Black metal - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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New Metal Member
Aug 28, 2007
This article is about the musical genre. For the 1982 Venom album, see Black Metal (album).
Black metal
Stylistic origins: Heavy Metal
Thrash Metal
Cultural origins: Norway
Early 1980s
Typical instruments: Guitar - Bass guitar - Drums
Mainstream popularity: Mostly underground, though a few bands are in the metal mainstream
NSBM, Viking Metal, Unblack metal
Fusion genres
Blackened death metal, Melodic black metal, Symphonic black metal, Black ambient
Other topics
Blast beat - Extreme metal - Bands
Black metal is an extreme heavy metal subgenre. It is typically characterized by the use of heavily-distorted guitars, high-pitched shrieking vocals, fast-paced rhythms and melodies, and unconventional song structures.

The first bands to pioneer the style were mostly thrash metal bands that formed the prototype for black metal; they are referred to collectively as the First Wave, and consist of a few bands, such as Venom and Bathory. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a Second Wave emerged in Norway, including prominent bands like Mayhem and Darkthrone. Although there is no well-defined Third Wave, modern black metal bands have incorporated new musical and lyrical trends into their music.

Black metal has been met with considerable hostility from mainstream culture, mainly because of the misanthropic and anti-Judeo-Christian attitude of many bands. This iconoclastic ideology is typical of black metal bands. Additionally, a few black metal bands have been known to have associations with church burnings, murder, and National Socialism. Black metal is generally seen as an underground form of music, in part because it does not appeal to mainstream tastes and because its musicians often choose to remain obscure.

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Black metal can contain, but is not limited to, the following characteristics:

Fast, highly distorted guitars played using alternate picking or tremolo picking.
Relatively thin or thick guitar tone — low frequencies are typically absent.
Pendulum strumming may be applied to fully voiced chords (usually minor) in a denser portion of a piece. The chords may also deliberately shift fully voiced minor barre chords up or down despite the applications suggested by music theory, such as E minor to C minor, which is usually avoided for its extreme dissonance.
Frequent use of chromatics, shifted up and down by semitones from a given central tonic to create an uneasy atmosphere (commonly featuring the tritone interval). There is also frequent altering of already established scales for a more dissonant, "evil" sound, such as the harmonic minor.
Infrequent use of guitar solos, when compared to some power metal, for example.

Double bass, blast beat, and D-beat drumming.
In some instances, the drums can take a slower role usually accompanied by a very dry and empty tone — especially for the effect of the atmosphere of the music.
Some bands, often solo artists, use drum machines instead of a human drummer.

Corpsepaint (seen here on members of Gorgoroth) began as a statement to separate black metal from other subgenres of metal.
Vocals and lyrics
A distinct harsh vocal style, often a very guttural rasp or a high-pitched shriek. This vocal style is nearly universal in the black metal genre. It is distinct from death metal in this respect, as death metal bands employ low-pitched, growling vocals. Often there is a reverberation effect to make vocals sound cavernous and atmospheric.
Some bands, particularly symphonic black metal bands, incorporate more traditional vocal styles into songs, often referred to as 'clean' vocals. Some black metal bands such as Arcturus use clean vocals almost entirely.
Some black metal songs are complemented with choir-like vocals by males and/or females, much like a Gregorian chant ("Vikingland" by Satyricon, for example).
The most common and founding lyrical emphasis revolves around Satanic, Pagan, or occult themes. As the genre grew, a violent and sometimes perverted opposition to Christianity became even more frequent. War, misanthropy, and suicide are often explored. Lyrics may also celebrate environmental origins of bands, celebrating darkness, forests, and other natural surroundings of northern European countries, as well as their folklore and history.
Lyrical content is sometimes inspired by fantasy as well. The Austrian band Summoning focuses almost exclusively on J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth for its lyrical content. Other bands create their own fictional realms. For instance, certain songs by Immortal depict an imaginary kingdom called "Blashyrkh". Bal-Sagoth also creates fantasy stories that are inspired by writers like Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft.

