Welcome once more to Kvlt Kolvmn. It’s that time again. The year has shed its final layer, curling itself into a corner and awaiting its imminent demise. Though, thankfully, not without plenty of bite left. It’s been a doozy of a year for all things metallic, with black metal being no exception. Dozens of excellent records crossed our desks this year, and in this, our final installment of the column this year, Scott and I will be highlighting 15 of our personal favorites. There’s a lot of excellent black metal to cover, but before we dive into the records we loved, we have a few closing notes on the genre’s latest trip ‘round the sun. As the past few years have clearly exhibited, with 2018 being another sterling example, black metal perhaps more than any other branch of the metal tree is found without a concrete, easily quantifiable identity. But is this an inherent failing of the genre or a harbinger of something great? Post-black metal, serving as the genre’s shining hope since Deafheaven’s blistering emergence in 2011 with Roads to Judah, is barely recognizable anymore, morphing into something altogether new and vibrant. Compounded by the genre’s problematic politics, there’s never been a more strange or vital time to be a black metal fan. We’ll deep dive into these topics below, but first, some thanks are in order.
Writing this column on a monthly basis has been a pure joy for me. It has challenged me to expand my musical palate, give time to albums I normally wouldn’t be able to focus on, and discover even further the immense wealth of quality music in this genre. I’m infinitely grateful for the opportunity to bring (what I hope is) quality music to you on the regular. I could not have embarked on this endeavor without the constant help and support of one Scott Murphy, who is both a stalwart friend and one helluva writer. We love discussing, writing about, and debating over these records each month, but we honestly couldn’t sustain this if it weren’t for you, our readers. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for reading, arguing, insulting, and geeking out with us over some amazing music this year. You’re the reason we do what we do, and our gratefulness for your active participation in making this column and Heavy Blog a damn fun place to be is immeasurable.
Now that all the feels are out of the way, down once more we descend into the inky blackness. Stay frosty, friends.
Identity Crisis: Black Metal’s Search for a Center
It’s always intriguing how much changes in a year, yet how steadfastly most everything remains the same. Last year, Scott and I discussed black metal’s lack of a uniform sonic and ideological identity, and in 2018 the subject bears repeating. More than anywhere else in the metal world, black metal is filled to the brim with sounds foreign and sometimes seemingly antithetical to its genesis. Founded (broadly, mind you) on a lo-fi, DIY production aesthetic, blast beat-heavy and tremolo-infused instrumentation, blatantly anti-Christian sentiment, and heavily winterized aesthetics, the black metal community has for decades had a strict set of parameters regarding what can be considered “trve”. Fast forward to 2018, and the black metal landscape is as far from this uniform, traditionalist framework as can be imagined. Deafheaven consistently releases records that are a far cry from lo-fi (with a Grammy nom to boot), Mamaleek and Inhumankind have completely revolutionized what black metal instrumentation and aesthetic can be, and Panegyrist’s transfixing Christian mysticism has challenged the genre’s staunch abhorrence of the Judeo-Christian ethic. More than anytime in the genre’s history, the identity of what constitutes black metal as a musical expression is in flux. Some consider this ruinous, but I see it as something infinitely more valuable for the genre: an opportunity for exponential artistic and popular growth.
There are few art forms that have survived without some level of drastic change. Fine art has gone through more movements and iterations than can be counted. Film has adapted storytelling to the advent of computer technology, transforming both the ways we tell stories and the stories we tell. Music is no different. Popular music‘s evolution since the 1950s has been facilitated by drastic envelope pushing both in lyrical content and instrumental experimentation. Countless fads have come and gone, with each new phase leaving an indelible imprint on the music to come after. All of this constant movement has produced some fantastic music, but little of it was created under the mantra of “tradition is best”. Black metal, at least on a historical level, runs counter to this evolutionary approach to musical creation. Heralding back to its heyday in the 90s, Black Metal gatekeeping has consisted primarily of folks who prize the genre’s scrappy foundation, calling all else that seeks to hone and refine these sounds as unworthy to be called black metal. While that entire mindset is flatly ridiculous to me, it’s also incredibly counterproductive. Musical stagnation is the very last thing one should hope on their favorite genre of music, and I’d much rather hear something bold than another Mayhem rip-off. Many bands in the scene agree, launching their music into expansive new territory that has changed the definition of what black metal is and can be. The result? More people are listening to black metal than ever. And, shocker, this is not bad for the genre’s continued health. At all.
