Okay, I’m just going to come right out and say it. Black metal as a genre has stagnated and become very boring. While that inevitably happens to every musical genre (power metal has had it bad for about six years), with this particular style it seems far more pronounced and chronic. Although I’ve appreciated the scene and sound from its earliest origins (as a Bathory fan in the 80’s) and essentially grown up alongside the genre, the past year has seen things run into the creative wall and slowly slide into a morass of tedium and lethargy. Be it the symphonic or the raw and primitive, very few bands are doing anything new, interesting or compelling (even the new Agalloch felt samey and safe). While some solid albums surfaced in 2011,they feel increasingly rare and even those offered little in the way of innovation or originality. Obviously, of all the subgenres of metal, black metal is the most rigid, inflexible and laden with rules and expectations of scene orthodoxy. Throw a saxophone solo on a power metal album, it may be daring and ballsy. Try that on a black metal album and you’ll be burned in effigy across Norway (and parts of New York).

While Steel Druhm paid his dues in the orthodoxy camp, even he (I) now realizes the style is badly in need of a creativity transfusion. Its gotten to the point where I dread reviewing black metal albums. Naturally, I always want to give a band a full and fair hearing and be as objective as possible but with this one genre, lately it feels like an epic struggle to keep from rolling my eyes and just going with a 2.5 every time. So little variation, so little growth, I’ve come down with the dreaded Black Metal Weariness Syndrome.

Of course there are innovative black metal bands out there like Cobalt, Sigh and Enslaved but those are exceptions to the very general rule of sounding like Cradle of Filth or old Darkthrone. While no one expects  every band to break new blackened ground, it feels like the entire scene is at that point where it needs to embrace boatloads of change or just go into some type of long wintry hibernation so we can start to miss it. I for one cannot bear to suffer through super-symphonic bombast fests or primitive, rote reflections on the first three Darkthrone albums any longer. I need some spark, some new blackened muse to make the whole style feel vibrant, rejuvenated and relevant again. Sadly, that muse isn’t out there right now. Maybe its right around the corner, maybe it isn’t. I can only hope, wait and complain.

So its come to this. Steel Druhm is officially throwing down an ice-cold gauntlet to the myriad black metal bands cackling and cavorting around the globe. Do something different with the core blackened style ASAP. Take it someplace unexpected, someplace we never went before. Make this style come alive again through progressive experimentation or flat-out weirdness. Do that, or continue piledriving the style into the frozen earth until corpse paint is as scary as Motley Crue‘s war paint. Steel Druhm will be frowning in the darkness, awaiting the new paradigm.

Tagged with →  
Share →
  • Anonymous

    The fact that a few marquee black metal bands haven’t “taken the reigns” and progressed black metal in a new direction doesn’t mean the genre has stagnated.  The majority of bands within a genre are going to share characteristics, there is also going to be a good bit of diversity, black metal is no different. 

    On the melodic side… Dark Fortress have pretty much forged their own style.  Bands like Istapp and Drakhian have released interesting, enjoyable melodic driven black metal within the past two years.

    There are countless viking and pagan bands weilding black metal in unique ways.

    In the symphonic sphere… Carach Angren have released two enjoyable full lengths with an interesting (allbeit silly) lyrical theme.  

    Agrypnie is another band who could be considered “progressive”.  The criticism doesn’t seem to make much sense, every genre has characteristics that make it a genre.  Black metal is a genre, bands who weild it in different ways (viking/symphonic/melodic ect) are going to have similarities by definition.  Black metal has its variety like any other genre and to say that the core of the genre isn’t progressing from its general sound is ridiculous.  I hardly hear a massive echoing of old Darkthrone and Dimmu in black metal.

  • You may want to check out Winterhorde Underwatermoon as well, if you haven’t already. It is a fairly progressive/flat out good album in the black metal vein.

  • I’m with Steel Druhm, here, though I’d’ve gone at it a bit differently. The big issue with black metal as a whole is that it’s either wandered into drone territory (yawn) or post territory (YAWN) or they’re all still doing the same shit that was being done in the early 90s.

    But Mr. the Druhm is entirely correct. Black Metal is probably the most categorically conservative of all the metal genres which makes it the least likely to change. What’s ironic about that is that black metal started out as a very forward thinking, elitist genre. So it’s no surprise to me that those who started down the path don’t do it anymore and are out experimenting with other things, while followers and wannabes maintain a serious orthodoxy. 

    • While the shoe gaze/drone shift was a change and therefore welcome, thats been overdone as well now. All part of the same issue to me.

