Styles & Forms | Black Metal | Rock

By the end of the 1980s, thrash metal was on its last legs. Metallica and Slayer were on the path towards acceptance by the mainstream and it seemed as though heavy metal was in danger of losing not only the extremity upon which it had been founded, but also its shock value. How ill-founded those assumptions turned out to be.

In America, death metal had already raised the stakes, but an even more violent new breed of metal musician was lurking in Norway. Jointly inspired by the Satanic writings of Aleister Crowley and the groundbreaking evil noise of UK trio Venom, whose 1982 watershed release Black Metal effectively gave the new style its name, groups like Mayhem, Burzum and Emperor were soon to achieve worldwide notoriety.

Satanic Crimes

The bleak, icy extremity of black metal was quickly rendered infamous through a succession of twisted, criminal acts. The features of its protagonists were disguised by ‘corpse paint’, a ghostly white type of facial make-up, their identities further cloaked by such grim pseudonyms as Count Grishnackh, Euronymous and Dead. Such anonymity allowed them to pursue a variety of alleged causes, including satanism, paganism and nationalism, not forgetting self-promotion.

Although rivalry between the early front-runners was fierce, a ten-man ‘inner circle’ eventually established itself. Together they swore to rid Norway of Christianity and would torch wooden Christian churches by night and afterwards openly boast of their satanic influence. Ultimately, many of their number would eventually die – some at the hands of fellow conspirators – while others ended up imprisoned for murder, arson or grave desecration.

Murder And Mayhem

Chillingly, none of those apprehended went on to express remorse for their deeds. Indeed, Mayhem frontman Euronymous – stabbed to death in his underwear in 1993 by former friend Count Grishnackh of Burzum – once stated: ‘I don’t want to see people respecting me, I want them to hate and fear.’ Grishnackh (real name Varg Vikernes) is likely to be freed in October of 2006, though he has added to the Burzum catalogue since his incarceration.

Of all the black metal bands, Emperor became the most popular and influential. Having dropped the corpse paint and refined their sound with Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk in 1997, the quartet had seemed on the verge of big things before announcing a decision to retire from touring. This was followed by a full-blown split in 2001.

Black metal has gradually divided into numerous offshots, newcomers like Dimmu Borgir choosing to add keyboards and proceed down more orchestrally embellished routes. But while many of the music’s original goals have thankfully been laid to rest, its popularity continues to thrive. In late 2002, Norwegian duo Satyricon and Capitol Records offered the genre’s first major label release, Volcano, and in the UK the Sony corporation have also entered the market via the signing of Cradle Of Filth. With their forthcoming Damnation And A Day album, the self-styled vampiric rockers from Suffolk are optimistic of reaching sales of a...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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