Atmospheric Black Metal

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The most commonly played among the sub-genres of black metal, Atmospheric Black Metal artists typically draw the genre into a less aggressive direction. While much of the black metal genre as whole may be deemed as atmospheric (especially when compared to other extreme metal styles like thrash metal and death metal), atmospheric black metal acts take things a step further. Keyboard use is common in the style, though not mandatory, while the music's pace tends to be slow to mid. Well known performers include Burzum, Darkspace and Fen.

Different types of atmospheric black metal artists may incorporate elements of ambient music, folk music, post-rock or sludge metal, as well as drawing on aspects of other black metal styles, such as Summoning, whose music is both atmospheric black metal and symphonic black metal.

Alternative names for the genre include Ambient Black Metal and Post-Black Metal, the latter typically referring to those artists who draw influence from post-rock and/or sludge metal, but is sometimes also used interchangeably with atmospheric black metal.

Inclusive Atmospheric Black Metal Sub-Genres

Blackgaze is a sub-genre of atmospheric black metal so named for its resemblance to shoegaze music. It may include influences from the neoclassical darkwave and post-punk music genres.

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atmospheric black metal Music Reviews

GRIMA Frostbitten

Album · 2022 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
When it comes to modern black metal, i frankly have a hard time keeping up with it all so something has to stand out in some way whether that be a personal recommendation, a compelling review or in the case of FROSTBITTEN, the fifth overall studio album from the Russian noise making machine GRIMA, it was the outstanding frosty freaky album cover art that sold me!

And what a nice discovery. So much mediocrity in the world of black metal world and GRIMA is a bonafide talent for sure. While tagged atmospheric black metal, GRIMA has lost none of the second wave furor delivered long ago by likes of Darkthrone, Satyricon, Immortal and beyond. GRIMA has mastered the art of the black metal rampage as if it were just set loose from hell to terrorize humanity all the while mustering up the hypnotic perfection of a well-oiled atmospheric generator. FROSTBITTEN promises what it suggests. A frigid cold musical journey.

This two man band has been and still is the creation of Morbius (guitar, bass) and Vilhelm (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, programming) however make no bones about it: these two dudes are veritable beasts on every instrument involved. Add to that a keen sense of black metal compositional fortitude which allows soft folky passages laced with wintery sound effects to caress your should with just enough melody that once the bombastic black metal furor begins you are hopelessly hooked on like an unsuspecting fish.

GRIMA plays the black metal part all the way as well. The duo dress like Satanically possessed corpses lurking in the snow-covered vastness of the Russian forests. The authenticity and commitment rings true on the musical delivery. This is no slouch in the world of black metal for sure with the melodic touches bands like Sacramentum and Dissection with the atmospheric splendor of others such as Wolves In The Throne Room or Paysage d”Hiver. Add to that a touch of Russian folk musical sounds, a screaming from the din vocal style right out of the Summoning playbook and you have a nice recipe for an excellent atmospheric black metal experience.

There aren’t really any weak moments on FROSTBITTEN as this musical soundtrack for dying of hypothermia and then eaten by wolves is a keeper for sure. The album consists of seven tracks of perfectly paced musical processions that deliver just enough downtime to crave the black metal attacks once more. Perhaps the biggest drawback is that GRIMA doesn’t immediately come off as totally original. For those not well versed in the black metal universe, much of it can sound similar if not downright identical. Like stars in the sky, it takes some adjustment for seeing or in this case hearing in the dark which is provided by the black metal guitar distortion and other thundering effects.

For those well versed in this noisy corner of the metal universe, GRIMA won’t disappoint at all. The second wave black metal graced by the accoutrements of folky acoustic guitars, sensual yet frigid atmospheric backdrops and interesting chord progressions as well as perfectly timed thundering attacks will surely please the hardened black metalheads who have heard it all before. True not the most original of the lot but so well executed that i find this to be an outstanding modern example of well produced black metal that hasn’t jettisoned its lo-fi origins. Guess i gotta check out the earlier albums now!

SUMMONING Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame

Album · 2001 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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lukretion
Austrian duo Summoning have carved a unique path within black metal, navigating further and further away from it until they created a whole new genre, halfway between score music and metal. On their fifth full-length album, 2001’s Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame, the band were well into their metamorphosis and by then their sound had consolidated into a distinctive and immediately recognisable style. In this sense, Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame may be perceived as “more of the same”, which is to some extent true, albeit there are subtle variations that give the album its own unique identity compared to previous Summoning’s records.

