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|Stylistic origins||NWOBHM, thrash metal, speed metal, hardcore punk|
|Cultural origins||First wave: early–mid 1980s, European extreme metal scene|
Second wave: early 1990s, Scandinavian extreme metal scene
|Typical instruments||Vocals, electric guitar, bass guitar, drums|
|Symphonic black metal, Viking metal, war metal|
|Blackened death metal, black/doom|
|List of bands|
|Stylistic origins||NWOBHM, thrash metal, speed metal, hardcore punk|
|Cultural origins||First wave: early–mid 1980s, European extreme metal scene|
Second wave: early 1990s, Scandinavian extreme metal scene
|Typical instruments||Vocals, electric guitar, bass guitar, drums|
|Symphonic black metal, Viking metal, war metal|
|Blackened death metal, black/doom|
|List of bands|
Black metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music. Common traits include fast tempos, shrieked vocals, highly distorted guitars played with tremolo picking, blast beat drumming, raw (lo-fi) recording and unconventional song structures.
During the 1980s, several thrash metal bands formed a prototype for black metal. This so-called "first wave" included bands such as Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. A "second wave" arose in the early 1990s, spearheaded by Norwegian bands such as Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, Immortal and Emperor. The early Norwegian black metal scene developed the style of their forebears into a distinct genre. Norwegian-inspired black metal scenes emerged throughout Europe and North America, although some other scenes developed their own styles with no connection to the Norwegian one.
Initially a synonym for "Satanic metal", black metal has often been met with hostility from mainstream culture, mainly due to the misanthropic and anti-Christian views of many artists. Moreover, several of the genre's pioneers have been convicted for church burnings and murder. There is also a small neo-Nazi movement within black metal, although most fans and prominent artists shun Nazism and oppose its influence on black metal. Much like punk, the black metal community generally condemns the seeking of mainstream success or attention, preferring the genre to remain underground.
Although nowadays, 'black metal' often refers to the Norwegian style with high-pitched or raspy vocals and raw production, it has also been used for bands as different as Death SS, Mercyful Fate, Mayhem, Blasphemy, and the Greek and Finnish bands that emerged around the same time as the Norwegian scene.
Norwegian-inspired black metal guitarists usually favor high-pitched guitar tones and heavy distortion. The guitar is usually played with much use of fast (un-muted) tremolo picking. Guitarists often use dissonance—along with specific scales, intervals and chord progressions—to create a sense of dread. The tritone or flat-fifth is often used, for example. Guitar solos and low guitar tunings are rare in black metal.
The bass guitar is seldom used to play stand-alone melodies. It is not uncommon for the bass guitar to be muted against the guitar, or for it to homophonically follow the bass lines of the guitar. Typically, drumming is fast and uses double-bass or blast beats, or both.
Black metal songs often stray from conventional song structure and often lack clear verse-chorus sections. Instead, many black metal songs contain lengthy and repetitive instrumental sections.
Traditional black metal bands usually use high-pitched and raspy vocals which include shrieking, screaming and snarling. This vocal style was influenced by Quorthon of Bathory, and is one of the traits that distinguishes the vocals of many traditional black metal artists from those of death metal, which usually uses low-pitched growls.
Black metal was originally used as a term for extreme metal bands with Satanic and anti-Christian lyrics; today, the most common lyrical theme is opposition to Christianity and other organized religions. As part of this, many artists write lyrics that could be seen to promote atheism, antitheism, paganism or Satanism. The anti-Christianity of secular or pagan artists is often linked to the Christianization of their countries. Other oft-explored themes are depression, nihilism, misanthropy, death and other dark topics. However, over time, many artists have begun to focus more on topics like winter, nature, mythology, folklore, philosophy and fantasy. (For more information about black metal lyrics, see the ideology section below.)
Low-cost production quality was typical for early black metal artists with low budgets, where recordings would often be done in their homes or basements. Even when they were able to raise their production quality, many artists chose to keep making low fidelity (lo-fi) recordings. The reason for this was to stay true to the genre's underground roots and to make the music sound more "raw" and "cold". One of the better-known examples of this is the album Transilvanian Hunger by Darkthrone – a band whom Johnathan Selzer of Terrorizer magazine says "represent the DIY aspect of black metal". Many have claimed that, originally, black metal was not meant to attract a big audience. Vocalist Gaahl said that during its early years, "black metal was never meant to reach an audience, it was purely for our own satisfaction".
Many bands choose not to play live. Those who do maintain that these "live performances are not for entertainment or spectacle. Sincerity, authenticity and extremity are valued above all else." Some bands consider their concerts to be rituals and often make use of stage props and theatrics. Many bands, such as Mayhem and Gorgoroth, are noted for their controversial shows, which have featured impaled animal heads, mock crucifixions, medieval weaponry and band members doused in animal blood.