Atmospheric and structural elements
Unconventional song structures that are devoid of typical verse/chorus segments, and contain extended and repetitive instrumental passages.
Very fast-paced rhythms, often exceeding the speed of many other genres of music. Black metal rhythms are often simplistic, though some bands employ complex rhythmic sections.
Occasional electronic keyboard use. The harpsichord, violin, organ, and choir settings are most common, which provides an orchestral or cathedral-like sound. Some bands use keyboards very frequently, as either a background instrument or the basis of their entire sound (see symphonic black metal).
Certain bands, such as Dimmu Borgir, have recorded with full symphony orchestras.
Poor production quality began as a must for early black metal bands with low budgets. However, even as bands moved to increase their production quality over time, low fidelity was often intentional for some bands to remain true to the genre's roots. The influential album Transilvanian Hunger by Darkthrone demonstrates this effect.

Live performances and band image
Unlike most other musical genres, many black metal bands do not play live. Some bands, such as Burzum and Xasthur, are single-member bands that choose not to play live. However, other one or two-member bands, such as Nargaroth, Satyricon and Satanic Warmaster, perform live with extra musicians specifically for live performances.
Bands that perform live often make use of stage props and theatrical techniques. Bands such as Mayhem and Gorgoroth are noted for their gruesome and controversial stage shows.
Many black metal musicians adopt a 'neo-medieval' costume style that may include leather, spikes, bondage gear, armor and weaponry.
Album covers are usually atmospheric or iconic. Some feature natural or fantastical landscapes, like Burzum's Filosofem or Emperor's In The Nightside Eclipse. Other album covers may be violent, perverted, or iconoclastic, like Marduk's Opus Nocturne.
Inverted pentagrams and/or inverted crosses are symbols used prevalently by black metal bands, indicating the genre's ties to the occult.
Some musicians may adopt a stage name, often based in mythology or folklore. For example, Emperor's Bård Eithun referred to himself as Faust.
One of the most noticeable features in black metal is facial corpsepaint, the use of black and white makeup (sometimes detailed with "blood") to simulate a corpse-like appearance. In modern times, the concept has faded, with bands like Emperor claiming the image has lost its original meaning, which was to separate black metal bands from other types of performers. However, others like Gorgoroth and Dimmu Borgir still wear corpsepaint.

The First Wave
The First Wave of black metal refers to the bands that first influenced the black metal sound, often starting as thrash metal bands.

The term "black metal" was first coined by the British band Venom with their 1982 second album Black Metal. Although the musical style was much like thrash metal, a heavy and glorified emphasis on Satanic and occult themes, both in lyrics and imagery, was distinct. The music was in many ways unpolished in production. Guitars were far more blistering than other subgenres of heavy metal, and very "unclean" vocals relied less on melody than they did on raw, shrieking screams. Venom's members also adopted pseudonyms (the original lineup being Cronos, Mantas, and Abaddon), something not common for metal bands at the time.

Another band that can be considered pioneers of the genre was the Swedish band Bathory, led by Thomas Forsberg (under the pseudonym Quorthon). Bathory focused on suboptimal production standards to better suit their raspy vocals and furiously fast tempo, as heard on early albums such as The Return. They would also become responsible for being the first band to add an element of Norse mythology next to their occult themes, in both lyrics and album art. This was a concept that would become influential enough to spawn an entire subgenre known as Viking metal, preserved for bands which focus strictly on such mythological ideals.

Other influences early on include Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, and the Danish band Mercyful Fate. King Diamond of Mercyful Fate was also one of the first to frequent the use of corpsepaint, along side Sarcófago, which Metal Storm magazine claims to be the first band with a "true" corpsepaint[1]. The "Second Wave" of black metal can be said to owe a debt to the Italian band Death SS, which mixed horror themes with thrash metal in the late 70s and early 80s.

The Second Wave

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas by Mayhem. The title translates to Lord Satan's Secret Rites.The Second Wave of black metal in the early 1990s came in part with the rise of Norwegian bands such as Mayhem, Burzum, Satyricon, Immortal, Darkthrone, Enslaved and Emperor. This wave not only added new atmospheric elements, but many of these bands would also be responsible for a rash of criminal controversy, as seen below. Classical elements were also introduced to a small degree and popularized the genre for a growing underground audience. Philosophically, an abrasive anti-Right Hand Path sentiment became a must for any band to be finalized as "black metal". In fact, bands that didn't exemplify such beliefs through actions beyond their music were often criticized by extremists within black metal's subculture. Ihsahn of Emperor believes that this trend may have developed simply from "an opposition to society, a confrontation to all the normal stuff."[2] A dark, misanthropic mentality was complemented visually with the use of corpsepaint, which was also most prevalent during this wave as a statement to separate black metal bands from other rock bands of the era.

