Our great leader Quigs called for recommendations for metal compilation albums in a post a couple days ago. He wanted separate discs for black, death, progressive, thrash, and stoner. To that end I’m here to give him a list of black metal songs, some of which are essential listening for any aspiring true kvltist, some of which are just personal favourites of mine.
Note: This is adhering to the one song per band rule that Quigs enforced in his post.
1. Mayhem – Freezing Moon This is a black metal classic. Pretty much any black metalhead (or black metal fan – badum tish!) worth their salt should at least be familiar with the blistering cold consistently delivered by the legendary Mayhem. One can go with either the version featuring former vocalist Dead, or Attila Csihar. Both are great performances, with Dead being far more howling and cold, and Csihar being more croaking and shadowy.
2. Darkthrone – Kathaarian Life Code I could have picked any track from this album, as it’s a true black metal classic (Norsk Arysk Black Metal!). In the end, I picked the opening track, because it’s the first one I heard, and it really does contain the spirit of the genre. Ominous opening chants, and intense tremolo picked riffing.
3. Burzum – Det Som Engang Var How much flak am I going to get for picking a Burzum song? Varg Vikernes may be a class A jerk (slight understatement there) nowadays, but back then, he was a huge pillar in the scene. “Det Som Engang Var” sounds so otherworldly, cold, and alien. Atmospheric black metal is a vast and diverse genre these days, but right here are its humble beginnings. Varg’s wolf-howl vocals are still very chilling.
4. Enslaved – Alfáðr Odinn Confession: Enslaved are one of my favourite bands of all time. They weren’t quite a part of the Norwegian black metal scene, having come a little late, but in my opinion, were the best, and are one of the only bands from that era still going today. This is from their debut EP, the Hordane’s Land EP. This song still gets live rotation, deservedly, as it’s a wonderful piece with just a hint of experimentation.
5. Emperor – Ye Entrancemperium Hail Emperor! The first symphonic black metal band, Emperor burst onto the scene with the masterwork, In the Nightside Eclipse. However, I chose a track from Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, because it’s a better album. The production, while still raw and cold, is far more suited to Emperor’s sound, letting the symphonic elements shine through better.
6. Immortal – The Call of the Wintermoon Seeing as they’re black metal’s answer to Kiss, Immortal are probably the easiest gateway into black metal for most people. They pioneered the “grim and frostbitten” attitude that are a hallmark of black metal today. Immortal are a living breathing black metal stereotype, only missing the Satanic element to be everything that encompasses the black metal archetype .
7. Rotting Christ – Fgmeth, Thy Gift Rotting Christ are the big players in the Greek black metal scene. Their sound focuses less on icy blasts of tremolo picking, and more on grand melodies and folk-based lyrical content. Even though Rotting Christ have evolved beyond pure black metal nowadays, their early albums, Thy Might Contract in particular, remain essential listening.
8. Summoning – Land of the Dead Summoning are a very unique band in the black metal pantheon. They have songs that could only be described as “grandiose and beautiful” and others that are more akin to a normal black metal romp albeit with a higher sense of grandeur than usual. “Land of the Dead” is one of the former, combining echoing melancholy keyboards, and sweeping arpeggios into a wonderful journey.
9. Bathory – A Fine Day To Die Ah, we’ve arrived at Bathory. If there’s one thing that you should take away from this list, it’s that Bathory are more or less responsible for black metal today. You could talk about Venom and Hellhammer, but they were more steeped in the thrash metal scene. Blood Fire Death is one of the best metal albums period, and it primed the world for the Norwegian wave of black metal that was to come.
10. Wolves In The Throne Room – Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog Another band that might generate a complaint or two, since there are those in the black metal scene that view Wolves In The Throne Room (WITTR) as “false” due to their beliefs. WiTTR helped pioneer the sound known as Cascadian black metal, a sound characterized by an affinity with nature, and more focus on atmospherics and sad, droning riffs rather than icy fury. It’s a very funerary scene, but is also quite refreshing once in a while.
