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Black Metal
Its sound is raw, yet also epic and atmospheric, like Punk Rock meets Wagner, dressed as Alice Cooper.
— Sam Dunn, Metal: A Headbanger's Journey

Black metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal. It is typically abrasive and usually makes use of fast tempos driven by blastbeat drumming, high-pitched electric guitars that are often played with tremolo pickingnote , unconventional song structures and high-pitched shrieking vocals usually with lyrics concerning anti-Christianity, Satanism, paganism, nature or fantasy. It is prone to experimentation and certain elements typical to black metal are not always used by every band within the subgenre. Originally, many black metal recordings were created with low-quality production and recording equipment, but some bands still retain this recording style, favoring its primitive feelings over more modern recording equipment. Satanic and anti-Christian imagery and face paint have remained a staple part of this style of music since its inception.

The roots of black metal come from Venom's extreme take on thrash metal (Black Metal is obviously cited as a major Trope Maker, as well as Trope Namer), as well as bands like Bathory, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost and Mercyful Fate. Who was more important can lead to a Broken Base though ("Venom started it" vs "the media said that Venom started it!"), so be warned. A second wave started in the late 80s/early 90s, with bands such as Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum, Immortal, Emperor, Rotting Christ and Varathron. Black metal bands from the United States such as Von and Profanatica also formed around this time. Most modern black metal was built upon the groundwork laid by bands during this time period. Following a series of church burnings associated with black metal musicians and the murder of Euronymous of Mayhem by Burzum mastermind Varg Vikernes, the Norwegian black metal scene received considerable attention from the mainstream media.

As of August, 2010 Immortal is the last of the "Second-Wave" Norwegian Black Metal bands that is still in operation; their closest musical contemporaries have altogether left the genre: Darkthrone have mutated into a retro-trad/crust punk outfit, while Satyricon gave up the genre in favor of "Black Rock", a sub-sub-genre of hard rock, though not heavy metal "proper". (Enslaved could arguably be considered to belong alongside Immortal in this list, although their sound now is as much Progressive Metal as is Black Metal, and on Ruun and Vertebrae was more Prog than Black). Immortal themselves formed a "new" band (adding two members) in 2006 named "I" and released the critically-acclaimed album Between Two Worlds which was one of the foundations for the "Black Rock" sound other bands (notably Satyricon) augmented their music into.

More frequently than not, later bands in this genre are dubbed "post-black metal" or "avant-garde black metal" because the genre name black metal is supposed to denote a very specific aesthetic. While bands of this ilk, such as Arcturus, Sigh, Solefald, Borknagar, In The Woods..., Ulver, Fleurety, Agalloch, Peccatum, Ved Buens Ende and others, can arguably be very different in style, they often use better production values and explore other genres of music at the same time.

Thanks to a focus on Satanic (or just anti-Christian) imagery, the mainstream media tends to frown upon the genre, but genres like fantasy (ie. Tolkien) and folklore are also common. Some black metal bands are even aligned with National Socialism. (On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, there are also the occasional bands aligned with anarchism or other left-wing ideologies, such as Wolves in the Throne Room, Blut aus Nord, Panopticon, Sorgsvart, and Skagos). Although there are exceptions, modern black metal as a musical style tends to make use of high-pitched tremolo picking, shrieked or growled vocals, blast beats, unconventional song structures and an emphasis on atmosphere over technical playing styles.

Black metal rarely features verse-chorus structures, generally favoring a more basic style that features extended musical sections and repetitive guitar riffs. Guitar solos are a rarity in black metal, although they are featured prominently in the music of some bands (i.e. Peste Noire). Black metal often features very lo-fi, primitive recording quality reminiscent of the early days of the genre, but some bands have favored more professional recording techniques. While the harsh vocal style of black metal has become nearly universal, many bands still feature clean vocals, used either in conjunction with more extreme vocals or as the primary vocal style.

Black metal tends to be nationalistic in nature (so much that there is a whole subgenre for national socialist black metal, NSBM, which is covered below), so it is no surprise that many of the European scenes (particularly from Norway) look down on black metal uprisings in nations like the United States. There's also viking/black metal, or simply "viking metal," arguably first created by Bathory and later taken up by bands like Windir, Enslaved, and others of that ilk.

