10 Essential Black Metal Albums You Need In Your Collection
It looks like Black Metal is back in the media again thanks to the release of the film The Lord of Chaos that has somehow ruffled more feathers and neck beards than a church burning, So it’s a pretty appropriate time for this list. The wonderful team at Insert Review Here have asked me for my take on the top 10 black metal records and I have no doubt some of these titles will piss people off to, because most of them are from the second wave and some might not even be considered as “Trve Kvlt Black Metal” but most of these albums were early introductions to the grim and frostbitten kingdoms of Norway, Sweden and even, yes, I’m going to say it, Australia. This list is not in any particular order. (Thanks to Wiki and Metal Archives for some fun facts)
Satyricon - Nemesis Divinia (1996, Moonfog)
Satyricon are not a band that comes up at the forefront of Black Metal classic lists often but the opening riff to Mother North is enough to make anyone want to ride into battle, donned in full corpse paint and black leather with spikes. The album is sweepingly crushing and poignantly beautiful and brings forth a bright and almost uplifting side to black metal that was not previously seen.
Fun Fact, Ted from Darkthrone played guitar on the album, all music & lyrics written by Satyr between autumn 1993 and winter 1995 except for the lyrics for "Du Som Hater Gud" which were written in June 1994 by Herr Nagell (Fenriz), in honour of Satyricon.
Members: Satyr, Frost Kveldulv (Nocturno Oculto aka Ted from Darkthrone)
Bestial Warlust - Vengeance, War ‘Till Death
Australian is hot as fuck for about 90% of the year so it’s crazy to think such a grim and frostbitten War/Black Metal band could have formed in Melbourne in 1990. Originally under the moniker of Corpse Molestation they renamed themselves the supremely exceptional moniker Bestial Warlust in 1993. Although short lived (they splitting up in 1997) BW managed to put out two of the most vicious BM releases of the mid 90’s including 1994’s Vengeance, War till death.Not only does this album sport some of the best artwork in Australian metal history it also is one of the most claustrophobic, Cacophonous and downright evil albums ever released. Severely underrated.
Fun fact: Vocalist Damon Bloodstorm went on to form Holocaust Wolves of the Apocalypse and continues to play Bestial Warlust songs live.
Watain - Lawless Darkness
The newest sons of northern darkness on this list, Sweden’s Watain seem to have channelled the true essence of Anti-Cosmic satanic black metal. Having started in 1998 in Stockholm Sweden, Watain released a slew of solid BM releases culminating in a step up of production on 2007’s sworn to the black but it was truly 2010’s Lawless Darkness that garnered them notoriety along amongst BM fans with critical accolades, and for good fucking reason. Not to be hyperbolic but this album rips and it rips hard, in fact, this disc has been banned from my car because it turns me into an asshole driver which is a stretch because I drive like a nanna.
Fun Fact: Vocalist Erik Danielsson was the live bassist for Dissection between 2005 and 2006 and The band name came from a song by the now not so defunct band Von. (Track 3 off 1992’s demo Satanic Blood)
Mayhem - Live in Leipzig
I know, I know, it’s a live album but it’s the quintessential live black metal release, Recorded in Leipzig, Germany in November 1990 and being released originally in 1993 Live in Leipzig is the best representation of the vocals of DEAD. The lineup on this album is as classic as they come when it involves Norwegian BM. Dead on vocals, Euronymous on Guitars, Necrobutcher on Bass and Hellhammer on drums. This includes my all time favourite version of Deathcrush.
Fun fact: Severed heads of pigs were skewered on spikes on the stage, pieces of rotting meat were thrown into the audience and given to people and the bands clothes were decayed and soiled from being buried for days on end. Imagine having been in the crowd.
Immortal - Battles in the North
The Aesthetic of black metal is a huge draw card for a lot of people, the dark imagery and satanic symbolism is like crack to angry young people. So it was a bold move of Immortal to bring out a predominately white album artwork but it really did set them apart from the throng, 1995’s Battle in the North is a masterclass is frosty sheets of terrifying blast beats, cracking riffs and harshly spewed vocals. And although it might not be considered as one of their “classic” albums like “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism” or “Pure Holocaust” it does stand apart from the crowd with its crisply produced sonic landscapes.