Besides the influence of Norwegian bands, a black metal scene in Sweden began to grow with the popularity of bands such as Marduk and Dissection in the early 1990s. Finnish bands like Beherit and Impaled Nazarene also emerged. Additionally, Euronymous of Mayhem also mentioned Sodom and Destruction as underestimated influences and "masterpieces of black stinking metal".[3]

An abraded, very low fidelity recording style was common in most black metal at the time, and was often intentional to preserve an underground quality of the genre. Sometimes artists would branch off into related subgenres, such as death metal, keeping their Satanic and occult mentality intact. Such a style has been deemed "Blackened Death Metal." Mayhem's career, for example, began mostly in the death/black roots, moved to pure black, then towards progressive black in their later career. It was experimentation like this that aided black metal's growth, but would ultimately mean the end of the Second Wave by the mid-1990s, as more modern black metal bands started to raise their production quality and introduce new instrumentation such as synthesizers (commonly seen in industrial metal) and full-symphony orchestras.

Historical events in black metal

First black metal label
Øystein Aarseth's independent label, Deathlike Silence Productions, became the first label to dedicate itself purely to black metal. Deathlike Silence's stated goal was to release records by bands "that incarnated evil in its most pure state". The label would become home to Aarseth's own band, Mayhem, as well as other black metal acts like Burzum. Aarseth also opened his own record store, Helvete (Norwegian for "Hell"), as a prime outlet for black metal records[4]. With the rising popularity of his band and others like it, the underground success of Aarseth's label is often credited for encouraging other record labels that previously refused black metal acts to then reconsider and release their material.

The cover of Aske by Burzum depicts charred remains of the Fantoft stave church.
Church burnings
Headliners of the black metal scene claimed responsibility for inspiring (if not necessarily perpetrating) over 50 arsons directed at Christian churches in Norway from 1992 to 1996[5]. Many of the buildings were hundreds of years old, and widely regarded as important historical landmarks. The most notable church was Norway's Fantoft stave church, which the police believed was destroyed by the one-man band Burzum (Varg Vikernes, aka "Count Grishnackh"[6]). However, Varg would not be convicted of any arson offences, until his arrest for the murder of Øystein Aarseth in 1993 (see below). Interestingly, the cover of Burzum's EP release, Aske, portrays a photograph of the Fantoft stave church after the arson. It is unconfirmed whether or not Vikernes himself may have taken this picture.

In modern times, the church burnings have caused a minor divide within the black metal community concerning the legitimacy of the actions. When interviewed for the film Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, Gaahl of the band Gorgoroth praised the church burnings as "things I support", adding "there should have been more of them, and there will be more of them"[7]. However, other artists don't support these actions. Necrobutcher, one of the founding and current members of Mayhem, was quoted in a mini-documentary that accompanied the same film, saying "I think it's ridiculous, especially the people that lit up our old fuckin' churches. They don't realize that these were actually Heathen churches, before Christianity. So they fucked themselves in the ass by doing that".

Mayhem controversy
In 1991, attention towards black metal increased when Mayhem's frontman Per Yngve Ohlin (stagename Dead) committed suicide via shotgun blast to the head, which followed a series of self-inflicted lacerations to his arms. His note simply read "Excuse all the blood" and contained an apology for firing the weapon indoors. The ammunition was supplied weeks prior to the incident by Varg Vikernes, who played bass for Mayhem on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Dead's body was discovered by fellow bandmate Øystein Aarseth (also known as Euronymous), who, instead of calling the police, ran to a nearby convenience store and bought a disposable camera to photograph the corpse, modeling the body in various positions. The pictures were later stolen and one was used as the cover image for a bootleg Mayhem album (Dawn of the Black Hearts). Claims that Aarseth took pieces of Dead's brains and made a stew out of them eventually surfaced, as well as claims that the members of the band made a necklace from the bone fragments of their friend's skull. The former claim was later declared false by the band, although the latter turned out to be true[8].

