The Origins of Black Metal: History, Pioneers & Influences

by Patria

Black Metal, a genre that has captivated the hearts of many, is a unique and controversial musical style that embodies the essence of darkness and rebellion. This article delves into the enigmatic origins of Black Metal, tracing its roots and the key figures who pioneered this genre. From its humble beginnings in the early 1980s to the evolution of various sub-genres, Black Metal has left an indelible mark on the world of music.

1. The Birth of a Beast: The Early Days of Black Metal

The history of Black Metal takes us back to a gloomy and obscure period in music. It was in the early 1980s that the term “Black Metal” started to gain prominence. While the genre was still in its embryonic stage, the seeds of rebellion and darkness had already been sown. Bands like Venom and Bathory are often credited as the pioneers of Black Metal. These bands laid the foundation for the sound, imagery, and themes that would define black metal for years to come.

Venom: The Original Sinners of Black Metal

In the realm of Black Metal, one band stands out as the original sinner – Venom. Hailing from Newcastle, England, Venom released their debut album in 1981, titled “Welcome to Hell.” The album was a milestone, showcasing a fusion of hard rock and punk with a dark and sinister twist. Their impact on black metal is immeasurable, as they not only coined the term “Black Metal” but also inspired countless bands with their satanic imagery and lyrics.

Bathory: The Viking Raiders of Black Metal

While Venom was making waves in the UK, another pivotal figure in the early days of black metal was brewing a unique blend of darkness in Sweden. Quorthon, the mastermind behind Bathory, emerged as a prominent force in the genre. Bathory’s self-titled debut album in 1984 and subsequent releases set new standards for the harsh and uncompromising sound of black metal. Their lyrics often revolved around Viking mythology, adding a touch of Nordic mysticism to the genre.

The Norwegian Inferno: The Second Wave of Black Metal

As the 1980s progressed, black metal underwent a transformative phase, moving away from its punk and rock roots and embracing a more extreme and sinister sound. This shift marked the beginning of what is often referred to as the “Second Wave of Black Metal.” Norway emerged as the epicenter of this dark movement.

Mayhem: Chaos Personified in Black Metal

Mayhem, one of the most infamous bands in the history of black metal, played a significant role in shaping the Second Wave. With their 1994 album “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas,” they not only created a musical masterpiece but also became a symbol of the chaos and controversy that surrounded the genre. Tragically, their notoriety extended beyond their music, as the suicide of their vocalist, Per Yngve Ohlin (Dead), and the murder of guitarist Øystein Aarseth (Euronymous) brought unprecedented attention to the dark side of black metal.

Burzum: Varg Vikernes and the Extremes of Black Metal

In the annals of Black Metal history, one name that can never be omitted is Varg Vikernes, the mastermind behind Burzum. Vikernes, who had a notorious association with Mayhem, went on to release several influential albums as Burzum. His music delved deep into the realms of darkness and chaos, exemplifying the extreme end of black metal. However, his notoriety also extended to his involvement in church burnings and his imprisonment for the murder of Euronymous.

2. The Global Spread: Black Metal Beyond Scandinavia

While Black Metal had its roots firmly planted in Scandinavia, it didn’t take long for the genre to spread its dark wings across the globe. Bands from various countries embraced and adapted the black metal sound, infusing their own cultural and regional influences.

Emperor: Norwegian Symphonic Black Metal

Emperor, another Norwegian act, played a crucial role in shaping the sub-genre of Symphonic Black Metal. Their 1994 album “In the Nightside Eclipse” is a masterpiece that combines the brutality of black metal with symphonic elements, creating an epic and atmospheric experience that captivated fans worldwide.

Cradle of Filth: The Gothic Influence in Black Metal

Hailing from the United Kingdom, Cradle of Filth introduced a gothic and theatrical element into black metal. Their music, often characterized by Dani Filth’s distinctive vocals, expanded the horizons of the genre and appealed to a broader audience. Albums like “Dusk… and Her Embrace” (1996) and “Cruelty and the Beast” (1998) showcased their unique take on black metal.

