Although there is no logical reason for grouping artists by their country of origin - given the diversity present in most scenes - it is a particular pleasure to explore music country by country, uncovering the treasures buried in the underground. You can't really know a scene which you are foreign to as well as a local can, so what is attempted in this essay is not an authoritative declaration of what the situation is, but rather my perceptions based on my years of listening to extreme metal. I do not mean to endorse patriotism or nationalism in this essay: the world of metal is a global community. We should eschew inward looking claims of supremacy and look to unifying the scene, whilst casting out those who would pervert the cause in search of money and trends. This essay will discuss some of the thriving scenes from around the world, concentrating on recommending albums and trashing others, rather than any political or sociological analysis as to why the scene is the way it is.
Since this essay is based entirely on personal opinion and my prior experiences, it is probably necessary to detail my background. I listen equally to black and death metal but I focus on black metal as I am more of an authority on this scene. I live and breathe this music, outside of my everyday life it is my major hobby. If you want to discuss any of the comments made in this essay, e-mail James.
I begin with my favourite scene. The scene is most well known for the four bands (Mütiilation, Vlad Tepes, Belketre and Torgiest) that make up the "Legiones Noires" - or the "Black Legions" in English. These bands have had quite diverse releases, although the common theme has been staunch anti-commercialism and incredibly raw, primitive and hateful music. Every release by the black legions is worth getting, originals are hard to come by as virtually all the releases were limited. Copies of some of the CDs sell on e-bay for over a hundred dollars.
The bands and their releases (that I have/know of) are:
|Mütiilation|| Ceremony (demo) 1993|
Hail Sathanas, We are the Black Legions 1994
Satanist Stryken (demo) 1994
Vampires of Black Imperial Blood 1996
Remains of a Ruined, Dead, Cursed Soul 2000
New False Prophet (7"EP) 2000
Black Millennium (Grimly Reborn) 2001
Destroy Your Life for Satan (tape) 2001
1992-2002: Ten Years of Depressive Destruction (double LP) 2003
Majestas Leprosus 2003
A principle member of Mütiilation, Meyhna'ch, was reported to have committed suicide some time ago, seemingly signifying the end of the band, but now both he and the band are back. Still, there certainly have been quite a few line-up changes over the years. It will be interesting to hear whether they can keep the old magic alive. Remains of a Ruined, Dead, Cursed Soul is a compilation of material from 1993 and two tracks from the 1996 Vampires of Black Imperial Blood sessions, and is an amazing release. This release and the Vampires of Black Imperial Blood album are two of my personal favourite albums.
|Vlad Tepes|| War Funeral March (demo)|
Celtic Poetry (demo)
La Morte Luna
|Torgeist|| Devoted to Satan (demo) 1994|
Time of Sabbath (demo) 1995
|Belketre|| The Dark Promise (promo) 1993|
(demo) 1994 (same tracks as on split w/ Vlad Tepes)
2 studio tracks - 199?
|Vlad Tepes/Belketre||March to the Black Holocaust (Split CD) 1995|
|Torgeist/Vlad Tepes||Black Legions Metal (Split CD) 1996|
|Les Legiones Noires: Mutiilation's "Vampires of Black Imperial Blood" and Vlad Tepes' "War Funeral March"|
The beauty of the French scene does not end there. There must be over a hundred bands who purport to play black metal. Of the ones I am familiar with, I recommend the following, in rough order (reading left-to-right, then top-to-bottom):
|· Antaeus||· Arkhon Infaustus||· Count Nosferatu||· Eternal Majesty||· Hirilorn||· Belenos||· Temple of Baal||· Funeral (now Kristallnacht)||· Celestia||· Machiavel||· Asmodee||· Grimlord||· Anaon||· Mysteriis||· Ancestral||· Deviant||· Osculum Infame *||· Blut Aus Nord||· Himinbjorg (viking/pagan)||· Nocturnal Prophecy|
* Sadly, the once great Osculum Infame, who released a great demo and split with Funeral have turned into something I can not speak favourably upon. Their first full length Dor Nu Fauglith was very melodic, but still a strong album, liked by many, including myself. This year The Black Theology was released and is a commercial and generic melodic black metal album which is truly awful. Pity.
