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A Beginner's Guide To Heavy Metal #6 - Norwegian Black Metal

Updated on December 29, 2013

Tragedy Below The Horizon

When the first wave of black metal started to die out, it had already left a long trail of controversy in it's wake. Parent and religious moral groups were up in arms and terrified, the media having whipped them into a frenzy over this loud, bombastic and blasphemous music that was making it's way along the airwaves and into record stores around the world. They had no idea what was coming. In the legendarily peaceful country of Norway of all places, a brand new form of extreme metal was beginning to bubble under the surface, fueled by the primitive black metal of the previous years and the bludgeoning death metal coming in from America, this music was even darker, had a sharper bite coming from even more evil lyrics and music with even more distortion and lower production values. And most infamously, while the previous wave of black metal musicians had only written about acts of satanic evil and destruction, often in a tongue and cheek way, these ones acted on what they wrote, and a series of murders and arsons came to be as much associated with this movement as the music. But those who have survived and avoided incarceration, have been working to ensure that in the end they will be remembered for the music they pioneered, and not the travesties both they and their peers committed.

#10

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Old Funeral - The Older Ones

A compilation album of all of the bands EPs and demos plus material from their full albums, although Old Funeral were technically more of a death metal band, the influence they had on Norway's metal scene is undeniable. As well as pioneering the sound of Norwegian metal, this is the band that gave members of Immortal and Burzum, both artists that would become some of the most important bands to the development of Norwegian black metal, their first foot in the door.

#9

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Satyricon - Rebel Extravaganza

Lots of people have many conflicting feelings about Satyricon. The common consensus I seem to hear seems to be that a lot of people question whether or not they can truly be called black metal. While not all of their albums may fall under that label, I think this one certainly does. Recorded with the specific goal to inject a shot of "darkness and extremity" back into black metal, this is a more than suitable offering (plus Pantera's Phil Anselmo was a huge fan of this album).

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#8

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Ulver - Nattens Madrigal

There's bad production, and then there's this album. The second worst production I have ever heard on an album, yet it manages to add to the grim hypnotic atmosphere this album delivers from start to finish. A concept album about a man invoking the power of Satan to transform into a wolf, this album was rumored to have been recorded in a forest, which even though it has been confirmed otherwise, a listen to the album will certainly lend credibility to such a rumor.

#7

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Mayhem - De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

Many lists of this nature on this subject matter put this one at the top, but I think there is one that is not only better, but more important. But the importance of this album cannot be understated. Hailed by many as unholy grail of black metal and the last recording made by undoubtedly the most important figure in Norwegian black metal, Euronymous, this is a must own.

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#6

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Immortal - At The Heart of Winter

As far as casual metal listeners go, Immortal have always been one of the more accessible bands to come out of Norway while still remaining one of the most distinctive bands to come out of the black metal movement. Choosing to forsake Satanic themes in their lyrics in place of songs about frozen landscapes, blizzards, epic battles and fictional lands, and Abbath Doom Occulto's vocals being more of a strong raspy growl than a blood curdling shriek, they are nonetheless a great band with an undeniable power behind their songs that have made them stand out.

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#5

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Dimmu Borgir - Stormblast

The undisputed kings of symphonic black metal, this is the album where Dimmu Borgir truly came into their own. Adding more intricate arrangements and keyboards to their already crushing sound, what we all now know as Dimmu Borgir was born on this album. Personally I have to admit I do prefer the re-recording that was done in 2005, but there is a rawness to the original album that is something to behold.

#4

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Emperor - In The Nightside Eclipse

Dimmu Borgir may be the modern kings of it, but this is the album that truly gave us symphonic black metal. With Emperor's first full length album, core members Ihsahn and Samoth effectively added a new element to black metal, taking it to even more epic heights. It is a bombastic, melodic, blistering piece of metal from start to finish that Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth (for better or worse), and every other symphonic metal band owes their thanks to.

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#3

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Darkthrone - A Blaze in the Northern Sky

Considered to be the definitive black metal recording, there is one word that comes to mind when I think of this album: bleak. A departure from the straight forward death metal of their previous album "Soulside Journey", Darkthrone crafted a sound and an imagery that has been imitated by seemingly every band wanting to dawn the black metal title. Unrelentingly harsh from start to finish, if you want to know exactly what Norwegian black metal is, this is the one to check out.

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#2

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Burzum - Burzum

One of if not the most controversial figure in all of heavy metal, Varg Vikernes' one man band Burzum, formed shortly after his departure as guitarist for Old Funeral, managed to put out four albums before being sentenced to prison for the murder of one time friend Euronymous. The atmosphere felt by putting on any of his albums can be absolutely chilling, but none manage to combine that ambiance with the shear ferocity and darkness of black metal like this first hugely influential album.

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#1

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Mayhem - Deathcrush

I really do not like putting the same artist on a list twice, but this is one I simply could not ignore. The fact of it is, this was the first official Norwegian black metal release. Everything that has come to be associated with that movement, everything musically that we think of when we think of what black metal is today, started with this album. While no one can deny the influence "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas" had, there are very few times when one can point to a single album that effectively began a new movement in music. This is one of those times, and history aside, this album is every bit as heavy, dark, and crushing as anything that would come after it.

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Pure Armageddon

The violent events that transpired within the circle of early Norwegian black metal fans and musicians has finally died down, and we can start to appreciate the true legacy of these bands: The brutal, gritty, yet utterly entrancing darkness that is Norwegian black metal music.

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