Increased exposure to a brand of music brings more listeners. More listeners in turn generate increased interest in the creation of said music, which in turn brings new perspectives, fresh takes on old tropes, and a sense of vitality to the genre’s future. It brings new life. Continued existence and relevance. In a genre consumed with the concept of death, it’s unique that staying alive has become one of its primary functions over the past decade or so. Say what you will about the new crop of artists manipulating black metal sounds in ways that would make Euronymous roll in his grave, but they are doing little to stem the renewed tied of journalistic and consumer interest in black metal. This is a categorically good thing for the genre.
While black metal may not have a distinct, uniform face to represent it, it honestly doesn’t need one. This is music utterly adaptable to whatever hell its enthusiasts wish to submit it to, and the fires of innovation have produced some damn fine music as of late. So maybe the question “is this even black metal” isn’t a sign of the genre’s decline, but rather its renaissance.
Deafheaven Dethroned: The New Face of Post-Black Metal
Speaking of music that isn’t even black metal, Deafheaven released their fourth and most sonically ambitious record, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, this year. But you already know that. Because you’ve probably listened to it a dozen times already, or have taken to the internet to decry the fall of quality metal as we know it. Love them or hate them, Deafheaven are here to stay, and their objective at this juncture of their career is nothing short of complete metal domination. They may get it, too. But in the subgenre they helped spearhead, their place as the ascendant, darling kings of post-black is far from secure. In fact, the band serve as a sort of microcosm of black metal as a whole, making them a perfect case study for the current state of black metal.
2018, perhaps more than any year this decade, saw an influx of incredible post-metal releases. Bosse-de-Nage, Respire, Møl, Súl ad Astral, Zeal and Ardor, Harakiri for the Sky, and Mamaleek in particular have picked up the mantle of post-black metal and are leading the subgenre in bold new directions. Deafheaven may be after world domination, but their stomping grounds are now ruled by a slew of bands who can do anything they can do, better.
The above isn’t to state that Deafheaven are no longer relevant or have somehow lost their edge. On the contrary, I would argue that Deafheaven are more relevant than ever. Their worldwide popular appeal has never been greater (much like black metal as a whole), and those who love their music (which, as you’ll see in my top 15, most definitely includes me) have plenty to celebrate with their latest release. But as the band have expanded their sound, their roots in post-black metal have become less sticky. Less prominent. Give a listen to nearly any track on Ordinary Corrupt Human Love to hear noticeable slabs of ethereal post-rock creeping into every nook and cranny, lending the album an entirely different feel than that of their previous effort, New Bermuda. This is Deafheaven in CinemaScope, widening and expanding their sonic palette into evocative new territory. As a result, the subgenre they have ruled for nearly a decade is less obvious in their music. And, to be blunt, other bands have caught up to the monolith and are making music in this space just as technically impressive and emotionally resonant, if not more so. Once the standard-bearers of the blackgaze movement, Deafheaven are being supplanted in the subgenre they nearly singlehandedly popularized. As in all evolution, this is a decidedly good thing for post-black metal’s future.