Other bands to be aware of are Lord and Clair Obscure, both of whom are rather poor. I would like to mention another few bands that do not fit into the above category of bands, which are generally raw and extreme black metal bands. There is Worship, who have put out an excellent demo of experimental doom, entitled Last Tape Before Doomsday. Akhenaton and Yyrkoon go for a more avant-garde slant on things, and are for certain tastes only (not mine particularly).
The band Seth is very popular, perhaps not deservingly so, although their MCD By Fire, Power Shall Be is to be preferred over the subsequent Les Blessures De L'ame. Finally, whatever you classify Elend as - operatic ambient doom is perhaps the most salient description - they are very talented. Of their releases, Les Tenebres Du Dehors and The Umbersun are the ones to look out for.
To learn more about the French scene, or to purchase some of these releases, good places to visit are Drakkar Productions and Spikekult distribution, run by MkM of Antaeus. Several reviews of these releases are available at LARM.
|Recommended French black metal: Antaeus' "Rekordin 2000-1", Arkhon Infaustus' "In Sperma Infernum", Blut Aus Nord's "Fathers of the Icy Age", Osculum Infame's "Dor-Nu-Fauglith"|
|Other styles of French metal: Elend's "Les Tenebres du Dehors", Seth's "By Fire, Power Shall Be...", Yrkoon's "Oniric Transition"|
Unlike the French scene, which does not appear to be as well known, the Polish scene has been given a great deal of attention. It is certainly worthy. First it is necessary to have a look at the extremely prolific Rob Darken, the musical genius behind several projects and involved in many more.
From the insanely evil Drunemeton promo in 1992 to the epic Hammerheart-esque work Immortal Pride and beyond, all Graveland releases are special in their own right. There are people I've come across who dislike Graveland, but on the whole this band is so well liked they can hardly be deemed underground anymore. For more information, including an excellent biography, visit: http://graveland.hellsfury.net. Here is their discography:
|The old and the new: Graveland's "In the Glare of Burning Churches" and "Immortal Pride"|
Darken is also involved in the excellent Infernum and Lord Wind. The latter project can be described as pagan folk, although the latest album Heralds of Fight is very much in the vein of Immortal Pride. Capricornus, Graveland's drummer and sometime lyricist has the projects Thor's Hammer and Capricornus. Darken's ubiquitous intros and instrumentals can also be found on releases by Veles as well as Behemoth's demo. Of all the albums released by the aforementioned bands, I would recommend Veles' Black Hateful Metal and Infernum's Taur Nu Fuin the most. The Veles album divides opinions, and took me very many listens to finally appreciate, but it is a very special album once you get past the poor production and frequent instrumentals which take a while to appreciate as adding to the album rather than as a nuisance.
There are many, many other Polish bands of note. Fullmoon has released a brilliant demo and is a band to keep an eye out for in the future. Sacrilegium is noteworthy, their release Wicher in particular. Other bands to look out for: Arkona, early Behemoth, Hefeystos (not strictly black) and Perunwit (dark ambient - very good). North is a band that releases quality, if not ground breaking music, their release Thorns on the Black Rose is particularly worth getting, as is their split album with Sacrilegium. My highest possible recommendation goes out to Profanum, now defunct, who has released high quality black metal (with keyboards) in Flowers of Black Misanthropy and finished with an album Profanum Aeternum: Eminence of Satanic Imperial Art which uses no guitars and is pure symphonic genius.
I'd probably steer clear of Legion (vocals resemble dog barking) and Darzamat (too commercial in sound). Lux Occulta is exceedingly popular and doesn't need mention, other than to say that Forever Alone Immortal is very good, Dionysos is not too bad and Major Arcana is terrible. I will avoid the latest album as a result of this band's regression as they aged.
|Some of Poland's best: Behemoth's "Satanica", Hefeystos' "Bilce Sjen", Infernum's "Taur Nu Fuin", Lord Wind's "Forgotten Songs"|
|Lux Occulta's "Dionysos", Perunwit's "W Kregu Debow", Veles' "Black Hateful Metal"|
It is hard to generalise about Sweden given the immense volume of bands that have arisen from this country. Arranging them into four categories:
GOOD: Abruptum, Arckanum, Bathory, Dissection, Necrophobic, The Black
AVERAGE: Ishtar, Amon Amarth, Dawn, Niden Div. 187, Thyrfing, Sacramentum, Sorhin
POOR: Abyssos, Marduk, Naglfar, Lord Belial, Mornaland
UGLY: Dark Funeral, In Aeternum, Siebenburgen, Opeth
Bathory stands above all bands for their excellent releases and influence on the scene. Abruptum and Arckanum are two highly original bands, but apart from these and other worthwhile bands such as Dissection and Necrophobic, the moniker "Swedish black metal" is almost always a signal for bands with a typical, highly generic sound. This can be attributed to the use of particular studios, herd-mentality, whatever. Many people would vehemently disagree with my views here, but they are not atypical. It can't be disputed that many of the bands I look unfavourably on have high technical abilities, but unfortunately I feel their music is devoid of emotion and very boring because of this generic, derivative sound.
