The Origins of Black Metal Music: Who Was the First Black Metal Band?

by Patria

Metal music, a genre that has consistently pushed the boundaries of artistic expression, boasts an extensive array of subgenres, each with its unique characteristics. Among these, black metal music stands out as one of the most extreme and enigmatic. It is a genre that has been shrouded in controversy, not only for its musical intensity but also for its often-mysterious origins. In this in-depth exploration, we embark on a journey through the annals of musical history to uncover the elusive answer to the question: Who was the first black metal band?

Genesis of Metal Music: Setting the Stage

To comprehend the birth of black metal, we must first delve into the broader context of metal music’s inception. Metal music, as a whole, emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with bands like Black Sabbath pioneering the genre. This era marked the genesis of metal music, characterized by heavy, distorted guitars, thunderous drums, and lyrics that often explored dark and taboo themes. It laid the foundation for the diverse array of subgenres that would follow, including black metal.

The Early Stirrings: Proto-Black Metal

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the metal music landscape began to evolve further. A subgenre known as “proto-black metal” started to take shape. Bands such as Venom and Mercyful Fate played a pivotal role in shaping the aesthetics and sonic qualities that would come to define black metal. These early bands introduced elements of occultism, Satanic imagery, and a fascination with the macabre that would become hallmarks of the black metal genre.

The Emergence of Venom: A Venomous Influence

One cannot discuss the origins of black metal without mentioning Venom, a band that significantly influenced the genre’s development. Formed in Newcastle, England, in 1978, Venom released their debut album, “Welcome to Hell,” in 1981. This album, with its raw and aggressive sound, set a precedent for what would become the black metal sonic signature.

Venom’s lyrics often explored themes of Satanism and the occult, cementing the association between these themes and black metal. The band’s second album, “Black Metal,” released in 1982, not only lent its name to the genre but also solidified Venom’s status as one of the pioneers of black metal music.

Mercyful Fate: A Danish Coven of Darkness

While Venom was making waves in England, another influential band was emerging in Denmark: Mercyful Fate. Led by the charismatic and enigmatic King Diamond, Mercyful Fate brought a theatrical and grandiose aspect to the burgeoning black metal scene. Their 1983 debut album, “Melissa,” was a masterclass in occult storytelling, complete with King Diamond’s haunting falsetto vocals and intricate guitar work.

Mercyful Fate’s fusion of traditional heavy metal elements with a darker, more sinister atmosphere added depth and complexity to the genre. Their influence can be heard in countless black metal bands that followed, proving that black metal was not confined to a single geographical region.

The Birth of Norwegian Black Metal: A Dark Awakening

As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, a seismic shift occurred in the world of black metal music. Norway, a country known for its breathtaking natural beauty and cultural heritage, became the epicenter of a black metal movement that would send shockwaves through the metal music world.

This period saw the emergence of Norwegian black metal bands that would play a pivotal role in defining the genre’s aesthetic and ideological foundations. Bands like Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, and Emperor brought a newfound intensity and extremism to black metal, both in terms of their music and their actions outside the studio.

Mayhem: De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

Mayhem, perhaps more than any other band, embodied the dark spirit of Norwegian black metal. Their 1994 album, “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas,” is a landmark in the genre’s history. It featured the distinctive harsh vocals of Attila Csihar, along with intricate guitar work and blast-beat drumming that would become synonymous with black metal.

However, Mayhem’s notoriety extends beyond their music. The band was marred by a series of shocking events, including the suicide of their vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin (Dead) and the murder of their guitarist Øystein Aarseth (Euronymous) by the band’s own bassist, Varg Vikernes (Count Grishnackh). These incidents, while tragic, added a layer of infamy to Norwegian black metal and contributed to its aura of darkness.

Burzum: Varg Vikernes and the Controversy

Varg Vikernes, the man responsible for the murder of Euronymous, also had a significant impact on the development of black metal. Under the name Burzum, Vikernes released a series of albums that explored not only the musical aspects of black metal but also its ideological underpinnings.

Vikernes’ beliefs, rooted in a form of Norse Paganism, and his association with acts of violence and arson, brought further notoriety to the genre. His music, characterized by minimalist and atmospheric compositions, showcased a different facet of black metal, one that drew from the ambient and atmospheric influences of early black metal pioneers like Bathory.

Darkthrone and Emperor: Shaping the Sound of Norwegian Black Metal

Darkthrone and Emperor were two other Norwegian bands that contributed significantly to the development of black metal. Darkthrone’s early albums, such as “A Blaze in the Northern Sky” and “Under a Funeral Moon,” epitomized the genre’s raw and lo-fi sound, harkening back to the primitive days of black metal.

Emperor, on the other hand, took a more symphonic and progressive approach to black metal. Their 1994 debut album, “In the Nightside Eclipse,” showcased a level of technical proficiency and grandiosity that pushed the boundaries of the genre. Emperor’s influence can be heard in the symphonic black metal subgenre that emerged in the years following their debut.

A Global Phenomenon: Black Metal Spreads Its Wings

While Norwegian black metal undeniably left an indelible mark on the genre, it would be unjust to limit the discussion of black metal’s origins solely to Norway. In the United States, bands like Absu and Profanatica were crafting their brand of black metal, drawing inspiration from both the European pioneers and their own unique cultural contexts.

In Sweden, bands like Dissection blended elements of death metal with black metal, creating a melodic and melancholic style that would become influential in the broader metal music landscape. Meanwhile, Finland produced bands like Beherit, known for their experimentation with dark ambient and industrial elements within black metal.

Beyond Europe: Black Metal Worldwide

As the 21st century dawned, black metal continued to evolve and spread its wings worldwide. Bands from countries as diverse as Canada, Australia, and Japan embraced the genre’s ethos and added their unique cultural and musical influences. This global expansion of black metal underscored its enduring appeal and adaptability.


In the world of metal music, black metal remains a mysterious and enigmatic subgenre, characterized by its dark themes, extreme sound, and controversial history. While we have explored the contributions of bands like Venom, Mercyful Fate, Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, and Emperor to the genre’s development, the question of who was the first black metal band remains elusive.

The origins of black metal are multifaceted and complex, with numerous bands and individuals shaping its trajectory. It is a genre that defies easy categorization, drawing from a wide range of influences and evolving over time. The first black metal band may never be definitively identified, as black metal, like all forms of art, is a living, breathing entity that continues to evolve and transform.

In the end, the true essence of black metal lies not in its origins but in its ability to challenge conventions, provoke thought, and evoke powerful emotions. It is a genre that pushes the boundaries of metal music, both musically and thematically, and it will continue to do so for generations to come. As we look back on its tumultuous history and uncertain beginnings, we can only marvel at the enduring legacy of black metal music within the broader landscape of metal music.

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