As a microcosm of larger trends, one can draw some fairly distinct parallels regarding artistic growth of post-black metal and that of black metal at large. Just like its parent genre, post-black became known for a signature mixture of sounds (most notably black metal and shoegaze) which are no longer exclusive to the subgenre’s sound. Respire, for example, has incorporated screamo and hardcore elements into the post-black metal sound. Even further down the rabbit hole we find Mamaleek and Zeal and Ardor, who have melded African spirituals, post-rock, and avant-garde to a black metal template, creating music that holds to the post-black metal archetype by a thread. The directions that post-black metal and, by extension, its parent genre, can go at this point are limitless. In both cases there’s a fair argument that these changes foster a brighter future for black metal as a whole, and I for one welcome our genre-bending overlords.
There are a lot of things changing in black metal, but one thing remains constant: this is one of the most unique, visceral, and utterly transfixing genres of music on the planet, made even more so by its sheer unpredictability and genre-warping capabilities. Whether you have hopped on the post-black metal bandwagon or curse its very existence, there’s no doubt that the identity of black metal is fluctuating and evolving, and (in my mind at least) for the better. There’s a ridiculous amount of good music to be had, and those willing to give it a fair shake will not be disappointed. In the most frostbitten genre of music, there’s a great deal of hope for the future, and that is something worth celebrating.
All Is Politics: Fascism in Black Metal and its Response
Neither Jonathan nor I were particularly thrilled to tackle this inevitable chestnut. I took one for the team last year when I recapped how national socialist black metal received overdue scrutiny. While it was nice to see some prominent voices from the metal community calling out the genre’s sinister underbelly, it’s beyond frustrating that one of the most creative and downright enjoyable styles of metal also happens to be populated by people with horrendous beliefs and judgment. Unfortunately (though unsurprisingly), fascism and white supremacy haven’t been expunged from the genre, let alone broader society. So here we are, once again tasked with dissecting a year’s worth of problematic artists and actions from the genre ew know and love. Thankfully, there are some positive moments along the way, but the central message still stands – there’s work yet to be done.
There’s really no other place to start than with Taake. As Simon outlined in their response this past March, the band had to cancel their U.S. tour when the majority of venues disallowed them to perform there. This backlash — started in part by Talib Kweli, of all people — was due to the band sporting swastikas and anti-Muslim imagery in past live sets. Though it doesn’t appear the swastika has been a recurring theme of their live shows, displaying it out of an appropriate, educational context is really a “one time is too many” kind of offense. To date, these are probably the most substantial negative repercussions faced by a openly bigoted black metal band.
Simon’s post does a great job outlining why the band’s “shock value” argument is weak at best, so let me instead reiterate points I made in last year’s Kvlt Kolvmn roundup. Mainly, I’d like to once again dispel the notion that this is censorship, because it just plainly isn’t. The government didn’t swoop in and personally deport Taake from the country due to their beliefs, nor did they dictate what they’re allowed to wear and profess. All that happened is one business entity told another business entity that their working relationship was no longer compatible. That’s it. Though I don’t think there’s much to debate in terms of whether bigotry is acceptable, I suppose we could potentially have a discussion about whether or not Taake “deserved” to have their shows cancelled. But in no way, shape or form are Takke somehow owed the ability to perform their music at private establishments like those booked for their tour, in the same way they would be within their right to pull out of playing a venue if they discovered the owner has views contrary to their own. And if we’re going to slowly weed bigoted views out of black metal, it’s going to take boycotts from individuals, venues and labels alike to make that happen. Of course, Taake have still found gigs back home in Europe, but…small victories, I suppose.
Along the same lines, other black metal faced consequences for some awful actions of their own. Season of Mist dropped Inquisition after it was discovered their frontman pleaded guilty to child pornography charges. And after Eden dedicated an entire piece to dissecting nazism in black metal and Marduk’s potential relationship to it, the band ended up being tied to purchases of original Nazi memorabilia. Anyone who follows black metal has likely picked up on the fact that these aren’t small, underground black metal acts. Though their popularity levels aren’t totally equal, they’re all some of the most well-known and important bands in the genre, especially Marduk. And while this can’t be sued as evidence that all black metal bands are awful, bigoted criminals, it certainly helps reinforce the longstanding narrative that black metal has significant issues with its moral compass.