Dimmu Borgir: Norwegian Symphonic Black Metal Resurgence

Dimmu Borgir, a Norwegian band formed in 1993, reinvigorated the symphonic elements in black metal. Their 1997 album “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant” garnered critical acclaim and established them as a major force in the genre. Their incorporation of orchestral and choral elements brought a grandeur to black metal that was previously unheard of.

3. The Dark Side of Black Metal: Controversies and Crimes

The world of Black Metal has been marred by controversies and crimes that have sent shockwaves through the music community and beyond. From church burnings and murders to ideological extremism, these dark events have left a lasting scar on the genre.

The Inner Circle: Church Burnings and Murder

The notorious inner circle of black metal, including members of Mayhem and Burzum, was responsible for a series of church burnings in Norway during the early 1990s. These acts of arson were not only criminal but also represented a radical form of rebellion against Christianity. The murder of Euronymous by Varg Vikernes further tainted the genre’s image.

National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM): A Stain on the Genre

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a disturbing offshoot of Black Metal emerged, known as National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM). Bands associated with NSBM espoused far-right ideologies, embracing Nazi symbolism and themes. This sub-genre provoked outrage and backlash within the black metal community.

Evolution and Diversity: The Modern Face of Black Metal

As we enter the 21st century, black metal continues to evolve and diversify. Modern bands have pushed the boundaries of the genre, incorporating elements from other styles of music while retaining the core essence of darkness and rebellion.

Deafheaven: Post-Black Metal Exploration

Deafheaven, an American band, has gained recognition for their unique fusion of black metal with shoegaze and post-rock. Their 2013 album “Sunbather” challenged the traditional boundaries of the genre, introducing an emotional and melodic aspect that resonated with a broader audience.

Wolves in the Throne Room: Black Metal Meets Environmentalism

Wolves in the Throne Room, from Washington State, have taken a different approach to black metal by infusing their music with environmental and ecological themes. Their albums, such as “Two Hunters” (2007) and “Thrice Woven” (2017), reflect a deep connection with nature, contrasting with the genre’s traditionally dark and Satanic imagery.

4. The Black Metal Community: United in Darkness

Despite its tumultuous history, the black metal community remains a tight-knit and passionate group of individuals. Festivals, fanzines, and online forums provide platforms for fans to connect and share their love for the genre. This community has contributed to the continued growth and diversification of black metal.

Wacken Open Air: A Haven for Black Metal Enthusiasts

Wacken Open Air, one of the world’s largest heavy metal festivals, has consistently featured black metal bands, showcasing the genre’s enduring popularity and appeal. The festival attracts fans from around the globe, creating a vibrant and inclusive community of metal enthusiasts.


In the heart of the darkness, Black Metal was born and has continued to evolve, making its mark on the world of music. From the early days with Venom and Bathory to the controversial legends of Mayhem and Burzum, the genre has weathered many storms. Today, it stands as a diverse and influential force in the realm of heavy music, welcoming new artists and ideas while never losing sight of its core themes of rebellion and darkness. As we conclude this journey through the history of black metal, one thing is certain: the allure of its enigmatic origins will forever resonate in the depths of musical history.

This exploration of the origins of Black Metal has taken us through the birth of the genre with Venom and Bathory, the rise of the Second Wave in Norway with Mayhem and Burzum, the global spread of the genre with bands like Emperor, Cradle of Filth, and Dimmu Borgir, and the controversies and crimes that have left their mark on the genre. We’ve also delved into the modern face of black metal with bands like Deafheaven and Wolves in the Throne Room and the enduring sense of community that binds fans of the genre together. With its roots firmly planted in darkness, rebellion, and a relentless desire to challenge the status quo, black metal continues to thrive, embracing new ideas and pushing the boundaries of what music can be, all while carrying the weight of its enigmatic and dark origins.

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