August, the peak of summer (at least here in the northern emisphere), the season of the year dominated by sun and light. In order to pursue one of those dramatic contrasts that make our days more interesting, I decided today to enter the darkest and mournful of the music genres: black metal.
Everyone who has the habit, for delight or work, to follow sistematically the new releases in the world of music, will have already noticed how black metal, despite being definitely one of the most “extreme” types of music, is actually one of the genres of metal that is characterized by the largest number of publications. There is no single friday without the release of a handful of new LPs of black metal, from all over the world. There are many reasons behind this phenomenon, and one is certainly related to the fact that to play and compose black music is relatively simple, at least respect to other kinds of metal. In general terms you need much less tools (i.e. money) and skills to start playing black metal, think for example at the comparison with progressive metal or technical death metal. For young musicians it is relatively simple and immediate to be together in yourself in a basement, or in in an amateur rehearsal room, and start playing a sequence of chords with the tremolo technique and then, in very short time, to have your own black metal piece. And then there is the fascination fof the occult, the dark themes, or the ancient legends.
To find among the hundreds of records that are released every month those which are truly worthy of our attention is certainly a non-trivial operation. And that’s why, in the end, the artists who manage to stand out among the mass of lower quality bands are typically those who manage to infuse some truly personal and unique element in this kind of music. And that’s why, in the list that I’m presenting to you today, there are many records that even if based on a black metal “framework”, often diverge towards particular and innovative directions.
Enjoy the reading, listen to the music presented for each album, and at the end of the list you can access two different black metal playlists that I’m managing and updating on Spotify. And don’t forget to comment if you feel I missed some very important album in the list.
#1) Shining, “Varg Utan Flock”
Shining, from Sweden, are one of the most regular and longeve bands in black metal. For about twenty years they have released a new album with a cadence of two or three years, and almost every time their records maintain the same structure of six songs including one instrumental track (which is in most of the cases the fifth song of the album). Their release of 2018, Varg Utan Flock, is no exception and presents almost the same winning formula of their previous albums: an interesting version of depressive and experimental black metal which incorporates many elements from thrash and other intriguing inserts from jazz and rock.
The music of Shining has been always influcenced by the the strong and controversial personality of its founder, the guitarist and vocalist Niklas Kvarforth, a man who has often claimed to suffer from mental illnes and whose inner torments have been always part of the creative process. And you can really feel the genius but also the issues of Kvarforth’s complex mental processes in the music he composed for the album.
From a musical point of view, one of the elements that makes this album particularly enjoyable is the brilliant alternation of different moments, in particular the alternation between furious sections and slower and more expressive moments. The result is an album that is quite unique for the way it is at the same time extremely “black” and brutal, but still accessible also for those who are not completely familiar with the genre.
#2) Primordial, “Exile Amongst the Ruins”
Celtic Folk & Black Metal
Exile Amongst the Ruins, the last album from the Irish celtic black metal legends Primordial, presumably this year holds the record of the album that has been stationing for more time in my music player. And that’s not by chance. Although there have been other songs and records that gave me even more intense and memorable emotions, in the end a few records demonstrated to be longeve and adaptable to different situations as the last beautiful work from Primordial. The band doesn’t need too many introductions: as a matter of fact they’re playing their music since twentyfive years, and generally with excellent results. One of the characteristics they have shown during all of this time, and which is confirmed in their most recent release, his the capacity to blend together all the elements of their style into a mix that results always well-balanced. And this is the secret that gives their LPs such an impressive longevity: it is the average value of their music which stands well above the mass. This doesn’t mean that there arn’t songs more exciting than others, and in their last LP in fact we have a couple of phenomenal tracks (“To Hell or the Hangman” is absolutely my favorite). The fact is that Primordial just don’t know how to write bad or meaningless songs, and you can listen on repeat their discs for hours and hours. The style of music of the band is an extremely melodic version of black metal, enriched with doomy atmospheres as well as folk and celtic elements. With the years their music has been every time more focused and perfectioned. And today they have crafted an album where every piece is at the right place, you couldn’t imagine anything different from what you’re listening. The instrumental parts, in particular, deserve a special mention: probably you won’t listen anything more haunting, absorbing and fascinating than the melodic riffs that are fitted in this very good LP.