So what now? What’s the point in rehashing all this, as I’m sure many of you reading this are asking yourselves right now? To revisit a point made a couple paragraphs above, the only way this issue improves is if we continue to expel problematic individuals from the genre, which starts with removing or keeping them out of our listening rotations and music collections. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen with other questionable or problematic bands recently (*cough* As I Lay Dying *cough*), many metal listeners value new music more than making metal a better, more inclusive genre. Even if you don’t care about making metal seem less riddled with issues to outsiders, can you at the very least acknowledge that a genre without abuser and bigots is better than one with those things? Will you admit that continue to support terrible people just because of the music only enables the spread of harmful ideologies, and potentially, the support of actual criminals? Agains, not every black metal artists falls into these categories; we have countless examples of that in the final portion of this post. But in my view, that’s all the more reason to avoid bands with awful track records. As much as I love the music Marduk produces, there are plenty of phenomenal black metal bands old and new that provide an equivalent or better version of the genre, minus the low key Nazism.
Jonathan’s Top 15 Black Metal Albums of 2018
15. Devouring Star – The Arteries of Heresy
There’s dark, then there’s Devouring Star dark. Their 2015 full-length debut Through Lung and Heart was a vile vacuum of evil sounds and cryptic lyrical intensity, and The Arteries of Heresy ups the ante on every measurable metric. Opener “Consummation” displays the bands level of versatility as well, giving us a doom-laden intro before revealing its frantic black metal wares. If you like your black metal gloomy and filled with menace, look no further.
14. Bosse-de-Nage – Further Still
San Francisco’s Bosse-de-Nage have been working in the shadow of Deafheaven since the release of their first full-length in 2010. Coming from the same geographic location, it’s in many ways a simple case of wrong place, wrong time. Further Still, the band’s fifth full-length record, does everything it can to extricate the band from their monolithic subgenre cousins, and succeeds completely. This is the best sequence of songs the band have yet composed, mixing post-black metal and hardcore elements into a cohesive, emotionally resonant package. It’s the album that most definitively places the band at the forefront of their field, and should go down as a post-black classic.
13. Lychgate – The Contagion in Nine Steps
Black metal has since its early days been infused with a healthy sense of the dramatic. Theatricality is no stranger to its confines, with Lychgate being among its chief purveyors. The Contagion in Nine Steps easily pushes up against An Antidote for the Glass Pill as the band’s musical masterwork, mixing Igorrr-like avant-garde tangents with a traditional black metal framework that is as wildly unpredictable as it is infinitely enjoyable. I’ve listened to this album more than a few times and have yet to be bored with it for even a moment. It’s everything that you would want a Lychgate album to be.
12. Panopticon – The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness
Double albums don’t get a lot of love in the black metal world, but Austin Lunn and his powerful, folk-obsessed creation Panopticon has never really been one for tradition. Splitting the album into two distinct parts (the first spewing his emotive, raucous black metal style, and the second an exclusively acoustic folk affair), there’s a lot of music to cover here, with all of it interesting. The beauty of this record is not only its strong, all-consuming emotional impact, but also its variety. Don’t like the folky stuff? There’s an entire black metal album waiting for you. Like the gentle, rugged sounds of the acoustic guitar in perpetual winter? Part two’s for you. Whatever your taste, Lunn has you covered in convincing, disciplined, and thoroughly mesmerizing fashion.
11. Svartidaudi – Revelations of the Red Sword
Iceland is home to as much quality black metal as anywhere else on the planet. Zhrine, Misthyrming, Sinmara, and Wormlust are but a few prominent names hailing from the island, but the best of the bunch may be Svartidaudi. In a discography stuffed with EPs and demos, the bands two full-length records, Flesh Cathedral and this year’s Revelations of the Red Sword, are definitive highlights. Building on the foundation laid by its predecessor, Revelations is exactly that, elevating the band’s established sound through utterly fantastic production and equally impressive songwriting. This record is a relentless burst of aggression from start to finish, but never feels brutish or unintelligent. This is complex, elastic music that contorts itself in ways that are as impressive as they are intimidating. One of the best, most sonically complete records to come out of the Icelandic black metal scene by a wide margin.
