Glorious greetings of mÿghte, fellow fleshlings. It’s been a while since I’ve graced the coding of DIAG, but I’m not that easy to get rid of. Like most who got into black metal in the late nineties and early naughties, my first real introduction to black metal was with the monochromatic legions of the seminal 90s Norwegian scene. It was renowned for kickstarting black metal as we know it today; while that claim is surely debatable since other countries were innovating the genre in their own ways, Norway’s scene was certainly the most headline-grabbing for obvious reasons. What’s not debatable is that some classic albums showed up, but since bands were popping up faster than bucktoothed rodents in whack-a-mole, many other releases would get lost in the shadows of those high-profile ones. So I have set forth a task for myself, as your humble servant, to discuss some of those overshadowed bands. This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, or to specifically recognize the most obscure bands; just a list of bands that I don’t feel get a fair shake.
Nattefall’s 1996 demo “An Ode to the Nightsky” was a three-track release of epic symphonic black metal drenched in an ambience of starry skies and ancient times, hearkening back to Dimmu Borgir’s brilliant first two albums. They changed name to Mundanus Imperium and sadly also followed Dimmu Borgir’s path to shitting the bed with their 1998 full-length release “The Spectral Spheres Coronation,” an upbeat, bombastic symphonic metal affair with corny clean(ish) vocals. Nevertheless, Nattefall’s fantastic demo lives on in the shadowy realm of underappreciated gems. “An Ode to the Nightsky” was reissued on CD in 1997 under the Mundanus Imperium name.
A one-man band that, with a burst of creativity, released two demos in 1995, “Vinterland” and “Det Siste Slaget.” Each demo has two black metal songs that are bookended by substantive intros and outros. The ambient pieces are scene-setting, and the black metal tracks are well done in the scene’s lo-fi style, with “Det Siste Slaget” being a bit more compositionally adventurous of the two demos. That burst of creativity didn’t last long; the project is supposedly still active, but has been silent since 1995 – which sounds pretty damn dormant to me. Both demos were conveniently compiled and reissued on a CD titled “Ramnens Ferd.”
Carpathian Full Moon
Clean production with a progressive, mellow sound isn’t something you’d expect from Norway’s black metal scene, but that’s exactly what Carpathian Full Moon pulled off on their sole album “Serenades in Blood Minor.” I know. That title. But past that, you get a very interesting album with winding instrumental passages and beautiful acoustic interludes like “Luna Garden.” The harsh vocals are melancholic rather than aggressive and take a back seat to the rest of the instrumentation. Even though the album was released on Avantgarde Music, you rarely see it mentioned these days, which is a shame. You’d expect a label like Northern Silence to be all over reissuing this shit.
So I’m a bit of a dick for including Astaroth because I have no idea where you can hear this, so you’re on your own here. Metal Archives lists Astaroth as a death metal band; this testifies to how little exposure they actually got, because their demo “An Epic Told to Infinity” is definitely black metal. I randomly picked it up years ago from someone’s sale list on a message board, and I’m glad I did. The fast-paced music is blessed with occasional synth and even a sorrowful violin on a few tracks. The angular music contorts itself around the hot sound well, and the vocals are frantic shrieks reminiscent of early Burzum. The eight-minute title track is a monster. It’s a crazy and unique listen.
This list hasn’t really been in any order, but Incarnator is number one. With just a single demo containing two tracks of slowed-down Bathory worship, 1992’s “Nordic Holocaust” is one of Norway’s lost crown jewels. The project of an enigmatic Zyprianus, Incarnator is ominous, cold, and encapsulates everything Norwegian black metal was all about. One other very raw promotional song surfaced, “In Nocturnal Glory,” before Incarnator disappeared. Look, sometimes bands just record 13 minutes of music and call it a fucking day, there’s nothing wrong with that. “Nordic Holocaust” has never been officially reissued (the “Anthology” CD floating around is a bootleg), but the original demo occasionally pops up on auction sites.
Releasing a sole 18-minute demo in 1996, Imperium weren’t exactly prolific. Featuring members that had stints in Dismal Euphony, Gehenna, Emperor, Enslaved and Theatre of Tragedy, “Imperium” is fast, blasting black metal with a full sound and memorable riffs. With the pedigrees of its members, I would’ve expected this to get more exposure, but here we are. This got the vinyl treatment in 2004, and a cassette reissue in 2017.
So there you have it, six Norwegian bands who I think are underappreciated. There are lots more to talk about, and maybe I’ll make a part two someday, but until then, adios.
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