The categorization of Black Metal

Written by: Demigod
Published: 09.10.2004
I was asked to write on this topic, and I've decided to go ahead and give it a shot. The haze of controversial categorization confusion to which Black Metal is often treated, was recently cleared up for me by a couple of genre purists on a metal website, so I'd pretty much be repeating, or rewriting, the same essential information. However, I'll try to make this as "individualistic", for lack of a better word, as possible; I'm tired.

The vast expanse of this illustrious genre leaves an excess to explore no matter how deeply I try to get into it. There are truckloads to imbibe, but you could say that I'm burning lazily at the start, oblivious, yet confident. The search will always continue; there is no clear end to an education. Go ahead and handle this with care and discretion, but to me these aren't opinions, they're concise droplets of fact.

I'm not going to indulge in too many examples or thick explanation; this is primarily meant for the person who this is being written for, but anyone else can be nice and read it too.

Black Metal - No real reason to whine about the misuse of this fragile, strict term, so let me first sprinkle it with a few attributes. I can't possibly be struck by bolts of originality on this topic; primitive, raw, hateful, minimalist, nihilistic, corrosive, basic, elemental ~ infinitely beautiful, lustful, transcendental, cultured, nocturnal, and at frequent times, musically irrational. Just as all higher music does, Black Metal too drives to reach beyond the confines of the eardrums; seeking reality, intended not to be grasped by the mundane, and alternative to the same, it strives on a privileged realm of insight and non-conformity and the destruction of organized implements that disturb all that is indispensable to the freedom of spirit, mind and life; not to mention, the ignorance towards the transcendental nature of true art. Unfathomable to many, it is extreme and underground to the core, delving in honest music and root influences. Much like pure death metal, it gives an equal importance to music and a strong ideology. Most importantly, it stands against the values of the Judeo-Christianity, as it is most directly linked to that form of organized disillusion.

The First Wave - The initial moulding and formation of Black Metal peaked during the early 1980s, on up till the later stages of the decade. Some rebellious vibe (as was punk music) of darkness reflected in the mind of a few, creating a genre of simple, extreme, straight-forward music, which was as serious about freedom and non-conformity as it was about having fun and living it up, with attitude and instinct. Left-hand tradition ran circles around its rough borders, but it was always closer to a connection with olden pagan, nature-centric beliefs. With a wild approach, "fuck-exploitative-organization" stance and image, and rightfully constricted musical tendencies, it offended many and pushed itself to a dark, murky corner of the metal underground. In the mid-80s, the advent of thrash (especially non-American) also sparked up a similar mindset that followed through to the music as well, creating an important extension. A lot of early thrash material ranging from Sodom to Sarcofago, also partly included itself to the backbone of the genre, churning out a lot of influence to the second and third wave bands. The first wave of Black Metal has the quality of individual continuance, as unlike the latter two waves that have exceptionally severe similarities, the first wave was outwardly different in a purely musical sense and the classic bands still play the old style. However, the style has never been as strong in the 1990s or later.

Musical highlights: Simple, straight-forward rhythm structure, mostly mid-paced though occasionally blasting and always corrosive. Punk-like, in-your-face guitar playing (also, the beginning of the tremelostrum style) and harsh, gruff though often coherent vocal delivery. Venom (Cronos) and Celtic Frost/Hellhammer (Tom Warrior) had the deeper, gruff howls, while Bathory (Quorthon) introduced the blood-curdling shriek predominantly used during the later waves. Mercyful Fate (King Diamond) and the high-pitched evil vocal was rarely explored later on by other bands, though.

5 essential pure First Wave offerings:
1) Venom - Welcome To Hell
2) Venom - Black Metal
3) Bathory - The Return
4) Mercyful Fate - Melissa
5) Celtic Frost - Morbid Tales

The Second Wave - The deserved sonic preservation and an update of the first wave, this movement peeked between the late 1980s and mid-90s. Possibly more serious and unquestionably more extreme, carrying forward the spirit of the eternal warrior and Black Metal Legions, the second wave furthered the genre by creating more beautiful, transcendental yet inherently violent music, holding on to the strict integrity and ideology. Flowing with nihilistic juices of artistic creativity, the bands that belonged to this wave were sonically very similar, but some did spring up with their own sub-styles. Young and restless, these bands melted deeper into olden culture and the Viking faith, voicing with their music as well as the image (warpaint, also awfully known as "corpsepaint").

