Nov 212016



(Here we have an opinion piece by Andy Synn, and as always we welcome your comments.)

As most of you should know by now, I generally love Black Metal. Of course I don’t love every band or every particular sub-species of the style, but overall there’s just something about the music and the ethos of the genre – an intensity, an atmosphere, a sense of stubborn individuality — that really speaks to me.

I also particularly love the fact that Black Metal, although denigrated by many for being too insular and restrictive (and, in fact, also celebrated by many for the former), is actually one of the most musically open and creative genres in Metal when you really dig into it.

From the most Avant-Garde to the most Punk, from the most Melodic to the most harshly Industrial, from the Post/Progressive/Atmospheric side of things, to the punishing panzer-style of pure blasting blasphemy… and more… to my mind the core essence of Black Metal is a refusal to be restricted or defined by the expectations of others. It’s about freedom and the ability to “do what thou wilt…”

But, of course, that itself raises some problems.


Art by Vamperess Imperium


Now I’m in no way a Black Metal elitist (or, at least, I don’t think I am). I don’t venerate only the first/second wave bands, I don’t only like the old stuff, or feel like the genre has been stolen from me or weakened in any way just because it’s more popular now than it used to be, and I don’t automatically hate any new or young band who tries to bring some of their own style or identity to the genre.

Heck, some of my favourite Black Metal releases over the past decade or so have been decidedly unorthodox, such as the Hardcore-tinged racket of bands like Celeste or Terzij de Horde, the gut-wrenching uber-grooves of Ruins, the esoteric extremity of Dødsengel, or the magnificent atmospherics of Ion and Progenie Terrestre Pura, so I’m definitely not one to try and tell you that Band X isn’t “real” Black Metal just because they don’t wear corpse-paint or bullet-belts, or because they’ve gone with a production style that doesn’t make them sound like a sack full of weasels having hate-sex in a steel drum.

But, that being said, I am very wary of an unpleasant trend which I’ve observed over the last several years, where anything with even the tiniest amount of tremolo picking or harsh vocals seems to be labelled as “Black Metal”, without any regards for whether this is an accurate (or appropriate) reflection of the band in question.



One big contributor to this issue is that the term “Black Metal” seems to have become a bit of a buzz-word for certain bands and certain sections of the music press, which previously wouldn’t have touched the genre with a ten-foot pole, as a way to instantly tag themselves or their new favourites with a spurious (and largely unearned) sense of underground credibility.

It’s undeniable of course that the proliferation and expansion of Black Metal’s influence has helped bring it more into the zeitgeist (what a fun word) than ever before, but that doesn’t mean that every Tøm, Dick, and Ahriman who owns an Emperor album or a Wolves In The Throne Room shirt has a right to call their music “Black Metal”, just because it makes them sound cool.

I don’t mean to sound defensive there, and I’m not trying to tell the kids to get off my lawn. Because even though I don’t necessarily think that everyone should make Black Metal, even if they like the style, as long as you’re doing it with integrity and intensity, it’s not really a problem.

But it does gall me a little to see the name of a genre so intrinsically linked, in my mind at least, with the ideals of going against the grain and producing music not driven by the concerns of popularity or prevailing trends, being co-opted by a certain group (or groups) more interested in looking cool and edgy and who are more likely to dismiss this period of their career as an “ironic” phase in a few years’ time.



It’s also interesting to note that I’ve seen and heard a number of people making the claim that Black Metal’s recent crossover with both Hardcore and Post-Rock means that “Black Metal is finally good now”.

And by “interesting”, I mean “incredibly frustrating”.

After all, what they’re actually saying is that a certain sub-section of the genre now appeals to their specific tastes. That’s all. And it’s sheer arrogance to suggest that anything before this was crap simply because it didn’t tick certain boxes.

But before we all get our spiked codpieces in a twist, it’s important to stop for a second, take stock, and think about what this really means.



For my mind one of the most important things to take away from all this is the acknowledgement that being “Black Metal” is neither the be-all nor the end-all it’s being presented as.

Indeed it may seem counterintuitive in an article originally intended to discuss and defend the correct usage of the term “Black Metal” to suggest that being considered “Black Metal” (or not) isn’t actually all that important, but here we are.

