In 1996, when the internet was young and so was I, I used to browse various websites for interviews with my favorite death metal bands.
I came across a lot of talk about something called “black metal” and I had no idea what it was or what it sounded like, except by description.
I read up on all the mysterious black metal-related goings on in Norway–the church burnings, the murders, the extremity of it all–and I was intrigued. The things these people said in interviews were outlandish. They hated everything. Everything. Except forests.
Then I came across PIT magazine and Metal Maniacs, which only further intrigued me. I still have Rubbermaid totes full of these things, BTW.
Finally, one day while perusing the used cd section of a local Hasting’s, I came across this compilation:
It contained many of the notorious Norwegian bands I’d read about–Emperor, Satyricon, Mayhem and more.
I still vividly remember getting in my car and popping that sucker into my Discman, which I played on my car stereo through a cassette adapter.
When Emperor’s I am the black wizards entered my ear canals, it was jarring. I’d never heard anything like it–the droning, atonal, dissonant, reverb-saturated chords, punctuated by raspy, high-pitched vocals and lush keyboards that were so buried in the mix they bordered on ambient. The atmosphere of it was intoxicating–it was both beautiful and vile at the same time. I was used to death metal, but this really was something else entirely. My imagination soared over the frigid, snow-swept mountains and forests of Norway as I listened. It seemed so exotic and alluring.
I soon purchased several albums by mail order, which included Arcturus’s brilliant 1996 Aspera Hiems Symfonia, Old Man’s Child’s The Pagan Prosperity, and Emperor’s genre-shaping In the nightside eclipse.
That Arcturus is hard to find now.
I then discovered England’s Cradle of Filth around the same time I was entering an Anne Rice phase, so the more elegant, orchestral, Vampyric form of black metal present on Dusk and Her Embrace really hit all my spots.
As an afficianado of both classical and metal music, I loved hearing both genres fused seamlessly. Just tacking strings onto existing songs like bands do when they get big and bloated and decide to play with an orchestra sucks balls. This was the real deal.
Oh, sure, COF is “mainstream commercial poser black metal.” Whatever. You say that now, but in 1996-1997, Cradle of Filth had massive underground cred, and was nowhere near anything that even smelled commercial. Nothing metal was commercial anymore at that point in time, except Pantera. That was literally it. It was a garbage time for mainstream music. Who cared, though? I had delved into a whole new secret world that nobody else I knew had ever heard of.
It wasn’t like now, of course, when you can just open YouTube and hear this stuff or be made aware of it via the media. It just wasn’t known or spoken of, especially in America.
The cold, dark nihilistic atmosphere and sheer, uncompromising extremity the music was drenched in was relatable to me, and all the talk of forests and ice and ancient times really felt like something.
I read the now-iconic book Lords of Chaos multiple times.
After a few years, I mostly lost interest in new black metal, probably because it lacked the danger and mystique of those early bands. It has become big business, and placed under more scrutiny, with actual societal standards even applied to it, in some cases. Black metal was never my absolute favorite subgenre of metal anyway, I just liked it a lot, and a fairly significant reason for that was the danger and mystique. It had no concern whatsoever for what anyone thought of it, and these dudes would do interviews and spout the most antisocial shit imaginable. Anything you “can’t say,” they would say it. No rules, no standards. Just lawless darkness. Naturally that’s going to appeal to someone like me at the age I was when I discovered it.
The rhetoric from new bands, and many of the old is the same, but it’s meaningless now. Young bands can’t cultivate that kind of mystique in the digital age, and old bands who’ve turned into corporate touring machines trotting out the same old “im so evil” talk is disingenuous. If you’re over 25 and you’re still maintaining that youthful naivety of yore, that’s pretty pathetic. People are supposed to grow.
Emperor in 1994:
Exhumed and Obituary were/still are cool, fun-loving guys who made brutal death metal music that I loved. But the Drummer from Emperor fucking murdered someone. Guitarist went to prison for burning down a very old church. Thats nuts. That’s fucking dangerous. It’s all very wrong, hence its appeal. The youthful naivety that thinks such things are acceptable when they’re clearly bonkers.
Of course, the music was great, too. But when you take great music and match it with a great backdrop and aesthetic…man. Amazing. Emperor are by far the kings of all of it, and maybe even one of my all-time favorite metal bands. When they came out with IX EQUILIBRIUM in 1999, I was all about it. I still am. They’d become black metal’s answer to progressive rock with the stellar musicianship and song construction on this crazy good album:
Around 2013 I was asked to contribute keys(organ, strings, choir, piano)to a black metal album. It’s a good album, and I enjoy hearing myself sprinkled throughout it. Pretty cool to be a part of. Here’s the whole thing.
Dabbling with imagery like inverted crosses and pentagrams isn’t where I’m at in life right now, but one day I’d love to get all my equipment together again and collab on some really droning, atmospheric black metal with someone. Something with more esoteric, nature-based lyrics and imagery. I did a lot of instrumental symphonic stuff around 2010-2013 as well, but these days I’m much more focused on writing.
I’ll go years without getting in a black metal mood, and it’s been awhile, but this past week I’ve wanted to hear nothing but Emperor, Darkthrone, Mayhem, etc.
I get in black metal moods when I feel cold, isolated and apathetic. I blast it into my eardrums and egg myself on. It doesn’t put me in a good mood like death metal does–it amplifies the hatred and nihilism I feel inside. It’s easy to feel that way in the midst of the shitshow that America has become this year. I’m pissed off at everyone, and black metal provides a perfect soundtrack for my currently toxic mood. It also represents the absolute antithesis of modern pop culture, which makes me want to vomit. Black metal is the antidote to all the cutesy-wutesy feelgood virtue-signalling bullshit out there. Zero pretense, just cold, dark atmospherics and morbid hatred.
How long will it last? As long as it needs to. Usually a couple of weeks, at most. Then I’ll be on some other kick. I rotate my kicks.
For now, though, I’m really vibing with it. Death to false metal.