Black metal was born a primitive beast in the early Eighties dungeons of England (Venom) and Sweden (Bathory), was refined in the northern fires and frostbitten grimness of Nineties Norway, and then splintered in a hundred different directions. While many bands bask in the genre's original form or incorporate pre-existing elements like rock, doom and death metal, other artists are pushing the boundaries in exciting and surreal new directions. Below are five of our favorite contemporary black-metal trailblazers.
This New York City power trio is perhaps the definition of avant-garde black metal. In applying a sleek futurism and deco polish to their unconventional jazz approach, Imperial Triumphant offer a decidedly urban — and urbane — approach to the genre. The band's breakthrough album, Alphaville, explores uncharted territory with the inclusion of a barbershop quartet(!) and Japanese taiko drums — not to mention cameos from Mr. Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance (who produced the album), Krallice guitarist Colin Marston and Meshuggah drummer-lyricist Tomas Haake.
Cited by Imperial Triumphant ringleader Zach "Ilya" Ezrin as a key influence, this mysterious French band has been making strange and often difficult music since 1998. In that time, these self-proclaimed "metaphysical Satanists" have released seven albums and a slew of EPs while performing live exactly zero times. Their public reticence doesn't end there: They've given just one interview in the last 16 years, there are no band photos and their full lineup has never been officially revealed. Their latest album, 2019's The Furnaces of Palingenesia, exchanges metaphysical ponderings for an anti-authoritarian lyrical theme.
With a name that translates to "Blood From (the) North," you might expect these French trailblazers to subscribe to the sort of sword-hoisting Viking themes popularized by Swedish titans like Bathory, Unleashed and Amon Amarth. Instead, Blut Aus Nord vocalist-guitarist-mastermind Vindsval and his retinue join their countrymen Deathspell Omega in combining untraditional approaches and arrangements with metaphysical lyrics, as epitomized on their 2003 breakthrough The Work Which Transforms God. The band's latest, 2019's Hallucinogen, explores a more melodic and — as the name suggests — psychedelic sound.
Over the course of 13 years and five albums, Oranssi Pazuzu have captivated and confounded listeners with their ominous, swirling brand of psychedelic black metal. Ever defying expectations, the Finnish quintet performed their 2020 album, Mestarin kynsi, live in May and streamed it on YouTube — unlike most "quarantine gigs" of the Covid-19 Era, the members were in the same room together, and the show was captured by a professional A/V crew, complete with special effects.
Behind all the controversy surrounding this Polish band — there are two incarnations, each helmed by a member who claims he kicked the other out — there is genuinely powerful music. Incorporating Eastern Orthodox liturgical chants with pounding black 'n' roll, stately melodic riffing and frenetic blast beats, both versions of the band released albums last year: Hospodi by vocalist Bartłomiej Krysiuk's Batushka and Панихида by guitarist Krzysztof Drabikowski's Batushka. Remarkably, both are absolutely worth your time.