10. Súl ad Astral – Oasis
Súl ad Astral’s third full-length, Oasis, only dropped about a month ago. As a general pattern, releases from November and December have a hard time making it onto my end of year lists for the simple reason of me not having the appropriate amount of time to digest them. Oasis is a notable exception to this arbitrary rule, mostly because I have not stopped listening to it since I first got my hands on it a few weeks ago. This is post-black metal at its absolute finest. The differentiation within the record between harsh, unrelenting black metal and post-rock elements is spectacularly effective, never once feeling contrived or disingenuous. The band are very obviously passionate about the music they write, and that passion bleeds into the performances in a big way. This is an album to punch a hole through a wall and weep for the loss of innocence to. Simultaneously. An absolutely dazzling effort.
9. Veilburner – A Sire to the Ghouls of Lunacy
As was probably made clear in the over-long diatribes above, I like my black metal a little weird. You won’t find many black metal hybrids peddling a stranger aesthetic than Pennsylvania’s Veilburner. Melding black and death metal in some of the most peculiar ways I’ve heard in a good while, A Sire to the Ghouls of Lunacy is just about everything I wanted it to be. It’s erratic, wild, belligerent in the best way imaginable, and chock full of fantastic passages that are as memorable as I’ve heard this year. Every song here offers something unique, and all of it is just fantastic. Here’s hoping this record gives the band the exposure they rightly deserve.
8. Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
What else is there left to say about the metal wunderkinds? What can’t they do? Their fourth record, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, is replete with spoken word passages, long-winded piano sections, acoustic noodling, and ferocious black metal aggression. It’s all that Deafheaven has been over the past few years, and more. Ranging farther away from their stomping grounds and into post-rock territory, these songs represent the band’s most conceptually and musically ambitious ventures into the uncharted. It may not be their best record, but it sure as hell isn’t anything less than spectacular.
7. Hoth – Astral Necromancy
Star Wars is great. Hoth is great. We could honestly just leave it at that. Everyone’s favorite concept-throwers are back with a new record that is everything I was hoping for and then some. Astral Necromancy is no mere repeat of the band’s fantastic sophomore effort, Oathbreaker. But I would have been fine with that, to be honest. Instead, Hoth are continually proving that they have plenty of tricks up their sleeve, expanding their sound into new melodic territory while keeping their tracks generally compact. “Vengeance” and “The Living Dreams of a Dead God” are as straightforward, propulsive, and energetic as anything in the band’s back catalog, while “The Void Between the Stars” and “Ad Inane Precatio” show the band diving into more heady, conceptual territory. Both of these sides of the band’s sound compliment one another with ease, making Astral Necromancy a consistently engaging listen.
6. Gaerea – Unsettling Whispers
There are few albums I listened to this year that transfixed me so thoroughly as Gaerea’s utterly magnificent debut Unsettling Whispers. Hailing from Portugal and being completely unknown to me until this year, Gaerea are on my shortlist of new black metal bands that could change the game entirely. Their music doesn’t press for the sake of it. It instead unfolds, allowing each unique piece of these compositions to exist in its own space. Opener “Svn” may be the best example of this on the record, languidly building, re-constructing, and building again into a titan of a finale that is certain to increase some heart rates. It’s an ambitious, assured, and fully realized debut that could very well be the face of black metal to come. Make it so, I say.