You see my real issue here is less about what Black Metal “is” or “isn’t” (that’s a question for another day entirely), and more the semantic problems related to its over-use.

And one key way to combat this is to stress that being “Black Metal” on its own is not the same as actually being good. And that bands can be just as good on their own merits without trying to jump through all the convoluted loops in logic necessary so that they can justify calling themselves “blackened” (or something thereabouts).



Take two recent releases as example. I am a big, big fan of both Harakiri for the Sky and Thränenkind, and both their new albums (III: Trauma and King Apathy, respectively) are in serious contention for a place on one or more of my end-of-year lists. But I wouldn’t call either of them “Black Metal”.

That may be a contentious assertion of course. I’ve seen already that there are several fans of both bands who get apoplectic if you try to suggest that they aren’t Black Metal… but all that really does is make me wonder why that particular label is so important to them.

After all, I’m not questioning the worth of either band/album. Just whether or not the term “Black Metal” is the best way to categorise and describe their music? Is it really that important that I, or their fans, identify them as “Black Metal”? What does doing so add to the band? And what does not doing so take away from them?

Nothing as far as I can see.

As I said in my reviews, Trauma has a lot more in common with early Insomnium (though, I’ll admit, with a more “blackened” edge to it), and King Apathy a more depressive, Post-Rock/Metal influenced Shai Hulud, than with anything I’d really consider to be “Black Metal”… but that’s not something I consider to be a bad thing. They’re both fantastic albums regardless.

I just don’t happen to think that we’re talking or thinking about them in the right way, and that we need to be very careful not to buy into the fallacy that “blackened equals better”.

I honestly feel like the more we can stress that this isn’t the case – that there are tonnes of terrible Black Metal bands out there, that co-opting the term for yourself doesn’t suddenly make your own band any edgier or any more “real”, and that obsessively trying to identify everything you listen to as “Black Metal”, whether it fits or not, only serves to muddy the waters further – the better.



If there’s one small ray of light in all this, it’s that the tide appears to be turning ever so slightly, as it seems like “Crust” is now the new “Black Metal”, i.e., a term being widely and liberally overused for its perceived cultural cache and the sense of coolness it implies.

I’m sure you’ll have seen it more than a few times already (and, if you haven’t, you’re going to now), but it looks like “Crust” is going to be the next big “trend” in certain circles, to the extent where I’ve already seen certain individuals who once spent their time praising Black Metal for its more philosophical and occult leanings suddenly pulling an abrupt about-face and starting to mock the more spiritual or philosophical elements of the style, because it’s not “cool” anymore.

Because “Crust” is what’s cool now. So you probably can expect to see a glut of bands being described with that particular label over the next 12/24/36 months (or however long it is until the next big trend takes over), as well as a whole bunch of bands jumping on the crusty bandwagon as it passes by.

Of course this may not sound like the most positive of outcomes, but anything that cuts down on the adulteration and misrepresentation of the term “Black Metal” and allows us instead to have an honest discussion about the genre, what it is, and what it can be, is fine by me.

Remember kids. When everything is “Black Metal”…. nothing is.



  1. “a sack full of weasels having hate-sex in a steel drum” …new tagline?

  2. Don’t have much to add except that I pretty much agree. I like how free and varied black metal can be, but when you get generic post-metal band #36549 claiming to have “black” influences since they use tremolo picking sometimes I can’t help but roll my eyes.

  3. Well written article. It is interesting to consider how people categorize whether or not a band is black metal or not. I myself love the new Harakiri For The Sky album and I consider it to be a black metal release but when I put it on for my wife to listen to and she asked me what it was, when I told her that it was Austrian black metal she was quick to object and inform me that it was not black metal. With her if it does not sound like second wave Norwegian black metal than it is not black metal at all but I tend to be much more inclusive.

    In the end it does not make much of a difference to me how someone else perceives the music that I listen to. If it is good and I like it I will categorize it however I like and if another individual disagrees that is alright. Good music is good music regardless of how we label it.

    As an aside, yes the crust tend is coming and I hate it already.

