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

SUMMONING Minas Morgul

Album · 1995 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
And just as the second wave of black metal had exploded in the metal underground, it seemed as if some bands were ready to move on almost from the very beginning. One such band is Austria’s SUMMONING that released their debut “Lugburz” in March of 1995 and by October released their followup MINAS MORGUL without their drummer Trifixion, were reduced to a duo and radically changed their musical direction. While “Lugburz” was an interesting debut, it was well within the mold of the second wave black metal template started by Mayhem and Darkthrone but beginning with MINAS MORGUL which takes its name from the fictional language of Sindarin in the J.R.R. Tolkien universe in fact means Middle-earth, that more generic black metal approach had completely transmogrified into something different.

It was with this sophomore release where Protector and Silenius, now a duo began to merge the dark ambient and dungeon synth atmospheric sounds of their side projects Ice Age and Die Verbannten Kinder Evas with their black metal antecedents as heard on their debut and the early demos prior. The result was one of the earliest significant deviations from the second wave orthodoxy into what would soon be tagged as atmospheric black metal since all that remained from the debut were the Tolkien tinged lyrics and the raspy unintelligible vocals. Oh the unholy horror of it all!

This is what i call their video soundtrack black metal debut and it was no surprise to learn that the album cover for MINAS MORGUL was taken from the 1991 video game “Ishar: Legend Of The Fortress.” And so began the next chapter of the SUMMONING universe where more relaxed epic symphonic marches with repetitive and quite catchy ear worms would become the focus of the hypnotic trance of eleven tracks that utilized the tremolo guitar distortion as a backing instrument and the role of Trifixion reduced to a more obsequious and programmable drum machine while Protector and Silenius shared the role of keyboardists, vocalists and strings.

MINAS MORGUL is a pleasant journey into mystic lands where anthemic and even Medieval folk tinged melodies prance about like chilled out pilgrimages over the mountains and into the valleys below like Hobbits on a mission to fulfill their destiny of ridding the world of the stranglehold of evil once and for all. Each track begins with a slow and repetitive keyboard based riff and then repeats ad nauseam to infinity at times however the subtle changes in the tempo and dynamics slowly fortify the overall soundscape to satisfying crescendoes with the guitar distortion ramping up while Protector delivers his famously frantic shrieks and raspy declarations of all things Middle-earth.

While i am quite fond of the debut album, i can hardly fault SUMMONING for tackling something so utterly unique at the time and ultimately successfully carving out a tiny niche all their own in the burgeoning and expanding black metal market. The template laid out on MINAS MORGUL was indeed an interesting one to explore and while many kvlter-than-thou black metalheads of the day may have run to Lucifer in utter contempt to complain, the overall success of this darkwave ambient dungeon synth mixed with black metal elements is quite addictive actually. Despite the recipe having been created, i don’t find MINAS MORGUL to be nearly as refined to the high quality perfection of the later releases as it’s a tad uneven in quality and the drum machines sound a little canned at times however they do effectively drive the monotonic mood setting steady pace that the duo were going for. An excellent experiment that would only continue to get better and kudos to these guys for making such a huge change.

ESOCTRILIHUM Pandaemorthium (Forbidden Formulas To Awaken The Blind Sovereigns Of Nothingness)

Album · 2018 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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adg211288
Although barely half a year has passed since the release of Mystic Echo From a Funeral Dimension (2017), the debut by French atmospheric black metal solo project Esoctrilihum, it's lone musician Asthâghul has certainly wasted no time in getting it's follow-up out there. Entitled with the rather long-winded Pandaemorthium (Forbidden Formulas to Awaken the Blind Sovereigns of Nothingness), this second album sees the project building upon and expanding what was begun on the debut.