Unlike most other artists from other forms of music, many black metal bands do not play live. Many bands, such as Burzum and Xasthur, are one-man studio projects, but many bands with full line-ups also prefer to avoid playing live. However, many black metal bands are also known for their theatrical live shows, with the shows of bands such as Mayhem and Gorgoroth being particularly notorious (once Gorgoroth played live on Polish TV on a stage surrounded by barbed wire with severed pigs' heads impaled on stakes and surrounded by life-size wooden crosses with naked female models (hooded) tied on...something you definitely won't see on U.S. prime time television note ). Music/Watain probably outdoes other bands on this: their shows are famous for pigs' blood being sprayed all over the place.

Not to be confused with Living Colour, who are African-American metal.


List of black metal bands, categorised by subgenre:

"Traditional" Black, Raw Black, and Black/Thrash
"Traditional" black metal is the regular style of black metal, codified by the Second Wave (particularly in Norway). Raw black metal is a much harsher and simpler form of black metal codified by bands like Darkthrone. Black/thrash is, as the name suggests, black metal mixed with Thrash Metal; it tends to be applied to bands that combine the two genres that were not first-wave black metal.
Due to the overlap between the three subgenres, they have all been lumped together.

First-Wave Black Metal
The original black metal movement started in the eighties; first-wave black metal bands are, for the most part, thrash bands with much rougher production; while some examples are subject to debate as to whether they're black or thrash, the Brazilian acts are generally viewed as the first "true" examples of black metal. Some of Bathory's music is an exception; a strong case could be made that the album Under the Sign of the Black Mark in particular is the Trope Codifier for black metal as it exists today. The same can be said for both Sarcófago's "I.N.R.I." and Sepultura's "Bestial Devastation" and "Morbid Visions"; the former band's album is particularly notable due to its extensive usage of blastbeats, which helped lay the template for black metal drumming to come.

Melodic Black Metal
As the name suggests, this is Black Metal with a much more melodic, and usually epic, approach than regular black metal. This genre tends to be much more accessible than regular Black Metal. Though first started in Sweden with bands such as Sacramentum, Dissection, and Dawn, the genre is often associated with Southern Europe and especially Greece, with bands such as Moonspell, Rotting Christ, Astarte, and Opera IX coming from those areas.

Symphonic Black Metal
Black metal with symphonic and orchestral elements. These bands tend to be a lot cheesier, and less serious, than other black metal bands. Like with melodic black metal, symphonic black metal tends to be a lot more accessible than other forms of black metal.

Folk/Black Metal
Black metal mixed with Folk Metal.

Viking Black Metal
Black metal with lyrics and imagery regarding vikings. The overall genre of Viking Metal evolved from black metal, and as such most viking metal bands are black metal; however, there are some viking metal bands, such as Ensiferum and Amon Amarth, that have nothing to do with black metal (and, as a result, aren't seen as "true" viking metal bands by some black metal fans). A lot of the time, viking black metal overlaps with folk/black metal. A good number of English black metal bands play Viking metal, but call it "Anglo-Saxon metal".

Black/Doom Metal
See the Doom Metal page.

Depressive/Suicidal Black Metal
Black metal with an ultra-depressive atmosphere and a lyrical focus on suicide, self-mutilation and other things to do with depression. This is quite a Love It or Hate It genre; either this is one of the most brilliant forms of black metal, or the most Narmful. Very often crosses over with ambient black metal and black/doom. Burzum is often a significant influence, with some bands in this genre (Nyktalgia in particular, especially on their first album) almost sounding like Burzum tribute bands. The Trope Makers of the genre are generally considered to be Bethlehem, Forgotten Woods, and Strid. Silencer could arguably be considered the Trope Codifier, as a lot of the DSBM that followed was clearly strongly influenced by it.

Industrial Black Metal
Black metal mixed with electronic music, often but not always industrial.