5. Sargeist – Unbound
Sargeist are modern black metal legends. Few if any bands can hold a candle to their pristine discography. It had been four years since we last heard from these black metal messiahs until October of this year, when they released Unbound on our unsuspecting asses. And it was worth the wait. Every last inch of the band’s fifth full-length release is teeming with ill-intent and the technical acumen to back up their threats of chaos and destruction. Front-to-back, Unbound is a blistering assault on the senses, conjuring up every wicked spirit that exists in the heart of traditional black metal. The record sounds fantastic, allowing every one of its delicious riffs and licks to be heard with a clarity that never overpowers the album’s all-consuming atmosphere. It’s one of Sargeist’s most accomplished achievements, and one of the most enjoyable black metal albums to be released this year.
4. A Forest of Stars – Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes
Since entering the black metal scene with their 2008 debut The Corpse of Rebirth, there has yet to be another band quite like A Forest of Stars. Melding the most utterly dramatic aspects of black metal with 70s-style psychedelia may sound like a bad idea, and on paper I wouldn’t disagree with this assessment. But once you hit play on Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes, all skepticism dissipates. What an absolutely tremendous record. Channeling Current 93’s David Tibet in vocal flair and incorporating a Victorian concept that’s as weird as it sounds, A Forest of Stars are in a league of their own in the black metal world. But every note rings true, every riff works, because of the band’s utter conviction and confidence in their concept. This is a band that knows its strengths and plays them to the nth degree on every track, and as an example of the lunatic vigor that this music is capable of, Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes is as exciting as black metal gets.
3. Mamaleek – Out of Time
Is this even black metal? Perhaps no album in the black metal sphere deserves this question more than Out of Time. Its spacious, post-rock confines are a far cry from the audio violence one is normally subjected to in the genre. Mamaleek work on the fringes of black metal sonically to be sure, but few if any albums on this list more readily embody the spirit, the feeling, of black metal like Out of Time. It’s befuddling, unsettling, ugly, cathartic, and intimidating. Whether it’s the raspy whispers of “Sicarii”, the yelps and yells of “God is the Irrational Number”, or the dark, angular guitar theatrics of “The Recompense is Real” and “The Last is the First”, few albums made me feel the menace of black metal so clearly this year. It’s a masterpiece of mood and instrumental execution from a band that is as unpredictable and brilliant as they come.
2. Panegyrist – Hierurgy
Panegyrist are the philosophical antithesis of a traditional black metal band. Steeped in a particularly mystical interpretation of Christianity and drenched in biblical textual reference and language, it’s a far cry from the Satanism that permeated the genre’s foundation. But Hierurgy, the band’s debut record, is much more than a theological gimmick. Complex, perplexing, dense, and atmospheric, this record is not only one of the more conceptually unique records for its genre of 2018, but also one of its very finest. The performances, the songwriting, and the execution of concept are all flawless here. If there is one black metal band that I see making a big dent in the genre’s near future, Panegyrist is it. A masterclass of avant-garde black metal.
1. Imperialist – Cipher
My favorite black metal record of the year is without question the one that I also straight-up enjoyed the most. Another sterling debut (and the third entry on my list from Transcending Obscurity Records), Imperialist bring their sci-fi black metal to bear with the precision and confidence of a band well beyond their collective experience. Cipher is a total blast from start to finish, and is stuffed to the gills with amazing, memorable riffs and strong instrumental performances. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the band’s black metal style is their attention to thrashy, death-infused riffs, which play a significant role in nearly every track here. While there’s plenty of tremolo-picked tirades to be found throughout, most tracks here emphasize a more robust, bludgeoning approach that makes the music hit as hard as possible. The production is fantastic as well, allowing the drums to ride high in the mix frequently, adding additional heft to the album’s overall sound. But more than all of the technical flair and engaging songwriting, this record is insanely fun. There’s no black metal record I enjoyed more this year, and repeat listens have only increased that enjoyment exponentially. As thrilling an opening statement as I could have imagined, Cipher will be in heavy rotation for years to come.