  4. Good column, thanks Andy. I think there are many reasons why the term black metal as a descriptor has become overused (though, in the greater scheme of things, by a tiny subset of the music-consuming public). Lazy music journalism, over-eager bands/ fans and a loss of historical perspective. It seems to me that Deafhaven, like them or not, were a major catalyst of those developments, since they made some elements of the music accessible in a sanitized, easily digestible manner. But all things being cyclical, I’m not really too worried about it.

    On a lighter note, I highly recommend re-reading this article, but replacing every mention of “black metal” with “a sack full of weasels having hate-sex in a steel drum.”

  5. The argument against using the sub-genre tag “Cascadian Black Metal” led to me championing the term “Trees ‘n Shit Black Metal” and it’s gotten to the point where I’ve seen other people across the internet using it, including a band that fits the category. So…be careful what you wish for I guess.

    • I hate that term, because the whole idea was to take inspiration from the local nature around you, so it’s technically impossible to be Cascadian Black Metal and not be from the Northwest….but at the same time a lot of bands that have that tag that even live here are transplants, so who knows.

  6. Why do you capitalize genre names?

  7. “…that doesn’t mean that every Tøm, Dick, and Ahriman who owns an Emperor album or a Wolves In The Throne Room shirt has a right to call their music “Black Metal”

    Thats because Wolves in the Throne Room dosnt have the right to call their music Black Metal 🙂

    I think you brushed upon the real reason this started happening when you mentioned the perceived coolness factor that comes from black metal. Rightly or wrongly, black metal fans are thought to be some of the most elitist fans in the entire genre, and because of this theres a very strong association to the underground and where all the “real” metal fans found. Bands trying to shoehorn some kind of “blackened” label onto their music are looking for legitimacy as a band, which is probably why fans of those bands lose their shit when you say theyre not black metal.

    As for the “Crust” label, that cracks me up because, unlike black metal (which I grudgingly concede), crust requires an actual lo-fi, raw sound. Watching a bunch of new bands use modern production values on their album and then try to slap a “Crust” label on it, is definitely good for a laugh or two

  8. I have given up on tagging or categorizing bands for more than a year. If it is black metal or has just 3 % black metal in their sound, I don’t care that much. Although I must admit I like that “Black Metal” gets so many new elements in it’s sound, makes this whole genre more interesting. I like many bands from this genre that invented it, but I also listen to many bands who co-operate their sound with black metal snippets. As long is it sounds good to me I can accept it.

  9. Excellent article. The only people who get offended when you point out their favorite band isn’t Black Metal are people that are not really familiar with the genre. It is just as insecure to call everyone a poser as it is to call everyone an elitist.

    I thought the crust thing was already happening. Many of the Black Metal bands in the Northwest, from Addaura to Isendoral, have crust punk roots. At least here, it seems that most of this modern trend of BM is a crossover from the crust scene itself.

  10. Interesting. The way I see it is way too much stuff that is now being passed off as black metal is actually shoegaze

    • yes you are right.

    • I think that there CAN be a fantastic cross-over between the two of them myself, but I do agree that too many bands (of every type) are being mislabeled as “Black Metal”.

      A Black Metal band with some Shoegaze elements is STILL a Black Metal band. But a Shoegaze band with some Black Metal elements isn’t necessarily a Black Metal band.

  11. I am with you, up until the comments about crust. How is it that crust is becoming the new cool thing? Crust has been around forever. practically predates black metal (almost). Crust evolved from punk, and it integrates metal. Its a punk-metal concoction, and more recently some crust bands incorporate specifically black metal. A killer combination to my ears!

    • Hi JD. I think you’re operating under a slight misapprehension about what I said there.

      I’m very much aware of what Crust “is” and where it comes from.

      What I am saying there is that the term “Crust” looks set to become the next big buzz-word by common (if unconscious) consensus in the Metal media, in the same way that “Black Metal” was for quite a while.

      I believe the fact that there’s been such a cross-over between “Black Metal” and “Crust” in recent years has helped this of course. It’s a lot easier for magazines and sites to identify the next “big trend” if it follows on from the current one after all!