I want to make it clear that I personally loved Esoctrilihum's debut and nothing is going to be able to diminish the regard I have for that piece of work. It was a great example of the atmospheric black metal genre that could be considered contemporary to the work of I, Voidhanger Records labelmate Mare Cognitum. It wasn't the most surprising record in that respect, except for one sudden burst of death metal that came out of nowhere during the track BltQb (Black Collapse). Considered most likely to be a fluke by myself at the time, it's clear to me now that Asthâghul must actually be quite interested in what death metal can add to his music, since Pandaemorthium features considerably more death metal elements than Mystic Echo From a Funeral Dimension did, to the point where Pandaemorthium can be considered as much a death metal album as a black metal album.

While various black metal and death metal fusions aren't anything new, what makes Pandaemorthium a more unusual example is that the black metal elements themselves are still very atmospheric in nature, with many similarities to the first album in their underlying ambient, cosmic direction, a prime example being Lord of the Closed Eyes, the first song released for fans to hear. Naturally though the death metal elements greatly change the way that the record impacts upon its listener, becoming something much more aggressive. It is easy sometimes to forget you're listening to an atmospheric black metal record with this album because of them, which I guess is why some people seem to be saying that this album represents a complete stylistic shift for the Esoctrilihum project, but I have to say that I think that's false: if one listens past the death metal elements it's actually quite obvious that this isn't that big of a step away from what Mystic Echo From a Funeral Dimension started.

And that's just one of the things that's good about it! It's one thing to play this style or that style and another entirely to take bits of both and forge them into something that works as well as Pandaemorthium does. Another thing that's good about is the result of this mix. Pandaemorthium is an atmospheric yet intense album that will pummel your eardrums into submission for almost seventy minutes, neither letting up it's relentless assault or letting go of your attention span, not even during rare softer moments such as Breath of the Silent Shape. Expect plenty of black and death metal riffs (and even some thrashy ones in a track like The Holocaust of Fire in the Temple of the Red Oracle) that are full of technicality and complexity, interlaced with spacey atmospheric metal passages and of course Asthâghul's perfectly integrated, malevolent growling. I do find the latter hard to follow in terms of his actual lyrics, but as part of the whole package it works.

Pandaemorthium is undeniably a very satisfying release. It's not quite the album I expected to hear next from Esoctrilihum but maybe that's a good thing. A level of unpredictability makes this project even more exciting than it was already and Mystic Echo From a Funeral Dimension had already given me a lot of hopes for its future. For all we know, Asthâghul's next one for Esoctrilihum could easily be a full on progressive/technical death metal release, full on spacey black metal madness, or even something avant-garde. Or none of the above or maybe a bit of all of them and more. Wherever he takes this project next, it's clearly going to be one hell of a ride to take with him to find out. And for my money, Pandaemorthium is the first true standout album of 2018.

SUMMONING With Doom We Come

Album · 2018 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
While SUMMONING officially formed all the way back in the early 90s, this current day duo from Austria has been quite sparse in their 21st century releases with only four full-length albums having emerged in the last 18 years which roughly means around five year gaps in between. Lo and behold and at long last a retreat back into the Tolkien lengendarium where Orks run wild and Mordor burns in fury as the Ring of Power remains firmly out of grasp as Hobbits dodge one bout with evil after another. Finally in 2018, SUMMONING which consists only of Selenius and Protector has unleashed their latest installment of their musical accompaniment for all things Lord of the Rings in the form of WITH DOOM WE COME. As with the previous albums beginning with 1995’s “Minas Morgul,” we are treated (or tortured) to another set of epic length jaunts into dark ambient melodic marches that feel as if they are procured by Elves, performed by Dwarves, considered by Hobbits and ultimately embellished with Gandalf’s white wizard ways of crafting the perfect balance between simple melodies that are glistened over with something more precious than Golem’s lost pride and joy.

