Everything about Norway is metal. Its lush forests and snow capped mountains are more mystifying than any other countries’. Its subzero temperatures and spread out landscapes are depressive and isolating. Even the countries’ history is entrenched in warfare, bloodshed and jealous pagan gods. It is only natural that the most controversial metal in the world would be birthed from such a place.
If you are reading this blog, I’m sure you’ve heard the story. Back in the early nineties some overzealous, teenage extremists burned churches, killed people, served extensive jail time and made some awesome music, influenced by the likes of Bathory, Celtic Frost, Venom and Sodom. These fervent teenagers and twenty-somethings changed the face of metal forever with their raw, unprocessed, atmospheric dissonance. Black metal as we know it today was born.
Though many great bands hailed from the walls of Helvete and the emissions of Deathlike Silence Productions, there were a few that hallmarked the scene. These are the top six most important Norwegian black metal albums…..
Intelligent, atmospheric, raw, experimental and progressive are just a few words that sum up Ulver’s 1997 release. The final album in Ulver’s notorious black trinity, Nattens Madrigal, is a thought provoking masterpiece; a beautifully grotesque glimpse of ingenuity. Each song is both a beguiling hymn to nightfall and a summoning call to hell’s hounds, delivered with a buzzing resonance and enthralling melody. From hypnotic acoustic breaks to sheer raw atmosphere, Nattens Madrigal is an absolute, must have album in any respectable black metal collection.
It would be unfair to do a countdown like this and not include Satyricon. Satyricon were not only formative members of the so-called “Black Circle”, they also gave life to the black metal image with their flashy “kvlt” regalia. They took the black metal look and made it into a true art form. Though their music has gone in some strange directions over the years, perhaps becoming a bit too symphonic or polished for some, their 1994 release, Dark Medieval Times is a beautiful example grim black metal with a Neo-Pagan edge. Beginning to end the album is a celebration of Valhalla and a dirge to olden gods. The folk elements are beautifully rendered and create a sort of enchanted atmosphere throughout the album. No “kvlt” elitist would disagree that Dark Medieval Times is a truly remarkable and important benchmark in the history of Norwegian black metal.
There is perhaps no artist more controversial than Varg Vikernes. From arson to murder to extreme ideology, Varg had it all. Whether or not you agree with the man’s questionable actions, one must admit that black metal wouldn’t be the romantic impetus it is today without those infamous stories. As a rebellious teen, I don’t know if I would have been as drawn to black metal if it hadn’t been so shrouded in depravity.
Black metal is a form of music to be feared by most and no one understood this better than Varg. His 1996 release Filosefem is a magnificently crafted work of art, fittingly recorded on a tape deck. As a one man outfit, Varg was forced to experiment with ambient sounds on his recordings. These melancholy sounds paved the way for countless others. Filosefem is unarguably the highlight of the man’s career; flawless from beginning to end.
Emperor was rooted deeply within the trenches of Helevete’s hellions from their humble beginnings. Always a bit more intelligent than company they kept, Emperor politely stood on the sidelines for the most part whilst the insanity persisted. And save for ex-member and convicted murderer Bard Faust, the band has kept out of trouble without losing any of their “necro” cred. Staying out of trouble could not keep them out of the spotlight however, their music was simply too impressive.
Emperor’s first full length album, In the Nightside Eclipse is flawlessly rendered symphony of darkness. Cold, melancholy and sinister, the album is an absolute staple in black metal history. Emperor’s use of the keyboards induces a doleful sensitivity in their sound. The occasional clean chanting found throughout In the Nightside Eclipse only adds to the album’s beautifully depressive resonance. They don’t begin and end at sadness however. Much of the album is an uplifting and victorious battle cry. The album sends the listener on an emotive whirlwind and is only satisfied with musicianship of the highest standards. From sadness to celebration, In the Nightside Eclipse is a true masterpiece.
Though Darkthrone’s initial beginnings were in death metal, they are most well known for their black metal efforts. It doesn’t matter how far they attempt to stray from the black metal sound, the brand will always be with them. This is because of the importance those three albums carry in black metal’s murky beginnings. A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Under a Funeral Moon and Transilvanian Hunger bore a significant influence on black metal.
It wasn’t until the release of Transilvanian Hunger that Darkthrone truly honed their black metal sound. Recorded on the cheapest of equipment, the sound is cold, atmospheric and ugly. The buzzing guitars, the effortless blackened growls and the paralyzing blast beats literally defined black metal’s sound. Everything about this release screams “kvlt”, from the simple yet nefarious cover art to the fact that the whole album is growled in the band’s native tongue. If this album isn’t in your collection yet, I pity you.
What can one say about Mayhem that hasn’t already been said? It seemed like everything that was happening in Norway at that time was surrounded around this notorious band. From Helvete to murder and untimely death to arson to Deathlike Silence Productions, all eyes were on Mayhem. They were simply dangerous and it comes out in their sound. No Mayhem album captures this element of danger better than Live in Leipzig.
Live in Leipzig is the only album which features the deceased, Per “Dead” Ohlin on vocals. His sickness, brutality and possible mental illness were a perfect fit for Mayhem’s raw and unpolished sound. There was little concern over whether or not the instruments were being play correctly. The band’s only concern was in sounding as evil as possible. They certainly achieved that goal. No release before or after has ever sounded as evil, sick or menacing as Live in Leipzig. Live in Leipzig is THE black metal record to have.
Everything on this list is only my opinion. If you feel I’ve left something out feel free to post it in the comments. And just so I don’t piss anyone off, here are some notable mentions…..
Enslaved- Vikingligr Veldi
Immortal- Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism
Happy Listening! Hails!