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What Is This Black Metal?

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What is Black Metal? Put simply, it is a subgenre of Heavy Metal which focuses on fast drums, distorted guitars and harsh vocals, usually aiming at a dark, almost sinister tone. Lyrically it focuses on satanic themes, paganism and darkness, sometimes for shock or exploring interests of the artists, sometimes being representative of ideological beliefs. Beyond these basics, it can be a debate about what truly constitutes black metal, some feeling that anything which is not satanic cannot truly fall under the label, others that low quality of recording means music is deserving of the term, and others still are happy to use the term more liberally.

The history is complicated, but briefly, Heavy Metal began in the early 70’s with bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, who took the sounds of hard rock and blues further, the latter eventually stripping away the blues sound in favour of a heavier edge. More extreme styles arose in the early 80’s, including Thrash Metal, Death Metal and Black Metal, all having many elements in common, including speed, heaviness and aggression, but often being separated by their tone and theme.

This initial group of Black Metal bands, known as the first wave, including Bathory, Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, played a style that was similar to thrash, but with a rougher production, more distorted guitars and harsher vocals. In the early 90’s, bands in Norway began to innovate on the original sound, developing a more distinct tone and taking the genre to further extremes. Bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone and Immortal have since been dubbed as part of the second wave, and have fundamentally shaped the way that black metal is thought of today.

To me, black metal is a sound, independent of vocal style, speed of drums or distortion of guitars. The style of playing the guitar sets it apart from death metal, a mixture between strumming and tremolo which results in a thick haze of sound. It still has a place today, even in those which have further adapted, remaining an indicator of lineage for many bands which play differently than those who can be considered their ancestors. The focus of The New Black is beyond both of the waves, showcasing a variety of bands which have taken in what has come before and have proceeded in many new directions. Some might not even be justifiably called black metal, but the mark of the old guard’s influence is unmistakable.

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