieces feature Carl-Michael Eide, Vicotnik, and Skoll. The dark romantic Written in Waters is certainly nostalgic, yet it also seems like a gift from the future. This album references Proust and also feels Dalí-esque. In Chronicles of Chaos, Vicotnik described Ved Buens Ende as "kind of pretentious." Although that is a somewhat amusing statement to make about a band of such authenticity and profundity, it is true VBE will appeal to your inner snob and make you want to turn up your nose at just about all other groups. Thankfully, VBE is currently working on a new album.
Dold Vorde Ens Navn — Mørkere (2021)
Dold Vorde Ens Navn's sublime Mørkere boasts Cerberus on bass, Myrvoll on drums, Haavard on guitars, and Vicotnik on vocals. The brilliance and great finesse of these artists cannot be overstated. The songwriting of Haavard and the lyrics of Vicotnik make for a divine combination. Haavard left black metal for quite a long time before he was asked to help with Myrkur's self-titled debut, M (2015). Thus, we are extremely fortunate that this ex-Ulver genius has returned to the scene. DVEN was actually born when Cerberus, who also dropped out of the scene for a long period, went over to Haavard's home to compose a song. This quickly morphed into an EP of four tracks, Gjengangere i hjertets mørke (2019). Although it stars the same lineup, the EP is a different experience from the album and actually begins with a punk-influenced track. Due to the different types of minds involved, Mørkere is a greatly varied triumph that incorporates a broad range of impulses. It has been praised by lovers of tradition and the avant-garde alike. Neo-classical touches and aggression blend harmoniously. Mørkere features guest violin, viola, and cello. The album is theatrical, literary, and cerebral. Vicotnik told Among the Living that he draws inspiration for his lyrics from writers like Ibsen, Wergeland, and Welhaven.
Skitliv — Skandinavisk misantropi (2009)
"Like Rimbaud, I licked the venom from the Mother's cunt.
Fingertips embrace the swollen wound that become my soul."
Skitliv's Skandinavisk misantropi is a poetic, philosophical, and trippy journey that is simply too enormous to describe. This spellbinding, doom-infused album is so wicked-awesome that you couldn't even dream up anything this marvelous. It takes you to a realm far beyond black metal. Maniac, who first had the idea to start Skitliv, lavishes us with his vocals, lyrics, and guitars. Superstar Niklas Kvarforth of Shining lends his golden touch on guitars as well and contributes additional vocals, Ingvar Magnusson also provides guitars, Jorn's Tore Moren plays bass, and ex-Haust's Dag Otto handles drums. Skandinavisk misantropi additionally features guest appearances by Gaahl, Attila Csihar, David Tibet, Truls Haugen, and Honey Lucius / Jormundgand.
Thorns — Thorns (2001)
We need not explain why songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Snorre Ruch, the co-architect of the black metal style of riffing, is one of black metal's most important men. For Thorns' eponymous studio debut, Snorre wrote the music; handled the instruments, minus drums, which were provided by Hellhammer; penned some of the lyrics; and even laid down vocals on one track. On certain songs, we are presented with the highly individualistic style of Aldrahn, whom Fenriz has called one of the greatest vocalists. Satyr sang as well. In fact, Thorns came out through Satyr's now defunct label, Moonfog. More than twenty years later, Thorns retains its exceptionally modern charm with refreshing experimental and industrial components. Thorns is a timeless record that, like Vicotnik's work, feels like a stroll through an art museum, which makes sense because Snorre has performed at art galleries with Thorns Ltd.
Beherit — Drawing Down the Moon (1993)
Founded in 1989, the second-wave anomaly of a band from Finland known as Beherit revolutionized black metal. Beherit's full-length debut album, Drawing Down the Moon, paved the way for others to incorporate electronic elements into their dark art. Synths are beautifully used, and the altered vocals magnify the inhuman feel. Slow, minimalistic, impossibly cold, and futuristic, Drawing Down the Moon is a black metal offering that may as well be from Mars. Under the Beherit name and beyond, Nuclear Holocausto Vengeance, a.k.a. DJ Gamma-G for techno purposes, has released ambient work. If you want something else that's outside of the box, we also recommend the former project of Nuclear Holocausto Vengeance and Sodomatic Slaughter that was dubbed Goat Vulva and created X-rated, genre-bending content.