  • David Damien

    So I’m assuming you hate Wolves In The Throne Room since they didn’t even get a mention? They are doing something different with the genre. So are A Forest Of Stars, Celestia, Krallice, Krieg, and Ludicra. I think these are all really good modern Black Metal bands that are doing cool shit. Or maybe these bands don’t fit the Black Metal mold that they’re supposed to?

    • Chris Gunner

      Agree – and along with AMG below,  you can’t really complain that it has stagnated if you then decide that drone- or post- BM is ‘boring’. Just because you don’t like the way it has changed, doesn’t mean it hasn’t.

      Dare I say, perhaps the issue here is that Steel Druhm and AMG have stagnated in what they expect from BM?

    • I don’t hate them all. I just didn’t mention every band doing something different. They are one of the better BM bands out there for sure.

  • Melechesh… anyone?

    • Melechesh is great. Are they black metal? Then they’re very, very good black metal in a sea of shit.. haha.

      • OzanCan

        They are friggin’ great! Bring the Middle Eastern side of me every time I listen to :)

  • Anonymous

    Many of the releases I enjoyed in the last year or so have been of the black metal variety. Winterhorde, Enslaved, Netherbird, Alcest, Solefald, Sigh (Scenes of Hell is one of my favorite albums of all time, looking forward to Somniphobia).

    But I can understand where you’re coming from. I’m sure I don’t take in near the quantity of music. If I was listening to nearly every new album that got released, shit would grow stale real fast

    • That’s the issue. When you end trying to listen to most or all of the new stuff, it all becomes a blur of samey trem-noodling.

  • Alexander Sack

    Every underground metal movement that becomes popular lifts itself from the underground to the above.  As a result, labels start to leverage the scene for profit and produce a lot of bands that are at best mediocre. It happened with death metal in the 90s and now its black metal’s turn.

    Add to the fact that the broader generally accepted leaders of True Norwegian black metal have all recently released sub-par releases, you wound up with a sense of stagnation across the whole scene.

    With all that said, there are plenty of ground breaking black metal to be had especially if you leave Scandinavia:

    Blut Aus Nord, Deathspell Omega, Alcest, Woe, Negative Plane (Steel, PLEASE if you haven’t listen to Negative Plane’s Stained Glass Revelations and tell me if you still feel the same way), Krallice to name a few.

    I think your complaint is just a self realization of the fact that black metal is not the new underground scene any more. In some ways this is ironic because I think the US black metal scene is about to break lose in 2012 as a lot of bands are starting to get the recognition they richly deserve.

  • Torbjörn Tapani


  • Anonymous

    Locrian – The Crystal World

  • Anonymous

    Hey guys I heard Liturgy is playing at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn tonight (Monday 10/10) at a secret show.  “The Returners” are actually going to be LITURGY!  WTF?  Hunter, Bernard, Tyler and Greg are all going to be there!  It’s gonna be SICK!!!!!

  • An interesting and a thought provoking article. A couple things came to mind: 1) IMO the whole genre was created/born rigid, narrow minded and in a way carved in stone by the early bands. As the Darkthrone trilogy showed, you can make three albums with no change (I realize of course that they were taped somewhat simultaneously). And in a very narrow alley there is only so much room to move. So, by adding orchestrations and soundscapes we get to the next phase and as Emperor, COF and DB have dominated (and some say commercialized) that style, it is impossible to something similar without getting compared to them. And then what? We get to the post phase? What is black metal? Burzum was in jail for a long time, makes some new music and it sounds a lot like the old stuff…so WHY MUST THERE BE PROGRESS FOR BLACK METAL? I tell myself often that we should listen to the old albums. Why try to seek for new “In the nightside eclipse?”
    2) It was a mixture of eye-watering nostalgy and supressed laughter as 40+ Immortal with their corpse-painted beer bellies got on stage in Helsinki – It got me thinking that we should freeze the whole genre to carbonite and move on while we cherish the old masters.
    3) Darkthrones first album “soulside journey” was a great death metal album, not black metal…
    4) Thanks Druhm and AMG for doing the thing you do.

    • The problem here is that Black Metal is as much a culture as it is a musical sub-genre of metal. It would be just as hard to evolve Thrash or Glam without separating entirely… and that’s what I think is happening. All the “blackened” rock, punk, grindcore, and progressive varieties are extensions of these roots… but automatically defined apart by Black Metal because of these adaptations.

      So, in that light, I think what you are saying is very logical. We can’t make Black Metal new. It’s going to be what it is… forever.

      In the end, a great Black Metal band will always be able to win hearts, but they’re not going to alter the genre substantially. The trailblazers are going to make something entirely different.