Black metal artists often appear dressed in black with combat boots, bullet belts, spiked wristbands and inverted crosses/pentagrams to reinforce their anti-Christian or anti-religious stance. However, the most stand-out trait is their use of corpse paint – black and white makeup (sometimes mixed with real or fake blood), which is used to create a corpse-like appearance.
In the early 1990s, most pioneering black metal artists used simple black-and-white pictures or writing on their record covers. This could have been meant as a reaction against death metal bands, who at that time had begun to use brightly colored album artwork. Most underground black metal artists have continued this style. In the main, black metal album covers are usually atmospheric or provocative; some feature natural or fantasy landscapes (for example Burzum's Filosofem and Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse) while others are violent, perverted, sacrilegious and iconoclastic (for example Marduk's Fuck Me Jesus and Dimmu Borgir's In Sorte Diaboli).
The following depiction follows a classification according to which pioneers like Venom, Bathory and Hellhammer were part of a "first wave" and the "second wave" was begun by the early Norwegian scene; especially by Mayhem vocalist Dead's suicide, Mayhem's leader Euronymous, who founded the Norwegian scene after Dead's suicide, and Darkthrone's album A Blaze in the Northern Sky. There are also other definitions according to which other albums like Sarcófago's I.N.R.I. or Samael's Worship Him began the "second wave".
The first wave of black metal refers to those bands during the 1980s who influenced the black metal sound and formed a prototype for the genre. They were often speed metal or thrash metal bands.
The term "black metal" was coined by the English band Venom with their second album Black Metal (1982). Although deemed thrash metal rather than black metal by today's standards, the album's lyrics and imagery focused more on anti-Christian and Satanic themes than any before it. Their music was fast, unpolished in production and with raspy or grunted vocals. Venom's members also adopted pseudonyms, a practice that would become widespread among black metal musicians.
The Danish band Mercyful Fate influenced the Norwegian scene with their imagery and lyrics. Frontman King Diamond, who wore ghoulish black-and-white facepaint on stage, inspired what became known as "corpse paint".
Another major influence on black metal was the Swedish band Bathory. The band, led by Thomas Forsberg (aka 'Quorthon'), created "the blueprint for Scandinavian black metal". Not only was Bathory's music dark, fast, heavily distorted, lo-fi and with anti-Christian themes, Quorthon was also the first to use the "shrieked" vocals that came to define black metal. The band played in this style on their first four albums: Bathory (1984), The Return of the Darkness and Evil (1985), Under the Sign of the Black Mark (1987) and Blood Fire Death (1988). With Blood Fire Death and the two following albums, Bathory pioneered the style that would become known as Viking metal.
Hellhammer from Switzerland "made truly raw and brutal music" with Satanic lyrics, and became an important influence on later black metal; "Their simple yet effective riffs and fat guitar sound were groundbreaking, anticipating the later trademark sound of early Swedish death metal". In 1984, members of Hellhammer formed Celtic Frost, whose music "explored more orchestral and experimental territories. The lyrics also became more personal, with topics about inner feelings and majestic stories. But for a couple of years, Celtic Frost was one of the world's most extreme and original metal bands, with a huge impact on the mid-90's black metal scene".
Other artists usually considered part of this movement include Kreator, Sodom and Destruction (from Germany), Bulldozer and Death SS (from Italy), whose vocalist Steve Sylvester was a member of the Ordo Templi Orientis.
In 1987, in the fifth issue of his Slayer fanzine, Metalion wrote that "the latest fad of Black/Satanic bands seems to be over", the tradition being continued by a few bands like Incubus and Morbid Angel (from the United States), Sabbat (from Great Britain), Tormentor (from Hungary), Sarcófago (from Brazil), Grotesque and Treblinka/early Tiamat (from Sweden).
In the years before the Norwegian black metal scene arose, important recordings were released by Root and Master's Hammer (from Czechoslovakia), Von (from the United States), Rotting Christ (from Greece), Samael (from Switzerland) and Blasphemy (from Canada), whose debut album Fallen Angel of Doom (1990) is considered one of the most influential records for the war metal style (also known as war black metal or bestial black metal). Fenriz of the Norwegian band Darkthrone called Master's Hammer's debut album Ritual "the first Norwegian black metal album, even though they are from Czechoslovakia".
In 1990 and 1991, Northern European metallers began to release music influenced by these bands or the older ones from the first wave. In Sweden this included Marduk, Dissection, Nifelheim and Abruptum. In Finland, there emerged a scene that mixed first wave black metal influences with elements of death metal and grindcore; this included Beherit, Archgoat and Impaled Nazarene, whose debut album Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz Rock Hard journalist Wolf-Rüdiger Mühlmann considers a part of war metal's roots. Bands such as Demoncy and Profanatica emerged during this time in the United States, when death metal was more popular among extreme metal fans. The Norwegian band Mayhem's concert at the Eiskeller in Leipzig with Eminenz and Manos in 1990, later released as Live in Leipzig, was said to have had a strong influence on the Eastern German scene and is even called the unofficial beginning of German black metal.
