Black metal (also, but incorrectly, referred to as 'Norwegian Death Metal') is an extreme form of heavy metal music that had its start in the early 1980s, often accredited to British act Venom who named it on the title of one of their most known albums of the same name; the recording in question featuring the sound that would later identify the style.
Initially synonymous for 'Satanic Metal', black metal is still met with hostility from many in mainstream culture due to its tradition of expressing anti-Christian, pagan and misanthropic views. These views are often accredited/blamed on the Christianization of the Scandinavian countries where the musical form proliferates most predominately today (see Viking history between 900-1100AD). Several band members through-out history in various bands have been convicted for murder and church burnings (re: Emperor & Burzum). There is also a small but very vocal nationalistic neo-Nazi movement within the ranks of certain groups that does not necessarily pass down to the fans. More recently, however, newer bands have been known to explore topics like nature, mythology, folklore, philosophy and fantasy. There are forms of black metal that float on both extremes in the form of unblack metal that centers on topics praising Christianity, and NSBM which centers on subjects of White Supremacy and/or National Socialism (a.k.a. Nazi), but these are fringe groups within the style.
Black metal music departs from conventional song structures by lacking clear verse-chorus sections and lengthy, repetitive instrumental components. Common traits also include fast tempos, shrieked or snarled vocals, distorted guitars played in high pitch with tremolo picking (in the classic Norwegian style, or more traditional heavy metal style with the Greek method), thrash metal styled blast beat drumming, and non-standard song structuring. The bass guitar is seldom used to play stand-alone melodies. Often, and especially in the early days, Black metal recordings suffered from poor (lo-fi) recording quality.
In the case of the vocals: the vocal style was influenced by Quorthon of Bathory, and can be used to distinguish the vocals of many traditional black metal artists from those of death metal, who prefer using low-pitched growls.
During the 1980s, several thrash metal and death metal bands formed a prototype for black metal. This so-called "first wave" included bands such as Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. A "second wave" arose in the early 1990s, spearheaded by Norwegian bands such as Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, Immortal and Emperor. The early Norwegian black metal scene developed the style of their forebears into a distinct genre. Norwegian-inspired black metal scenes emerged throughout Europe and North America, although some other scenes developed their own styles with no connection to the Norwegian one.
All black metal is recorded as many bands choose not to play live. Those who do, however, maintain that these "live performances are not for entertainment or spectacle. Sincerity, authenticity and extremity are valued above all else." Some bands consider their concerts to be 'rituals' and often make use of stage props and theatrics including impaled animal heads, mock crucifixions, medieval weaponry and band members doused in animal blood (re: Mayhem & Gorgoroth).
Black metal artists often appear dressed in black leather or shiny black vinyl clothing with combat boots, bullet belts, spiked wristbands and inverted crosses/pentagrams to reinforce their anti-Christian or anti-religious warrior appearance. However, the most stand-out trait is their use of black and white kabuki styled makeup like the band Kiss but more primitive in appearance in custom patterns used to create a Gothic zombie corpse-like appearance (sometimes mixed with real or fake blood and called 'corpse paint').
In the early 1990s, most pioneering black metal artists used simple black-and-white pictures or writing on their record covers. This could have been meant as a reaction against death metal bands, who at that time had begun to use brightly colored album artwork. Most underground black metal artists have continued this style. Normally, black metal album covers are usually atmospheric or provocative; some feature natural or fantasy landscapes (for example Burzum's Filosofem and Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse) while others are violent and sacrilegious (for example Marduk's Fuck Me Jesus and Dimmu Borgir's In Sorte Diaboli).
Bands in this style: Burzum, Emperor, Dark Funeral, Marduk, Immortal.
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