If you are anything like us, you are madly in love with music. Although she is always there for us, lady music can be a cruel mistress as well. With the sheer amount of great albums out there, navigating the genres, sub-genres, and sub-sub-genres can be a wild jungle. That’s why us kind folks at The Metal Observer decided to compile a guiding beacon in the darkness, listing the metal albums you absolutely need to hear. The task was given as such; “tell us some of your favorite albums within sub-genre X, meaning timeless classics or newly uncovered gems”. We began this series with the slow and heavy, touching upon the highs and lows of doom metal.
In our second installment of this series, we reach towards the dark depths of black metal. Did we miss your favorite album? Should your one-man basement project have gotten at least a mention? Are we morons for not including Deafheaven? Or did we do an awesome job? Let us know in the comments below!
While it may lack the compositional intricacy and ken melodic bent of 1997’s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, Emperor’s debut proper still ranks as one of the finest debut efforts out there – a haunting slice of Norwegian black metal on which belligerent guitars, lush keyboards and Ihsahn’s trademark howls all combine to create what could perhaps be labelled Romanticist black metal. Tragedy and triumph… and Satan.
– Neil Pretorius
2) Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994)
Although this album hardly needs any introduction, the musical merits of Mayhem have often been eclipsed by the controversy surrounding the band. Released in 1994, almost a year after the murder of band leader Euronymous, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas had been seven years in the making. Featuring lyrics written by the deceased Dead, and the bass of the incarcerated Varg Vikernes, the lasting legacy of De Mysteriis is still Euronymous’ icy cold riffs and that malevolent atmosphere. Twenty years later it remains a crowning achievement of Norwegian black metal, and a vivid testament to the man who created the scene.
– Ailo Ravna
3) Dissection – Storm Of The Light’s Bane (1995)
Graced with one of metal’s most iconic cover artworks comes one of metal’s most iconic albums. Sweden’s Dissection created a milestone of the black/death metal hybrid genre with an album that emanated the coldness of the cover and combined it with an almost palpable darkness while lacing it with just enough great melodies to ensure that you would enjoy freezing to death while enjoying Storm of the Light’s Bane.
– Alex Melzer
4) Emperor – Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk (1997)
While Emperor has always been regarded among black metal’s elite, Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk is, perhaps, the band’s pinnacle achievement. In the Nightside Eclipse focused primarily on icy atmospheres and set the tone for Norwegian black metal in general, but the band’s sophomore album defined symphonic black metal. Sweeping atmospherics and operatic vocals combine with blasting drums, raspy screams and some of the most intense and intricate tremolo riffs ever found to create a precedent that every band attempting symphonic black metal has tried to emulate; none have yet managed to dethrone Emperor.
– Shawn Miller
5) Darkthrone – Transilvanian Hunger (1994)
Darkthrone needs no introduction. The raw production, the grim and cold musicianship and the snarling vocals are a staple in the black metal world, and many bands have Darkthrone to thank. Transilvanian Hunger is a peak record in the “true” black metal sound. There is no denying the influence this record has had on countless bands that have tried to imitate this sound. Even at over 20 years since its release; the record still sounds as evil and fresh as it did in 1994. Everything comes together perfectly on this album, and deserves its classic status. If this is not in your collection, get it. Now.
– Neill Bird
6) Burzum – Hvis Lyset tar Oss (1994)
Burzum’s third full length album, Hvis Lyset tar Oss, is largely considered to be one of black metal’s greatest achievements. Taking the raw and minimalistic formula found on the first two albums, Varg Vikernes expanded everything into a four track, forty-five minute opus of grief, woe and desolation, expressed through rather complex and trance inducing song structures. While drawn-out, long-winded, atmospheric black metal bands are a dime a dozen in today’s scene, they can credit Burzum as the purveyor of this style. We all know Varg is bat shit crazy, and seemingly has always been bat shit crazy, but this is a testament to his creative genius.
– Shawn Miller
7) Drudkh – Autumn Aurora (2004)
The songs of Drudkh are brimming with nostalgia, sorrow, and a strong sense of longing for pre-christian Europe. Listening to Autumn Aurora conjures visions of deep eastern European woodlands, draped in earthy production-values and a romantic sense of mysticism. An incredible songwriter, Drudkh-mastermind Roman Saenko takes the atmospheric approach of Burzum to a new level, interweaving it with his own sense of nationalistic pride and primal instincts. Opening the floodgates for an onslaught of excellent Ukrainian bands, Autumn Aurora is yet to be outdone.
– Ailo Ravna
8) Gorgoroth – Pentagram (1994)
1994 was one of the all time great years for black metal, as it saw the release of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, In the Nightside Eclipse, Transilvanian Hunger, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, and Gorgoroth’s debut Pentagram. All of these albums are rightly considered classics of the genre and it would be difficult to choose a favorite, but Pentagram holds up as well as any of them. Like the other classics, it has the icy riffs, blasts, and production of early black metal, but even this early in his career Infernus was already a gifted songwriter. One of the best features of Pentagram is its pacing; Gorgoroth were quite content to lock into a slower groove as, for example, on “Crushing the Scepter” and “Under the Pagan Megalith.” Pentagram is short, intense and features the bizarre, strangled vocals of Hat, who still sounds weird 20 years later. Gorgoroth may have perfected their craft with (depending who you ask) Antichrist or Under the Sign of Hell, but it all started here.
– Nathan Hare
9) Panopticon – Kentucky (2012)
Released in 2012, Kentucky is a fairly recent album to be on a top ten list. However, this album deserves its spot. Expertly blending black metal with folk/bluegrass/Americana, Panopticon mastermind/sole member Austin Lunn has made a concept record that not only stands as being one of the more original albums to be released in the 2010s, but serves as a true high point in American black metal. To be enjoyed by any black metal fan, or metal fan in general, the masterfully done album can only be seen as an instant classic and will stand the test of time as a defining moment for the band and the genre as a whole.
– Neill Bird
10) Darkthrone – A Blaze in the Northern Sky (1991)
Arguably one of, if not the first, albums where the overall atmosphere was as important as the songs themselves, A Blaze in the Northern Sky saw Darkthrone ditching the proto-tech death metal sound of A Soulside Journey in favour of an icy cold whirlwind of tremolo picked riffs, hair-raising vocal rasps and the kind of non-production that would come to define the then nascent black metal aesthetic throughout the 1990s. 23 years later A Blaze is still raw and righteous.
– Neil Pretorius
11) Immortal – At the Heart of Winter (1999)
12) Absu – Tara (2001)
13) Ulver – Bergtatt: Et Eeventyr I 5 Capitler (1995)
14) Bathory – Under the Sign of the Black Mark (1987)
15) Enslaved – Vikingligr Veldi (1994)
16) Darkthrone – Under a Funeral Moon (1993)
17) Immortal – Pure Holocaust (1993)
18) Satyricon – Nemesis Divina (1996)
19) Master’s Hammer – Ritual (1991)