Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Black metal is a musical genre, related to styles of heavy metal, such as death metal. Some black metal fans, musicians and critics use a strict definition of the genre, though others view this as needlessly limiting and view black metal as an artistic movement than a sub-category of popular music.
The originators of Black Metal are bands like Venom, Mayhem, Hellhammer, Bathory, and Celtic Frost. The name of the movement comes from Venom's album "Black Metal" and it can be seen in its mature form with the recordings of Bathory in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Black metal congealed in its current form through the influence of Norwegian bands such as Darkthrone, Enslaved, Burzum, Mayhem, Immortal, and Emperor, who began with the earlier style and introduced elements from mainstream heavy metal, classical music and popularized the style to a growing underground audience. Their influence is most apparent in the Satanic imagery, blasphemous lyrics and occult themes. Newer Black Metal bands playing in a more commercial style would be Dimmu Borgir, Old Man's Child and early Cradle of Filth.
Black metal characteristics can include:
- lyrics, often taking the form of Satanic themes which blaspheme Christianity, and other occult themes, like paganism (this is the hallmark of Black Metal; most metalheads associate any antichristian lyricism with this genre- notable exception being Slayer, who are generally not referred to as Black Metal)
- heavy distortion
- fast, aggressive drums, often including blast beats
- fast, repetitive guitar playing (so-called tremolo picking, in which the guitar is played similarly to balalaika) and riffing
- high-pitched screeching vocals
- swift percussion
- cold and sad atmosphere.
An abraded, very low fidelity recording style was common in the early albums associated with the genre. Modern offshoots of this original black metal sound have incorporated atmospheric elements using ambient guitar and keyboard passages such as organ sounds or other miscellaneous instruments.
A distinct feature of the early bands' image was the use of corpse paint, a special kind of black and white make-up which was used to make the wearer look like a decomposing corpse or plague victim. This, along with an almost universal use of more or less creative stage names, also helped in hiding the wearers' identity.
Early bands also dwelled on themes of fantasy, mythology, folklore, etc as well as Satanism, darkness, evil, etc.
The most prominent figure of the original Norwegian scene was Řystein Aarseth, better known as Euronymous, the guitarist in the band Mayhem. In many ways, he was the godfather of the Norwegian black metal scene, being its most vocal proponent and visible figure.
The scene was deeply anti-Christian, and had a stated goal of removing the influence of Christianity and other non-Scandinavian religions from Norwegian culture and to effect a return to the nation's Norse roots. The movement was largely directed by an 'Inner Circle', made up of Aarseth and a few close friends, from the basement of Aarseth's record store, Helvete (Hell). That location also housed a recording studio, where records were made by Mayhem and a number of other bands that were signed to Aarseth's independent label, Deathlike Silence Productions. Deathlike Silence's stated goal was to release records by bands "that incarnated evil in its most pure state."
Also around this time, there was a rash of arsons directed at Christian churches in Norway—many of the buildings were hundreds of years old, and widely regarded as important historical landmarks—that Aarseth's circle claimed responsibility for inspiring, if not necessarily perpetrating. The most notable church was Norway's Fantoft stave church, which was burned by a member of Euronymous's inner circle: the man behind the one-man band Burzum, Kristian (Varg) Vikernes, aka "Count Grishnackh". Black metal enthusiasts also started to terrorize other notable "death metal" bands that were touring their country or in neighboring countries, on the basis of their lack of apparent "evilness". Many recall a strong Swedish and Norwegian Black Metal rivalry.
His body was discovered by Aarseth who, instead of calling the police, ran to a nearby convenience store and bought a disposable camera which he used to photograph the corpse for a future Mayhem album cover. Apocryphal reports also claim that he then took some pieces of Dead's splattered brains and made a stew out of them and/or members of the band took bone fragments from their friend's skull and made necklaces out of them.
The 'Inner Circle' got even more exposure in 1993, when Vikernes murdered Aarseth in his home, stabbing him 23 times in the head and back. The circumstances surrounding the reason for the murder are not entirely clear, but have mainly been attributed to ideological differences and a power struggle between Vikernes and Aarseth. Vikernes claimed that Aarseth had plotted to kill him and that the murder was committed in partial self-defence. Vikernes also claimed that there was a financial dispute over the profits from Burzum's first two full-length records (Burzum and Det Som Engang Var) as well as the first Burzum EP (Aske) that were released through Aarseth's record label, Deathlike Silence Records. Vikernes was sentenced to 21 years in prison and has since distanced himself from the black metal movement, becoming involved in the Neo-Nazi movement and writing extensively on the subject.
By the last few years of the 1990s, the black metal scene had lost much of its appeal to the underground, when recordings from commercially oriented bands such as Dimmu Borgir, using more typical sounding arrangements and prominent keyboards, began to get regular play on European airwaves. Far from the rough, DIY sounds of the early Norwegian bands, this latest wave employed polished sounds more accessible to a mass audience.
However, since the mid-90s, an Eastern European black metal scene has been developing. Bands from these former Iron Curtain lands are recording albums more in keeping with the primitive nature of the early Norwegian artists. Many of these bands' lyrics glorify the pagan roots of their home countries, occasionally injecting elements of indigenous folk music into their arrangements. The Latvian band Skyforger is a prime example of this new aesthetic. The black metal scene in Russia and Ukraine has produced many bands more in keeping with the carefully arranged sounds coming from Scandinavia, but with more appreciation for the low fidelity aesthetic of early black metal. The Ukrainian band Nokturnal Mortum has achieved some recognition in the west; their earlier albums relied heavily on synthesizers, but their current work has a grimmer, more abrasive feel flavored with Slavic folk instruments. Poland's neo-Nazi band Graveland has, in recent albums, striven for a 'medieval' feel, much like a much more developed version of later 'viking' Bathory albums, but in the past made much rawer music which still held a certain intangible folk flavor. From Romania, Negura Bunget is a prime example of traditional black metal, injecting their own indigenous mix of Latin and Slavic elements, along with a Scandinavian sound.
There is also a growing number of American bands playing black metal (sometimes called USBM bands). This movement has not taken a particularly clear form, but better-known groups are Judas Iscariot , Absu, Krieg , Grand Belial's Key , Kult ov Azazel and the death metal-influenced Averse Sefira.
- Michael Moynihan, Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground (Feral House) ISBN 0922915482
List of notable black metal bands
With country of origin in parentheses:
- Abigor (Austria)
- Absu (United States)
- Bathory (Sweden)
- Burzum (Norway)
- Carpathian Forest (Norway)
- Dark Funeral (Sweden)
- Darkthrone (Norway)
- Dimmu Borgir (Norway)
- Emperor (Norway)
- Enthroned (Belgium)
- Gorgoroth (Norway)
- Graveland (Poland)
- Hellhammer (Switzerland)
- Immortal (Norway)
- Mayhem (Norway)
- Nargaroth (Germany)
- Nokturnal Mortum (Ukraine)
- Old Man's Child (Norway)
- Samael (Switzerland)
- Sigh (Japan)
- Venom (England)
- BlackMetal.com - Store with Black Metal merchandise.
- BM.co.uk - Reviews, writings etc.
- Damned in Black - Alphabetical list of Black Metal artists with biographies and albums.
- James Montague's A World Tour of Black Metal
- NSBM.com - about National Socialist Black Metal (see above)
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