  • Ihsahn’s after went in a new direction, the last Taake and Shining albums were pretty awesome and the Meads of Asphodel are constantly fucking with the boundaries and although Agolloch produce meandering wank, at least they are keeping things interesting. Yes, I attacked a the sacred cow that is Agalloch, but they are seriously over rated.

  • I agree, Black Metal is boring and possibly on its last legs. In all fairness though, the bands that have progressed you’ve been cranky with as well. See the comments about the drone/post stuff (I’m not the biggest drone fan myself, but there’s a lot of good post stuff out there), or your review of Ihsahn’s After. That’s been the largest leap away from standard BM in awhile, and you panned it. I think what’s best is to just step back from BM as a whole. The genre itself is very self contained, with little room for variation, even with the lack of emphasis on kvlt these days. The first BM people pioneered about as far as the genre can go in my eyes, there’ s little room for non radical progress. My money’s on BM becoming the new deathcore, just repeating the same homogenized crap while thinking they’re the best stuff out there.

    • It wasn’t me that reviewed Ihsahn’s After, that was AMG.

    • It wasn’t me that reviewed Ihsahn’s After, that was AMG.

    • I panned it because it wasn’t good. Just because it wasn’t standard doesn’t mean it was good. It wasn’t. I’m listening to the new Absu right now and it’s fucking awesome. And it’s not “super experimental,” but it’s fucking great. 

      But I loved angL, btw, which is definitely post-black metal in a great way and it’s a fantastic album still. 

  • Anonymous

    The Meads of Asphodel

    They’re the panacea for your turgid Black Metal ills. 

  • Anonymous

    I have felt that way for a long time now.  However, I am not so pessimistic.  The ‘scene’ has now moved to France for me.  Deathspell Omega, Blut aus Nord – Black Metal still has some shining stars.

  • 2011 has been a stellar year for Black Metal. Several acts have made my Bleeders’ Digest lists for solid albums including Horned Almighty, Cavus, Dragged Into Sunlight (2009 re-release), Inquisition, Helrunar, Infernal War/Kriegsmachine split, Blut Aus Nord, Deafheaven, Flame, Ravencult, Aosoth, Infestus, Seidr, Black September, Dodsferd, and Craft. And that’s just through August.

  • I couldn’t disagree more. For me, black metal is the one metal genre that continues to evolve and excite me. The likes of Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord, Krallice, Wolves in the Throne Room, Alcest, Enslaved, Taake, Sigh, A Forest of Stars, Ihsahn, Wodensthrone, Drudkh, Negura Bunget, Finntroll, Vreid….have all produced some of the most exciting albums to have come from the scene in recent years and sound nothing like the conservative black metal you refer to.

    As for saxophone solos…you’ll find them on Sigh and Ihsahn albums and no-one screams in anger. Negura Bunget use more instruments in one song than most bands do in a lifetime. Not ot mention all the blackened folk by the likes of Finntroll and Moonsorrow. I tend to find more experimentation in black metal than any other metal genre. I’m more than baffled by this article!

    It’s certainly no more restrained than anything else. For every Darkthrone copycat in BM there’s a Helloween, Slayer or Cannibal Corpse copycat in power, thrash and death metal. Point me towards the truly ground breaking new bands in any of those genres and you may have more of a point. Some of the prog and power metal bands you’ve reviewed well of late have been just as guilty of offering nothing new as anyone in black metal ( Battle Beast anyone?! ).

    • All valid points Ian, but you can’t argue that BM has more rigid copycating than any other genre of metal (power metal is a close second). While I conceded there are some genre pushing bands, there are so many clones doing the same trem-assaults in the same ways, its bringing the whole scene down. For every Deathspell Omega there’s 20 bands like Rev 16:8. I grew up with the genre but feel so weary of the same sounds that it compelled me to write this post. I’m hoping we see a lot more of the types of bands you mentioned and a lot more growth in BM generally.

      P.S. Battle Beast is like a cover band of every cheesy 80’s true metal act so I can’t argue with you there lol.

      • Indeed…but it’s no different than any other genre in that respect. You have to sift through the shit to find the diamonds in all genres. But looking at some of my favourite albums of recent years…I’m finding more diamonds in black metal than most other places.

        I’d say the genre that suffers the most with same old same old stuff is death metal. It’s once in a blue moon I find anything there that makes me sit up and listen any more.

      • Indeed…but it’s no different than any other genre in that respect. You have to sift through the shit to find the diamonds in all genres. But looking at some of my favourite albums of recent years…I’m finding more diamonds in black metal than most other places.

        I’d say the genre that suffers the most with same old same old stuff is death metal. It’s once in a blue moon I find anything there that makes me sit up and listen any more.

  • Pingback: Absu - Abzu Review()

  • Pingback: Vyrion - Vyrion Review()