      But while this extra attention will doubtless be very good for existing “Crust” bands (of all stripes), we’re probably also going to see the word get (mis)applied to a bunch of bands over the next few years, as well as a fair few bands jumping on the bandwagon.

      TL, DR version – the media (and I’m not absolving NCS or myself from this) not only reports on trends, but also has a hand in creating them, and I’m predicting that “Crust” is going to be the “in” term for a while now.

  12. I’ll play Devils’ advocate here:

    I think to discuss BM in terms of sonics is entirely missing the point: I’ve absolutely no problem with the varying directions and growths musically the genre has taken but it’s unfortunate that people forget the initial idea behind black metal was that it had to be centred around lyrical themes of Satanism/Occultism -that’s what the “Black” part denoted. The musical end, in theory, was therefore incidental and the whole idea was that it could in theory be moulded to suit many forms, and this is why the likes of Master’s Hammer, Ildjarn, Marduk and Flames of Hell are all sonically different but all deserving of the tag. It’s antiquated to believe this should be the case, certainly, but that’s really something worth considering.

    I understand why we’re still using the term, of course, as it has come to primarily a description for a specific set of sonic attributes but really..the term is worthless at this point as the intent is simply not there.

    Having said that I’d rather listen to some of the more musically articulate bands mentioned than some of the dumb ultra Satanic bedroom nonsense that floods the real Black Metal underground. But there’s a world of difference in motivation between, say, Celeste and someone like Shrine of Insanibilis.

    For context, I’m saying this as someone who grew up in the tape trading era of the early 90s when some of the 2nd wave Norwegian bands ruled the roost, then moved onto hardcore, then reignited my own interest in death/black/underground metal again in my mid 20s. I’m enough of an old fart to recall both Ihsahn signing off fanzine interviews with “Heil Hitler” and superstar DJ Steve Aoki fronting a hardcore band 😉

    I feel like an interesting turning point in the path that has lead “BM” to where it is now is this: At some point people that had been into the late 90s emo/screamo that labels like Witching Hour or Level Plane or Ebullition put out stumbled across Black metal and realised sonically there were certain parallels – I can see the point about crust and metal being “integrated” above too, certainly, given the primitivism of the two genres – but what happened with this was to some degree hardcore people decided that they could take the bits they wanted and disregard the core tenets of the aesthetic and ideology in order to adapt it into their own form. There is a generation of musicians who come from this crossbreed that are now in popular bands that are miscast as black metal because they took influence from Emperor or Leviathan musically or whatever, but have moulded that around a different aesthetic or worldview to the one that those bands were born out of.

    This is why you now have punk bands like Dawnray’d or Iskra or any of these other bullshit “Blackened Crust” (thanks Cvltnation) who have absolutely missed the point and essentially gentrified a musical ghetto they were attracted to but afraid to fully embrace because its’ more uncomfortable undertones didn’t fit their lifestyle. They can claim to be black metal all they want, and while politically I’m on board with them, they are punk bands playing dress up – not black metal. There is no heart of darkness, no soul, just a reptition of music that influenced them without the core components of the style beyond a riffing techinque or screamed vocal approach.

    Similarly, why do you think death metal has seen a resurgence in recent years? People in the underground metal scene have become embittered by the normalisation of a “shock” subgenre that lost much of its’ power. In the same way that “A Blaze in the Northern Sky” was a reaction to the normalisation of black metal, the underground has thrown up bands that are a reaction to the tedium and pretence of a lot of modern day black metal. Cyclically, progress in the underground metal world is always halted after a point by resurgent musical atavism.

    But yes. Intent is everything. Aesthetics play a huge part. I like Terzij De Horde, but I don’t think we’re doing anyone any favours describing them as black metal (I’ve had this argument with Johan, briefly).

    • See, enough Black Metal luminaries have come out to say that the genre doesn’t/didn’t always have to be about Satan necessarily that I just don’t feel like that HAS to be the defining feature. Lots of Black Metal isn’t Satanic, and lots of Satanic music isn’t Black Metal.

      Which is why I feel like the sonic element is vitally important – Black Metal is STILL a musical genre, and there are definitely certain sonic signatures which mark a band as Black Metal, or not. You can add in other elements, obviously, but there still needs to be SOMETHING to mark you out, sound wise, as actually belonging to the Black Metal genre, and (for me) intent just doesn’t cut it.

