One thing I’ve come to realize while doing this series is my mix tapes in the late ’90s were fucking great and anyone who was forced to drive with me during those times should start a kickstarter to throw me a parade. The other thing I’ve realized is how fortunate I was to come up at a time when all this was actually happening and not a footnote in some elderly man’s rantings twenty years later. The emphasis on performing music you were passionate about versus the current metal scene’s (sometimes) inane need for innovation meant that while you might be getting three dozen variations on the same Darkthrone or Emperor songs, at least they still possessed something special.
The conversation around black metal at the time was easier to digest, too, since it was basically all based on a form of honesty that isn’t really around any more, and there wasn’t someone standing up on a soap box because they were offended you owned a Burzum record. While I value the deeper intellectualism that the contemporary era can bring, it also has its shortcomings, especially in people’s perceptions.
Anyway, this is the final piece of my three-part black metal series. My list is obviously far from complete and I may revisit it someday, but for now here’s six more:
DARKLORD – …BY THE FORCE OF SACRED MAGIC RITES EP 1994
Australia has a history of uncompromising, brutal black/death metal like Bestial Warlust, Abominator, etc., but this might be the strangest (Vorak non-withstanding, find some of that if you’re interested in really warped shit from down under). I found this in a used bin at Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ, and grabbed it based on the packaging alone, having no knowledge of this band prior.
This demo/ep is completely punishing from beginning to end and had such a weird atmosphere, especially for the time, that regardless of whether or not it was great, it was definitely captivating. I tried to sign them, unsuccessfully, and they ended up doing a full-length that doesn’t sound like it was recorded in a dumpster underwater, which might have lost some of the charm but it was interesting and deadly in its own right.
CENTURIES OF DECEPTION – HEIC NOEUM PAX EP 1998
The later 1990s were an exciting time to be involved in black metal in the United States. A lot of bands who went on to great things were recording their demos or first full-lengths, and we had a solid foundation of bands like Demoncy, Profanatica, Black Funeral, etc., whose tradition we were (some would say poorly) trying to uphold. One of the releases that kind of fell through the cracks, for whatever reason, was Centuries of Deception’s debut EP.
This was the solo offering from Atrox, who was also in Enchanted Sorrow (another band that never got its due, mostly because they never released their full-length and kind of disappeared), and it was just unusually grim and creepy, kind of in a Mutiilation way but more minimalistic. He recorded a second EP that was fucking amazing but, like Enchanted Sorrow, it never got released and he just vanished, surfacing every few years on various social media talking about doing something new, only to be washed out by the tide.
CARPATHIAN FULLMOON – SERENADES IN BLOOD MINOR LP 1994
Around ’95/’96 I found I was able to blind buy a record based on whatever label released it, and nine out of ten times I’d walk away with something great. Avantgarde Music were one of those labels who were really on a fucking roll around that time, and this record is a fine example.
This straddles a fine line between death/doom like earlier Celestial Season and Anathema and Katatonia’s early black metal stuff. This Norse band only did one EP before this full-length and after this they were done. Unheralded by those who sing praise of better known bands in the genre, but without a doubt a true gem.
ANCIENT WISDOM – FOR SNOW COVERED THE NORTHLAND LP 1996
Closely aligned with Katatonia, at least in the old days, Ancient Wisdom’s main creative force Vargher had his hands in a lot of different projects, but this record and the first Bewitched LP are my favorites that he did. This record has a cold atmosphere that always has brought the visuals of its cover to mind upon listening. Not concerned with being as metal-oriented as his other projects or later records with this one, For Snow Covered the Northland still feels as fresh as it did upon its release in 1996.
GODKILLER – THE END OF THE WORLD LP 1998
Godkiller were one of those projects that seemed to change identities with every subsequent release. Initially a medieval-themed band with vocals in the style of Burzum and eventually ending up as a band you’d see people dancing to if you took a wrong turn and went into the techno club by mistake, this middle era is probably the band’s finest statement. Incredibly negative both sonically and lyrically, this is Ceremony of Opposites worship at its finest. Another one I’d love to see released on vinyl.
MYTHOS – PAIN AMPLIFIER LP 1995
This is one of those records that people who know it really worship, but unfortunately that isn’t an enormous amount. Finnish black/death metal with ex-members of Belial (another underrated act) that held its own alongside Impaled Nazarene and the like who were doing the best records of their career. One EP and a promo after this and they were gone. This should be mandatory for anyone who says they’re into Finnish black or death metal.
THRONE OF AHAZ – NIFELHEIM LP 1995
Trying to decide who I would end this with was a fucking challenge, but I had to go with Throne of Ahaz, who gave us two records in the ’90s of quality Bathory-influenced black metal. It’s records like this which remind me why I can’t really find a lot of modern black metal that interests me. This has every element that caused me to fall in love with the genre over twenty years ago: darkness, aggression, but also a sense of passion that just doesn’t come across in a lot of contemporary black metal, perhaps because they didn’t have koozies, scarves, or trucker hats for sale to smear their logo around like a long-haired cat who has shit stuck in his fur and is making a map of where he’s been today on your carpet.
And that completes my bullshit on black metal that you were either too young for or just not paying attention at the time or whatever. I wouldn’t be surprised if I revisited this from time to time since there’s still a lot I left out. It’s been enjoyable for me because through these three pieces I’ve rediscovered a lot of great recordings that I hope didn’t get ruined in years of storage, but that’s a tragic story that will probably be written about in great depth in my eventual suicide letter.