In keeping with our (admittedly sporadic) institution of amazing top ten lists, today we bring you The Top Ten Norwegian Black Metal Bands.
Black metal, for those of you that may be unfamiliar, is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal characterized by its unconventional song structure, raw recording, blast beat drumming, and tremolo picking. Since its development in the 1980’s the genre has come to evolve into a style all it’s own, home to a vast number of subgenres, sub-subgenres, and fusion genres.
The foundation for black metal is most often, and appropriately, attributed to a few thrash bands in the 1980’s. Namely Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, Root, and Celtic Frost, who, even today, stand as the genres pioneers and are referred to as the “first wave”. In the early 1990’s a “second wave” of black metal acts, inspired by the aforementioned and spearheaded by a handful of Norwegian bands, arose and have since stayed in prominence.
The following are 10 of the most notable and all around best of these trailblazers. Enjoy
Formed in 1990 by Nattefrost and John Nordavind, Carpathian Forest may not be the most well known act on this list but I’m sure many of you will argue they deserve a higher spot. Maybe. Maybe not.
Although it wasn’t until 1998 that they finally released a proper full-length, the band, which for a time consisted of only the two founding members, has been kicking around in the Norwegian black metal scene since their first demo, Bloodlust and Perversion, in 1992. Since that time the band has released five full-lengths, the latest of which was released in ‘06, a hand full of other recordings, and, despite remaining near and dear to the underground and influencing a host of new black metal musicians (some of which I fear have no idea), traverse on in relative obscurity.
Enslaved was formed from the ashes of a Norwegian death metal band called Phobia in June of 1991 by Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson when they were just 13 and 17 years old respectively.
Although Enslaved began as an archetypical Norwegian black metal band, by their third album, 1997’s Eld, the band began to show signs of adopting a more progressive metal sound and even sought to ditch the “black metal” label. The band’s most notable change came in the form of their 2000 full-length Mardraum- Beyond the Within, which showcased the band's experimentation more with sounds influenced by progressive rock than black metal. Despite this, and the band’s increasingly progressive direction since then, their early work will forever remain an influence on the past and modern black metal scenes.
Enslaved released their eleventh album, Axioma Ethica Odini, last year through Nuclear Blast Records. Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson are the only original members left in the band.
The infamous Gorgoroth, named after the dead plateau of evil and darkness in the land of Mordor (from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings) was formed in 1992 by guitarist Infernus after “making a pact with the devil”. Since then the band has stayed in the public’s eye as one of Norway’s most notorious and hated musical groups. This, in part, because of the nefarious acts of Gogoroth’s vocalist from 1998-2007, Gaahl, who’s various exploits you can read about elsewhere.
Since their formation in ‘92, Gorgoroth has released eight studio albums, four live albums, and a handful of splits, demos, compilations, and promos. It was announced last year that the band is putting the finishing touches on a re-recording of their 1997 release Under the Sign of Hell, which should be released in August of this year (2011).
I’m sure most of you reading this already know the big names like Burzum, Darthrone, and Mayhem, all off which will most definitely make an appearance on this list, but how many of you are familiar with Thorns?
Formed in 1989, Thorns released two highly influential demos, Grymyrk and Trøndertun in ‘91 and ‘92 respectively before guitarist/keyboardist Snorre Ruch was sentenced to eight years in prison for being an accomplice to Varg Vikernes in the highly publicized murder of Mayhem’s Euronymous (Øystein Aarseth).
After his imprisonment, Thorns reappeared in a split with Emperor in 1999 then released their only studio album to date, the self-titled Thorns, in 2001. Since then, although the band has only appeared on one compilation (2007’s Stigma Diabolicum), they maintain they are still active and a new record is in the works.
However you feel about Satyricon now, their importance and influence on the early black metal scene is not to be debated.
Best known now for their polarizing foray into “radio black metal”, Satyricon was formed way back in 1990 and released their first full-length, Dark Medieval Times, in ‘93. Since then the band has gone on to record six more albums, release five music videos, headline festivals, appear on the radio, and win numerous awards both in Norway and abroad. Satyricon has, either presently or in the past, featured members from bands such as Darkthrone, Thorns, Gorgoroth, Gehenna, 1349, Ulver, Dimmu Borgir, and too many more to list here.
The band’s latest album, The Age of Nero, was released in 2008 on Roadrunner Records and peaked at number 5 on the Norwegian Billboard chart. Not surprisingly, this success and pandering to the mainstream has caused quite the divide among their fans, but the charm and influence of their first few albums remains, securing them a spot on this list.
Emperor, mighty Emperor.
