Community Partner From:Bandwagon.sgposted on 8 April at 2:15 PM
8 April at 2:15 PM

Shades Of Black: The History And Evolution Of Black Metal

Music, like fashion, enjoys a repeated revolution of revivalism. They’re extracted from their original context and subsequently injected into the modern age, often with distinct flavors of new. In recent years we’ve observed the likes of Savages fiercely carrying their fiery post-punk torch high, the ever increasing ensembles under Topshelf Records bringing back midwest emo and bands such as Dum Dum Girls and Best Coast receiving their fair share of praises and rebukes for their sickeningly fuzzy lo-fi sound. Music trends are cylic in nature, and it’s not suprising to see legions of new-found fans appreciating a genre that you least expect.

Still, nothing could really prepare you for the sudden adoration for black metal.

Lets examine the stats: the album that appears on (at least) 13 best album of 2013 lists of the world’s biggest music publications feature a black metal album – Deafheaven’s Sunbather. The Guardian recently gave Behemoth's The Satanist five stars out of five. Even Apple is repping a black metal album on their ads. What has the world come to?

Whether you’re for it or against it, you can’t deny that the once alienating genre has found new life and with it, a whole lot of people paying attention to it (and not for controversial reasons too). Where a stubbornly traditional, static subculture once stood, the current renaissance that’s happening within black metal is more often than not a good thing. After all, omnia mutantur, nihil interit.

But how did this once reviled, misunderstood genre win over the harshest critics and the most passioned detesters of metal? We trek across these grim, wintry landscapes to find out what happened.


The term ‘black metal’ itself was coined back in 1982, after English band Venom’s sophomore album of the same name. Stylistically, the first few bands that were considered the ‘first wave’ of black metal such as Venom, Bathory and Mercyful Fate sounded more like typical speed and thrash metal, than what we consider as black metal today. What made them different was their lyrical and thematic content: anti-Christian and Satanic themes, adopting morbid personas on stage, complete with monikers (including Nocturno Culto, Gaahl, Count Grishnackh and other jolly names) and corpsepaint. Bathory’s vocalist Quorthon replaced singing with screeching and that turned out to be pretty popular too. The ‘first wave’ generally set the character and tonal quality of the black metal to come – it had to be extremely dark, have lo-fi production, heavily distorted guitars, fast drums and an inclination towards repelling the church-going population.

In the late 80’s, black metal faded away due to the rising popularity of another extreme genre: death metal. It was faster, more chaotic, hyper aggressive, and featured growled vocals. This is how you differentiate between death metal and black metal – the former sounds low-pitched, animalistic while the latter maintains a higher-pitch, like the wind howling. Try it out. Compare and contrast between Cannibal Corpse’s “Make Them Suffer” and Emperor’s “I Am The Black Wizards”.

Then came the ‘second wave’ of black metal in the early 90’s, and Norway was the source of it all. Bands such as Mayhem, Darkthrone, Immortal, Gorgoroth, Burzum and more further developed the sound and culture of their forebearers into a distinct, legitimate subgenre. This evolution of black metal took everything to the next level – it was deeply nihilistic and misanthropic, and it took on an absolute rawness that were at times even unlistenable. It was more about generating dark, moody atmospheres rather than evoke any sort of emotional gratification.


This time, there was a higher level of commitment to satanism and being as ungodly as possible, even though the earlier bands only used their ‘satanist’ stance more for shock value. Warped philosophical ideologies were rampant amongst the early Norwegian black metal scene, amassing the ire of international media over this ‘satanically-motivated’ genre and what it made youths do. Some were horribly misguided enough to be completely taken in by the culture, expressing an explicit desire to spread hatred, sorrow and fear – thus explaining the over 50 arsons of Christian churches from ’92 to ’96 in Norway.

Another incident of extremities is of course Mayhem’s Dawn Of The Black Hearts. In 1991, Mayhem vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin committed suicide and was found with slit wrists, a slit throat and a shotgun wound to the head by guitarist Euronymous (no that’s not his real name). Instead of calling the police immediately, he went to a shop and bought a disposable camera, which he used to take pictures of his former bandmate. One of those pictures became an album cover (NSFW). We’ll let that sink in for a while.


Long considered a purely ‘underground’ genre, black metal had begun to slowly creep out into the general metal scene’s consciousness. Norwegian black metal, plagued with notoriety and an all-encompassing darkness, had an appeal that was reaching out of Scandinavia to influence the rest of Europe. Soon, metal scenes from Germany, France and the UK were embracing the trademarks of its sound. However, this was when the winds of black metal were changing direction...



Continue reading on

Copyright 2014 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn No. 198402868E. All rights reserved. Terms & Conditions