The second wave of black metal began in the early 1990s and was spearheaded by the Norwegian black metal scene. During 1990–1993 a number of Norwegian artists began performing and releasing a new kind of black metal music; this included Mayhem, Thorns, Burzum, Darkthrone, Immortal, Satyricon, Emperor, Enslaved, Carpathian Forest and Gorgoroth. They developed the style of their 1980s forebears into a distinct genre. This was partly thanks to a new kind of guitar playing developed by Snorre 'Blackthorn' Ruch of Stigma Diabolicum/Thorns and Øystein 'Euronymous' Aarseth of Mayhem. Fenriz of Darkthrone has credited them with this innovation in a number of interviews. He described it as being "derived from Bathory" and noted that "those kinds of riffs became the new order for a lot of bands in the '90s". Some members of these Norwegian bands would be responsible for a spate of crimes and controversy, including church burnings and murder (see below). The scene was bitterly opposed to Christianity and organized religion as a whole. In interviews during the early 1990s, members of the scene presented themselves as misanthropic Devil worshippers who wanted to spread hatred, sorrow and evil. When asked why such statements were made to the press, Ihsahn of Emperor said that this "was very much to create fear among people" and "to be in opposition to society". More detail about the scene's ideologies can be found in the Ideology section. Visually, the dark themes of their music was complemented with corpsepaint, which became a way for many black metal artists to distinguish themselves from other metal bands of the era.
During May–June 1991, Euronymous of Mayhem opened an independent record shop named Helvete (Norwegian for 'hell') in Oslo. It quickly became the focal point of Norway's emerging black metal scene and a meeting place for many of its musicians; especially the members of Mayhem, Burzum, Emperor and Thorns. Jon 'Metalion' Kristiansen, writer of the fanzine Slayer, said that the opening of Helvete was "the creation of the whole Norwegian Black Metal scene". In its basement, Euronymous founded an independent record label named Deathlike Silence Productions. With the rising popularity of his band and others like it, the underground success of Euronymous's label is often credited for encouraging other record labels, who had previously shunned black metal acts, to then reconsider and release their material.
On 8 April 1991, Mayhem vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin (who called himself 'Dead') committed suicide while alone in a house shared by the band. Fellow musicians described Dead as odd, introverted and depressed. Before going onstage he went to great lengths to make himself look like a corpse and would cut his arms while singing. Mayhem's drummer, Hellhammer, said that Dead was the first to wear the distinctive 'corpse paint' that became widespread in the scene.
He was found with slit wrists and a shotgun wound to the head, by Mayhem guitarist Euronymous. Dead's suicide note apologized for firing the weapon indoors and ended: "Excuse all the blood". Before calling the police, Euronymous went to a nearby shop and bought a disposable camera with which he photographed the body, after re-arranging some items. One of these photographs was later used as the cover of a bootleg live album: Dawn of the Black Hearts.
In time, rumors spread that Euronymous had made a stew with bits of Dead's brain and had made necklaces with bits of his skull. Euronymous allegedly gave some of these necklaces to musicians he deemed worthy. He used Dead's suicide to foster Mayhem's 'evil' image and claimed Dead had killed himself because extreme metal had become 'trendy' and commercialized. Mayhem bassist Jørn 'Necrobutcher' Stubberud noted that "people became more aware of the [black metal] scene after Dead had shot himself [...] I think it was Dead's suicide that really changed the scene".
Two other members of the early Norwegian scene would later commit suicide: Erik 'Grim' Brødreskift (of Immortal, Borknagar, Gorgoroth) in 1999 and Espen 'Storm' Andersen (of Strid) in 2001.
Musicians and fans of the Norwegian black metal scene took part in over 50 arsons of Christian churches in Norway from June 1992 to 1996. Some of the buildings were hundreds of years old and seen as important historical landmarks. One of the first and most notable was Norway's Fantoft stave church, which police believed was burnt by Varg Vikernes of the one-man band Burzum. The cover of Burzum's EP Aske (Norwegian for 'ashes') is a photograph of the Fantoft stave church after its destruction. In May 1994, he was found guilty for burning down Holmenkollen Chapel, Skjold Church and Åsane Church. To coincide with the release of Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Vikernes and Euronymous had also allegedly plotted to blow up Nidaros Cathedral, which appears on the album cover. The musicians Faust, Samoth, (both of Emperor) and Jørn Inge Tunsberg (of Hades Almighty) were also convicted for church arsons. Members of the Swedish scene started to burn churches in 1993.
