When one hears the term ‘black metal’ today, chances are good that the sound conjured in one’s head are inspired by the bands that emerged out of Norway in the early to mid 1990s.
Although Norway was certainly not the first, the last, or the only to produce a black metal scene, it was this circle of bands, in no small part due to the infamy of some of the events that took place in relation to the music (including arson and murder) that helped to draw media attention to the country in the early 90s.
The early practitioners of the style, such as Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum, Emperor, Immortal, and Enslaved, have gone on to inspire hundreds, if not thousands of black metal bands in their wake, including many Norwegian bands that quickly followed in their footsteps, such as Gorgoroth, Satyricon, Carpathian Forest, and Suffering.
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Mayhem, of course, was the pioneer of Norwegian black metal, dating to the mid-80s. The band’s “Deathcrush” EP in 1987 was influential to the scene; however, it was the material written in the intervening five years that ultimately led to the “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” album that truly ushered in the Norwegian sound. Though the album was released in 1993, the material was already highly influential for years before due to the band’s live shows.
Burzum is perhaps the most well-known band to emerge from the Norwegian black metal scene. Much of it is due to the music that Varg Vikernes created between 1991 and 1993; however, much of his infamy stems from his murder of Euronymous, the leader of Mayhem, in 1993. Varg was released from prison in 2009. “Hvis lyset tar oss” is his most enduring work, and has inspired a legion of black metal bands from around the world since.
Darkthrone began as a death metal band; in fact, the band’s first album is very much in the style of Swedish death metal. So when their second album, “A Blaze in the Northern Sky”, was released in early 1992, it came as quite a surprise, including to their record label. Gone was the precision and technicality, instead met with raw, loose compositions inspired by the likes of Bathory and Hellhammer and Mayhem. It was the first full-length album to emerge from the Norwegian black metal scene. Their fourth album, “Transilvanian Hunger”, has become iconic.
Emperor emerged a bit later, arising out of the ashes of the death metal band Thou Shalt Suffer, but what this band offered was something unique. The use of keys, particularly on their debut full-length, “In the Nightside Eclipse”, was innovative at the time and has gone on to inspire a legion of atmospheric black metal bands.
Yet another band to emerge from the ashes of a death metal project, the members of Immortal once played in Old Funeral, a death metal band that also once counted Varg in its ranks. Immortal’s first two full-length albums, “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism” and “Pure Holocaust”, embraced the ‘grim and frostbitten’ landscape of the band’s native Norway in order to inspire their cold and blastbeat driven compositions, which they would only expand upon with future releases.
Enslaved’s debut album, “Vikingligr Veldi”, was released on Euronymous’ Deathlike Silence Productions in 1994…a year after his death. The band’s expansive, epic structures helped take the black metal style further. The band continues to evolve to this day, though they have largely moved away from black metal territory with their progressive music.