WITH DOOM WE COME is only the eighth installment in the world of SUMMONING and after years of delays (which remain unnamed), the album finds the first rays of 2018 shining upon it like a new Hobbit movie emerging from the misty fjords of New Zealand. With Middle Earth firmly fixed in gaze, SUMMONING once again delivers the expected epic video game soundtrack romp through a series of eight lengthy tracks that continue the (now) traditional theme of taking a simple (and catchy) piano or synthesized melodic flow that seemingly riffs to eternity but on the march to freedom captures subtle changes in their midst. You are correct to assume that SUMMONING have mustered up yet another album familiar to all, that being heavily atmospheric dominated melodies that crank up the buzzsaw guitar action and raspy corpse paint vocals to conjure up visions of despair and utter dismay as all hope seems extinguished and only carried through by a melodic string that holds it all together.

Whether you love em or hate em, one thing is for sure: SUMMONING has a sound and style like no other. These guys have conjured up one of the most unique elans in a strange world that straddles black metal, dark ambient and video game soundtrack epic grandeur. WITH DOOM WE COME seems to have taken the expected mix of melodic flow in military march with distorted guitar, raspy vocals and orchestrated-the-hell-out-of-it approach to even more extreme pastures. While the basics remain firmly in place, it seems that the production is off-the-hook clear and the use of choirs for background emphatics is even more pronounced and epic in nature. Just as the new release of the video game Zelda takes epic video game experiences to ever more heightened arenas, so too does SUMMONING’s emphasis on these same epic qualities that ride in the same wake. Never before have drum machines, fuzzed out guitar, raspy screaming vocals or synthesized orchestras with choirs sounded so, well…. grand. It’s more of the same but yet the quality is off the charts.

For sure kvlt black metal worshippers, who have been throwing darts at the effigies of Silenius and Protector all these years for betraying the one-dimensional black metal ethos that strangleholds so many, will find nothing on WITH DOOM WE COME to rein in their hatred for anything remotely symphonic and atmospheric in nature. However, to be fair i have never really considered SUMMONING’s form of musical expression a black metal band at all (OK after their first album that is) but rather a dark ambient, darkwave, epic video game soundtrack style of music that just happens to take the raspy vocals and buzzsaw guitar distortion of black metal along for the ride after their black metal origins. Needless to say, if you don’t like what came before, you won’t be SUMMONING any more of these demons but this duo really knows how to craft a lush and exquisitely designed romp through the musical soundscapes of the Tolkien universe and that is something no others have successfully tackled. SUMMONING have latched onto their own brand of hybridized musical expression and why would anyone expect them to explore anything else but?

WITH DOOM WE COME is a welcome respite into a familiar sound with an ever expanding production value in a set repertoire. This is very much a hypnotic type of album that seduces the listener with an irresistible melancholy yet utterly addictive hook and then slowly ratchets up the tension with the swirling sensation of synthesized embellishments that add more and more flavors to the mix. This is one for the audiophiles as the production is super crisp and clear and every detail is drenched in perfection. Yeah, i too am a lover of everything kvlt, demented and evil but that’s not SUMMONING’s game. Their shtick is in the grey zone where black metal, dark ambient and epic soundtrack music meet in the triangulated mysteries of the dark. While this is definitely akin to their previous offerings, i have to admit that i can’t get enough of this stuff and i personally have no problem with a band continuing down a path they forged for themselves. This is a really compelling listen even if it goes down familiar turf. It’s exquisitely performed and that’s more than good enough for me!

EVILFEAST Elegies of the Stellar Wind

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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adg211288
It's been quite a while since the release of Wintermoon Enchantment (2011), the last full-length release by Polish atmospheric black metal solo project Evilfeast. Although there's been both an EP and a demo in the meantime, musician GrimSpirit has emerged back in full force at the tail end of 2017 with Elegies of the Stellar Wind, an album that may just upset any established lists of the best black metal releases of the year once you hear it.