Emperor has always been a cut above the rest of the early pioneers of black metal based on sheer musicianship. Their first two albums, In the Nightside Eclipse and Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, play like high-art with all of the sophistication and none of the pretension. Emperor may not have invented (or maybe they did) the blending of classical symphonic elements into black metal, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a band that’s done it better.
Formed in 1991, Emperor disbanded in 2001 after just five full-length albums, reformed again in 2006 and ‘7 briefly for a few festival dates but has since dissolved again. Although many of the band’s members are involved in other projects, Emperor is currently (2011) the only band on this list no longer active.
The exploits of Burzum main-man/only-man Varg Vikernes (aka "Count Grishnackh") are well documented and available for all to see in a myriad of different recourses in print, online, though film, etc., so I won’t get much into here.
Formed in 1991 in Bergen, Burzum quickly rose to prominence in the Norwegian black metal scene and released a total of four albums from 1992-’93. In 1994 he was convicted of murdering Mayhem (who you’ll meet later on this list) guitarist Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth as well as arson. From prison Vikernes released two albums, both of which can be described as dark ambient or neofolk, and were recorded entirely on synthesized instruments.
In 2009, Vikernes was released from prison and has since released two albums, Belus and Fallen.
Arguably my favorite band on this list, Immortal was formed in 1990 after Abbath and Demonaz Doom Occulta’s previous band, Amputation, failed to take off. From 1992-’97 Immortal released four full-length albums of a traditional black metal style, then in ‘99 with their fifth full-length, At The Heart of Winter, they began experimenting with mixing traditional black metal and old-school German thrash. The resulting sound, melodic black metal, along with the band’s interesting lyrical mythos centering on the fictional realm of Blashyrkh, has solidified the band’s status as pioneers and innovators.
In 2003 Immortal decided to split for various personal reasons but later reformed in 2006 for a string of festivals and live shows. After the reunion, the band decided to reform permanently and released their eighth album, All Shall Fall, in 2009. According to a statement from the band, work has already begun on a follow-up.
The mighty and prolific Darkthrone was formed, initial as a death metal band, in 1987. In 1991 the group, which at this time consisted of five musicians, released their first black metal album, A Blaze In The Northern Sky. With each subsequent release the band came to have fewer and fewer members until 1994’s Transilvanian Hunger which featured the duo of Nocturno Culto and Fenriz, the duo which from that point on would be the sole proprietors of Darkthrone. The title track off Transilvanian Hunger has come to be one of black metal’s most well known, covered, and generally lauded tracks.
From their formation in ‘87 to now, Darkthrone has released a total of fourteen studio albums, one of which is in the style of death metal, nine in the traditional black metal style, and four in a new style pioneered by the band that incorporated elements from speed, thrash, traditional, and black metals as well as crust and punk.
I hope nobody is surprised by Mayhem’s inclusion and position on this list. They are it. When the words Norwegian black metal or second-wave is uttered it is in almost all instances synonymous with Mayhem.
Formed in 1984 in Oslo by guitarist/vocalist Øystein Aarseth (aka Euronymous), bass guitarist Jørn Stubberud (aka Necrobutcher), and drummer Kjetil Manheim (aka Manheim), Mayhem released their first demo, Pure Fucking Armageddon, in 1986. Since that time Mayhem has gone through over a dozen members, released six full-lengths, four live albums, a handful of other demos and singles.
It was Mayhem’s Euronymous who really helped foster the Norwegian black metal scene at the time. His independent record label, Deathlike Silence Productions, and record shop Helvete, were both major focal points for the budding genre. It was Mayhem’s Per Yngve Ohlin (aka Dead) who took great care to create a certain image and atmosphere to go along with his music; wearing corpse paint, something back metal would come to be synonymous with, or burying his clothes before a show so that they would begin rot, and preparing the stage Mayhem would play with pig or sheep heads decapitated on stakes.
Unfortunately, a large part of Mayhem’s prominence was the death of the aforementioned pioneers. Per Yngve Ohlin in 1991 by self-inflicted gun shot wound and Øystein Aarseth who was murdered by fellow musician and once band-mate Varg Vikernes (see Burzum entry above). Despite this, Mayhem remains very much the godfathers of the second-wave of black metal. Their 1987 album, Deathcrush, was the first studio release by a band from the second-wave and their influence is recognized universally.
The only original member left in Mayhem is Necrobutcher (on bass), but the band continues to tour extensively and released their sixth album, Ordo Ad Chao, in 2007.
Gehenna (Listen to First Spell, it's amazing)
If anyone can argue any of these bands out of their spot, be my guest. The comments section, dear readers, is yours…
Chief Editor and Writer for Metal CallOut. Favorite sub genre of heavy metal includes Black, Death, Folk and Traditional. Josh can be found at Google+.