Since the early Nineties when its pioneering Norwegian practitioners were burning down churches and killing people, black metal's music has often been overshadowed by the headline-making activities surrounding it. That's not about to change now that the controversial Lords of Chaos movie — starring Macaulay Culkin's brother and singer/model Sky Ferreira, and directed by former Bathory drummer Jonas Åkerlund — is gearing up for its release. But much of music is still fucking great, and with that in mind, we recently revealed our choices for the genre's most essential 25 albums, and we asked you to select your pick for black metal's single best LP. Nominations rolled in across social media for the groundbreaking groups such as Mayhem, Dissection and Behemoth, but they didn't make the top 5. Below, are the bands and albums that did, in ranked order.
Surely inspired by another album in this list (see below), Cradle of Filth's baroque 1998 concept album Cruelty and the Beast pays tribute to the lore of bloodthirsty countess Elizabeth Bathory. Dani Filth and Co. recruited Hammer Horror actress Ingrid Pitt to narrate through various tracks in a throwback to her 1971 role as Bathory herself in Countess Dracula, yet the album's most solidifying cred comes from the abysmal production value, a hallmark of classic black metal.
Regarded by many as one of the first black-metal albums ever recorded, the eponymous debut from Swedish extremists Bathory — recorded in a converted garage in Stockholm over a 32-56 hour time span, after just one rehearsal— is almost single-handedly responsible for the lo-fi feel associated with the genre writ large. Indeed, through their heretofore-unseen blend of Venom's infectious hard rock with infernal, American-style thrash, the band re-established the parameters of musical madness.
Darkthrone's massive 1992 record A Blaze in the Northern Sky encapsulates a lot of what made black metal such an enticing and mysterious genre for so many fans in early Nineties. The "production" on the record is nonexistent, creating a thick texture of noise and grit around each guitar riff the band put down. It also illuminates the genre's roots in punk rock: Indeed, much of the album would sound just at home on a hardcore record as it does on a black-metal one.
Is it a thrash-metal album? A black-metal album? A classic? A joke? Whatever side you fall on the various debates around the record, Venom's Black Metal without question gave a name to the style of seething, evil, corpse-painted metal that would coalesce over the next several decades. It also set the speed limit at the time for how fast the genre could get, setting the foundation for future bands to blast-beat their way through hell and back.
"Emperor performs Sophisticated Black Metal Art exclusively" it says on the back cover of the Norwegian firebrands' landmark 1997 second album, and it was no empty promise. In their heyday, Ihsahn, Samoth and and Trym (joined here by bassist Alver) represented the zenith of the genre to that point — and arguably, to the present day, as well — taking what had been a decidedly lo-fi, crusty and antisocial movement to new heights of art and sophistication and power.