Controversy and inner-scene friction did arise, but the spirit was never lost. Also, a more detailed and varied lyrical outlook was introduced; various facets of the same ideology were explored and that is a whole different discussion. The music spread around this short wave was deeply complex in its own right, yet root-based, in a way digging deeper into the blackprints designed by the past masters. In general, the second wave took the first wave to a separate, exclusive plane, injecting itself with a more extreme, dissonant sense of nihility, freedom, evil and darkness. Some still remained vengefully pagan or "Satanic" while others devised a leftist political ideology, often National Socialist in nature (in accordance to region, of course). However, the aspect that was all-important and omnipresent was the extension of the spirit I was talking about and rational updating of the music and approach. Death Metal also took prominence just prior to the emergence of the second wave of Black Metal, and there were quite a few bands that mixed pure, primitive Death Metal with Black, both musically and ideologically. A large number of bands from the great second wave era are now defunct, or not as strong as they were during their heyday, but some still destroy on.

Musical highlights - Difficult to describe due to the various sub-styles that were created, but it largely consisted of either primitive, raw riffs (often structured in a trance-like, sonically complex manner) or piercing, sharp-edged riffs, or both. The melodic sense of traditional metal as well as folk music crept in, making this wave truly innovative. The rhythm section was sometimes overly speedy and destructive but also moving, as if traveling through dimensions, mid-paced and contemplative. Vocal deliveries were predominantly scream/screech-like, but there were a few exceptions. Also, the use of sparse, minimalist keyboard and ambience for the further employment of atmosphere was also quite a highlight.

8 essential pure Second Wave offerings:
1) Burzum - Det Som Engang Var
2) Burzum - Filosofem
3) Darkthrone - A Blaze In The Northern Sky
4) Beherit - Drawing Down The Moon
5) Graveland - Carpathian Wolves
6) Mayhem - De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
7) Immortal - Pure Holocaust
8) Emperor - In The Nightside Eclipse (I guess this is essential, though I'm not an ardent fan)

The Third Wave - A multitude increase in numbers of the Legion and the yearning for keeping the madness spewing gave creation to the third wave in the mid-1990s. This wave strongly exists to this day, and consists of tremendous outstanding bands, most of which are very similar to the second wave bands. However, a small drop in seriousness and an increase in "trend" have caused the third wave to be a tad splintered and overpopulated. In spite of this, the genre as a whole still remains aggressively tough, united and with all spare parts strongly attached. This wave saw Black Metal venturing into a number of different countries and regions, escalating the existence of more original and innovative ideas, but sticking to the hard roots of the first two waves. As explorative as the second wave, this wave used the musical sub-traditions in full measure, and many found their desired balance of influences to create immortal nihilistic art, surprisingly original in nature. However, this does not mean many a handful of bands weren't pretentious or derivative either. Overall, a greater emphasis has been given to the epic, including all the pioneering techniques, orders, and musical sensibilities invented earlier on. The third wave is quite a task to explain due to its wider musical investigation and style (same strict ideology, though). This wave is all around us, just stand up and take notice. Some standout bands moving about are Judas Iscariot, Ildjarn, Mutiilation, Averse Sefira and many others.

Musical highlights - An extension, or rather, twinning of the second wave, striving on an amalgam of the musical stances of both the first and the second wave. A much too interwoven, varied and experimental wave to describe in any concise manner; listening is believing!

The Abortions of Black Metal - A couple of styles that are wrongly and popularly believed to be a part of the genre, but don't quite make the grade.

1) Extreme Goth - Spitefully labeled "fag-Goth", this abortion contains some of the aesthetic elements of pure Black Metal but is far too synth-based and ideologically flawed to be called Black Metal, in any sense of the word. The style strives mainly on hype rather than musical art, and contains superficial wannabe complexity, a lot of pseudo-traditional riffing as well as boring, unimportant keyboard interludes and chunks of make-up. Very close to Dark Romantic Goth imagery and ideology, thus never even loosely real Black Metal. Borrowing consciously from Black Metal, this genre of sorts wrongly popularizes concepts better left underground, never really understanding or enforcing the roots and the rules. Personally, I don't mind a few bands or at least parts of their discography, but none of it has the ability to pierce the soul, and simply dances around the eardrums due to its "safe" outlook. Prime examples would be Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Ancient, Bal-Sagoth, Anorexia Nervosa etc. Some current bands in this abortion style may have played at least semi-Black Metal earlier on in their careers.

