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

MARE COGNITUM Solar Paroxysm

Album · 2021 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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Warthur
Jacob Buczarski's one-man atmospheric black metal project takes off into deep space yet again. "Solar Paroxysm" as a title suggests intense heat, searing light, and violent fits, and those are all concepts which the sound of the album seems to fit. It's perhaps a few steps closer to the centre of gravity of the atmospheric black metal scene than, say, the output of Darkspace, but it's still a compelling set of long, sprawling soundscapes. I'm not as immediately gripped and thrilled by it as I was by Phobos Monolith, which I think is Buczarski's magnum opus, but I'm certainly keen to continue exploring its mysteries.

DEAFHEAVEN Sunbather

Album · 2013 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Black metal is the biggest promiscuous slut of the metal world having long left the confines of its first and second wave separation zones and unapologetically cross-pollinated with just about any music genre that has ever existed on planet Earth. While acceptable crossover styles with traditional folk music, death metal, progressive rock and other styles have been celebrated as groundbreaking and original, other hybridization attempts have been a bit more divisive which brings us to the world of blackgaze. This style that is basically the unlikely mix of post-rock, shoegaze, post-hardcore and black metal began in 2005 when Neige created the bizarre Alcest project and soon was finding new candidates willing to adopt the style and take it further.

While Alcest didn’t initially make any major waves in the black metal scene, along comes the San Francisco based DEAFHAVEN in 2010 and began its own creative spin of the unusual mix that Alcest had alchemized. Originally a the duo of George Clarke and guitarist Kerry McCoy, DEAFHAVEN released “Roads To Judah” and introduced the style of blackgaze to a larger audience beyond the confines of the underground black metal scene. While that album got the engine revving, it was the band’s second release SUNBATHER that took the world by storm and finally put the blackgaze style and the world of black metal on the map for the masses. SUNBATHER saw a third member, drummer Dan Tracy join the DEAFHAVEN team and the album expanded the blackgaze sound by adopting elements of alternative rock, post-metal, field recordings and droning.

While met with critical acclaim from many music critics, the album also polarized the world of black metal with many open minded experimentalists welcoming the new musical chimera with open arms and the less than accepting black metal purists who wanted the underground black metal scene to remain in its own little kvlt time capsule never to be tainted with such impurities. The irony is that many post-rock and shoegaze fans who never even heard black metal before were being exposed to the world of black metal for the first time and DEAFHAVEN’s crossover appeal for better or for worse made a huge impact on the entire extreme metal industry simply by being popular. It should be obvious in retrospect that the nasty atmospheres and distorted guitars accompanied by raspy vocals can pretty much adapt to any musical style, even ones as far removed as one could imagine such as post-rock and shoegaze.

SUNBATHER delivered an hour’s worth of 7 tracks that are for the most part compositionally speaking totally in the world of post-rock with long cyclical melodic loops ratcheting up the tension until melodic crescendoes break loose along with totally metal-free post-rock moments of ambient atmospheres. DEAFHAVEN simply added the bombast of incessantly fast-tempo guitar furor, blastbeat percussion and screamo inspired raspy vocals that added a monstrosity of an addition to the classic post-rock and shoegaze stylistic approach. Given the popularity of both black metal and post-rock in the 1990s, it really was only a matter of time before the two would converge. SUNBATHER indeed is an odd beast even when listening to it today, 11 years after its initial release. The mix of My Bloody Valentine inspired hazy shoegaze juxtaposed with post-rock musical flow and the most intense black metal elements possible is really quite alarming.

While the debate still continues whether this was a good thing or not, the fact is many fans love it while many do not. As far as i’m concerned i’m not against the idea of the whole blackened post-rock-gaze thing in the least bit. But what gets me is that most blackgaze uses the same mix of lazy post-rock rhythms amplified by black metal extremities and shrouded with thick atmospheric turbulence with the overuse of screamo vocal screams. The word blackgaze should allow for a vast palette of interpretations of how these sounds go together and that’s where i have my biggest problem with SUNBATHER and DEAFHAVEN in general.

While the music itself is original in how things are blended together, i find the execution is what’s lacking and i’ve given this album a good decade to let sink in hoping one day it would click but every time i give it a spin i’m plagued by the same dislike of how it was all laid out. First of all the vocals are too much of a one-trick pony and George Clarke offers no diversity in his screaming style which ultimately makes the heavy tracks sound way too similar for their own good. Sure the electronic weirdness in tracks like “Please Remember” are a nice break from the incessant bombast but these are vocal-free zones. This track also features a spoken word appearance from Alcest’s Neige. Likewise the black metal is always on rampage mode. It’s either balls to the wall stampeding into the thralls of war or it’s total chill time. No in between zones, no nuances just off and on. Likewise the penultimate track “Windows” that offers one of the few non-screamed vocal segments provides an interesting dark ambient side track but a ridiculously lame dialog about Biblical scripture.