Comprised solely of long songs (the shortest is over eight minutes) with no messing around with separate intros, interludes or outros, Elegies of the Stellar Wind is clearly written with being immersive in mind and it's very effective in succeeding at that. This is the kind of atmospheric black metal record where it's almost like a paradox against what metal music is usually about, featuring traditional raw and cold riff work that often merely serves to lay the groundwork for an even colder ambience (actually the first thing you'll hear when the album kicks off with The Second Baptism... Shores in Fire and Ice), to do its thing.

There are plenty of parts where the ambient elements are withdrawn and the focus is purely on the raw riffs and growling vocals of course (which every so often are switched to clean singing, which features prominently when used, especially in the final track Inclinata Resurgit... Rebirth of My Noble Dark Kingdom), such immediately following the ambient introduction of the opener. The album's certainly at its best and most majestic when the two worlds combine though. I'm reminded of a mix of the likes of Striborg and the raw yet atmospheric sound heard on albums such as Autumnal Melancholy (2008) and Midnight Odyssey through the majestic ambient parts such as on the Shards of Silver Fade (2015) album.

While the extremely raw sound of the album may prove a detriment to all but the most fervent of black metal listener, to those among us who appreciate the style that Elegies of the Stellar Wind delivers the record is quick to establish itself as being something special. The mood captures both the winter season that the album was released in while also giving off some dark, medieval vibes. It's enough to be drawn in straight away, then keeps hold of my attention throughout, despite the considerable total length of 67:24 minutes. The first listen can easily be spent just revelling in all the fine details coming off the synths that it's only on the next go around that an appreciation starts to form for the real old school black metal guitar riffs that GrimSpirit has crafted. I usually prefer my black metal to sound a bit less fuzzy than this, but I have to admit that anything more would throw the combine atmosphere of guitars and synths off kilter. It's a delicate thing to balance, but one which is handled to perfection here.

It may not be pretty or polished, yet Elegies of the Stellar Wind resonates high up on the levels of creativity. It's an excellent release and even surprising work that despite it's late year release has quickly cracked my black metal top five for the year. It's because of that late in the year release date that I nearly missed it in time to include it in my annual best of year list. That would have been a shame, so don't make the same mistake I almost did.

MYRKUR Mareridt

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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MorniumGoatahl
A while ago I reviewed the debut album of Myrkur, M. This was during the build up period for this, her second full-length release, Mareridt. Just to you don't have to double back and read what I said about her in regard to that album allow me to summarize: I'm very much in the middle ground when it comes to this artist, whose work has both received strong praise and been deemed controversial, depending on who you ask. For me, to quote, M was simply an 'OK' album.

I also voiced the opinion that rather than the black metal that she is usually (erroneously in my opinion) associated with that some kind of folk metal wouldn't be a more fitting genre for her to pursue. That view has kind of come to pass on Mareridt. It is more folk than M. But the folk parts are typically used outside of the metal elements, so it instead feels like a half folk album and a half metal album, rather than an actual fusion of the two. The metal songs do have riffs that resemble black metal and like with M this is not the only style Myrkur draws from (doom also being noteworthy) and with her clean vocals now used maybe 98% (maybe even 99%) of the time, I actually find this even harder to think of as a black metal record, even by trendy blackgaze standards. This is one genre association that I believe I am doomed to never understand. Just because an artist/label says that's what they play that doesn't mean it's true!

But with that issue aside, I do have to say that I feel a lot more positive about Mareridt as an album than I have ever done about M. The song-writing has felt stronger right from the first listen. There's an issue of identity though. Mareridt is too metal for folk fans to completely enjoy and also too non-metal to be of complete worth to the average metalhead. It ultimately comes over as the kind of album that was written without the artist sure of exactly what they wanted to make, so it's left sitting dead centre on the line between two worlds. And that's the key problem with it: it's exactly the same problem that I found M to have. To quote my earlier review of M, 'the album gives me the impression that Myrkur isn't really sure where she wants to be musically.' There's obvious growth as a musician to be found on Mareridt, but not enough decision making. This one I'll declare as a step in the right direction though.

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