Scott’s Top 15 Black Metal Albums of 2018
15. Bliss Signal – Bliss Signal
The fact Bliss Signal isn’t a “trve” black metal release is the only reason it landed so low on my list; we do have to have some honor for tradition, don’t we? Even so, that doesn’t mean it isn’t an incredible blackened slab of electronic music from one of my creative minds in black metal. On their latest self-titled outing, James Kelly from Altar of Plagues and DJ/producer Jack Adams conjure glorious walls of melodic, atmospheric blackgaze within an electronic context, making for one of the most unique and stunningly beautiful iterations of the genre you’ll hear this year.
14. Kosmogyr – Eviternity
Pro tip: pay attention to Bandcamp Daily. They consistently recommend the most notable bands, albums and trends in music, which is how I discovered Kosmogyr and their excellent album Eviternity. Though I don’t recall when I saw their post, I know exactly how much I’ve listened to Eviternity since then (hint: a lot). The band blend the atmosphere and sheer majesty of post-black metal with the raw grit and abrasiveness of second wave black metal, incorporating ideas old and new into an immensely satisfying listen.
13. Nachtlieder – Lynx
Of the many things I love about Lynx, the album’s primary, underlying strength is its flawless execution. Dagny Susanne wrote an exceptional set of compositions that she and session drummer Martrum with airtight precision and incredible passion. The result is some of the most detail-oriented traditional black metal you’re bound to come across these days. I love how experimental the genre has become, but even so, it’s invaluable to have albums like Lynx chock full of straight up fantastic blasts and riffs.
12. Ophe – Litteras Ad Tristia Maestrum Solitude
One of the best parts of metal is artists’ frequent forays into side projects. First you discover one great band, and then a year later, one of its members comes out with yet another quality release. Case in point, Ophe, the significantly darker cousin of avant-garde metal project Område. Soon after I recommended fans of the subgenre check out Nåde, co-mastermind of the project Bargnatt XIX surfaces with a blackened version of what makes Område such an intriguing voice in avant-garde metal. By infusing this experimental spirit into the heart of progressive black metal, Ophe is a highlight for genre fans of all persuasions.
11. Bosse-de-Nage – Further Still
What more is there to say about Further Still that we haven’t already celebrated this year? What separates Bosse-de-Nage from the rest of the post-black pack is their gritty approach to mood and expression. That might sound contradictory, but just spend a moment with any album from their stacked discography. The band makes you feel the emotions typical of post-black with heavy riffs and a galloping pace. It’s some of the most direct and multifaceted approaches to the genre out there, and Further Still is among their best iterations of that style yet.
10. Embrace of Thorns – Scorn Aesthetics
Embrace of Thorns play black metal in a way only veterans can pull off successfully. Often times, older black metal bands rest on their laurels with mid-paced mediocrity, while tenderfoot bands are sometimes content with blasting the shit out of their drumkits and guitars with no finesse. Thankfully for fans of the genre, EoT take the harder but more rewarding route instead, leveraging their years of experience while keeping pace with the trends of the genre. This isn’t to say the band lacks veracity; if you’re a fan of sky-high BPM, crushing riffs and ample experimentation, then EoT have you covered.
9. Lychgate – The Contagion in Nine Steps
From the enhanced symphonic elements to the bold, invigorated riffs to the sweeping compositions, Lychgate’s third offering is an exceptional testament to how broad a pallette black metal bands are afforded by the genre’s sonic scope. Though noticeably lacking in speed this time around, Lychgate prove with Contagion that slow and mid-paced black metal allows access to a different side of the genre, which is in many ways superior to blastbeat-laden tremolo assaults just for the sake of hitting as high a BPM as possible. Even if you’re a genre skeptic or a casual listener like myself, Lychgate’s style offers a fresh take full of gems that might surprise even the most ardent detractors of the subgenre.
8. Moonfrost – III
One of the most unique black metal albums of the years also happens to be one of the best. Seeing “alternative rock” and “black metal” next to one another in the album tags for III left me thinking this had the potential to be a gimmicky, failed experiment. To the contrary, I was reminded just how much bands can accomplish with black metal’s formula, and Moonfrost deserve an enormous amount of credit for combining two disparate sounds to make a breath fo fresh air in an oft-stale genre.