Setherial deserves special mention for confounding a lot of people, including myself. Their debut Nord was quite good: epic length songs influenced by Emperor. What happened to the band I am not sure, but from all accounts they turned into generic Dark Funeral clones.
I might add by way of rant, that the four bands listed in the "Ugly" column are among my most hated bands. Dark Funeral is extremely boring and derivative, with insipid lyrics and an attitude in interviews which is laughable given their level of talent. In Aeternum is a band hailed by zines, yet all they represent is an identikit clone of Dissection, right down to album artwork layout and song titles. Siebenburgen is one of the cheesiest bands out there, once again highly derivative with vampiric imagery to top it off. Opeth is one of the most loved metal bands in recent history. I can't understand that as the one album I bought, My Arms, Your Hearse, I found quite nauseating. Melodic and weak with many cheesy moments, I never made it past the third track.
Looking at the best of Swedish metal, with names such as Bathory, Dismember, (early) Entombed, Deranged, etc. then the scene is a leading one. It is such a pity that there are so many bands from the country with the same ideas and sound.
|Swedish quality: Arckanum's "Kampen", Dissection's "Storm of the Light's Bane", Setherial's "Nord", Sorhin's "I Det Glimandre Morkets Djup", Thyrfing's "Valdr Galga"|
|Swedish garbage: Dark Funeral's "Secrets of the Black Arts", Opeth's "Still Life", Siebenburgen's "Loreia"|
Having given the world a lot of great death metal, the US appeared to be a bit behind Europe and other areas when I first started listening to black metal. This has changed and the US scene is extremely vibrant, with the underground becoming more visible to outsiders. It has been thriving for years without world attention, it seems. It is without a doubt one of the leading scenes at the current time.
Bands such as Profanatica and Goatlord paved the way. Now the list of great USBM is a long one: Black Witchery, (early) Black Funeral, Centuries of Deception, Demoncy, Judas Iscariot, Krieg, Namtaru, Grand Belial's Key, BloodStorm, Summon, Noctuary, Forest of Impaled, Havohej, Sarcophagus, The Chasm, Thornspawn, Averse Sefira and Veltmacht.
The bands I don't personally care for are Absu (a very intelligent band, but try as I might I haven't been able to appreciate their music), Epoch of Unlight, Blood Stained Dusk and Wind of the Black Mountain. The latter is an interesting release in the sense that many people love it, hailing its dark and evil sound.
For more information on this scene, visit the following excellent resource: http://www.oocities.org/Xytraguptorh/usbm.html.
|Leaders of the US black metal scene: Absu's "The 3rd Storm of Cythraul", Black Funeral's "Empire of Blood", Demoncy's "Joined in Darkness", Judas Iscariot's "Thy Dying Light", Wind of the Black Mountains' "Sing Thou Unholy Servants"|
|Worthless: Bal-Sagoth's "Battle Magic"|
|Worthless: Hecate Enthroned's "Dark Requiems..."|
The Austrian scene is one which is oft spoken well of. Myself I love Abigor, every release, including the last one Channeling the Quintessence of Satan, but I hate Heidenreich, Peter's side-project. Summoning is a band most people have an opinion of - personally I don't care for Lugburz, and I like half of Minas Morgul but vehemently dislike a couple of the later tracks (they spoil the album, I have to say). I love all of Dol Guldur, while Nightshade Forests has two great songs, two average. Stronghold is a decent album, but it is not something I feel the urge to listen to very often. Apart from these three well known bands I have not got hold of anything else, although I am assured there is a worthy underground waiting to be explored.
|The more visible Austrian underground bands: Abigor's "Apokalypse" and "Supreme Immortal Art", Heidenreich's "Trance of an Unholy Union", Summoning's "Dol Guldur" and "Stronghold"|
It has taken me many years to appreciate my own scene fully. Maybe it was my distaste for patriotism holding me back. Anyhow it's great, but don't just take my word for it: Blackthorn from Thornspawn, when asked in an interview I conducted how the Australian scene had inspired him, replied:
"Their overall unity and aggressive onslaught of hellish underground pride inspires me completely!"Wise words from a man who knows his music. The madness began in the '80s with Slaughter Lord and Mortal Sin. Then came Sadistik Exekution, a band that plays at an insane speed and has been around forever. They even inspired Mayhem!
