Question Of The Week: The Black Album
When you cracked open Decibel Magazine’s excellent black metal special issue from last month, what was your first thought? Was it, Jesus god why are there zero contributions from MS Senior Editor Anso DF? That guy’s a brilliant hunk beloved by all, doesn’t Decibel know that? Aw, thanks! I feel like that’s a natural reaction, a justified moment of outrage. But um so what was your second thought? Was it, Waaait a freaking minute, where’s [my favorite black metal album] on this countdown of the Top 100 Best Black Metal Albums Of All Time? Doesn’t Decibel know that [M.F.B.M.A.] is the brutalist, grimmest, tr00est BM jam ever? That, too, is a natural response. Hold it back no longer, for you’ve arrived at today’s Question Of The Week, in which we continue the discussion started by our awesome budz at Decibel!
Inspired by the awesome Top 100 Black Metal Albums Of All Time special edition of Decibel Magazine, we asked our staff:
What black metal album is most-required listening?
Fuck the world! Have a great wknd :)
Mayhem‘s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994). I maintain that it is the best black metal album ever, and anyone who considers themselves a fan of the genre without first having lost themselves in this classic is fooling themselves. It’s the complete package — the songwriting, the riffs, the vocals, and especially the atmosphere: the feeling of cold, creeping dread spilling out of your speakers with every note and icy chord conjured by a bunch of spotty teenagers almost in spite of themselves. Beyond the music itself, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas offers a perfect glimpse into black metal’s early days, into the dank recesses of Helvete, into the burnt ash and spilt blood of the Black Circle and far beyond. Most importantly, it exemplified what black metal should be, and moreso, what it could become. No one can say what Euronymous or Dead would think of the ways their precious amalgamation of thrash, punk, and First Wave hellfire has changed since 1994 (except perhaps Attila Csihar, whose deranged vocal performance on this album cemented his status as one of the genre’s icons). There’s one thing for certain, though: there will never be another album like it.
A new or casual fan of black metal might not seek diversity in the genre; it takes a while to digest its traits and tropes, and then someday hunger for expansive, reflective, and regressive modes of metal’s maddest sound. But wherever you stand on the timeline of black fandom, Marduk‘s wild, pants-shitting Wormwood (2009) will sound amazing. It throttles the listener — like all but the foofiest BM — but occasionally pauses to clearly enunciate its reasons for crushing your larynx. It engulfs you in dawn-lit conflagration — but also sticks your wang with a few dozen needles. It screams in your face — but also stands at a distance and placidly vomits brown down its own chest. Crank it!
Darkthrone may not be the first to really do black metal (Mayhem), get in on the ground floor of murder/church burning (Burzum), or embrace the genre’s fruity potential (Emperor), but they embody its truest distillation. Many people are going to tell you to start out with Transylvanian Hunger, but they’re wrong: That’s like telling someone to get into Lou Reed by diving right into Metal Machine Music. The gateway to Darkthrone — while also getting a feel for the scene — is A Blaze in the Northern Sky (1992). It may not be as true, Norwegian, or black metal as the two records that followed it, but it’s where the saplings of the real Darkthrone poked out of Earth. There are elements of the mid-paced blastbeats that would come to define their most-hallowed work, but Blaze shows the potential for black metal to inch past its rigid boundaries. The record’s filled with huge, Celtic Frost grooves, and while the production is a long way from Heartwork, it’s a cut above the lost basement tapes-style of their tr00est material. A Blaze in the Northern Sky perfectly shows what Darkthrone and black metal could be. Like IPAs, black metal is an acquired taste. But like those hoppy brews, once that taste is acquired, you stumble onto a whole world of greatness.
Of all the types of metal in this vast, strange world, black metal is the one I know least about. I know more about 16th century China, gardening, and how the hell my one-eyed cat could take down a huge possum. That doesn’t mean I don’t like BM; Wolves In The Throne Room blew my squishy little mind a few years ago, as have Wolvserpent and many others since then, so I can identify a talented black metal band when I see one. Which brings me to the answer of this QOTW: Ritual Of Passing (2012) by Atriarch has been in heavy rotation since its release on pretty-much-perfect Profound Lore Records. It’s thoroughly weird, equally creepy, and dark as fuck. (They describe themselves as “blackened deathrock/doom,” which sort of makes sense because they make sound like bored kids who slow down old-school Depeche Mode to scare the shit out of all of their poser goth friends.) Their live shows are deeply ritualistic out-of-body experiences, too, so don’t pass up an opportunity to see ‘em!
DAVID LEE ROTHMUND
Dissection‘s The Somberlain (1993). I’d actually want to say Reinkaos, but it’s much too blackened death to be called quintessential black. I don’t listen to black metal all that much (fuck me, right?) but sometimes when the genres are crossed I do get a little giddy. So rock both albums, note the differences, and love them so!
Altar of Plagues‘ Teethed Glory And Injury is impressive, but their prior release Mammal (2011) is one of my all-time favorites. The length of each of its four tracks allows for thorough development of themes, and gives time for each individual element to stretch out and bathe in its own radiance. An atmospheric, ferocious, and rigorously black metal perspective on the nature of life.
Well, how does one defined black metal? After all, many of the great original black metal albums are more blackened thrash than true black metal. But then again, if we’re talking about required listening, isn’t the genre’s history most important to a burgeoning fan? Shouldn’t their entry point express both black metal’s early darkness and its modern … — wait, fuck all of this. Immortal, Sons Of Northern Darkness (2002). Fun, interesting, frostbitten, true. Doesn’t get much better than that. Hail.