2) Norsecore - A bastardized variation of the Black Metal ideology, exceedingly obsessed with the "Hollywood" form of Satan and Evil (reactionary Satanism). This abortion follows a similar lyrical outlook, but like Extreme Goth, strives on hype and over-the-top, almost circus-like exaggerations and imagery. Black Metal was never about being one-dimensionally fast, and this is exactly what Norsecore is, blastbeat and scowling galore. Hardly even fitting the structure of traditional metal (extreme or otherwise), Norsecore frequently falls into a trap of trebly noise. A lot of these bands, again, may have played Black Metal in the past and all generic Norsecore isn't bad, but I'd keep to the same point I mentioned in my dissection of Extreme Goth. Popular Norsecore bands would include Dark Funeral, later Marduk, Limbonic Art, Gorgoroth, Dawn, Setherial etc.

There you have it; I've been as concise as possible, and hope this explains or sheds light on at least the basics. Black Metal is very much a definable genre, and there really is no room for hanger-on, half-way bands. Real Black Metal is organic art of the highest nature, and as I said before, open your ears and listen. "Black Metal ist Krieg" and the darn genre has the ability, power and ferocious drive to sustain its true form.

Guest article disclaimer:
This is a guest article, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.


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chrisdoig24k - 01.02.2007 at 10:12  
Hey, I enjoyed reading this review very much.

However, I must disagree with the categorization of Dawn alongside Dark Funeral, Marduk, Gorgoroth, and 'norsecore'. I personally consider Dawn as 'melodic black metal', while the others are 'shit'. Dawn are one of my favourite bands, and I can't quite see what makes them similar to the other 'norsecore' bands... well, apart from the spikes
Paganblood - 11.02.2007 at 15:12  
I disagreee about calling bands like Dark Funeral 'norsecore', just speeding up doesn't mean norsecore.
Judas - 12.02.2007 at 03:11  
That's a very good article. Beautifully written and structured, so that everything is coherent and can tie back into the main ideas. Even though I don't agree on a few things that you've said, I still must commend you on an excellent piece of writing.
Doc Godin - 28.02.2007 at 03:22  
LoL "fag-goth". I like this article.
Opium Magnet - 01.03.2007 at 13:27  
Written by Doc Godin on 28.02.2007 at 03:22

LoL "fag-goth". I like this article.

Haven't you heard that term before?
Doc Godin - 01.03.2007 at 18:12  
Written by Guest on 01.03.2007 at 13:27

Written by Doc Godin on 28.02.2007 at 03:22

LoL "fag-goth". I like this article.

Haven't you heard that term before?

Haha no I havnt.
Bitch Boy - 06.03.2007 at 03:33  
I liked the article, it's very interesting. But there's something that isn't so clear for me: extreme goth. I know that Cradle of Filth isn't black metal at all, I'm not bashing the band, but they're clearly far away from the characteristic elements of the genre, but I didn't understand why Dimmu Borgir, for example, isn't black metal. For me, they're melodic black.

Norsecore, well I think this makes sense especially with later Gorgoroth and Marduk, I think they are too brutal now and get further from the metal basis. Still, I think this genre is closer to pure black metal than extreme gothic or melodic black.
Martinikuss - 10.04.2007 at 14:19  
All in all its a good article. Especially 'fag-goth'.
tulkas - 29.04.2007 at 07:14  
Extreme fag-goth, I guess that would sum it up

I really like this article and agree a lot with it. I think a lot of people should read it, due to all the mix ups I've seen concerning black metal. Now, I can finally have a word for those bands that to me never sound like BM, just something like it, but not IT. With this I mean Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir and the like.
Ealdamir - 26.06.2007 at 14:55  
Hey, nice one - good cateorization and the highlights even though ii have many objections on the essential albums of the 2nd wave, anywauy.

What do you really mean by the 3rd wave?
Is it the USBM bands 'cause i never though there was a 3rd wave
after all wave means a massive musical movement usually cderiving from one particular area, isn't it?
Bitch Boy - 27.06.2007 at 21:39  
Written by Tanan on 27.06.2007 at 07:39

Hey u r so stupid piece of shit. Don't you understand what you've read? He never says CoF is a black metal. He says CoF is extreme gothic which is related to black metal. Also if you think CoF is clearly far away from BM how could you say that Dimmu Borgir is BM. Dimmu Borgir is a real bullshit band, not real black metal or not extreme gothic. If they cannot do real BM, just do something like CoF that's even better. Cof is unique.

