The Best Black Metal Albums Of All Time
Black Metal: War On Mediocrity
Black metal grabbed the raw brutality of death metal and infused it with such melody of sound that would suck the listener up into feelings of unfathomable power and beauty just to spit them out in a wasteland devoid of inherent value.
In Black metal, the rawest and most primitive components of music build up into complex soundscapes, taking the most primordial human fears of violence, meaninglessness, and predation and transforming them into salvation from the frustrating world of stagnation that leads to an inevitable and steady deterioration of society in a singular move of escapism.
Talking in terms of musical themes, black metal represents an assault on the pillars of our modern culture - consumerism, egalitarianism and tolerance. While this might not sound nice, keep in mind that black metal is not a child of today and most fans of the day tend to appreciate it's hypnotic melody, rather than the original philosophy behind it.
If you absolutely must listen to black metal, here are the best albums of all time.
1. Peste Noire: La Sanie des Siècles - Panégyrique de la Dégénérescence (2006)
La Sanie des Siècles - Panégyrique de la Dégénérescence is Peste Noire’s debut full-length. For anyone familiar with traditional French black metal, the amalgamation of Famine, Neige and Rosenkrantz Studio should be enough to get you super excited.
Sadly, the recording and mix causes the album to fall through on becoming the masterpiece that one would have hoped for. Peste Noire's demo recordings possessed a peculiarly gritty, filthy sound conjuring a truly infernal atmosphere, whereas the first full-length is extremely clean and over-produced causing the band to lose the obscure, crypt-like feeling altogether. The constant feeling of dread and unrest that had been the trademark of Peste Noire, almost completely vanished from La Sanie des Siècles - Panégyrique de la Dégénérescence.
The rhythm guitars got reduced to lifeless fuzzy sound, devoid of any depth, due to the fact that the guitars probably got plugged right into the mixing desk rather than amped and recorded via a microphone. Adding salt to the wounds, they are placed too low in the mix, and stopped being the driving force of the sound. On the plus side, the cleanliness of the recording suits the other instruments quite well.
Having said that, I can't help but feel that it is left to the music to redeem this album, which it does. The riffs, lead work, and chord progressions are all phenomenal. The acoustic verses capture an alluring sense of longing, and vocalist Famine’s voice places him among the best in black metal.
One song is an ominous, dreadful dirge while evoking feelings of fear and suffering with an air of decadence and lunacy to it that's new to Peste Noire's music. Another song captures a splendid feeling of madness with Neige’s vocals first alone and then in tandem with Famine - a welcome addition to sweep through the songs infusing in them a certain medieval atmosphere.
This is not a bad album by any means, but it could have been a masterpiece. Fans that are fond of Peste Noire's demo productions might require some time to process this album's sound, but if you are new to the band, chances are you'll be immensely satisfied with what you get for your money.
2. Epheles - Souviens Toi (2006)
Epheles merges black metal, dark ambient and classical music elements so that they complement and flavor one another well, imbuing the sound with depth without competing for the listener's attention.
The first two tracks "Le Linceul de la Mort" and "Les Abimes du Temps" begin with very quiet ambient sounds then suddenly whack you in the face with furious machine-gun guitar fire accompanied by rapid-fire percussion from Sytris.
Most tracks are characterized by alarming changes of mood and tempo where quivering balalaika-style play alternates with blitzkrieg guitar assaults creating phalanxes of battering ram martial rhythms and decent riffing. The musicians play tight enough but at the same time let the music flow and remain fresh and ferocious.
One song features bonkers chanting giving the impression that a priest appeared to admonish Nephtys and his colleagues for their blasphemous practices, but they turn their guitar ray guns on him.
Nephtys' singing is impressive - he not just rants tons but also in tracks like "Souviens-Toi" and "Ultima Venia", he'll keep up a roar for what feels an eternity. In "Ultima Venia" there is also a good bit of growling and symphonic passage with chanting.
Mysterious ambient music passages and clear tones; utterly berserk guitars and rhythm; infernal roars; majestic classical music passages; dark Gothic atmospheres; musicianship of a consistently high standard; all of it merging together so well!
3. Burzum: Burzum (1992)
Apart from the notoriety Varg Vikernes has conjured through his statements and actions, Burzum is an impressive debut on account of the fundamentals it established in black metal. Vikernes wrote and performed all instruments on this album creating the solitary aesthetic to which the aspirations of many future suitors could be traced back.
Vikernes' intention to separate himself from mediocrity within extreme metal, namely the technically inclined gear whoring that death metal had become, produced a minimalist masterpiece. He entered the audio market with little else than a brave imagination and whatever instruments he had on hand bringing refreshing new ethics to a time when most established artists displayed almost homo-erotic attraction to a specific type or brand of equipment.