So there you have it. Blackgaze as a style works for me but really only in a different context with bands like Sadness, Woods of Desolation and White Ward offering much more interesting interpretations. While considered one of the top dogs of the world of blackgaze, SUNBATHER just doesn’t do it for me. It’s not that the album is a bad one by any means, it just doesn’t deliver what all the hype portends and i always feel totally disappointed in its limitations. So in effect i’m neither a DEAFHAVEN fan nor am i a hater. I mostly find myself just indifferent and honestly dislike a lot of screamo type vocals especially in the context of metal. It’s an OK album and one of San Francisco’s more famous contributions in the 21st century but honestly for experimental San Francisco black metal acts, i by far prefer the likes of Weakling, Leviathan or Lurker of Chalice. The aimlessness of SUNBATHER just seems to rub me the wrong way every time. A good once in a while break from things but not an album i really consider essential.

DARKSPACE Dark Space - I

Demo · 2002 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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Warthur
The first Darkspace demo - originally released in 2002 as a download, later rereleased in a rerecorded version in 2012 - is an apt manifesto for the band's distinctive style. Atmospheric black metal skirting the borderlands of ambient? Check. A chilly atmosphere that goes beyond the snowy landscapes of Paysage d'Hiver into the vacuum of deep space itself? Check. Ominous samples worked deep into the mix? Check. They'd further polish and refine their style over time, but it's clear that they already had the broad outline of their distinctive, innovative sound well-established straight out of the gate, yielding a compelling prelude to their more polished works.

DARKSPACE Dark Space -II

Album · 2024 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
DARKSPACE has been something akin to the Star Trek Enterprise in metal boldly going where no man has gone before and was rightfully one of the pioneers in the cosmic and psychedelic realms of ambient black metal. Led by Tobias Möckl, this Bern, Switzerland crew has been around for a quarter century now having formed in 1999 with an amazingly stable lineup of Tobias Möckl aka Wroth (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, synths, drum programming), Zhaaral (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Zorgh (bass, backing vocals). Well that amazing stability has finally been shaken up and Zorgh has jumped ship and replaced by Yhs.

Never the most prolific band in the world of black metal and certainly not the most creative in keeping track of album titles, the band began simply with “Dark Space I” then “II” until it reached the clumsy looking “III I.” Ironically DARKSPACE released an EP in 2012 titled “Dark Space -I” which actually came out before Dark Space III I.” Oh i’m getting a headache now! Not heard from in an entire decade it’s like the band was in the cryogenic chamber awaiting a landing on another undiscovered celestial body in a galaxy not near you and in 2024 surprisingly returns with the fifth studio album DARK SPACE -II. This one is also the first to be released without the consistent black background with the group logo.

Forged with lengthy sprawling tracks that frigidly craft the perfect cosmic soundtrack of a black metal journey into the gravitation-free zone of outer space, DARKSPACE has always delivered a series of sprawlers on their albums and on DARK SPACE -II simply eliminates any pretense of having to name titles at all. This album is simply a single track titled “Dark -2.-2” and at 47 minutes plus is actually a short album considering most of the band’s album are well over an hour’s playing time or at least close to it. Also all of the previous DARKSPACE releases have been re-released on the Seasons of the Mist label and DARK SPACE -II marks the debut for the label as a first timer.

A decade may seem like a long time to us Earthlings but in space time breaks down and to those familiar with the 25 year trajectory of DARKSPACE, this band has had a very consistent sound and only changes things up enough to keep each album from sounding too similar. Referred to by some as “gravity metal” which means space themed metal which is like a the fluidity of a lucid dream, DARKSPACE continues its hypnotizing stylistic approach which delivers both black metal and black ambient in equal doses with various mixes in between. -II continues the business of long sprawling post-rock styled cyclical loops that repeat to infinity with slowly building dynamics and a never-ending incremental change of both the ambient and metal aspects.

Icy cold atmospheres allow long metal guitar fuzz to linger on while raspy vocals gasp for air from the unknown. Droning and glacial pacing allows the lengthy journey to slowly drip drop across the soundscape one measure at a time. Noticeably less metal oriented than previous releases DARKSPACE seems to have mellowed a bit with a stronger emphasis on the dark ambient synthesized sounds often leaving the black metal to sound like a couple of receptive chords simply adding buzzsaw guitar feedback light as if the crew was running out of oxygen and the vitality has been compromised on the lengthy space journey. Whatever the case there is no ferocity like we last encountered on “Dark Space iII I,” just faint guitar and suffocated vocals from the void.