      I may intend to be a Black Metal band, and may have the requisite lyrical content, but if I end up producing music that doesn’t SOUND anything like Black Metal in the slightest (in whatever form)… then maybe I’m not making Black Metal? And maybe that’s still ok, as long as I’m making the music I want to make?

      Basically, if it looks like a Black Metal Duck… but doesn’t SOUND like a Black Metal Duck… maybe it’s not a Black Metal Duck?

      • I’m not sure I’m disagreeing with either of you, because I think about the use of the term “black metal” in two different contexts. In the context of writing about music, I think of “black metal” is a genre term that stands for certain elements of sound. It’s not any kind of rigid formula in my mind — far from it. There can be dramatic differences in sound between two “black metal” bands. And yet at some point the core elements can become so minimal that it’s not “black metal” any more. If you nevertheless continue to use the label when those core elements have become marginalized, then you’ve stripped the term of its value as a shorthand means of communicating. And so in that context, I agree with Andy’s comment above, as well as the thesis of his post.

        On the other hand, I also think the term “black metal” has a deeper meaning, one that’s more personal to myself and others as fans. I wouldn’t try to push it as part of a genre definition or jump on anyone who doesn’t agree with it, because to do that would get into the “trve” v. “false” rhetorical wanking, which I just don’t find entertaining or thought-provoking. For me (and for others), when I think of “black metal” I do think of requirements beyond core elements of sound. I do believe there is also a certain spiritual or philosophical aesthetic that must also be part of the music, and I don’t mean an aesthetic limited to Satanism or even necessarily to occult and esoteric thought more broadly. Lacking time at the moment, I’m not going to try to define that aesthetic here, but when it’s absent, I don’t put a band and its music in my own personal definition of “black metal”. And I think in that context, I agree with Jamie — with the qualification that I think both aspects are necessary: the presence of certain core elements of sound AND a certain spiritual/philosophical aesthetic. And so (back to agreeing with Andy), I don’t think of bands who have the aesthetic I’m referring to but don’t have the core elements of sound as “black metal”.

        • While that whole “true vs false” thing is obviously bollocks, I think really there’s very much an “I can’t quite explain it, but I know it when I see it” element to black metal.

          • Funnily enough one line that got cut from this piece was a reference to the whole “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it” thing, but ultimately it felt like I was writing purely just so I could use that line to look clever, rather than it actually adding much to the flow of the piece.

  13. “In the same way that “A Blaze in the Northern Sky” was a reaction to the normalisation of black metal”

    sorry, meant to say normalisation of DEATH metal there

    • FYI dude, please don’t take the above comment as an attack or anything (I know tone is hard to tell on the internet). It’s more in the sense of a spirited discussion and disagreement!

  14. Not at all Andy, spirited debate is a wonderful thing, one of the things I like about this site, and my post certainly wasn’t intended as me laying down the law (hence the first line!), just batting around an idea. A personal idea, of course, but not something I intended people to take as me going “fuck this shit, it’s not black metal”, more “I guess this is my view on black metal, but it’s just what I think”. Though I’m pretty adamant about the “fuck crust punks trying to sanitise it” bit (and just for the record, my own band was tagged as “black metal” on here when we don’t see ourselves as such).

    I get your point about the sound, sure, but I think again, historically a lot of the luminaries you mention – I’m thinking Emperor mainly here – defined a genre when they were all essentially teenagers, and disavowed certain aspects as they got older and progressed. Which is absolutely understandable. And yes, me personally thinking a band has to have some sort of occult element isn’t the be all and end all, I think there are plenty of less obvious darker lyrical topics that fit perfectly within the genre – the constant referencing of bands to nature being the obvious one. But I think there has to be a disconnect at some point. Mixing any politics as far as I’m concerned with “black metal” is that disconnect for me personally, and that’s

    It’s weird, in general I tend to value music based on how it functions in my day to day life, in what context the artist intended it, and in any other genre I’m nowhere near as catholic as I am with the BM I listen to, which I guess again is a result of having been an impressionable 15 year old when these bands’ demos started arriving in my mailbox, haha! I’m not in any way anti growth or progress (and given my hardcore theory it’s hilarious to hear elements of bands like Dazzling Killmen,Botch or some of those echo in what Deathspell Omega did on “Drought”), I’m just curious at what point a scene or movement moves too far away from its’ source to be recognisable any more.