Ambient Black Metal
Black metal with elements of dark ambient. The early developments of this genre can be found in early 90's projects such as Burzum, Moëvöt, Ildjarn, Mütiilation and Crimson Moon. Many bands (e.g. Forgotten Woods, Leviathan, Xasthur, Mütiilation) overlap with Depressive/Suicidal Black Metal.

Avant-Garde/Progressive Black Metal
Black metal either possessing significant avant-garde tendencies, influenced significantly by Progressive Metal, or both. Uncommon Time is not uncommon, Epic Rocking is frequent, and occurrences of Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly are not unheard of. A large portion of bands classifiable within the avant-garde metal subgenre either count as black metal, or are significantly inspired by black metal due to the genre's fondness for disturbing imagery, ideology, and atmosphere, all of which are pretty useful when you want to prog out as a band.

Post-Black Metal and Blackened Shoegazenote 
Two closely related subgenres of black metal incorporating elements of post-rock and shoegaze, respectively. Generally more melodic and arguably more accessible than more traditional black metal. This is something of a Love It or Hate It genre; many people adore it but black metal purists often attack it as watering down black metal for a hipster audience.

Bestial Black Metal/War Metal
Based on the raw, thrashing style of proto-Black Metal bands such as Blasphemy, Sarcófago, Von and Beherit, Bestial Black Metal aims for pure, demonic aggression and speed, often featuring elongated blastbeats, chainsaw-esque guitar tones, extremely guttural vocals and short song lengths. Many bands show heavy influence from Death Metal, old school Thrash Metal and sometimes Grindcore. Lyrics usually eschew political or philosophical themes, instead focusing on blasphemous and taboo subjects such as anti-Christianity, desecration of religious symbols, sadism, sodomy and bestiality. Basically Black Metal's answer to Brutal Death Metal.

While not technically different subgenres as the bands described within have wildly varying musical styles, the following subtropes are ideologically different to most other forms of black metal, and are often considered subgenres of black metal; as such, they have both been given their own place on the list.

National Socialist Black Metal
As the name suggests, this is black metal with a lyrical focus on "national heritage" and "being proud of your race/culture". In normal terms, this translates as "black metal with nazi lyrics". Musicians hold far-right, nationalist political beliefs, and they use their music to get their views across.
As a side note, don't just list artists with members (or sole members) holding far-right beliefs, such as Burzum (and many other bands). Make sure that the lyrics themselves are racist, or strongly nationalist, before adding a band.

Red and Anarchist Black Metal
Basically the complete polar opposite of NSBM. Most of these bands are fairly new, although Profecium formed in 1993.note  As a result this particular strain of black metal isn't as infamous or widely known as NSBM yet. There is a strong environmentalist streak in much of this music, and many bands from the Cascadian region of the United States and Canada fall here. There is also a strong overlap with crust punk. A few lesser known bands overlap with unblack metal below, but others are explicitly atheistic, pagan, or (in Profecium's case) Satanic in ideology.
As with NSBM, don't list an artist just because they hold far-left political views (Euronymous, for example, was an authoritarian Communist, but Music/Mayhem does not count)); they have to express their ideology in their lyrics and/or packaging. (Unfortunately, in some cases, such as Blut aus Nord and the explicitly anarchistic Ash Borer, it's difficult to know whether the views are expressed in the lyrics since only the bands know what the lyrics are (although Blut aus Nord did release lyrics for one of their early albums). Ash Borer take this one step further by not naming several of their songs).
There's a lot of information on both NSBM and RABM in this article.

Unblack Metal
Do you love black metal, but hate all that stuff about Satan? Well, this is the perfect genre for you! Unblack metal, also known as "white metal", is black metal with Christian lyrics and themes. These bands are often strongly hated by the rest of the black metal fandom because of the rather negative attitude held towards Christianity by said fandom.