Australia has thriving death and grind scenes, with names like Misery, Encabulous, Armoured Angel, Miscreation, Abramelin, Volatile and Viscera rolling off the tongue.
The black metal scene has grown very large over the years. I think an Aussie speciality is the set of bands who play in a very old school style of black/thrash metal, think: Destroyer 666, Grenade, Gospel of the Horns, Bestial Warlust, Atomizer and Abominator. Music to bang your head, worship Satan and drink Victoria Bitter! Other great black metal bands from these shores include Nazxul who really were destined to be the next big thing in the world-wide scene before breaking up (why?!?). Others still: Psychrist, Spear of Longinus, Zemial, Inverted Prophet, Lord Kaos, Crucible of Agony, Abyssic Hate, Baltak, Astriaal, Buio Omega, Dark Dominion (formerly The Grand Meeting), Decayed Divinity, Deadspawn, Impact Winter, Samain, Niflheim, Sakkuth, Martire, Myrddraal, Lycanthia, Baalberith and Elysium.
A partial (and growing) inventory of bands, with bios and interviews is available at The Gates of Hell. All in all, it is a great scene to be a part of, just wish there were more gigs.
|Australia's thriving death metal scene: Abramelin's "Abramelin", Encabulos' "Abandoning the Flesh", Miscreation's "Demo '99", Misery's "Curses"|
|Aussie black metal leaders: Crucible of Agony's "Through Blood and Battle", Destroyer 666's "Unchain the Wolves", Lord Kaos' "Thorns of Impurity", Nazxul's "Totem"|
|Legendary: Beherit's "Drawing Down the Moon"|
|Enjoyable: Archgoat's "Angelcunt" (split with Beherit)|
Other bands of note include Barathrum, Warloghe, Bethel, Evemaster, Horna and Walhalla. Then there are doom bands of note such as the excellent Skepticism and (the lesser) Dolorian. Still none of these are anywhere near as special as my beloved Beherit. My anti-Finland stance, created on the day I heard Elegy by Amorphis has long since mellowed. I have a feeling the deep underground of this country holds some very extreme and worthwhile bands whom I look forward to discovering in the future.
|Terrible covers, great music: Maniac Butcher's "Cerna Krev"|
|Entrails and Necroflesh combined to make a tasty dish|
Italy is a scene to look out for. One of the bands I worship is Mortuary Drape, who have been around for over a decade. They play excellent old school black metal, although there were definitely hints of doom on their earlier demos. Their best album however is the recently released Secret Sudaria. This is worth purchasing just for the snare drum work alone, incredible. The other Italian band I rave over is Altars of Perversion, a band whose demo was so brilliant I am convinced they will do great things in the future, to rival anything released before.
There are a number of other Italian bands to discuss. Handful of Hate is supposed to be an excellent band. I only have their demo which is very promising, but from all accounts their debut album Qliphothic Supremacy is a great release. Funeral Oration is pretty good too, although nothing earth shattering. Immorior is a great underground band that has had a couple of demos out. They are melodic and create a great, unsettling atmosphere. Mortifier would be familiar to most Australians as their debut was release by Battlegod Productions. They are excellent, I can't wait for their new full length. Nachzehrer is a band about as good as their name is unpronounceable. Obscure Devotion and Stormlord are two highly acclaimed melodic black metal bands that get my half-hearted recommendations.