7. Ars Magna Umbrae – Lunar Ascension
Wasn’t I just talking about how great it is to follow hyperactive black metal bands? Just last year, I heaped high praise on Ars Magna Umbrae and their experimental take on atmospheric black metal. Now, just a year later, the band return with yet another excellent take on the genre’s progressive ideals, this time earning a spot among my favorite black metal albums of the year. Thanks in large part of manic vocals and plenty of dissonance, Lunar Ascension is well worth your time if you like your atmospheric BM to have a sharp edge.
6. Wayfarer – World’s Blood
The highest ranking “pure” black metal album on this list is also among the greatest releases offered by the genre this year. With a unique theme of the American heartland flowing through the album’s track listing, World’s Blood still has a unique voice all its own. Wayfarer help further the narrative that Colorado is fostering a robust, high-quality metal scene, and they do so with a fantastic and unique take on atmospheric black metal that will certainly earn a place among the genre’s notable releases for years to come.
5. Pandiscordian Necrogenesis – Outer Supernal
Armed with nothing but a guitar and a kick drum and snare hooked up to a foot each, Ephemeral Domignostika continued to impress me with their work under the Pandiscordian Necrogenesis name. The improvisations unleashed on Outer Supernal employ an eclectic variety of riffs and chord progressions beneath notes from shredding vocal chords. This is an off-kilter rendition of black metal at its most raw and visceral, and as unconventional as it may be, there’s still an undeniable seed of quality on each track that twists and grows in a myriad of different directions.
4. Wolvennest – VOID
Psychedelic black metal has earned an increasingly prominent spot on my radar, and albums like VOID are a key reason why. With a concoction of guitar loops, synthesizers and haunting vocals, Wolvennest crafts exploratory odes to black metal’s infatuation with folk and terrestrial themes. This might yet another album on my list that isn’t “trve” enough, but frankly, I’m more interested in how well the band has rewritten several aspects of the genre’s blueprint to create something that feels imbued with a potent breath of life.
3. Psicósfera – Beta
Instrumental black metal is a niche genre, and when it’s done well, it leverages the greatest strengths of the genre into something wholly captivating. Psicósfera deserves to be a household name among those who appreciate this genre niche, especially with their phenomenal album Beta. Though numerous blackened subgenres are on display here, Psicósfera employ musical influence from elsewhere in the sphere of metal and music in general. There are doom and post- influences abound on the album, and some moments even dip into the realm of psychedelic sludge with a blackened edge. It’s experimental in all the right places, rounding out one of the most sonically rich and complete black metal experiences I’ve heard in quite some time.
2. Mamaleek – Out of Time
I’ve written about Out of Time several times this year, and for good reason. This is the kind of album that makes you feel ashamed for not diving into the band’s discography sooner. Mamaleek have produced a steady stream of releases that enthusiastically exhibit this ethos of exploration, which is most apparent on their latest and strongest outing yet. The duo starts with a blackgaze foundation and then distorts it nearly beyond recognition, bringing in Arabic themes and influences from post-punk, industrial metal and more. It’s an album built with the concept of layers in mind, in the sense that no one listen will unveil everything that the band has incorporated into these songs. Thankfully, the quality of the album makes repeat listens effortless.
1. Entropia – Vacuum
From the moment I heard “Astral,” I knew that Vacuum had an incredibly strong shot at being my AOTY for black metal. Lo and behold, here we are today. To be fair, Entropia earned that lead single hype with the shear quality of their songcraft, and when the full album finally dropped, they capitalized on that hype with an album that offered even more, better iterations of their sound. Never before have I heard a band blend industrial or psychedelic influences into black metal quite like this, let alone at the same time. Entropia deserved infinitely more attention and praise than I can put into words, but the least I can do is place it atop this list in hopes adventurous black metal listeners will give it the chance it deserves.I’ll be spinning this album for years to come and remain anxious in wait for their next offering.