Many of those convicted for the church burnings have said that their actions were a symbolic "retaliation" against Christianity in Norway. According to Mayhem drummer Hellhammer, he had urged the others to focus on attacking mosques and Hindu temples instead. Today, opinions on the church burnings differ within the black metal community. Guitarist Infernus and former vocalist Gaahl of the band Gorgoroth have praised the church burnings in interviews, with the latter saying "there should have been more of them, and there will be more of them". However, Necrobutcher and Kjetil Manheim of Mayhem have condemned the church burnings, with the latter claiming "It was just people trying to gain acceptance within a strict group [the black metal scene] ... they wanted some sort of approval and status". Watain vocalist Erik Danielsson said that he respected these acts "as acts of their own will" but "the only Christianity they defeated was the last piece of Christianity within themselves. Which is a very good beginning, of course", and that the acts did not reach further than the inspiration they gave to others.
In early 1993, animosity arose between Euronymous and Vikernes. On the night of 10 August 1993, Varg Vikernes (of Burzum) and Snorre 'Blackthorn' Ruch (of Thorns) drove from Bergen to Euronymous's apartment in Oslo. Upon their arrival a confrontation began and Vikernes fatally stabbed Euronymous. His body was found on the stairs outside the apartment with 23 cut wounds – two to the head, five to the neck, and sixteen to the back.
It has been speculated that the murder was the result of either a power struggle, a financial dispute over Burzum records or an attempt at "outdoing" a stabbing in Lillehammer the year before by Faust. Vikernes denies all of these, claiming that he attacked Euronymous in self-defense. He says that Euronymous had plotted to stun him with an electroshock weapon, tie him up and torture him to death while videotaping the event. He said Euronymous planned to use a meeting about an unsigned contract to ambush him. On the night of the murder, Vikernes claims he intended to hand Euronymous the signed contract and "tell him to fuck off", but that Euronymous "panicked" and attacked him first. He also claims that most of the cut wounds were caused by broken glass Euronymous had fallen on during the struggle. The self-defense story is doubted by Faust and other members of the scene.
Vikernes was arrested on 19 August 1993 in Bergen. Many other members of the scene were taken in for questioning around the same time. Some of them confessed to their crimes and implicated others. In May 1994 Vikernes was sentenced to 21 years in prison (Norway's maximum penalty) for the murder of Euronymous, the arson of four churches, and for the theft and storage of 150kg of explosives. However, he only confessed to the latter. Two churches were burnt the day he was sentenced, "presumably as a statement of symbolic support". Vikernes smiled when his verdict was read and the picture was widely reprinted in the news media. Blackthorn was sentenced to eight years in prison for being an accomplice to the murder. That month saw the release of Mayhem's album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, which featured Euronymous on guitar and Vikernes on bass guitar. Before the release, Euronymous's family had asked Mayhem's drummer, Hellhammer, to remove the bass tracks recorded by Vikernes. Hellhammer said: "I thought it was appropriate that the murderer and victim were on the same record. I put word out that I was re-recording the bass parts, but I never did". In 2003, Vikernes failed to return to Tønsberg prison after being given a short leave. He was re-arrested shortly after while driving a stolen car with various weapons. Vikernes was released on parole in 2009.
There was said to have been a strong rivalry between Norwegian black metal and Swedish death metal scenes. Fenriz and Tchort have noted that Norwegian black metal musicians had become "fed up with the whole death metal scene" and that "death metal was very uncool in Oslo" at the time. A number of times, Euronymous sent death threats to some of the more mainstream death metal groups in Europe. Allegedly, a group of Norwegian black metal fans even plotted to kidnap and murder certain Swedish death metal musicians.
There was a brief feud between Norwegian and Finnish scenes during 1992 and 1993. The feud was partly motivated by seemingly harmless pranks; for example, Nuclear Holocausto of the Finnish band Beherit made prank calls in the middle of the night to Samoth of Emperor (in Norway) and Mika Luttinen of Impaled Nazarene (in Finland). The calls consisted of senseless babbling and playing of children's songs, although Luttinen believed them to be death threats from Norwegian bands. Impaled Nazarene's first album Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz has "No orders from Norway accepted" and "Kuolema Norjan kusipäille!" ("Death to the assholes of Norway!") printed on the back cover. The Finnish band Black Crucifixion criticized Darkthrone as "trendies" due to Darkthrone originally being a death metal band.
Black metal scenes also emerged on the European mainland during the early 1990s, inspired by the Norwegian scene or the older bands, or both. In Poland, a scene was spearheaded by Graveland and Behemoth. In France, a close-knit group of musicians known as Les Légions Noires emerged; this included artists such as Mütiilation, Vlad Tepes, Belketre and Torgeist. Bands such as Black Funeral, Grand Belial's Key and Judas Iscariot emerged during this time in the United States.
A notable black metal group in England at the time was Cradle of Filth, who released three demos in a black/death metal style with symphonic flourishes, followed by a studio album, which featured a then-unusual hybrid style of black and gothic metal. The band then abandoned black metal for gothic metal, becoming one of the most successful extreme metal bands to date. John Serba of AllMusic commented that their first album "made waves in the early black metal scene, putting Cradle of Filth on the tips of metalheads' tongues, whether in praise of the band's brazen attempts to break the black metal mold or in derision for its 'commercialization' of an underground phenomenon that was proud of its grimy heritage [...]". Another English band called Necropolis never released any music, but "began a desecratory assault against churches and cemeteries in their area" and "almost caused Black Metal to be banned in Britain as a result".
