Greetings, troglodytes! Over the last little while, I’ve seen metal vloggers on ye olde YouTube listing their top 20 albums that got them into black, so I figured why not join the party? I’m not about to do a video because the world’s not ready for a face this handsome, so we’re going old-school and typing it out. It’s go time, let’s party like it’s 1349.
Marilyn Manson – Mechanical Animals
OK hang on, before you go all “lol this guy” and stop reading, people don’t just get up one morning and decide they need panda-faced Scandinavian men screaming about Satan in their lives. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of black metal coming. We’ll get there. Together. “Mechanical Animals” was my introduction to controversial topics in music; it was unbelievably bleak and pushed my innocent 13-year old self out of my comfort zone and towards metal. It’s no longer the vestige of heaviness it was before I knew better, but it has held up incredibly well and remains one of my favourite albums to this day.
Cradle of Filth – Midian
Anyone who got into black metal in the early naughties probably got there through Cradle of Filth. I remember seeing this CD in a store and thinking how badass it looked. In retrospect, the tentacle-headed dude and the scorpion bro look pretty goofball, but at the time it tickled me and I just had to Napster the shit out of it. Dani’s harpooned dolphin squeals took some getting used to, but before long I wanted to see what else this “heavy metal” business had going on. Nowadays I rarely listen to it, opting instead for their demos or debut, but as my introduction to heavy metal, it earned its spot here.
Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse
Once you’ve heard Cradle of Filth and decide you need more black metal in your life, you quickly discover they’re not actually black metal and the next step is to find out what the fuck it really is. Of course, the first scene that comes up is Norway, and one of the first bands you see is Emperor. While Cradle of Filth’s campy evil was fun, Emperor was more daunting, with genuinely malicious lyrics and members involved in a motley assortment of criminal activities. It was tracks like “I Am the Black Wizards” and “Cosmic Keys to My Creations and Times” that unveiled a whole new world of music.
Darkthrone – A Blaze in the Northern Sky
Not far behind Emperor was Darkthrone. My parents, being cool-ass people, got me “A Blaze in the Northern Sky” for Christmas. Christmas. Suck on that irony for a sec. The rawness felt right, the chanting in the opening was ominous, the lumbering “In the Shadow of the Horns,” everything about this album was, and still is, perfect. Fun fact: the original vinyl pressing has “The Re-Return…” engraved in the center ring. I may or may not be foreshadowing another album on this list.
Mortiis – Født til å Herske
Curious about Mortiis’ post-Emperor ventures, I picked this up at the second hand store and found a Motown disc in the tray. Well bugger me gently. I brought it back and when they tracked down the proper CD, they gave me a call and I finally got this dungeon synth masterpiece in all its glory, sans afros. It may not be black metal musically, but the echo of its spirit is there; it’s dark, ancient-sounding, and completely captivating in the same way that black metal is. It opened me up not only to ambient music, but to the idea of juxtaposing black metal with ambience, which conveniently leads us to our next entry…
Burzum – Hvis Lyset Tar Oss
I had to bus it to the big HMV in downtown Toronto to have access to an even remotely decent selection of metal, and I remember having to drop thirty bucks to get this thing. No wonder they went out of business. But “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss” was borderline life-changing; my first listen to it on the ride back with “Det Som En Gang Var” playing in my blue Panasonic antishock discman, the synth at the end part going wee woo wee woo weeeeeeeee wooooooo while Varg’s all like wauuuuuuughh, fuck yeah.
Bathory – The Return…..
Another CD that HMV gouged me for, but at least I saved the bus fare and hitched a ride with my parents this time. They let me play it in the car while they exchanged worried glances with each other, thinking fuck, well, at least our other kid’s normal. What can be said about this album? It’s a bloody rumble and makes you want to kick the cane out from under an old dude and toss it up onto a roof. I eventually contacted Quorthon for an interview, the results of which can be found floating around here on DIAG.
Ungod – Circle of the Seven Infernal Pacts
One of the first black metal CDs I found in a used store, its cover was obscure, mysterious, and irritatingly tilted slightly to the right. Almost two decades later that still bothers me. But it’s an excellent, no-frills black metal album that delivers exactly what you want from the genre. It was an incredibly satisfying album at the time, and it still is; if you haven’t before, check out this underrated German classic.
Immortal – Pure Holocaust
Back in the day, the Anus.com reviews, for all their pretentious mumbo jumbo, gave newcomers a formidable bank of band names to check out. They tipped me off to Immortal, and a random download of the track “A Sign for the Norse Hordes to Ride” was like a supersonic Mjölnir to the crotchular region. Before long:
“Hey son, I’m downtown, want me to pick up anything for you?”
“Actually yeah dad, this album ‘Pure Holocaust’ by Immortal.”
This crown jewel of the Norwegian scene is freezing chaos just barely reined in, and constantly playing this likely contributed considerably towards the inevitable heat death of the universe.