The black metal genre exhibits the following tropes:

  • Archive Panic: Band members tend to collaborate with each other a lot (particularly in the Norwegian second wave scene) and have several side projects, so if you want to collect everything an artist has ever released, good luck. And a lot of releases are hard to find anyway.
  • Base Breaker: Post-black metal and blackened shoegaze can be this. Mentioning some artists in black metal forums, like Deafheaven or Liturgy (either positively or negatively), is instant Flame Bait.
  • Bilingual Bonus: A lot of bands will throw in lyrics from multiple languages. Solefald, for example, typically write in about four different languages, while Deathspell Omega often throw in even more (Altum Videtur is particularly common).
  • Black Speech: Plenty of bands borrow Tolkienic motives for their names and some even write entire songs in pseudo-Black Speech. The growling makes it hard to tell the difference anyway.
  • Careful With That Axe: Freaking everywhere, with Silencer's Death-Pierce Me, Fleurety's A Darker Shade of Evil, and Bethlehem's Dictius Te Necare being particularly notable examples.
  • Creator Backlash: The most notable example would be Varg Vikernes, who greatly dislikes the modern Black Metal scene and classifies his music as Thrash Metal rather than BM. The late Quorthon of Bathory also distanced himself from the genre and then pioneered Viking Metal.
  • Creator Breakdown: Given the tendency of black metal creators to be exceedingly secretive, it's hard to gauge exactly how common these are, but one of Deathspell Omega's small handful of published interviews, the band imply that the creation of Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice nearly drove them to one of these.
    You wouldn't imagine how painful it was for us to give birth to the abomination this album is. If the listener didn't get to feel any of the anguish we went through -and to remain totally focused for such a long time is not usual nor easy these days anymore - the album would be a failure.
Several black metal musicians have also committed suicide, which would seem to imply a Creator Breakdown of the highest order.
  • Darker and Edgier: Second-wave black metal was this to the first wave, turning up the aggression of the music and being more serious about the Satanic/occultic themes. Quoting Canadian music web show This Exists:
    "The Norwegians really cranked that shit up with the second wave of black metal. And they stopped kidding. Ever. About anything."
  • Dark Is Evil/Dark Is Not Evil: Plenty of bands invoke both sides of the coin.
  • Draco in Leather Pants: The more obsessive segment of the fanbase is often willing to either overlook or support any act committed by a musician, with Varg Vikernes being the most notable example.
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: Shows up a lot in Melodic Black Metal.
  • Epic Riff: Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (yep, the whole album) is the most often-cited example of this in the genre, but there are examples in many other songs as well.
  • Epic Rocking: A fair portion of black metal songs. Arguably the rule rather than the exception, actually.
  • Evil Is Cool: The reason then genre exists.
  • Fan Haters: Within the genre, fans of "mall black metal" (Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth, Chthonic, etc.) are viewed as angsty teenagers in Tripp pants, eyeliner, and cheap pentagram necklaces from Hot Topic who are roughly a few months removed from thinking that Slipknot and Marilyn Manson are the "sickest bands ever", while "hipster black" fans (Wolves in the Throne Room, Nachtmystium, Liturgy, etc.) are viewed as pretentious douchebags who know nothing about black metal and are too lazy to listen to "real" black metal. Outside of it, there are a fair number of metalheads who (while not necessarily hating the music) hate the stereotypical Black Metal fan: Some pretentious moron who won't shut up about how much the world sucks, ditches bands faster than a hipster on PCP, drafts lengthy nonsensical manifestos that absolutely no one can comprehend because they don't say shit and have absolutely no point or express goal despite what they might think, and hasn't got much interest in anything besides black metal and maybe a couple neofolk or dark ambient acts if they're feeling really wild. That these fans are very much a Vocal Minority, and widely mocked by other fans doesn't seem to matter.
  • For the Evulz: Invoked as a motivation by some bands.
  • God Is Evil: Many musicians and fans profess to hate Christianity for replacing the pagan traditions of Europe, leading to several widely publicized church burnings. Mayhem drummer Hellhammer spoke in a Guitar World interview about his dislike for "Christianity and its pitiful glorification of the weak," but went on to say that he was not a Satanist because "Satanists always end up burning themselves out, and I'm not going to do that." He cited paganism as his primary inspiration.