The controversy surrounding Absurd drew attention to the German black metal scene. In 1993, the members murdered a boy from their school, Sandro Beyer. A photo of Beyer's gravestone is on the cover of one of their demos, Thuringian Pagan Madness, along with pro-Nazi statements. It was recorded in prison and released in Poland by Graveland drummer Capricornus. The band's early music, however, was more influenced by Oi! and Rock Against Communism (RAC) than by black metal, and described as being "more akin to '60s garage punk than some of the […] Black Metal of their contemporaries". Alexander von Meilenwald from the German band Nagelfar considers Ungod's 1993 debut album Circle of the Seven Infernal Pacts, Desaster's 1994 demo Lost in the Ages, Tha-Norr's 1995 album Wolfenzeitalter (which he called an "fantastic, extremely atmospheric underground jewel" by one of the most underrated German bands), Lunar Aurora's 1996 debut Weltengänger and Katharsis's 2000 debut 666 (whose second album Kruzifixxion he called "by far the best traditional black metal album from Germany") to be the most important recordings for the German scene. He said they were "not necessarily the best German releases, but they all kicked off something".
In the beginning of the second wave, the different scenes developed their own styles; as Alan 'A. A. Nemtheanga' Averill says, "you had the Greek sound and the Finnish sound, and the Norwegian sound, and there was German bands and Swiss bands and that kind of thing". By the mid 1990s, the style of the Norwegian scene was being adopted by bands worldwide, and in 1998, Kerrang! journalist Malcolm Dome said that "black metal as we know it in 1998 owes more to Norway and to Scandinavia than any other particular country". Newer black metal bands also began raising their production quality and introducing additional instruments such as synthesizers and even full-symphony orchestras.
By the late 1990s, the underground deemed many of the Norwegian pioneers, like Emperor, Immortal, Dimmu Borgir, Ancient, Covenant/The Kovenant, and Satyricon, to have commercialized or sold out to the mainstream media and "big bastard labels".
After Euronymous's death, "[s]ome bands went more towards the Viking metal and epic style, while some bands went deeper into the abyss". The Swedish scene had started to burn churches in 1993, followed by other cases of arson, grave desecrations, death threats and other violent acts. Members of bands like Algaion and Nefandus were involved in some of these acts. In 1996, two males broke into a sepulchral chapel, drew Satanic symbols onto one of the corpses and switched the names on two of the coffins, which was only found out by the authorities after one of them had been buried. In 1995, Jon Nödtveidt of Dissection joined the Misanthropic Luciferian Order (MLO). In 1997, he and another MLO member were arrested and charged with shooting dead a 37-year-old man. It was said he was killed "out of anger" because he had "harassed" the two men. Nödtveidt received a 10-year sentence. As the victim was a homosexual immigrant, Dissection was accused of being a Nazi band, but Nödtveidt denied this and dismissed racism and nationalism. The Swedish band Shining, founded in 1996, began writing music almost exclusively about depression and suicide, musically inspired by Strid and by Burzum's albums Hvis lyset tar oss and Filosofem. Vocalist Niklas Kvarforth wanted to "force feed" his listeners "with self-destructive and suicidal imagery and lyrics". In the beginning he used the term "suicidal black metal" for his music to separate himself from the "mediocre worms". However, he stopped using the term in 2001 because it had begun to be used by a slew of other bands, whom he felt had misinterpreted his vision and were using the music as a kind of therapy rather than a weapon against the listener as Kvarforth intended. He said that he "wouldn't call Shining a black metal band" and called the "suicidal black metal" term a "foolish idea".
According to Erik Danielsson, when his band Watain formed in 1998 there were very few bands who took black metal as seriously as the early Norwegian scene had. A newer generation of Swedish Satanic bands like Watain and Ondskapt, supposedly inspired by Ofermod, the new band of Nefandus member Belfagor, put this scene "into a new light". Kvarforth said, "It seems like people actually [got] afraid again". "The current Swedish black metal scene has a particularly ambitious and articulate understanding of mysticism and its validity to black metal. Many Swedish black metal bands, most notably Watain and Dissection, are [or were] affiliated with the Temple of the Black Light, or Misanthropic Luciferian Order […], a Theistic, Gnostic, Satanic organization based in Sweden." Upon his release in 2004, Jon Nödtveidt restarted Dissection with new members whom he felt were able to "stand behind and live up to the demands of Dissection's Satanic concept". He started calling Dissection "the sonic propaganda unit of the MLO" and released a third full-length album, Reinkaos. The lyrics contain magical formulae from the Liber Azerate and are based on the organization's teachings. After the album's release and a few concerts, Nödtveidt said that he had "reached the limitations of music as a tool for expressing what I want to express, for myself and the handful of others that I care about" and disbanded Dissection before committing suicide.
