Black metal is the underdog of the metal world: at times a brilliant wintry affair of ghastly shrieks and ice-pick guitars, at others a divisive political outlet that houses sometimes-sketchy and always outspoken artists and fans across the globe. Its sensationalist past does little to define it to those of you equipped with insider knowledge of the genre though, which is why we’ve asked fans and readers to vote on their favorite black-metal band of all time. You gave us everything from symphonic dark lords Cradle of Filth to first-wave pioneers Venom when we requested your favorite albums in the genre. Now read on to find out who’s entire discography and existence impressed you the most to vote them the single greatest black-metal band ever.
Abbath Doom Occulta will always be the greatest metal alias of all time. No one has ever looked better in corpse paint, either. His riffage — titanic, heavy, but still kind of cheery — gave the necessary weight to Immortal’s unapologetically overblown songs about wintry battlefields and warrior knights. Twenty-five years later — and despite Abbath’s departure from the band — they’re still black metal’s frighteningly “fun” band, which is a legacy worth defending.
There is a reason why Bathory is the blueprint. Over the years it has become clear that the Swedish pioneers not only wrote some of the most evil records ever, but also that their songwriting has passed the test of time. The pioneering black-metal style established on the early trio of Bathory, The Return … and Under the Sign of the Black Mark‘s has become one of most copied sounds and aesthetic approaches ever, and there is no doubt that anyone on this list would not have existed were it not for Quorthon. RIP to a legend.
One has to be a contrarian to deny that Darkthrone’s early discography is anything less than untouchable. In many ways, the second-wave black-metal outfit commanded by Fenriz helped solidify the aesthetic and visual language for the genre with black-and-white album covers and accompanying corpse paint (and love of hiking). This also counts for riffage, whether it’s the lo-fi evil of Transylvanian Hunger or the pure shred of Panzerfaust. Even in forays to crust punk, Darkthrone have never stopped unleashing pure evil in their music.
Mayhem is much more than a band, their career represents the very evil fabric that helped make black metal seem like the most diabolical genre of music in the world. Between a member committing suicide (and the image of their corpse being incorporated on an album cover), murder and actual church burnings, there was a level of legitimacy to the chaos and evil the genre promised. On top of that, material like De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas backed them up musically as a weapon of true darkness.
The church burnings, the satanism, the murder — these are the things that will continue to define black metal as the years pile on. Which is a shame really because as much as the media needed a batch of authentic evildoers to bolster the genre’s phantasmagoric reputation, some bands — like Emperor — were so much more. Ihsahn and Co. pushed the genre into complex, exciting, progressive new directions that paired cathedral-sized symphonic moments with sheer icy brutality.