Aarseth's murder

Varg Vikernes famously smirked upon receiving his guilty sentence in 1994 for murder and arson.In 1993, Varg Vikernes became responsible for the murder of Øystein Aarseth of Mayhem during a late night confrontation at Aarseth's home. According to official reports, Øystein received a total of twenty-three stab wounds: two to the head, five to the neck, and sixteen to the back. The circumstances of the murder are not entirely clear, and numerous stories have surfaced as a result. Rumors stated the act was merely Varg's attempt at "out doing" a stabbing of a civilian in Lillehammer, which was committed by another black metal musician the year before (see below)[1]. Realistically, however, the crime can most likely be attributed to a power struggle between Vikernes and Aarseth. The closing of Aarseth's record store (Helvete) may have alluded to a financial dispute over the profits from Varg's records as Burzum (Det Som Engang Var, Aske). Despite this, Vikernes himself claims the murder was not premeditated and was an act of self-defense, and that Aarseth had conspired to videotape the torture and eventual murder of Varg as a result of jealousy. Varg asserts that he had been informed of this plan by friends whom Aarseth attempted to conspire with, and that Aarseth attacked him first upon their visit that night, resulting in the murder (Varg's story in full can be read on his website,

Regardless of the circumstances, Vikernes was arrested within days, and in 1994 was sentenced to 21 years in prison in conjunction with a few arson charges. He has since distanced himself from black metal and has released two albums of a more ambient and electronic nature, Dauði Baldrs in 1997 and Hliðskjálf in 1999, but implied in interviews that he would write material similar to his older works upon his release from prison. As for Mayhem, Aarseth's murder nearly rendered the band extinct. However, the band continues to perform fronted by original member Necrobutcher. Controversy still follows the band, albeit rarely. In 2003, a concert-goer in Norway received a fractured skull as a dead sheep's head flew from the stage while band member Blasphemer was cutting the head away from the torso[2].

Murder in Lillehammer
In 1992, Bård Faust of the band Emperor was in Lillehammer to see the newly constructed Olympic park. According to Faust (in Lords of Chaos), a homosexual man named Rhys Adamec approached him and suggested that they go together in the nearby forest. Faust claims he agreed and that, once in the forest, the man made potent sexual advances on him. Faust retaliated and stabbed the man to death with a hunting knife, later citing the incident as a crime of passion. The case went unsolved until late 1993, when police began to investigate the church burnings and murder surrounding Varg Vikernes; such investigation of the black metal scene led police to Faust, and he served little over 9 years of a 14 year sentence before being released in 2003. Bård was interviewed for a black metal mini-documentary that accompanied the DVD release of Metal: A Headbanger's Journey.

Social conflicts
A brief conflict known as the "Dark War" between Norwegian and Finnish scenes had gained some media recognition from 1992 to 1993. Part of this was motivated by seemingly harmless pranks; Nuclear Holocaust of Beherit started to make prank calls in the middle of the night to Samoth of Emperor and Mika Luttinen of Impaled Nazarene. The calls were mainly just babbling and playing of children's songs[9], however, Luttinen somehow got the idea that the language babbled was Norwegian and most likely death threats; these speculations were probably made due to the tensions between Finnish and Norwegian scenes at the time, as Euronymous wanted to lead his movement towards a more cult-like status (see Black Metal Inner Circle), where as the Finnish scene continued with the more easy going attitude of LaVeyan Satanism.

Noteably, the album cover of Impaled Nazarene's Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz contains texts like "No orders from Norway accepted" and "Kuolema Norjan kusipäille!" (Death to the assholes of Norway!). After their first LP, Impaled Nazarene quit playing black metal and defined their style as "Satanic death metal", disassociating themselves from the church burnings in Norway. The Finnish band Black Crucifixion also became known to criticize Darkthrone once or twice as "trendies" due to the fact that Darkthrone began their career as a death metal band.[10] Beherit didn't participate much in the conflict, yet in Norway there was a band called Fuck Beherit which released two demos mocking the band. The conflict is also said to have had an effect on Beherit's decision to quit black metal.

Many recall a strong Swedish death metal and Norwegian black metal rivalry during the 1990s. It was common for black metal enthusiasts in Europe to terrorize notable death metal bands that were touring their country or neighboring countries, on the basis of their lack of apparent "evilness" (the death metal subgenre focuses strictly on theatrics, and is mostly devoid of major criminal attempts and controversy, unlike black metal). Street fights at shows (and even an attempted fire bomb at a 1992 Deicide show in Stockholm [3]) had been reported before tensions eventually calmed.
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