|Ave Satanas, plena gratia: Italy's sinister elite includes Mortuary Drape's "Secret Sudaria", Stormlord's "Supreme Art of War" and Mortifier's "Darkness My Eternal Bride"|
|The earlier Rotting Christ releases, such as the demo material from "Satanas Tedeum", is most worthy of attention|
|To experience the true essence of Greek black metal, look out for the legendary Necromantia/Varathron split|
Thy Mighty Contract - Rotting Christ
Ancient Pride and Scarlet Evil Witching Black - Necromantia
Her Majesty at the Swamp and Lament of Gods - Varathron
Eosforos - Thou Art Lord
I like Necromantia the most out of these bands as their music is quite intense, and each release sounds very different. Rotting Christ has gone for a very commercial sound the last few albums, and something like A Dead Poem on Century Media leaves me in tears, I get so bored. But by far the most worthy Greek album is the 1991 Necromantia and Varathron split. I think it presents the best material from each band, and is really epic and at times torturous to listen to (in a good way).
|Albums like Sigh's "Hail Horror Hail" are signs of |
(im)pure genius in the Japanese scene
|For ultra-violence Japanese-style, look to Abigail|
Love and duty
The law of the jungle
YAKUZA! YAKUZA! YAKUZA!"
Their split with Holland's Funeral Winds is also well worth seeking out. The other Japanese band I really enjoy is Sigh. Their album Hail Horror Hail is really a work of genius, so diverse and incredibly captivating. I also like Infidel Art but have at this stage failed to be too impressed with other releases such as Ghastly Funeral Theatre and Scenario IV: The Dreams You Dread. I am yet to hear any Funeral Rites, but I have heard positive things about them.
(Editor's note: I'm sure Chris would give his full support to my mention of another Japanese great, Sabbat. This band has developed a cult following over the years with their extremely old-school blackened heavy metal. Most of their material is contained within limited edition 7" vinyl pressings and is as such pretty damned difficult to find. But in 2000, they finally put out a full length CD, Satanasword, which is one of the catchiest and most... metal... releases you'll ever hear. Highly recommended).
|With the frenzied attack of "Skullfucking Armageddon", Impiety showed how they feel about their "ideal" society|
|Abhorer wins the prize for most obscure album title in black metal with their "Zygotical Sabbatory Unabapt"|
The Canadian scene is pretty strong with one of my favourite bands Blasphemy blazing the way for the likes of Conqueror, Godless North, Sacramentary Abolishment, Megiddo, GoatWAR, Axis of Advance and Frozen Shadows. Of those excellent bands, the one to look out for especially would have to be Axis of Advance who recently released a brilliant MCD Landline. Expect huge things from their full length, Strike, due out some time on Barbarian Wrath, though the release date is continually, and frustratingly for all concerned, being pushed back!
|The black/grind gods Blasphemy ("Fallen Angel of Doom") paved the way for such beasts as Conqueror's "War Cult Supremacy" and Axis of Advance's "Landline"|
|Scene legend: Darkthrone's Fenriz|
|Progressive: The highly respected Ulver|
Other than these artists, who retain some merit, Immortal has released two terrible albums since Blizzard Beasts. Emperor makes an interesting sociological case study (how on earth they managed to escape from their history and be embraced by the mainstream) but their most recent release, IX Equilibrium, was pretty awful. Satyricon has unleashed three musical insults after their excellent Nemesis Divina, Ancient has gone downhill after their first three releases, Enslaved has gotten worse with each subsequent release and Gorgoroth is a joke band on a joke label… The list goes on. So what has come along to change the guard?
|Insulting: What happened to Satyricon?|
Two bands worth giving special mention to are Tsjuder and Urgehal. Tsjuder has impressed with their demo and their excellent 7"EP Throne of the Goat. I haven't heard their debut full length Kill for Satan but it sounds promising. Urgehal is a band who I can't decide if I like or not, based on their much lauded Arma Christi. The band sounds exactly like Darkthrone, which means the album is great to listen to - "Under a Funeral Moon Part II" - but is a band so similar in sound worth applauding?
My favourite Norwegian band still making music is Ildjarn. Ildjarn has been releasing insanely raw black metal since 1993, and since the brilliant Strength and Anger was released recently (I think it was 1998), Ildjarn gets my vote as being the current carrier of the flame.
|Keeping Norwegian black metal alive: Ildjarn's "Strength and Anger", Keep of Kalessin's "Agnen - A Journey Through Dark", Limbonic Art's "Ad Noctum - Dynasty of Death", Taake's "Nattestid Ser Porten Vid"|
This ends my tour. I hope you enjoyed the trip. If I have made any mistakes in any of my comments, don't hesitate to contact me and put the matter straight. Also, if you feel strongly about your local scene, send me a run down and I'll give it attention in the next revision.