The following list was written by all five members of Nixil, whose new album From The Wound Spilled Forth Fire is out on August 25. Pre-orders are available here.
Samael: Some might think Samael and black metal shouldn't be used in the same sentence these days, but this band was so incredibly important for my exposure to this type of music. While Immortal was the first black metal band that I ever listened to, Samael was the band that really ignited my interest in the genre and made me want to dive further into it. Their riffs were so crunchy, rhythmic and primal feeling. Mas' stage presence and Vorph's dark, raspy growls and whispers drew me in, and with their themes of personal inner strength, acknowledging the suffering that is inherent to existence, and denouncing societal control by religion, this “evil” band started to feel very positive to me. They were a perfect gateway to the themes and sounds of more extreme black metal, and I'll always love them for opening my mind to this world. Ceremony of Opposites (1994) is my #1: absolute perfection and deserving of a spot on anyone's top 10 list. Passage (1996), Eternal (1999) and Above (2009) are other long-time favorites of mine.
Enslaved: Like Samael, Enslaved are a group that only seem to keep a black metal tag because of their early origins and first few records. Regardless, I think they are one of the most creative and special of all the mid-90s second wave black metal bands. In the same way that progressive acts like Opeth and Devin Townsend expanded my awareness of what heavy music could be, Enslaved taught me not to get hung up on genre expectations and rules within more extreme metal. They used black metal as a starting point and transcended into a unique sound that is completely their own, all while never fully abandoning the vocals, blast beats, and trem picking of their black metal roots. They are so productive, so consistent, and so artistically honest. Hard to pick from their huge list of amazing records; Frost (1994) is a classic, but my personal favorites are Axioma Ethica Odini (2010) and RIITIIR (2012).
Ludicra: I first heard their song "Hollow Psalms" on a mixtape a pal out in Oakland made for me in the early 2000s and it blew me away. The haunting and tortured vocals were utterly unique to my ears. It was such a moody track – at times gothic and somber, only to thrust into all-consuming speed and volume while maintaining its darkness. A few years later, I was doing music reviews in a punk fanzine called Give Me Back where I encountered their self-titled release. They resonate in my mind then and now because they can create such a wide range of emotion and intensity with their unparalleled style of black metal.
Blut Aus Nord: I'm in complete awe of this band. In a genre where some fans are quick to ridicule anything that isn't "true," this band won't be imprisoned by the so-called "rules" of black metal. Their songs unfold in unpredictable ways that leave me with a sense of psychic obliteration. Their soundscapes are in the mires of total madness. The embodiment of a waking nightmare: beautiful and terrifying all at once!
Rotting Christ: While Dark Funeral was the first black metal band to really sell me on the genre via live performance, Rotting Christ is definitely the first black metal band that I ever deeply identified with. I'd heard their name mentioned on and off for years but it was their collaboration with Diamanda Galas that captured my attention; Diamanda is one of my longest standing musical obsessions and while her music is, on its own, in many ways the most genuinely disquieting and violent that I've ever heard, I was so excited to hear it performed within the (already beloved) context of extreme metal. While I tend to more cacophonous black metal bands at large (particularly loving Sinmara and the burgeoning Icelandic sound, these days), Rotting Christ is a band for any mood. Getting to see them live is always such a pleasure because they so clearly love and feel energized by performing; for me, the sign of a truly excellent black metal show is the overwhelming feeling of catharsis, but Rotting Christ also imbues a sense of rebellious celebration which is so easy to miss in the drudging monotony of daily life.
Schammasch: I have a tendency to develop fever pitch obsessions when I hear a new band that speaks to me and Schammasch was no exception. Both Triangle and Hearts of No Light are, without question, two of the most beautiful, truly flawless albums – of any genre – that I've ever heard. My favorite music is rich with mood swings and these folks do that with devastating fervor; I love the psychedelic elements in their songs, the ritualistic droning soundscapes snaking into and out of pounding, aggressive rhythms, the inclusion of varied other sounds – particularly the gothy post-punk grit and drive in "A Paradigm of Beauty"… I'm generally extremely picky about clean vocals but I love the incredible versatility of CSR's voice. Their poetry and visual aesthetic is also stunning and I really appreciate finding other bands who, like us, do all of their art in-house.
Glorior Belli: They approach black metal in a very visceral and unique way, which tends to focus more on moody atmospheric mid-tempo music that is heavily based on swinging hooks that create a really hypnotic but also catchy atmosphere while simultaneously being attractively unsettling. I appreciate that they are always expanding and evolving their sound, that no two albums are the same. As a side note, their short-lived side project 11 As In Adversaries is also something that people should check out; it represents so much of an evolution from their black metal sound that they opted not to release it as a Glorior Belli album but instead put it out under a whole different name. It's extremely experimental, mathy, sometimes jazzy, very well written and strange. All of their music under any name fully embodies an understanding of the emanation of the Other Side; you can feel the true spirit of that in their work.
Ascension: The album Consolamentum is undeniably a perfect record. The raw aggression and perfect composition bring about an amazing dark atmosphere that succinctly embodies the Luciferian spirit in sonic form.
Watain: the thing I like about Watain is that their message, live shows and releases have a cohesive story and imagery that rivals all which keeps me coming back for more. The Agony & Ecstasy of Watain is my favorite overall record right now. I photographed Watain in 2015. I was about to go in the photo pit and from behind the backstage drape, I could hear security say "what the fuck are they doing in there??" Besides their amazing performance, the pig heads and the smell of rotting flesh is what I remember the most. Oh, and my blood splattered pants.
Mayhem: The Chimera and Esoteric Warfare albums are the reasons I chose Mayhem. Overall, their history is fraught with member changes but somehow the music stays consistent. From Euronymous and Dead to Blasphemer and Maniac to Teloch and Attila; the quality of riffs, songwriting, and performance always draws me in. "You are not dead, you never existed."