11. Deathspell Omega – The Shrine of Mad Laughter Just as we get to something more calming, I throw this curveball down the list. Deathspell Omega (DsO) take black metal into a twisted, insane direction. It’s full on insanity, and it’s not an easy sound to get into. Once you do though, you’ll find the experience very rewarding. There are a number of tracks I could have picked for DSO, and this one from the album Fas — Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeterum was just the first one to pop into my head.
12. Woods of Desolation – The Inevitable End Returning to the calming, melancholy end of the black metal spectrum. Woods of Desolation are a depressive black metal project. Far from being laden in despair though, their sound has a slightly uplifting feel to it. It’s mood music that allows you to relax. Also, imagine the vocal melody from The Heart Goes On from The Titanic over that opening chord progression. You’re welcome.
13. Windir – Journey To The End Windir were a black metal band fromNorway, but they do not fit in with the Norwegian sound. Instead, they combined folk music and local mythology into their sound, creating a very unique blend. They also experimented with keyboards, trying to add weirder elements to their music. “Journey to the End” is a perfect summation of the music, Sadly, Windir mainman, Valfar, died of hypothermia in a blizzard in 2004, which is a very black metal way to go.
14. Morgul – Ballad of Revolt This one was recently recommended to me, and I really liked what I heard. Morgul are a one man band from Norway, though later relocated to Detroit,Michigan. This track goes through several moods, from sorrowful and gloomy, to folky, heavy and biting. It’s definitely one worth checking out for anyone looking into more obscure black metal bands.
15. Master’s Hammer – Pad Modly The Czech masters of experimentation, Master’s Hammer, A vastly underrated part of 90′s black metal, they’re still going strong today. Their sound isn’t typical of black metal, instead being more focused on occult-type moods, and strange sounding riffs. They would expand the use of keyboards on later albums, and become a truly unique sounding beast.
16. Limbonic Art – Beyond the Candles Burning This is symphonic black metal at its most intense. Limbonic Art did not shy away from over-the-top synth and keyboard arrangements, satanic lyrics, and dark moods. Not so much black metal, more of a black metal symphony. Limbonic Art have faded out in recent years, but their classic works, Moon in the Scorpio, In Abhorrence Dimentia, and Ad Noctum Dynasty of Death remain essential symphonic black metal listening.
17. Azaghal – Agios O Baphomet There isn’t much new brought to black metal by this track, it’s a fairly standard black metal from Finland. The thing is (and the reason why this song is featured here), Azaghal create standard black metal extremely well. The opening riff and vocal line in this song is maddeningly catchy, especially for a black metal song. It soon leaps from the slower majesty into furious blast beats, but manages to keep that infectious riff and chant. Azaghal is worth repeated listens as they pull off the sound to perfection.
18. Lustre – Night Spirit part 2 This is on here purely as a personal choice. Lustre isn’t so much essential listening unless you get really into atmospheric and ambient black metal, “Night Spirit” is long, slow, and moody, taking its sweet time to accomplish it’s goal of wrapping the listener in a cloak of night, and taking them on a flight through spectacular winter vistas. The images that go along with this song are just as important as the sounds. The video linked showcases perfectly what I mean.
19. Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom War metal. Grimy, brutal, dark, heavy, and bestial as fuck. Blasphemy are one of the first to try this direction, combining black metal’s lo-fi aesthetic, with death metal’s brutal assault. The result is nothing less than an awe-inspiring attack on the senses. Satanic themes are all over this sound, and the vocals are more or less unintelligible. Everything is cloaked in darkness and hatred. This track sums up the entire scene nicely.
20. Fen – Exile’s Journey Another purely personal choice, though Fen may soon be a big player in the black metal world. Taking cues from the place they live, the Fens of England, their sound is soaked in melancholy and desolation. Their second album is better, but I chose a song from their debut album, as it’s the first song I ever heard by them. They have a new album just around the corner, which should put them on the big stage in terms of popularity.
Has Orsaeth omitted any black metal classics? Is this compilation enticing for black metal fans? Can anyone create similarly expansive compilations for the thrash, death, stoner or progressive subgenres? Can anyone create a “better” black metal compilation? Sound off in the comments!