Note: First wave black metal bands like Celtic Frost, Venom, Mercyful Fate, Hellhammer, etc. were not included in this list, instead focusing on the next wave which ushered in the commonly accepted sound synonymous with black metal.
Very few scenes have had as much worldwide influence than the one in Norway which began in the late ’80s. Together, a small group of teens spawned an unholy metal revolution, taking the most reckless aspects of black metal’s first wave and stripping it to a primordial state of buzzing, raw guitars that brought an unrepentant onslaught of bleak, tremolo-picked dissonance through low-end production values. Mid-range, gravely grunts fed the atmosphere, rounding out the sound of a new era of extreme metal.
The Helvete (Norwegian for “Hell”) record store, run by Euronymous (who would later be killed by Varg Vikernes in black metal’s most infamous moment) and Mayhem, served as a portal to the underworld where members of the genre’s upstarts would congregate. Euronymous ran the Deathlike Silence label and was responsible for helping spread this new brand of music around the world, where other pockets were catching on to the sound, especially in Sweden (thanks to progenitors Bathory as well) and, to a much smaller extent, the United States.
Black metal steadily gained awareness in Norway during these next few years as several of the scene’s members would be involved in the wave of church burnings that plagued the country among other criminal and infamous activities. Naturally, the exposure only brought more interest in this new movement, which now had a menacing reputation and a layer of mystery as most bands wore corpsepaint onstage and in photos.
Since acts like Mayhem, Enslaved, Satyricon, Emperor, Burzum and a handful of others conspired to craft metal’s most notorious style, countless others have either stayed the course and kept the sound true to the original or have taken it in vastly different directions, evolving the genre and showcasing the immense spectrum of musical possibilities that lie within the harrowing dissonance.
Scroll through the gallery at the top of the page as we count down the Top 30 Black Metal Albums of All Time.
10 Greatest Black Metal Bands
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