#3) Hoth, “Astral Necromancy”
Melodic & Atmospheric Black Metal
Every so often you come across a record that exceeds your initial expectations and this was the case for me with Astral Necromancy, the newest LP from the American metal band Hoth. I admit that my knowledge of the band was superficial and this album, which is the third in the band’s discography, came for me as a great surprise. Hoth plays a truly inspired and engaging atmospheric black metal, which is full of interesting melodic and harmonic elements and which is graced by light notes of gothic and power metal. The duo of musicians who are behind this project show a remarkable maturity and confidence in developing their musical style, which manages to escape easy tags and etiquettes whilst maintaining a certain coherence throughout the album. The release notes mention the fact that Astral Necromancy is the product of three intense years of writing and composition, in which “all songs were reworked and rearranged until they reached the perfection“. Beyond any possible discussion wheter the eleven tracks of the album are really perfect or not, what we can say for sure is that the result of such patient work of refinement and consolidation proved to be very effective. Astral Necromancy is a very solid and thrilling album of modern atmospheric black metal as a matter of fact there are no gaps in both the intensity and quality of the music across all the eleven tracks of the LP.
#4) Varathron, “Patriarchs of Evil”
Varathron is a well-known black metal group from Greece, arrived nowadays at the threshold of thirty years of an interesting career. And as often happens in music, the most historical and mature groups are those that show the most evident desire to keep their sound fresh and also the greater desire to innovate. Patriarchs of Evil, their new record, offers to us the possibility to embark on a dark and disturbing journey into the world of the occultism, mystery and timeless legends. With their relatively soft and melodic version of black metal, the eight tracks composed by the Greek line-up are characterized by an satisfying level of quality and also offer a good variety of styles and atmospheres.
#5) Zeal & Ardor, “Stranger Fruit”
Avant-garde Black Metal
Avant-garde is a challenging genre of music that typically you want to take at little doses. Stranger Fruit, the new album from the brilliant mind of Swiss-American artist Manuel Gagneux, shows that there are still pleasant exceptions to the rule. The LP in fact manages to combine the experimental spirit and the desire to break the canons – which are indeed typical of this form of music – with an accessibility and enjoyability of listening that instead are rare qualities for a record of avant-garde metal. The music offered in the second album by Zeal & Ardor, Gagneux’s music project that has now become a full-fledged band, mixes with courage and skill the sonic elements typical of black metal with ritual songs, sacred and profane hymns, atmospheric elements and noise rock inserts, still succeeding in giving a good consistency to the entire record. The singing style and the thematic consistency that permeate the pieces provide a further element of homogeneity and implements a true conceptual thread guiding the listener throughout the sixteen chapters of this hallucinated journey with the dead and the dying. We are far away from those “extreme” albums that may intrigue you for a couple of listens but which then remain invariably buried by the dust. Stranger Fruit represents the output of a talented artist with is a clear vision; this is avant-garde music gifted by a sense of “musicality” which, fortunately, still remains the central element of the work.
#6) Dimmu Borgir, “Eonian”
Symphonic Black Metal
It has been quite a long time before than Dimmu Borgir released a new album, and we can say that it was definitely worth to wait all these years. Eonian, the latest LP from the Norwegian black metal masters, is their first original studio album in nearly 8 years following 2010’s LP Abrahadabra. The reception of this new work has been mixed… many critics and fans have in fact argued over the atmospheres farly “positive” that permeate the songs of the record. Really this new record moves away enough from the cliché of the dark and demonic album that you would expected from this kind of formation. I believe, however, that these nordic metalheads, once arrived at the important result of the tenth album of their discography, and given also the difficulties they encountered to make this new work, have absolutely the right to direct their music wherever they like, as long as the change is the result of a genuine evolution of style and not a mere choice for higher commercial returns. As a matter of fact, it it’s true that the symphonic elements of the songs have lost the “evil” and evocative spirit of the past, but at the same time the new album remains fierce and sanguine, and it also presents a stylistic and compositional consistency that’s absolutely worthy of our respect.