A part of the underground scene adopted a Jungian interpretation of the church burnings and other acts of the early scene as the re-emergence of ancient archetypes, which Kadmon of Allerseelen and the authors of Lords of Chaos had implied in their writings, and mixed this interpretation with Paganism and an interest in Nationalism. Varg Vikernes was seen as "an ideological messiah" by some, although Vikernes had disassociated himself from black metal and his neo-Nazism had nothing to do with that subculture. This led to the rise of National Socialist black metal (NSBM), which Hendrik Möbus of Absurd calls "the logical conclusion" of the Norwegian black metal "movement". Other parts of the scene oppose NSBM as it is "indelibly linked with Asá Trŭ and opposed to Satanism", or look upon Nazism "with vague skepticism and indifference". Members of the NSBM scene, among others, see the Norwegian bands as poseurs whose "ideology is cheap", although they still respect Vikernes and Burzum, whom Grand Belial's Key vocalist Richard Mills called "the only Norwegian band that remains unapologetic and literally convicted of his beliefs".
In France, besides Les Légions Noires (The Black Legions), a NSBM scene arose. Members of French band Funeral desecrated a grave in Toulon in June 1996, and a 19-year old black metal fan stabbed a priest to death in Mulhouse on Christmas Eve 1996. According to MkM of Antaeus, the early French scene "was quite easy to divide: either you were NSBM and you had the support from zine and the audience, or you were part of the black legions and you had that 'cult' aura... Since Antaeus was a band from Paris, not performing NSBM nor 'Scandinavan black metal' with all its cliché, we did not fit anywhere, yet we never did change to adapt". Many French bands, like Deathspell Omega, have an avantgarde approach and a disharmonic sound that is representative of that scene.
The early American black metal bands remained underground. Some of them—like Grand Belial's Key and Judas Iscariot—joined an international NSBM organization called the Pagan Front, although Judas Iscariot sole member Akhenaten left the organization. Thelemnar, the drummer of German band Secrets of the Moon, said he got to know him "only as an intelligent person and never as a Nazi". Other bands like Averse Sefira never had any link with Nazism. The US bands have no common style. Many were musically inspired by Burzum but did not necessarily adopt Vikernes's ideas. Profanatica's music is close to death metal, while Demoncy were accused of ripping off Gorgoroth riffs. Akhenaten was mainly inspired by Burzum, Darkthrone and bands from the Polish NSBM scene, like Graveland and Infernum. The 2000s brought traditional bands like Thornspawn and war metal band Black Witchery. There also emerged bands like Xasthur and Leviathan (whose music is inspired by Burzum and whose lyrics focus on topics like suicide), Nachtmystium, Krallice, Wolves in the Throne Room (a band linked to the crust punk scene and the environmental movement), and Liturgy (whose frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix wants to replace traditional black metal's "death and atrophy" with "life and hypertrophy"). These bands eschew black metal's traditional lyrical content for "something more Whitman-esque" and have been rejected by some traditional black metallers for their ideologies and the post-rock and shoegazing influences some of them have adopted.
Since the 2000s, a number of anti-Islamic and antireligion black metal bands—whose members come from Muslim backgrounds—have emerged in the Middle East. Janaza, believed to be Iraq's first female black metal artist, released the demo Burning Quran Ceremony in 2010. Its frontwoman, Anahita, said that her parents and brother were killed by a suicide bomb during the Iraq War. Another Iraqi band, Seeds of Iblis, released their debut EP Jihad Against Islam in 2011 through French label Legion of Death. These bands, along with Tadnees (from Saudi Arabia), False Allah (from Bahrain) and Mosque of Satan (from Lebanon), style themselves as the "Arabic Anti-Islamic Legion". Another Lebanese band, Ayat, drew much attention with their debut album Six Years of Dormant Hatred, released through North American label Moribund Records in 2008.
Regarding the sound of black metal, there are two conflicting groups within the genre: "those that stay true to the genre's roots, and those that introduce progressive elements". The former believe that the music should always be minimalist – performed only with the standard guitar-bass-drums setup and recorded in a low fidelity style. One supporter of this train of thought is Blake Judd of Nachtmystium, who has rejected labeling his band black metal for its departure from the genre's typical sound. Snorre Ruch of Thorns, on the other hand, has said that modern black metal is "too narrow" and believes that this was "not the idea at the beginning". Eric Horner of the American band Throne of Malediction says that "black/extreme metal takes something that can be called 'fashion' and makes it true 'art' [...] It is a genre where beautiful piano compositions can sit next to screeching banshee vocals and raw guitars. It has no limits, as far as I'm concerned".
