Help, I Am a Black Metal Pleb

Black metal is a sadly misunderstood genre in the modern day, whilst some of the most beautiful, complex and powerful music of the last 25 years has come out of the black metal scene, we black metal listening folk are still haunted by the stereotyped caricatures of the 90’s, whilst so much black metal speaks of the of the anguish of man’s unspoken soul. In return for Connors synthpop recommendations I chose some cool black metal for him, here are my 4 picks.

richard 1 at size

Vemod – Venter På Stormene

Recommended Cause…I recommended this because it’s a really good example of the black metal ethos, showcasing black metal’s influence from ambient music, whilst also being incredibly well composed and executed. Atmospheric black metallers Vemod conjure up a dreamy, atmospheric and highly melodic release with Venter på stormene. The multiple layers of sound blend into a hazy musical collage in which the gently buzzing guitar bizarrely takes somewhat of a back seat, Venter på stormene is a beautifully crafted, colourful introduction to the atmospheric side of the black metal scene (although all black metal is technically atmospheric but that’s a story for another time).

Connor’s Reaction: This is totally not what I expected from my first non-Deafheaven black metal record, this doesn’t seem to lean so heavily on the metal side though. The dichotomy between the super-atmospheric, tremolo-heavy blast of guitars, and really pretty, serene ambient synths is wonderful, like both complement each other so well that it’s the perfect record for mindlessly filing.  My favourite track is definitely ‘Altets Tempel’, it’s what I imagine space sounds like. Really into Black Metal so far, where can I find some churches?

Agalloch – The Mantle

Recommended Cause…The Mantle is a piece of musical genius, whilst it’s pushing 20 years old, it still sounds hugely relevant today. Rising from the blastbeating, corpsepainted kvltist shitpile that was late 90’s black metal, Agalloch took a myriad of influence from post rock, black and progressive metal to create one of the most engrossing (and in my opinion best) black metal albums of all time. The Mantle isn’t just a collection of songs; it’s a beautiful piece of music, a journey through profound sadness and human emotion. Mournful, folk tinged paeans to love and sadness accompanied by complex, ambient influenced arrangements remind us all of the not so hidden beauty and melody at the heart of black metal.

Connor’s Reaction:  Straight away I was sold on this, the cover and track titles are so goddamn aesthetically appealing to me. However, The Mantel ends up having parts I adore, and others that are jarring to me. Like, it starts out so great, the folky guitars are so beautiful yet powerful, but once the vocals set in, it’s hard t0 enjoy. The screamed vocals are fucking horrible and over-the-top, to the point where I’d much prefer The Mantle if it were a purely instrumental album, more ‘Opal’, less ‘I Am The Wooden Doors’ please, the latter of which also features those cheesy-ass guitars that have prevented me from getting along with a lot metal in the first place. Maybe if I understood the context a bit better I could get more into it, but for now it’s far from my favourite.

Panopticon – Panopticon II

Recommended Cause…Panopticon’s 2012 split with Wheels Within Wheels is probably my favourite of all of Panopticon’s releases, the band left behind some of the anarcho punk influence (Panopticon have a distinctly leftist political stance, without going for the whole ‘red black metal’ thing, which is awesome) for a collection of plodding, shoegazey soundscapes. The trudging, depressive riffing and shining layers of buzzing, fx laden distortion create a murky, poignant atmosphere within the slowly building melody, conjuring up tuneful, monolithic soundscapes; a tuneful, highly melodic introduction to lo fi, wall of sound black metal.

Connor’s Reaction: I’m getting a lot of similar feeling from this that I did with Vemod, except Panopticon seems to blend the crunchy guitars and beautiful, violin-heavy soundscapes more effectively. This record also has a lot more in common with shoegaze, especially when the vocals are much more melodic and mixed into the music. Also, the black metal albums I’ve enjoyed most so far have been the lo-fi ones, which kinda shows where I enjoy black metal the most, when the guitars aren’t at the forefront. ‘The Road To Bergen’ is also one of the prettiest pieces of music I’ve heard in a longtime.

Austere – To Lay Like Old Ashes

Recommended Cause…5 years ago the big thing in black metal was being sad, it actually brought a lot of post punk and shoegaze influence to the scene and Austere is a great example of the more accessible side of modern black metal. Australian depressives Austere perfectly sum up the depressive black metal phenomenon on this release from 2012; tortured screams and melancholy atmospheres, all contained within a minimal, earthy but somehow accessible sound, laden with mournful acoustic passages, torturous vocals and minor key riffing, the release genuinely captures an atmosphere of crushing depression.

Connor’s Reaction: Wow. Someone really needs to teach these bands the power of a sub-five-minute song. This started out enjoyably depressing, and props to Austere for keeping a singularly gloomy atmosphere throughout, but I got bored of this pretty quickly. Again, the vocals are so hard to digest when they’re this prominent and ‘Coma II’ really tested my abnormally short attention span, since it’s just 20+ minutes of a pretty unspectacular riff. I can’t tell if I even like black metal anymore, thankfully I have this wonderful pinata cake to stop me getting trapped in an emotional abyss.

Connor’s Picks

Leviathan – The Tenth Sub Level Of Suicide

This album actually contains a lot of elements that I fucking hated on previous albums, like really overbearing guitars and unrelenting screams, but for some reason, I found them a lot more engrossing on this. It’s probably thanks to the overall intensity that Leviathan manages to maintain throughout, and the swirling cacophony of noise that often finishes the tracks is super fascinating to me too. I’m really into ‘Submersed’ aswell, it’s real short, yet such a beautifully cold and murky instrumental. 10/10 desensitised me to screams.

Burzum – Filosofem

Woah, Filosofem is a real nasty, gross, atrociously produced record (much like the man behind it), I love it. I know it’s purposely supposed to sound as awful as possible and it’s really effective in creating this record’s whole disgusting atmosphere. A lot of the, very long, tracks also revolve around a single idea, usually a single hissing riff, but it’s got enough unrelenting intensity to hold your attention. ‘Dunkelheit’ my favourite track, cause it’s probably the best example of Varg somehow placing some really stunning ambient elements into some of the worst (best!) guitar sounds I’ve ever heard. Filosofem is pretty great, cool, I guess I’m into murderers now.

What surprised me most about black metal is actually the sheer diversity of it, of the six albums I listened too, none were particularly similar to another. This is probably why some of the albums ended up appealing to me a bunch, while others were pretty horrible listens. Overall it seems that, personally, the more serene, atmospheric and genre-mixing side of black metal is far more appealing, while the straight-up metal side is kinda grating. However, at least now I can stop using Sunbather as my only reference for black metal, especially thanks to my boys Vemod.

Words: Connor Cass & Richard Lowe
Illustration: Kitty Wilcox

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