Fun Fact: Although all the vocals were performed by Abbath he only wrote one song on the album which was track 9- Circling above the times before time, All other lyrics were written by his partner in crime Demonaz.
Emperor - In the Nightside Eclipse
*Deep breath*... Symphonic Black Metal. Yep, it’s a thing, it’s here and it’s here to stay. The thing is Emperor did it right the first few time around. In the Nightside Eclipse is an absolute masterclass in using mood and atmosphere to command how an album is perceived. Never overdoing it or over-complicating things with orchestrative passages, allowing the vicious riffs and pummeling drums to do most of the talking. Ihsahn and company nailed it their first time out of the gate with a full length. I’ll put it simply and say it slowly, if you’re a BM fan and this album is not in you’re collection you’re doing it wrong.
Fun fact: The tracks “Cosmic Keys to My Creations & Times” and “I Am the Black Wizards” are re-recorded versions of songs that originally appeared on the 1993 self titled demo
Darkthrone - Sardonic Wrath
I can hear all the internet BM purists cracking their knuckles and getting their “Well actually, Under a freezing moon and Transilvanian Hunger were more classic” and look, they may be right but their output in the late 90’s and early 2000’s was vicious as fuck. 2004’s Sardonic Wrath has one of my favourite black metal album covers of all time, it conjures thoughts of spellbinding, crushing evil and the sonics of the album does the same, 30+ minutes of complete and unadulterated blackened riffs, screeched vocals and Fenriz’s unmistakable self taught drumming style .
Fun fact: Darkthrone rule. Period.
Dark Funeral - The Secrets of the Black Arts
Sweden’s Dark Funeral didn’t want to miss out on any of the Evil that their Norwegian counterparts were enjoying so they got to releasing some supremely malevolent black metal, starting with 1993’s The Secrets of the Black Arts. The atmosphere on this album is creepy, especially the title track. It’s as if someone is watching you. Don’t believe me? Give it another spin.
Fun fact: Peter Tagtgren of Hypocrisy/Bloodbath/Pain fame co-produced this album in his studio “The Abyss” in Sweden
Dimmu Borgir - Enthrone Darkness Triumphant
From memory Mourning Palace was the first true black metal song I ever hear, Imagine being a 13 year old smelly kid who listened to nothing but Pantera, Korn and Limp Bizkit and thinking that they were the heaviest and most evil things ever and then feeling your entire world fold in on itself with the opening keyboard notes of a song like Mourning Palace. That was it, it was over for me, I needed more, more evil, more black metal, more Satan. The whole album is an absolute classic and I think it’s their best early release.
Fun fact: Produced/Engineered by Peter Tagtgren in his The Abyss studios in Sweden
Cradle of Filth - Midian
I left this one until last and for good reason, I hope you’re sitting down. Cradle of Filth are the Metallica of Black Metal. That’s right, I said it. Now that you’ve calmed down, please, think about it… COF are an entry level BM band with a divisive back catalogue, everyone can agree that their first three albums are stone cold classics and although it was their fourth full length Midian most certainly is their black album, it’s lavish and grandiose without losing any of that sardonic, sarcastic and satanic bite. Dani Filth is in fine form lyrically, conjuring some of the most warped Lovecraftian prose to ever grace a BM release. If you’ve got your nose turned up at this entry, do yourself a favour and go back and give it a spin and tell me it doesn’t, as the kids say, slap.
Fun Fact: Midian is the town where the monsters live in Clive Barker’s book Cabal and Adrian Erlandsson (Paradise Lost, At the Gates, The Haunted) played drums on this album.
Bonus Proto-Black Metal album:
Mercyful Fate - Melissa (1983, Roadracer Records)
You know, everyone talks about Venom being a huge band for the black metal scene and they’re right but King Diamond and his merry men in Mercyful Fate took the satanic, corpse painting imagery and took it up a notch. Released in 1983, Melissa went on to influence basically everyone within the metal industry including Metallica, Slayer, Death and of course our black metal heroes in Satyricon, Immortal and Darkthrone. The riffs, the drums, the vocals it’s all a cacophonous maelstrom of awesomeness (Don’t know if that’s even a word) that should be heard by every metal fan regardless of their interest in Black Metal.
Fun fact: If you don’t own this album you need to reassess your life.