Friday, January 07, 2011

Metal Briefs: Second Wave Norwegian Black Metal

A while ago, I discussed the first wave of black metal. But most people think of the second wave Norwegian bands when they think of black metal.

This group largely took the tongue-in-cheek Satanist or anti-Christian views of proto-black metallers like Venom seriously. They developed evil personas who rejected anything less than deadly serious, and wore corpsepaint any time they were photographed (or on stage, if they ever actually played live). On top of that, they were involved in murders--the two most famous of which involved a homosexual and a band member--and church burnings. The maker of Metal: A Headbanger's Journey noted that most metalheads reject these actions, and theorized that all of this has more to do with Norwegian history and cultural identity than it does with metal, and I'm inclined to agree.

Since then, most of these bands have moved on. Apparently they've realized it's impossible to keep up these fake personas forever, at least in the Internet age, and most of them have decided it's OK to have fun every now and then. Nearly all of them have begun to incorporate other styles into their music. But during the 90's, they took themselves a bit too seriously. They managed to make some good music out of it, though.

Darkthrone: A Blaze in the Northern Sky (1992)

Blaze in the Northern Sky (Dig)Darkthrone was begun in 1987, so they've been around long enough to be contemporary with the first wave of black metal, but back then they were a death metal band. They've since gone on to become a hybrid with crust punk, and drummer Fenriz is perhaps more important today than the band has ever been, becoming the most widely-respected tastemaster in underground metal. Some of their death metal influence is still apparent on A Blaze in the Northern Sky, with death metal riffs played in a blackened style (see "Kathaarian Life Code" around 6:30 or "In the Shadow of the Horns" around 1:40). And it's also clear they haven't fully embraced the genre's typical rules, with a cliche hard rock ending to "Paragon Belial" and a great deal of traditional rock-style drumming (see "In the Shadow of the Horns"). But this is unmistakably Norwegian black metal, with blast beats found in most songs, simple riffs played in a blackened style all over, and rasping vocals. The solos may be the coolest part of this album. Though brief, they are very odd, squealing solos unlike anything else that came before them. "Where Cold Winds Blow" is perhaps the most typical-sounding song, being fast almost the whole way through, but album standouts like the title track and "In the Shadow of the Horns" explore slower tempos. This is good stuff. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Emperor: In the Nightside Eclipse (1994)

In the Nightside EclipseThough Ihsahn has grown up a great deal and turned to extreme progressive metal, he was once the guitarist/vocalist of Emperor. Other members of the band were involved in the distasteful activities mentioned above. But musically, they were amazing. This is quite clearly black metal, with no vestiges of death clinging to it. But on top of that, it's one of the first examples of symphonic black metal (Dimmu Borgir is a better known example of the style). At this point, "symphonic" didn't mean an actual symphony, or even any actual orchestral instruments, but instead a synthesizer used to add atmospheric drama. It synthesizes both choirs and strings on the album. The songs are incredible, especially "I Am the Black Wizards", which (despite its lack of subject-verb agreement) is aggressive, epic, and extremely compelling. I give In the Nightside Eclipse 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Satyricon: Nemesis Divina (1996)

Nemesis DivinaSatyricon has become the only band to convincingly work out the so-called "black 'n roll" style that sounds like such a good idea on paper, but rarely ever works. But recent Decibel Hall of Fame inductee Nemesis Divina is their last effort at pure Norwegian black metal, and what an effort it is. All the hallmarks of the style are here, from tremolo riffs to blastbeats to rasping vocals that never seem to care about the rhythm of the music. Although this is undoubtedly a pure black metal affair, there is experimentation around nearly every corner. The epic "Immortality Passion", with its unrelenting 8+ minute assault, is actually more straight-forward than the rest. Others include piano expertly interjected ("Du Som Hater Gud"), Gregorian-esque backing vocals and church bells ("Mother North"), folk-influenced solos ("Forhekset"), or other tasty diversions. But the real highlight is the title track, which is probably the best example of the style in terms of quality and representativeness. If you only get one 1990's NBM album, ever, this should be the one. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.


  1. Good post. What about some of the other bands though? Immortal is my personal favorite band from this group. They're definitely a bit campier than the others, resembling more of a black metal Kiss than the other groups. They are also the least connected to Satanism or Paganism, making up their own world to sing about.

  2. I, too, was wondering why Immortal got cut from this post. I assumed avoiding Mayhem and Burzum came from not wanting to get too much into the activities surrounding the scene, but Immortal seems perfect for this post. Still, nothing wrong with any of those three choices either.

  3. Well, Immortal just got squeezed out. With these posts I always discuss three albums. I picked these albums because I wanted to discuss the first band in the scene (arguably Darkthrone), the best album of the scene (in my opinion, Nemesis Divina, although I haven't listened to all that many to be a true expert), and something a little different from the rest (for that I went with a symphonic bm release).

    If you like this post, check back next Friday for early doom metal.

    Any other suggestions for posts like this are welcome.

  4. Fair enough. I understand. My personal favorite album from the scene is actually Emperor's Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk. Well, it's between that and Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas.

  5. "...especially "I Am the Black Wizards", which (despite its lack of subject-verb agreement) is aggressive..."

    If you read the lyrics you'll find there's a reason for that lack of agreement: "I am the spirit of their existence, I am them", or something like that. So actually it's somehow correct :P

  6. Now that I think about it, it's not even improper grammar (the subject and verb are "I am"). It's just awkward grammar.