Since the 1990s, different styles of black metal have emerged and some have melded Norwegian-style black metal with other genres.
Bands that were part of the 'first wave' had 'Satanic' imagery and lyrics, although most of them were not Satanists. However, for the early 'second wave' bands in Norway, Satanism as an ideology defined black metal. Another part of the scene adopted Paganism, "often coupled with nationalism", although the early Pagan bands did not call themselves 'black metal'. Bands associating themselves with black metal are generally opposed to Christianity and the other major religions. Arguably, this is the only shared belief among those calling their music black metal. Artists who oppose Christianity tend to promote atheism, antitheism, paganism or Satanism. Many artists also write lyrics that appear to be nihilistic and misanthropic.
An article in the Chronicles of Chaos webzine noted that "An overriding feature of almost all black metal is the fascination with the past". Regarding this, Aaron Weaver from Wolves in the Throne Room said: "I think that black metal is an artistic movement that is critiquing modernity on a fundamental level, saying that the modern world view is missing something". As part of this, some black metal artists have written about or focused on the ancient pre-Christian cultures of their homelands. Sam Dunn noted of the Norwegian scene that "unlike any other heavy metal scene, the culture and the place is incorporated into the music and imagery". In a Norwegian documentary, Fenriz stated that "black metal is individualism above all", and artists tend to be supportive of individualism, although followers of Euronymous tended towards support of anti-individualism. According to Benjamin Hedge Olson's master thesis, "Black Metal is characterized by a conflict between radical individualism and group identity and by an attempt to accept both polarities simultaneously".
Olson writes that some artists hold a belief similar to transcendentalists. They try to leave or "transcend" their physical form and receive knowledge from a higher being. They are dissatisfied with a "world that they feel is devoid of spiritual and cultural significance", want to rise above it and challenge "this secularism with religious fanaticism". Olson calls the concerts by these bands "musical rituals designed to achieve both scenic solidarity and mystical transcendence" and considers the "[a]cknowledgment that the performers, through ritual performance, have transcended their mundane, physical forms and taken on a spiritual persona associated with the deity" as a typical step of black metal concerts he attended.
Some prominent musicians within the scene hold that black metal does not need to represent any particular ideology. For example, Jan Axel Blomberg (Hellhammer) said in an interview with Metal Library that "In my opinion, black metal today is just music". Likewise, Sigurd Wongraven has said that black metal "doesn't necessarily have to be all Satanic, as long as it's dark". Eric Horner commented: "Though many bands base it on Satanic belief, I disagree that it is the only way to be 'black metal'. Black metal to me is pure emotion and individuality with a real vibe to it". However, an article in Metalion's Slayer fanzine attacked musicians that "care more about their guitars than the actual essence onto which the whole concept was and is based upon", and insisted that "the music itself doesn't come as the first priority".
Black metal was originally a term for extreme metal bands with Satanic lyrics and imagery. However, most of the 'first wave' bands (including Venom, who coined the term 'black metal') were not Satanists and merely used it to provoke. One of the few exceptions was Mercyful Fate singer and Church of Satan member King Diamond, whom Michael Moynihan calls "one of the only performers of the '80s Satanic metal who was more than just a poseur using a devilish image for shock value".
In the early 1990s, many Norwegian black metalers presented themselves as misanthropic Devil worshippers who wanted to spread hatred, sorrow and evil. Mayhem's Euronymous was the key figure behind this ideology. They attacked the Church of Satan for its "freedom and life-loving" views. The theistic Satanism they espoused was an inversion of Christianity. Benjamin Hedge Olson wrote that they "transform[ed] Venom's quasi-Satanic stage theatrics into a form of cultural expression unique from other forms of metal or Satanism" and "abandoned the mundane identities and ambitions of other forms of metal in favor of religious and ideological fanaticism". Euronymous professed to be in favor of totalitarianism and against individualism, compassion, peace, happiness and fun. When asked why such statements were made to the press, Ihsahn of Emperor said that this "was very much to create fear among people". He added that the scene wanted "to be in opposition to society" and focused "more on just being 'evil' than having a real Satanic philosophy". According to Lords of Chaos, many who knew Euronymous—such as Kjetil Manheim, Vikernes and Blackthorn—say that his "extreme Satanic image" was an act. Mortiis, however, said that Euronymous "was such a devil worshipper you wouldn't believe it", and Metalion (who knew Euronymous since 1985 and considered him to be his best friend) said that Euronymous "was always telling what he thought [...] worshipping death and being extreme". Tenebris (allegedly Jon Nödtveidt) from the Misanthropic Luciferian Order wrote that the Norwegian scene was mainly concerned with ideological Satanism and "vanished with his death in '93". As for the other scene members, Sanna Fridh says that there is no evidence to support their early claims of being Devil worshippers, and Leif A. Lier, who led the police investigation after Euronymous's death, said he and his men had not met one Satanist. Faust said: "For some people it [Satanism] was bloody serious, but to a lot of them it was all a big hype". At the time, bands who were not theistic Satanists were not deemed 'black metal' by Euronymous and some other scene members (like Faust) and bands with a Norwegian style, but without Satanic lyrics, tended to use other terms for their music. Today there are still prominent musicians – such as Infernus, Arioch and Erik Danielsson – who state that black metal bands must be theistic Satanists. Some bands like the reformed Dissection and Watain insist that all members must be of the same Satanic belief, whereas Michael W. Ford of Black Funeral and MkM of Antaeus believe black metal must be Satanic but not all band members need to be Satanists. Some bands have moved from Satanism to Paganism; as black metal traditionally is defined by Satanism, "for many 'purist' black metallers, this latter move disqualifies a band as 'black', placing it instead beneath a variety of other modifiers: pagan, Viking, troll, forest, and the like".