    • In an ironic turn of events, Hellhammer eventually lent his drumming skills to Unblack metal band Antestor, if only to piss off his former Mayhem band mates.
  • Gorn: Sometimes used as thematic, but it's not very common as with Death Metal.
  • Green Aesop: Common.
  • Grim Up North: While BM scenes exist worldwide, most of the BM releases that many metalheads know of usually come from Northern European countries (Norway, in particular)
  • Guttural Growler: Many, if not all black metal vocalists have an incredibly harsh and gritty voice, while not singing (live).
  • Harsh Vocals: Duh!
  • Heavy Metal
  • Heavy Mithril: When the lyrics aren't Satanic or philosophical, chances are they will be fantasy-based.
  • I Am the Band: It's fairly common for bands to consist of only one or two permanent members who play all the instruments. Some good examples are Burzum and Xasthur.
  • Indecipherable Lyrics: Pretty much a given when your primary vocal style is shrieked. The fact that a lot of musicians don't speak English as their first language doesn't help, even when the lyrics are in English.
  • It's Popular, Now It Sucks: The mindset of quite a few ultra-serious black metal fans (who are often relentlessly mocked by other black metal fans, although this doesn't seem to matter in popular perceptions of the genre).
  • Keep Circulating the Tapes: Due to the super-limited nature of many black metal releases, often the only way you will be able to hear them without paying obscene charges for a second-hand copy is by downloading them.
  • Kill All Humans: A common lyrical theme. Most of the songs on Mayhem's Ordo ad Chao are about this, and Botanist has been making a series of Concept Albums about a man who wants to summon an army of plants to wipe out humanity.
  • Love It or Hate It: Another rather grinding example, although not anywhere as close as Death Metal: fans like it for its distinctive sound, the influences even from literature and that this is pretty much one of the more grating subgenres of metal; detractors instead deplore black metal due to the controversies surrounding it and - especially - the satanic imagery.
  • Memetic Mutation: Immortal. Varg Vikernes is also quite the memetic fellow.
  • Metal Scream: All three types, albeit Type 3 is the most prominent.
  • Misattributed Song: The side of the split attributed to Ildjarn on the "Ildjarn/Hate Forest" split Those Once Mighty Fallen is actually by Ildjarn's frequent collaborator Nidhogg. The misattribution was allegedly due to an error by the label, although a more cynical individual might suspect they thought attributing it to Ildjarn would sell more records. In any case, it's still good.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Usually a 9 or 10, although some of the more melodic/folk-influenced/symphonic bands are an 8, and some of the more noisy bands (e.g. Deathspell Omega and Anaal Nathrakh) could be considered to go Up to Eleven. Then again, sometimes bands produce ambient interludes that barely even qualify as a 1. Burzum is a frequent and early example of this - see, for instance, "Tomhet," the closing song on Hvis lyset tar oss.
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: As described above, there is a whole subgenre of "avant-garde black metal" bands that exhibit this trope.
  • Never Live It Down: The church burnings and murders in the Norwegian scene created a legacy the genre will probably never fully escape. Same goes for the Fan Dumb.
  • Nobody Loves the Bassist: In a lot of cases the bass in black metal is almost completely inaudible, whether by design or just due to a crappy mix. Some other bands prove to be glorious aversions, such as Drudkh and more recent Deathspell Omega.note  Former Deathspell vocalist Shaxul also has a project entitled Arphaxat which proves to be an inversion, as it has bass but no guitar. (However, as is typical with Shaxul's work, this is pretty primitive stuff in comparison with the much more complex direction DsO has taken since his departure).
  • No Trve Metalhead: Commonly evoked by Fan Dumb to the point of massive Memetic Mutation.
  • Not So Different: One lyrical approach in the Religion Rant Songs common in black metal is to portray God and Satan this way.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: See Black Speech above. Some bands use actual Latin, rather than just psuedo-Latin, in their songs, such as Funeral Mist, Sigh, and Deathspell Omega. The Italian duo Nazgûl take this one step further by writing all of their lyrics in Latin (and they're all Tolkien-inspired). The quality of Latin grammar in various bands' songs, of course, varies widely. Deathspell, for one, get it almost entirely correct, while many other bands are not so successful.