    Anyway, I’m off to give that new Cultes Des Ghouls album another go. Really enjoy your writing, keep up the good work.

    • What did you think of “Drought” btw? I have seen some pushback against it for precisely those elements you described, but I actually still really liked it. Though I am more than willing to admit that “Synarchy” is a step above it in pretty much every way.

      Also I have an interesting Synn Report coming up next week that deals a little bit with some of the issues you’ve mentioned here, so keep an eye out for that one!

      • I appreciate what they’re doing but as a listener I have to confess I don’t particularly care for DsO in general to be honest, less so with each passing record. If I want that level of chaos there are plenty of jazz or noise or experimental records I can listen to that serve that need for me a lot better than anything they’ve done since Fas. Drought and Synarchy went in one ear and out the other. Which is impressive given how many listens i’ve given both.

        I thought Drought as an inverse of the “metalcore kids biting black metal” thing was fascinating, and I wonder how deliberate the elements we’re talking about were.

        • That’s fair enough. I’ll admit I tend to go for Blut Aus Nord more than DsO these days, but I do feel like I need to binge some Deathspell again soon, now that we’ve gotten talking about it.

          • I actually listened to everything from Fas – Synarchy yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately confirmed my disinterest in them (and predictably, yes, I do like the early stuff – ran through that last night too and “Si Monvmentvm” I think is the perfect point between those early albums and where they are now). Blut Aus Nord on the other hand I have a whole lot more time for.

            • My terrible confession of course is that my favourite BaN album is their LEAST Black Metal one… Cosmosophy.

              Though Mystical Beast… and The Work Which Transforms God aren’t too far behind.

              Whereas for DsO I tend to listen to either Mass Grave Aesthetics or Chaining The Katechon most of all. In fact I think I probably listen to the EPs more often than the albums.

              • I can see why. They seem more digestable than the albums.
                Might I ask what you think of the pre “Si Monvmentvm” stuff?

                • Not as big a fan, as you probably could have predicted. Though some of that may just be because I naturally seem to gravitate more towards the EPs, so those are just what I spend the most time with.

  15. For me, black metal is a genre that is closest to actual art. I would say that black metal out of all genres has the greatest intrinsic aesthetics that defines the genre as much as its sound. It is one of its greatest strenghts and what makes fairly different bands as DsO, Hail Spirit Noir or Urfaust (just to name a few recent examples) black metal.

    Because of that extra aesthetic layer, it is somewhat easy for bands from other genres to appropriate the layer, but not the actual sum of parts that constitute black metal as a genre.

  16. You just summed up what I wanted to say in way less space 🙂

  17. I stopped reading here…

    “sound like a sack full of weasels having hate-sex in a steel drum.”

    theres no way you’re going to top it.

    (I kid. Im reading the rest now)

    • In summation.. Great read!

      I liken it, to some degree, to the overuse and perversion of the term emo.
      Thats a discussion we don’t really need to open up, but I think of that when I read this.
      Somehow the original emo then became scream and then the same thing happened to that term.
      And we could say the same about metal core, although that genre doesn’t appeal to me as much so I don’t entirely care, but I do love Converge and I’ve never considered them a metal core band.

      Whatever… funny thing its really just journalists that gave these terms new meanings.
      Unfortunately a lot of writers lack the knowledge (and open minds) that the NCS writers have in excess.
      Thanks for a good article Andy!!

      • Great. Now “Blackened Emo” will be the next big thing.

        • I mean… thats what something like Deafheaven essentially is to me. Blackened Emo.
          People decry the element of post rock being added to black metal quite often, but screamo (nee Emo)
          has been doing mostly that for a long time. Take a band like City of Caterpillar. Its like post rock with some blast beats. I never considered it blackened, but someone probably would these days.

    • People do seem to be responding to that line… for some reason.

      (I had quite a bit of fun writing it)

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