Emperor – Wrath of the Tyrant
Emperor’s second appearance on this list and not really an album but shaddap it’s happening. Holy fuck did the cavernous, “necro” production sound awesome. From the creepy intro to wondering what the fuck a Kara-Shehr is to Ihsahn’s maniacal vocals (that cackle at the start of the title track!), this felt like the echo of a dark past no one remembered. To this day I think this is the best demo to come out of the Norwegian scene and possibly even black metal as a whole.
Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
It took me a surprisingly long time to latch on to Mayhem. “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” made it happen, and its labyrinthine passages lorded over by Attila’s eccentric vocals made for an intense listen. Before long I had to obsessively track down any shred of a Mayhem live show or rehearsal from their inception until Euronymous’ murder. Now I have some twenty-odd releases by a band whose discography had like five official releases. Oopsies.
Abruptum – Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectére Me
If there was any one album that made anyone wonder what in holy Hell I was listening to, this was it. When a band is lauded as “the audial essence of pure black evil” by the forerunner of the Norwegian black metal scene, you check them the fuck out, without question. This was all the ingredients of black metal in their primordial state, not yet congealed to a coherent entity. Or maybe it was the other way around; black metal that had broken loose from the boundaries of structured music to pure black chaos. Whatever the case, this was an insane listen, with some legitimately terrifying parts as the din abruptly stops for a split second before blaring back twice as loud. This was definitely a love it or hate it album, and I loved it.
Nokturnal Mortum – NeChrist
Blind buys were a great way to be pleasantly surprised or irritatingly disappointed, but Hell we did it anyways. I got this one based solely off of the monochromatic corpsepainted dude on the cover with the reasonable assumptions that this would be (a) black metal, and (b) an album I hadn’t heard before. I was shocked that this unreasonably aggressive album was peppered by peppy folk breakdowns, let alone that they’d fit in so naturally. Nokturnal Mortum were pissed, and were stoked enough about it to have a fucking hoedown. I was so in.
Abigor – Nachtymnen (From the Twilight Kingdom)
Back when using the word “twilight” didn’t evoke thoughts of a slack-jawed Kristen Stewart wringing her hands in a desperate attempt to register a blip on the emotional radar, it was a cool word full of neat imagery. When you hear this album’s towering riffs, the epic synth, and see the band member photos with Emperor Palpatine-like force lightning shooting out of their hands, you know you have a winner.
Hirilorn – Legends of Evil and Eternal Death
So at this point I had figured out that certain labels consistently churned out quality butter, so when I found this release and saw it was on the renowned Drakkar Productions, it was a no-brainer. The long, melodic songs of Hirilorn’s only album have an almost heroic quality to them; the main riff of “Last Ride on the Winds of Eternity” was love at first listen.
Morrigan – Plague, Waste and Death
A comrade of mine lauded some releases on Barbarian Wrath, with Morrigan’s debut being near the top. This was my first mail order, and the wait was unbearable. I pressed myself up against the window every day, watching the mailman intently. It was worth the wait; “Plague, Waste and Death” mixed all the best parts of Bathory’s first six albums, from thrashing black metal to emotional, epic songs like “Where the Angels Keep Silence.” While they’ve put out some solid material since, it’s a shame they never quite managed to recapture the magnificence of this one.
Arckanum – Kostogher
Finding the creepy, blurry troll figure peering back at me from the bin, beckoning me towards him threw me for a loop. I loved its obscure music entirely in Swedish and it was so foresty. So goddamned foresty you could shake the booklet and leaves and twigs and shit would fly out. Primitive and frantic, this one got locked into my CD player for days at a time.
Nargaroth – Herbstleyd
A band that was buzzing at the time was Nargaroth, so I ordered “Hersbstleyd” with its helmeted dude on a skeptical-looking horse. A GOOD FUCKING CALL if I do say so myself, it’s a phenomenal album and its oneiric, melancholic atmosphere fueled many late nights of lying awake, completely enthralled by the music.
Inquisition – Invoking the Majestic Throne of Satan
I was introduced to Inquisition with the track “Hail the King of All Heathens,” with its hymn-like atmosphere, emotional and ritualistic solo, and solemn froggy vocals. “Invoking the Majestic Throne of Satan” is basically a perfect album from start to finish, and one of the most powerful statements of the genre. I kept telling everyone that would listen holy shit guys, you gotta hear this album. No one listened, and a few years later the band exploded and everyone lamented that this CD wasn’t readily available and I was smugly entitled to a warm sensation of LOL told you so. Such an ass.
Countess – The Book of the Heretic
I ordered this one from the now-defunct label Autistiartili along with Barathrum’s “Legions of Perkele.” This was back when distros rarely had online shops, just a list of items available, and Autistiartili’s black font on white background was as austere as it got. I loved the awkward production on this album, with the thundering bass in “On the Wings of Azazel” and the dramatic, harrowing “Give Me Your Soul;” they stuck with me and I eventually tracked down copies of most of Countess’ albums and demos.
So there you have twenty albums that got me into black metal. It’s been a long and monochromatic journey and sometimes I wonder why the Hell I listen to this stuff, but then I remember; it’s fucking awesome music for fucking awesome people like you and me.
Especially me. Go me.
You can find Voidhanger on twitter arguing with Cult, thinking about squirrels, and breaking off the volume knob on his black metal record player.