  • Public Medium Ignorance: To many, Dimmu Borgir, Cradle Of Filth and maybe Emperor are the only Black Metal bands. This may be a contributing factor to the massive backlash against the former two bands in the black metal underground, although many people just don't think they're very good.
  • Reclusive Artist: Many bands don't play live and don't release the lyrics to their albums (Gorgoroth are the bands most famous for this), but some of them go further into this. Drudkh are probably the best example of this - they never give interviews, they never play live, there are no known photos of them, and they don't release the lyrics to many of their albums. Deathspell Omega are another example - the number of published interviews with them can be counted on one hand and no one even knows what the complete band roster is.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The live shows of Mayhem and Gorgoroth.
  • Religion Rant Song: The most common lyrical theme
  • Rock Me, Asmodeus!: There's a reason why the trope's name is written in bold and italics. Well, because THIS IS THE VERY FUNDAMENT OF THE GENRE. Given that genre founders like Venom, Bathory and Mercyful Fate all invoked this trope, it's not surprising that it has been utilised by legions of bands in the genre.
  • Sampling: Happens occasionally. The Seventh Seal is a particularly common source of this - excerpts of the soundtrack show up in, at the very least, Funeral Mist's Salvation, Panopticon's On the Subject of Mortality, and L'Acephale's Stahlhartes Gehäuse.
  • Satan Is Good: Frequently evoked by Satanically-themed Black Metal bands; that, or Satan is evil and Evil Is Cool.
  • Scare Chord: Deathspell Omega, quite atypically for a Black Metal band, have a chant section in their song "Carnal Malefactor" (frequently mistakenly assumed to be Gregorian chant, it's actually in Old Church Slavonic). What qualifies the song for this trope is that immediately after the chant's conclusion (before it's even finished echoing, in fact), they go straight back into blasting black metal, and if you're not prepared for it, it is terrifying.
  • Serious Business: And in this case, the musicians can be as serious as the fans.
    • Refreshingly averted, if not inverted, with Immortal.
  • Spikes of Villainy: Common fashion for black metal musicians.
  • Spin-Off: Viking Metal.
  • Stage Names: Almost all black metal bands use them, if they even list their members at all.
  • Supergroup: Twilight (no, it has nothing to do with the book series) is one of these for USBM, having contained members of Xasthur, Leviathan, Nachtmystium, Krieg, Isis, and now even Sonic Youth.
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song: Particularly common in the ambient black metal genre, and often used as intros or outros.
  • Three Chords and the Truth: Used by many bands in the genre. Strongly averted by most of the avant-garde and progressive groups however.
  • Trope Codifier: For the first wave, Celtic Frost and/or Bathory; for the second wave, either Mayhem or Darkthrone. For individual subgenres:
  • Trope Maker: First-wave black metal was kickstarted either by Venom (also Trope Namer) or Bathory. It's unclear who first played second-wave black metal, but people will generally agree on Mayhem.
  • Uncommon Time: A surprising number of bands in this genre employ this from time to time, probably for the purpose of making the music even more disorienting. This occurs particularly frequently among avant-garde and progressive black metal bands, naturally (Uncommon Time might actually be more common on recent Blut aus Nord releases than Common Time, and good luck finding a song of theirs from this decade that doesn't use it at all), but it can also be heard on two songs on Mayhem's early, and not at all avant-garde or progressive, EP Deathcrush (specifically, if you're wondering, the title track and "Chainsaw Gutsfuck").
  • Widget Series: A particularly relevant example, especially thanks to its strange melodies and the corpse paint. Among bands, however, Immortal is probably the most "widget" of them all.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: It's quite common to see "f"'s" changed to "v"'s, "c"'s changed to "k"'s and "u"'s changed to "v"'s in song titles and so on, so "cult of doom" (for example) becomes "kvlt ov doom".


Christian MetalMusic/Heavy Metal    
Avant-Garde MetalHeavy MetalChristian Metal
Neoclassical Punk Zydeco RockabillyDeathcoreThe Agonist
Black Dude Dies FirstThis Index Is Not An ExampleBlessed Are the Cheesemakers
In FlamesMusic Of The 1990sBathory
Heavy MetalMusic TropesDeath Metal

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