Angst Skvadron — Flukt (2008)
The mind-blowingly inventive Angst Skvadron was the brainchild of the late Trondr Nefas, whom you might know from his achievements with Urgehal, Vulture Lord, Beastcraft, and many other great bands. (Or, if you're a Shining fan, you might have seen that Niklas Kvarforth has a large Trondr tribute tattoo right above the tattoo in remembrance of his deceased mother. That's respect!) Partially fueled by booze and other medications, Flukt is depressive, hallucinatory, alien black/death metal with prog rock influences. It is an incredibly varied debut album that delivers tons of surprises. With titles like "The Astroid Haemorhoids and the Drunken Sailor," how could you possibly resist allowing this disturbing black hole to suck you in?! Flukt, like Angst Skvadron's next record, Sweet Poison (2010), was dedicated to Trondr's brother, Thomas, who wrote the lyrics to the third track, "A Song to the Sky."
One Tail, One Head — Worlds Open, Worlds Collide (2018)
Despite earning an incredible reputation for their live shows and recorded content, the legendary One Tail, One Head sadly disbanded in 2018 after roughly twelve years of life. Steingrim Torson was the band's bassist until his untimely death. One Tail, One Head included several other of the most important musicians in the Nidrosian black metal scene. The outfit's sole full-length album, the celebrated Worlds Open, Worlds Collide, features Afgrundsprofet, whom we referred to earlier as Luctus, on vocals; Åsli on guitars; ⷚ on drums; and Andras Marquis T. on bass. OTOH's musicians can currently be found in groups like Mare, Darvaza, Vemod, Ritual Death, Beyond Man, Behexen, etc. Furthermore, you just might be to enjoy the musical and dramatic contributions of one member of the crew in Joachim Trier's Reprise (2006).
One Tail, One Head is, of course, described as a black metal band, but Åsli has stated that he did not view One Tail, One Head that way. In regard to the group's style, he told Bardo Methodology: "… many… resonate with these primal and trance-like qualities, while others are drawn to the more rock 'n' roll or punk aspect of our music and choose to highlight that." When responding to the question of how related OTOH is to black metal, Åsli told Musikatlast that his music comes from pure energy, as opposed to hate or anger.
Dissection — Storm of the Light's Bane (1995)
Every metalhead should already be aware of Dissection's massive influence. Their sophomore album, Storm of the Light's Bane, is a canonical work. It showcases four guest appearances as well as cover art by the highly respected Kristian Wåhlin. This melodic black/death record is so rewarding and meaningful that all types of music aficionados should be able to appreciate its grim majesty. Of course, the genre-defying Reinkaos (2006) that followed birthed yet another new form of darkness. Unfortunately, it also marked the limit of what the band was able to achieve. Dissection's late mastermind, Jon Nödtveidt is quoted in Blood, Fire, Death: The Swedish Metal Story: "… with Reinkaos, we've reached the point where it’s time to kill the band." It's safe to say that Storm of the Light's Bane is easier for many listeners to grasp.
Shining — V — Halmstad (Niklas angående Niklas) (2007)
The classic V — Halmstad is a rapturous experience. No serious metal/rock lover could possibly resist its haunting aura and breathtakingly gorgeous, often soaring guitars and solos. The acoustic work is to kill for. Within this dark Swedish triumph, even California and bluesy vibes can be savored. Truly, guitarists Peter Huss and Fredric Gråby cannot be praised enough for their contributions to this effort. On Halmstad, Shining's driving force, Mr. Niklas Kvarforth, was certainly surrounded by a unique lineup of artists whose musical talents extend far beyond black metal. As always, Niklas Kvarforth poured the entirety of his hate, burning passion, and genius into the endeavor. His brutal yet artful vocals are unsurpassed. Kvarforth's lyrics will lodge themselves in your head likes knives. Halmstad features some Beethoven with guest piano, a bit of poetry by William Hughes Mearns, and so forth.
Lifelover — Erotik (2007)
The blissfully depressive pioneering outfit Lifelover was a band that shattered conventions and belongs in a category of their own. Lifelover's sophomore album, Erotik, is so orgasmic that it seems capable of seducing anyone. This masterpiece, with its all-consuming atmosphere, is like sonic opiates. After all, Lifelover strove to inject their music a "narcotic feel." Erotik is a reflection of Stockholm, though the formidable and imperial, vodka-soaked city of St. Petersburg is mentioned. The offering includes a broad range of influences, such as pop, rock, post-punk, etc. Erotik ends with unforgettable words that are bound to arouse necrophiliacs everywhere: "Sakta försvinner ditt korta liv Jag ejakulerar på ditt benvita lik." / "Slowly, your short life vanishes. I ejaculate on your bone-white corpse."