#7) Harakiri For The Sky, “Arson”
Harakiri for the Sky is a very interesting band from Austria. Initially started as a studio project with only two members playing all the instruments, the band eventually became a full fledged formation ready for the stage. Year after year, and thanks to a bunch of good albums released since their formation in 2011, this group of post-black metallers is now getting increasing attentions from both fans and critics. In 2018 the band has published a new full-lenght album, Arson, the fourth in their discography. Arson absolutely confirms the good things that were said about the band in the past years and it also presents a few important elements of innovation in their sound, in particular in the way the conventional elements of this genre of music – which is basically a bridge between black metal and post metal – are sometimes elaborated in a more personal and somehow unortodox way. There is for example an increased recourse to more melodic, harmoniuous and clean sections than what the band was used to do in their early and more rough works. As a result, Arson feels more accessible than the typical post-black metal album, but without losing too much in terms of intensity and melancholy.
#8) Arkona, “Khram”
Folk Black Metal
In recent times it seems to me that evey new record coming from Russia has something magical and mystical. And the new work by Arkona, the Moscow-based black metal formation, it’s no exception. Khram, the latest full-lenght record in the band’s long discography, it is a concentrate of dark atmospheres and pagan music, with songs that manage to leave a mark of gloom in the listener’s soul. One of the building blocks of the album is clearly the third track of the LP, Tseluya zhizn’, an epic work of more than seventeen minutes after which nothing to hyoui will seem the same than before. I listened to the song during a running workout in the late evening, I was alone in the dark, moving into the streets of my city with the music playing loud in my headphones. My heart was beating as fast as if I were running away from a pagan rite, the atmosphere turned black and my breath was heavier than usual. And the that follow don’t dissolve the tension accumulated by this incredible song, rather they amplify its effects with tremendous beauty.
#9) Watain, “Trident Wolf Eclipse”
Watain is an historic Swedish trio which has been playing black metal for over twenty years, in general with good fortunes. In their new release, Trident Wolf Eclipse, the band seems to have given up on pursuing the musical evolution towards the more progressive version of black metal which characterized their controversial 2013 album The Wild Hunt, returning to a classic version of black metal. Despite this clear step backwards, the new album from Watain is still interesting, quite varied in its songs, but – most important – supported by incessant and brutal rhythms.
#10) Summoning, “With Doom We Come”
Epic & Atmospheric Black Metal
Summoning is a legendary duo of atmospheric black metal artists from Austria. Since the day of their formation, back in 1993, they have released eight full-lenght albums but, more importantly, they have cemented a family of passionate and loyal supporters. The music from Summoning is quite easy to recognize: programmed drums, layers of keyboards, medium to slow rhythms, and epic walls of guitars with atmospheric elements. The last album from the band, With Doom We Come, for better or for worse seems to carry forward the same approach of the previous releases but, in the end, it seems to lack the brilliance of the most successful albums of their career. For a band that structures their songs around a single riff, much of the beauty of their production depends on how much inspired are the musical motifs on top of which the tracks are built and how these musical elements manage to generate memorable soundscapes. And Summoning’s new album, although it offers a solid black metal experience, seems to miss something of the atmospheres of their previous works. It still remains, however, among the finest black metal productions we have listened so far in 2018.
If you arrived down at the bottom of this long article I assume you enjoyed the reading and could be interested in listening to more black metal music.
Here there are two different playlists that I created on Spotify. The first is called SOULS OF BLACK and it’s collecting all the best black metal songs as soon as they are published. It is the primary black metal compilation that is associated with the blog.
The second playlist, named LOVE & PAIN, is dedicated to the sub-genre of atmospheric black metal. Follow the playlists and check them periodically because both are updated with new tracks.