The music revolves around the combination of epic keyboards and tremolo picked guitar riffs, with the former dominating over the latter. The songs are very symphonic with lots of orchestrations, creating a cinematic, film-music vibe that is further accentuated by the use of spoken samples from the radio productions of The Lord of the Rings. These samples, which are one of the innovations on Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame compared to previous albums, are intertwined with classic black metal growls (sung by both band members, Protector and Silenius) and, in the final song “Farewell”, a clean male choir (another novelty). The mood is epic and majestic, a feeling that is reinforced by the incorporation of “marching” style (sampled) drums and percussions. The songs mostly stay in the mid-tempo range and each track is based on a limited number of riffs and motifs, repeated extensively throughout their considerable length. There are suitable shifts in dynamics throughout most songs, as guitars and drums fade out to let the keyboards carry the music for a few bars. This injects some variation into the compositions and creates a satisfying sense of build and release.

Nevertheless, I feel that, for the most part, Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame works best as background music rather than for attentive, active listening. There isn’t an awful lot going on in each song and many of the tracks explore similar melodic ideas and moods. This makes it hard to retain attention throughout the 56 minutes of the record. For the same reason, it is also hard to pick favourites among the album’s 8 tracks, although “In Hollow Halls beneath the Fells” does come across as the most well-accomplished piece here.

Overall, Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame is a bit of an acquired taste. If you are into the score music / black metal hybrid that Summoning have been cooking up throughout their career, you’ll lap this up eagerly. In fact, Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame may as well be one of the best records the band have released up to this point in their career. It is certainly more assured and pleasant than its 1999’s precursor, the grim, guitar-driven Stronghold. As such, Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame may also be a suitable point of entry into Summoning’s discography for those readers who are uninitiated to the black art of the Austrian combo. Either way, this is a quality release that I may not be returning to very often, but, when I do, it will continue to provide listening pleasures, I am sure.

BLUT AUS NORD Disharmonium - Undreamable Abysses

Album · 2022 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Having gestated in the fertile French black metal scene of the 1990s, the Mondeville based BLUT AUS NORD has been quite instrumental in bridging the gap between the worlds of atmospheric black metal and psychedelic electronica and has produced some of the most memorable experiences of surreal metal especially in the 21st century with the mind bending musical antics of “The Work That Transforms God” and beyond. While many a black metal act seems stuck on autopilot, BLUT AUS NORD is one of those rare acts that remains utterly unique in pretty every way and some 30 years on still is crafting the same styles of bestial black metal in fine form.

The power quartet of VIndsval (vocals, guitar), W.D. Feld (drums, electronics, keyboards), GhÖst (bass) and Thorns (drums) returns with its 15th powerhouse DISHARMONIUM - UNDREAMABLE ABYSSES. With an album cover that comes just in time to make one think of the new Dr Strange flick about the Multiverse, it also seems fitting that the bizarre sounds unleashed on this bizarre avant-garde display of black metal and dark ambience does indeed sound like a stroll through some strange path in between universes. Once again BLUT AUS NORD delivers the perfect ingredients of an ominous journey into a hypnotic atmospheric series of soundscapes that teeter between absolute dissonance and infernal elegance.

Like many of the modern BLUT AUS NORD releases, this one sort of oozes its way from beginning to end with a mix of heavy guitar riffs, hyperactive percussion, oscillating sound effects and buried vocals that sound just as out there as ever. While BLUT AUS NORD may not be covering any new ground, i have to say that these guys really don’t need to either. They have successfully inculcated a unique style that even decades later sounds like no other. The impeccable mix of the metal and ambient parts that swarm around like a mad swarm of hornets attacking a choir is literally intoxicating as the music is unrelenting and unsettlingly surreal!

This time around DISHARMONIUM - UNDREAMABLE ABYSSES features seven hypnosis inducing tracks that all sort of gel together fairly comfortably but as an album of this magnitude where the freakery dial is turned up to 11 and beyond, the album is merciful in that it doesn’t exceed much beyond the 46 minute mark. This is truly music that can test your very sanity and too much exposure may indeed cause some sort of mental breakdown of some sort! I happen to have thick skin so i personally love this bizarre chimeric musical display and even though BLUT AUS NORD continues to stick to its formula, it’s one that i personally never grow tired of one little bit.

Still no idea what to call this. Some sort of industrial black metal that utilizes elements from post-rock, dark ritual ambient, depressive black metal and even a bit of stoner doom metal here and there. Whatever this madness it, you cannot mistake these sounds for anything other than the inimitable BLUT AUS NORD which remains one of the French scene’s most dynamic and prolific extreme metal acts. While every album is firmly in the BLUT AUS NORD camp, the band has been clever in how it switches things up subtly from one album to the next and this 15th installment is by no means the exception. Expect elements from the “Memoria” releases as well as the “777” trilogy and beyond. As bleak and inaccessible as ever, BLUT AUS NORD remains one of my favorite extreme metal acts of all time.