Others shun the belief in Satan, seeing it as "Judeo-Christian" in origin, and regard Satanists as perpetuating, and playing a part in, the "Judeo-Christian" worldview. Quorthon of Bathory said that he used 'Satan' and 'Satanism' to provoke and attack Christianity. However, with his third and fourth albums he began "attacking Christianity from a different angle", realizing that Satanism is a "Christian product" and seeing them both as "religious hocus-pocus". Nevertheless, some artists use Satan as a symbol or metaphor for their beliefs. This includes LaVeyan Satanists (who are atheist) and others. Vocalist Gaahl, who considers himself a Norse Shaman, said: "We use the word 'Satanist' because it is Christian world and we have to speak their language [...] When I use the word 'Satan', it means the natural order, the will of a man, the will to grow, the will to become the superman". Varg Vikernes called himself a Satanist in early interviews but "now downplays his former interest in Satanism", saying he was using Satan as a symbol for Odin as the 'adversary' of the Christian God. He started seeing Satanism as an introduction to Paganism.
Unblack metal, or Christian black metal, is music that sounds musically similar to black metal but with artists, lyrics, and imagery that promote Christianity. The Australian band Horde's debut album Hellig Usvart, released through Nuclear Blast Records, is often credited as being the first Christian black metal album, although the sole member, known as Anonymous, has stated that "there were similar [unblack] bands prior to Horde, even in Norway", referring to such bands as Antestor, who formed in 1990, although prior to 1993 they were a death/doom band bearing a different name, Crush Evil. Hellig Usvart caused great controversy in the black metal scene, and death threats were sent to Nuclear Blast Records headquarters demanding them to release the members' names. The name of Anonymous was later revealed as Jayson Sherlock, a drummer for the bands Mortification and Paramaecium.
Many in the black metal scene see "Christian black metal" as an oxymoron. On the British black metal documentary Murder Music: A History of Black Metal (2007), all interviewed musicians stated, when asked about the matter, that black metal cannot be Christian. The term "Christian black metal" drew mocking replies from black metal musicians, for example Martin Walkyier of the English metal band Sabbat commented: "'Christian black metal?' What do they do? Do they build churches? Do they repair them? (laughs)". In fact, the early unblack metal groups Horde and Antestor refused to call their music "black metal" because they felt that the term was strongly associated with Satanism. Horde called its music "holy unblack metal", and Antestor preferred to call their music "sorrow metal" instead. Horde member Jayson Sherlock posted on Facebook that he did not understand how Christians can play black metal music. "For the life of me, I will never understand why Christians think they can play Black Metal. I really don't think they understand what true Black Metal is." However, many current unblack metal bands, such as Crimson Moonlight, feel that black metal has now changed from an ideological movement to a purely musical genre, and that is why they also call their own music black metal.
National Socialist black metal (NSBM) is black metal music by artists who promote National Socialist (Nazi) beliefs through their music and imagery. NSBM is not regarded as a distinct subgenre, as there is no way to play black metal in a National Socialist way. Some black metal bands have made references to Nazi Germany for shock value, causing them to be wrongly labeled as NSBM. Due to his writings and outspoken far-right views, Varg Vikernes is regarded as the main inspiration for such views within the scene and therefore the NSBM movement. Vikernes, however, has tried to distance himself from Nazism and the NSBM scene, preferring to refer to himself as an "odalist" instead of a "socialistic", "materialistic" Nazi.
NSBM artists are a small minority within black metal, according to Mattias Gardell and Benjamin Hedge Olson. They have been criticized by some prominent and influential black metal musicians – including Jon Nödtveidt, Tormentor, King ov Hell, Infernus, Lord Ahriman, Emperor Magus Caligula, Richard Lederer, Michael W. Ford, and the members of Arkhon Infaustus. They categorize Nazism alongside Christianity as authoritarian, collectivist, and a "herd mentality". Olson writes that the shunning of Nazism within the scene "has nothing to do with notions of a 'universal humanity' or a rejection of hate" but that Nazism is shunned "because its hatred is too specific and exclusive".
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