Thanks for the title of "Stupid piece of shit" I will ask the mods if they can change my custom title into that

Don't you understand what I wrote?? I also never said that CoF is black metal, neither Dimmu Borgir. I said that for me CoF is extreme gothic indeed, but Dimmu Borgir for me is more like melodic/symphonic black, not "real black". For me DB (especially earlier albums) have more elements of black metal than some other extreme gothic bands. And I'm not bashing CoF or DB, I like both of these bands.
Bad English - 21.10.2007 at 23:57  
I totaly agree about it but 3th wave well its same like sceend only like you say new areas and new bands who was born lither but play same sound music
But Black doom are there too like Forgotten Tomb
I sawe Ancient are melodic black, also like Limbolic Art, Siebenburger
There also are shymfo black like Titan Mountain and Bishop of Hexen(early)

TOTALY AGRE ABOUT Norsecore specely Marduk DF, Gorgoroth bigest posers in BN havnt see and wholke sout america scene its evil games halloween not BM
Spenku - 30.03.2008 at 13:44  
I felt that it was a bit harsh to put Dimmu Borgir in the abortion section. They are pretty black metal, and if you dont think so you should listen to "In Sorte Diaboli", their newest album. There arnt as many symphonic / keyboard elements as there were in "Death Cult Armageddon".

(BTW, I like Cradle of Filth, but I dont think that they are Black Metal, they are to diverse for a lable. I just refer to them as extreme metal.)
Drowned - 05.08.2008 at 19:03  
Great article, maybe the best description for black metal that I've ever read. Writer really has found some important point of views to distinguish black metal from other music. "The Abortions of Black Metal" -chapter really shows the difference between black metal bands and half-way bands who have spoiled the name of the genre, though there's also many other things you should pay attention to. This is like a description of the musical side of black metal in a nutshell. For me, black metal has never been music, it's art of the darker side of human mind. The way that black metal should have been.

Anyway, feels good that someone else thinks the same way that I do and now I can show this article to those who have been questioning my opinions and beliefs within years and years. Black Metal is not dead, it's just buried.
Troy Killjoy - 23.06.2012 at 06:27  
I don't think I've ever seen this much elitism in one area of Metal Storm since joining three years ago. :/
Slayer666 - 23.06.2012 at 11:04  
Written by Troy Killjoy on 23.06.2012 at 06:27

I don't think I've ever seen this much elitism in one area of Metal Storm since joining three years ago. :/

I didn't bother going through the whole thing, but the thing that put a smile on my face whilst reading some separate passages was how he put Limbonic Art in the "Norsecore" category, thus equating their style to that of Dark Funeral, Gorgoroth etc.

How deaf and/or ignorant can one be...
Troy Killjoy - 23.06.2012 at 14:15  
Written by Slayer666 on 23.06.2012 at 11:04
How deaf and/or ignorant can one be...

Being that it reads like an ANUS description of "true" vs "false" black metal, I'm not surprised he lumped them in with whatever "Norsecore" is supposed to be.
ThunderAxe1989 - 23.06.2012 at 17:25  

Yes, I'm not sure I understand that so called "Norsecore" section, seems a bit on the rediculous side. Oh, and classing Dimmu Borgir as extreme goth, kind of harsh. Their earlier albums were unarguably Black Metal.
Slayer666 - 24.06.2012 at 17:21  
Written by Troy Killjoy on 23.06.2012 at 14:15

Being that it reads like an ANUS description of "true" vs "false" black metal, I'm not surprised he lumped them in with whatever "Norsecore" is supposed to be.

As far as I understand, Norsecore is supposed to be what us common people refer to as "blasturbation" black metal.
Troy Killjoy - 24.06.2012 at 17:28  
Written by Slayer666 on 24.06.2012 at 17:21
As far as I understand, Norsecore is supposed to be what us common people refer to as "blasturbation" black metal.

If that's the case, I disagree with his list of bands.

Would bands like Revenge and Anaal Nathrakh be considered "Norsecore" according to the description here? :s

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