Burzum is a cut above demo quality, but implicitly simple. Unlike the crashing calamity of Venom at the beginning of the 80s, or the first few ripping Bathory LPs, Burzum employs a contrast of calm, flowing melodies and Vikernes' shrieking vocals which felt born of direct pain as if he was stabbing himself in the foot while crying dark cusses into the mic.
The drums are rather dull cadences at slow to mid paces, heavier on the snare and cymbals than the bass and toms. The axes are repetitive, with carnal melodies that abandon complexity for melodramatic desolation. The bass is very vague and simplistic as it hovers too close to the guitar passages.
Burzum is not very consistent. While the first few tracks are captivating, in its lengthier pieces the riffs often feel overwrought losing their ferocity. The album also has a few ambient excursions but tastefully delivered.
All in all, the album is raw, stripped of excess ballast maintaining sincerity in its reproach towards humanity, conjured via lyrical libations to ancient myth, fantasy, and mysticism. Burzum lays much of the brickwork that later albums would stand on. It has a voice of its own, a dreadful chill at any depth of consciousness. It is a work of influence.
4. Wyrd: Vargtimmen Pt. II (2004)
Varg Vikernes once suggested that those who don’t have anything new to contribute to black metal should not make black metal music. Wyrd's Vargtimmen Pt. II is not the album that doesn't have anything new to say!
The black metal scene is infested with thousands of blatant clones and pathetic parc. However, Wyrd might just be one of the most unique black metal bands active today. Wyrd combines elements of folk music with black metal in a progressive and rhythmic way. This band is my personal favorite of all time.
At the time of Vargtimmen Pt. II, Wyrd was a one-man project, with Narqath playing all instruments and singing the vocals. Most songs on the album will set out slow and melodic with leisurely guitars and drum beat evoking the atmosphere of mystery.
Slow clean guitars and drum beat contribute to the creation desolate and depressing soundscapes building up to ominous endings. This slow pace allows for long and hypnotic progression incorporating folk-inspired keyboards and harsh, emotional vocals.
The most impressive example of the flowing song structure and rhythm of Vargtimmen Pt. II is without question Ominous Insomnia. Following a melodic intro Ominous Insomnia blasts out what are probably the most memorable rolling guitar riffs I've ever heard, accompanied by matching harsh vocals.
Vargtimmen Pt. II is far from perfection. Some songs give the impression of mere placeholders while others are simply too long, repetitive, and tedious.
This album is not recommended to fans of aggressive and grim black metal such as Immortal, Darkthrone, or Krieg, however fans of easier, melodic bands will find it immensely enjoyable.
5. Drudkh: Blood in Our Wells (2006)
There are basically three ways a band can gain repute. The first way is by launching a image that's put together really well. Dimmu Borgir's flamboyant dress comes to mind that attracts a lot of attention and hype, while the comic appeal of Slipknot has springboarded them to the frontline of mainstream media.
The second way is by committing acts of notoriety. Mayhem, Sex Pistols, and most of all Burzum are classic blueprints for engineering this kind of band. Although these bands actually represent the highest standards in black metal, it was their infamous issues outside of the sphere of music that has brought them the most attention and success.
The third way is by being all mysterious and secretive about who you are and what your band does. You never really show anything but music. Your band grants a minimal amount of interviews. Few or almost no pictures of you are seen around the internet or magazines. You concentrate on your music as the only means by which you wish to achieve success.
You might have already guessed, Drudkh falls under the third category. Very little is known about the band. Apart from the members' nicknames, a few of their real names, and the fact that they are not so huge on extreme political views, there is almost nothing to talk about. If you look really hard, you can discover a few images of the members in other bands, but not as Drudkh. If you want to judge if they are any good, all you have to work with is their music.
And wow(!) - these guys are amazing! If I have confessed that my all time favorite black metal band is most certainly Wyrd, I also have to say that Drudkh is the one most listened to. When Blood in Our Wells ends it leaves the listener begging for more. It is simply beautiful.
The album feels as if they got all the time in the world to unleash their melodies and harmonies, the guitars flows smoothly through the whole album. Every note and chord played is stressed by how long they are held without making the mistake of falling in the style of drone. The guys display a special talent for knowing when the note has reached its maximum potential and then they move on, no problem. The light sound of string instruments in the back elevate the guitars, while the bass puts the icing on the cake to produce the overall thickness of the sound.
Whilst all Drudkh albums represent the highest standard of melodic black metal, Blood in Our Wells is unquestionably the masterpiece. The album has been raved about ever since it was released. When I first heard it, I was somehow left with the feeling that there was tons of potential waiting to be fulfilled with the band. Sadly, many years and albums later it now appears Blood In Our Wells represented the height of their glory.