OSTOTS Madarikazioa

Album · 2022 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
The Basque regions of Spain and France aren’t widely known around the world except for the rare interest of linguists who have deemed the Basque language as an isolate not related to any other. Basque metal likewise hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm either but with decades of separatist tendencies and a constant tension brewing between the nation states that the Basque people find themselves in, it only makes logical sense that angsty extreme metal would crop up in that part of the world.

While i couldn’t name a single Basque metal band before, now i can! OSTOTS is the one-man atmospheric black metal project of IA which was started as far back in 2004 near the city of Bilbao. With an endless stream of EPs and splits, OSTOTS has certainly been no stranger to deepest recesses of the metal underground and returns in 2022 with his fourth full-length album MADARIKAZIOA which is Basque for “The Curse.”

Interesting that this album is not available as a digital download and so far released on vinyl only but fear not insatiable black metal addicts who find their pockets devoid of ca$h, this one is on YouTube for all to enjoy. I’m not familiar with OSTOTS so have no reference to compare previous works but according to record label Altare, MADARIKAZIOA follows in the path of “Lainoak Estaltzen Duena & Hilda Jaio tracks (from the split LP with Gaua).” What that means is a rampaging style of buzzsaw guitars, inaudible bass, consistent atmospheric key changes and ferocious drumming that shows major skill.

The black metal aspects are more in the depressive department but unlike most in that category, OSTOTS employs quickened tempos and that classic pissed cat vocal rage that reminds me of early Negura Bunget amongst others. The riffing offers a bit of groove as well with a more angry version of black’n’roll but the overall atmosphere of the album is dark and depressing with caustic tones and furious rage stampeding across the soundscape with eerie detached keyboards offering the final depressive icing on the cake. The production seems to find that perfect balance between lo-fi second wave and the bit more polished of the 21st century.

Overall this is quite the enjoyable black metal album even if not reinventing the wheel in any way. In many ways as generic as the album cover art yet i’m a sucker for extremely effectively executed extreme metal with above average instrumental interplay. The attention paid to the varying tones, timbres, tempos, distortion, vocal phrasing etc conspire to infect your soul with an extremely well crafted atmospheric black metal experience. OSTOTS is the real deal and i couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the world of Basque flavored black metal than MADARIKAZIOA.

ILLUMINATION Worship Death More Than Life

EP · 2022 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Joining the ranks of a new wave of space themed atmospheric black metal bands that adopt aspects of the world of death metal, Brazil’s ILLUMINATION formed in Rio de Janeiro in 2020 and released last year’s demo “Occult Science” which caught the attention of the Mexican label Personal Records and a year later ILLUMINATION debuts with its first EP titled WORSHIP DEATH MORE THAN LIFE.

Graced with wickedly cool cover art, WORSHIP DEATH MORE THAN LIFE embodies the frigid bleakness of the visual artistic expression with a depressive style of black metal made all the frostier with a bleak suffocating atmospheric backdrop. This EP of seven tracks clocks in at 27 1/2 minutes and features an excellent array of speed fueled jangly guitar chords plucked in full tremolo affect with blackened distortion and rampaging angst. The vocals however are somewhere in between the raspy world of black metal and the more guttural growls of death metal which makes this a distinct hybrid that doesn’t really sound totally at home in either genre.

Atmospheric excess is the name of the game for ILLUMINATION which works quite well in the world of oft monochromatic black metal. This EP is fueled with nice opening mood enhances including the 2 minute intermission “UY Scouti” and the closing “Dead Photons” which are short instrumentals that focus on the sonic terror of Luciferianism and sci-fi fantasies. “Thy Darkness” on the other hand does sound more like a black metal act with angry gurgled vocals in the vein of classic black metal acts like Immortal and a gazillion others. This band excels at both providing authentic black metal chops and nice ambient / atmospheric accompaniments.

What works so well about ILLUMINATION is that although it hasn’t branched off into its own subsection of the deathened black metal universe quite yet, it seems as if it could very well do so and each track is distinct thus providing the EP with the diversity of styles and sounds that is very much needed to make an enthralling listening experience. One of the highlights is “Venus Shukra” which features a typical black metal bleakness but is fueled by an anthemic folk metal musical scale but also adds interesting arpeggiated guitar sections, spoken word declarations and lots of ambient excursions before erupting into a Mayhem styled black metal rampage.

With the explosion of black metal acts in the last decade it’s hard to believe that this genre could spawn so many competent and dynamic acts but ILLUMINATION is yet another excellent band to enter the scene and also showcases Brazil’s ever growing relevance on the world’s stage by producing a whole slew of excellent bands in recent years. I love this one much more than i could’ve imagined and eagerly await the band’s full-length debut. WORSHIP DEATH MORE THAN LIFE may sound like a suicide pact but in a way it makes you wanna live if for no other reason than to hang out long enough to see what this band will produce next!

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