Given the emphasis on the black ambient the album sounds more orchestrated which isn’t necessary a bad thing but the tamping down of the metal elements also makes the drums sound very ineffective as the percussion has become nothing but a metronometer and gone are the blastbeats and variation. Gone too are the guitar solos and various stylistic shifts that offer some relief from the monotony. On the contrary, this one track sounds like it’s stuck in a groove and never really deviates from it. Some of the guitar chugging becomes more activated towards the end but it’s not nearly as vibrant as the DARKSPACE we’ve all come and known to love.

Well it seems like Tobias Möckl might be burning out as both his DARKSPACE project as well as his other flagship ambient black metal baby, Paysage D’Hiver has also been sputtering on fumes in recent years. Perhaps the creativity well has run dry and he has milked this space metal shtick as far as it can go. Don’t get me wrong, DARK SPACE -II is not a bad release at all but in comparison to the releases that ended a decade ago, this one is more like a house cat compared to the wild savage tigers that came before. It’s a devolution of intensity, creativity and ingenuity. Interestingly databases will say there’s only one long track but on the band’s Bandcamp site there are three shorter excerpts but don’t really offer anything new. A tad disappointed in this one. Definitely my least favorite DARKSPACE release so far. Once again i don’t dislike it but it sort of settles on mediocrity.

VEMOD The Deepening

Album · 2024 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Perhaps one of the least prolific bands in the black metal biz, VEMOD, presumably named after the Anekdoten album, emerged from the frigid Norwegian city of Namsos as early as 2000, managed to crank out a demo in 2004 but waited all the way until 2012 to finally get around to a bonafide album, “Venter på stormene," which mixed an eerie atmospheric black metal with space ambient etherealness. While not exactly conquering the world, the band made somewhat of a splash on the world’s stage but then sorta fell off the radar presumably becoming a one and done act.

But it’s become obvious as of recent years that bands that haven’t been heard from since the 70s are resurrecting from oblivion and cranking out new material so i guess in the big scheme of things 12 years isn’t an incredibly long time especially when you consider all the side projects the members are involved in. THE DEEPENING is the band’s sophomore release and finds the band finding a second life in the 2020’s crowded metal market. Up one member from the previous release with J.E. Åsli [Jan Even Åsli] (bass, guitar) and Eskil Blix (drums, vocals), THE DEEPENING welcomes E. Kalstad on bass and synthesizers and the band sallies forth into the modern world to try to regain lost momentum from a decade plus long absence.

VEMOD describes its sound as dark ethereal metal as it lacks the bite of traditional second wave Norwegian black metal and sort of puts the black metal on the back burner and let the ambient atmospheres lead the way as if the Aurora Borealis itself was leading the troops into battle. An odd sorta approach but not one that hasn’t gone untested in the modern laboratory of music making. The album in many ways relies as much on post-metal monotony as it does tremolo guitar heft although for the most part the guitar parts are jangly and even tinny in their high-pitched tendencies. The music gallops along but it’s not a thundering roar of a herd of horses but rather of a prancing pony. The music lacks a certain bite that rubs me the wrong way.

Somewhat of a blackgaze sounding album, VEMOD often prefers clean progressive metal style vocals rather than adding some black metal creds with raspy tortured pleas. The gruff vocals that do occur sound more like they belong in the death metal camp than the lands where Darkthrone and Emperor emerged. The album itself is only of six tracks at over 48 minutes with the closing title track slinking past the 16-minute mark. Generally speaking the band is very formulaic with ambient fueled intros that lead up to heavier riff chugging sessions that repetitively ratchet up the tension. The atmospheric embellishments are always half the equation and unfortunately snuff out much of the impact of the black metal exuberance.

For all intents and purposes, THE DEEPENING is the classic case of checking off a list as it lacks any originality and pretty much sounds like the perfect example of a cookie cutter atmospheric black metal album of the 21st century. While properly executed with competent musical skills, unfortunately this is an album that just never seems to go anywhere that you didn’t already prognosticate. In fact the whole thing seems lazy and all the more disappointing considering a 12 year period of crafting an unforgettably creative album that delivers all the goods while bedazzling you with at least a thread of something new. Black metal by the books is what we have here. Decently done but ultimately forgettable. The choir parts are nice though.

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