Melodic Black Metal

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Melodic Black Metal is a sub-genre of black metal music. It features a higher focus on melodic guitar playing and sometimes keyboards than the more traditionally styled black metal acts do. They also tend to have more polished production values and a more direct style of songwriting focusing on riffs over atmosphere. Melodic black metal acts are also more likely to include some clean vocals in addition to growls in their music compared to more traditionally styled black metal acts. There is some crossover with symphonic black metal and artists that have produced releases in both styles, such as Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth, are common.

Some of the most well known melodic black metal acts include Dissection, an early pioneer of the genre, along with Sacramentum. Windir, Kvist and Melechesh are also considered key melodic black metal acts.

Inclusive Melodic Black Metal Sub-Genres

Pagan Black Metal is a black metal sub-genre characterised by its use of some folk elements and acoustic guitars. Like with melodic black metal the guitars tend towards a more melodic tone. As the name implies such bands tend to write their songs around the subject of Paganism although nature and mysticism topics are not uncommon either. Wyrd and Kampfar are notable pagan black metal acts.

Viking Metal draws on early black metal ideas and adds anthemic keyboards and influences from Nordic folk music. Powerful clean vocals are common in this genre along with black metal style growling. It is included on MMA under Melodic Black Metal usually except in cases where the folk elements are especially dominant, in which cases such artists are included under Folk Metal. Bathory was a pioneer of the Viking Metal style and remains its best known act.

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WINTERHORDE Underwatermoon Album Cover Underwatermoon
WINTERHORDE
4.75 | 7 ratings
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WINDIR Arntor Album Cover Arntor
WINDIR
4.56 | 14 ratings
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WINTERHORDE Maestro Album Cover Maestro
WINTERHORDE
4.69 | 7 ratings
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MELECHESH Emissaries Album Cover Emissaries
MELECHESH
4.60 | 10 ratings
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MELECHESH Sphynx Album Cover Sphynx
MELECHESH
4.56 | 12 ratings
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DISSECTION Storm of the Light's Bane Album Cover Storm of the Light's Bane
DISSECTION
4.44 | 37 ratings
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WINDIR 1184 Album Cover 1184
WINDIR
4.59 | 7 ratings
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KVIST For kunsten maa vi evig vike Album Cover For kunsten maa vi evig vike
KVIST
4.46 | 14 ratings
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SEAR BLISS Glory and Perdition Album Cover Glory and Perdition
SEAR BLISS
4.62 | 6 ratings
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ASTARTE Quod Superius Sicut Inferius Album Cover Quod Superius Sicut Inferius
ASTARTE
4.75 | 4 ratings
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MELECHESH The Epigenesis Album Cover The Epigenesis
MELECHESH
4.33 | 17 ratings
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MELECHESH Enki Album Cover Enki
MELECHESH
4.34 | 12 ratings
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melodic black metal Music Reviews

WINDIR 1184

Album · 2001 · Melodic Black Metal
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adg211288
As far as household names of melodic black metal go, then Norway's Windir is right up there with Sweden's Dissection, arguable the style's pioneer. They were the brainchild of one Terje Bakken, known as Valfar, who started the band in 1994. Windir's is one of the genre's tragic tales though, as in 2004, while journeying to his family's cabin in Fagereggi, Norway, Valfar was caught in a snow storm and never made it. His body was discovered three days later in the Sogndal Valley near the town of Reppastolen, where he had died of hypothermia. He was just 25 years old at the time of his death. Although Windir was only able to exist for a decade, four well regarded full-length albums were produced. The third of these was 1184 (2001), where for the first time Valfar had expanded his project into a full six strong group and switched primarily to English lyrics instead of the Sognamål Norwegian dialect.

Compared to all the other Windir full-length albums, 1184 is also the most unique and experimental one among them. Windir, with their choice of lyrical themes and cover artwork, had the air of Viking/Pagan styling about them but that didn't stop Valfar and company from trying some new things on 1184 that weren't really in context with that, such the use of electronic elements, most notably on the final track Journey to the End. This may somewhat explain why fans are said to have been a bit divided by the album at the time of its release, as compared to the prior Sóknardalr (1997) and Arntor (1999) this one also features some departures, featuring less developed folk ideas and being more in line with the so called Viking metal sound, with some really rich sounding ambient synths being used, which you can hear right away in the opening track Todeswalzer. At its heart though, 1184 remains very much a melodic black metal album, guitar based and lively and even a bit thrashy in some places. I struggle to really follow the vocals of Valfar himself but they're delivered with an infectious sort of energy that makes me instantly dig what the band are doing. I also find that their choice of guest clean vocalist to be an improvement on the first two albums, with Cosmocrator replacing Steinarson.

With albums like 1184 to his name, Valfar left a small but amazing legacy that few melodic black metal acts will ever hope to match. The key tracks on this one for me have to be the epic Destroy, which instantly strikes as an absolute beast of a track, and also Dance of Mortal Lust which is made of the same stuff. The closing Journey to the End is also deserving of another mention as it's the most surprising track, initially starting as a typical Windir song but then at about a third of the way through it changes into ambient/electronic music, which actually displays some really good melodies. It's the kind of moment that makes you sit up and wonder if you really just heard the band do that. It's surprises like this that make, for my money at least, 1184 the best of Windir's four albums. I'd consider this one an absolute essential for anyone with even a small interest in black metal to purchase.

SAILLE Gnosis

Album · 2017 · Melodic Black Metal
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Kev Rowland
Belgian act Saille are back with their fourth album, and it is the first one I’ve come across. Having heard this, I am seriously thinking that I need to go back and listen to the others. This is melodic Black Metal with some symphonic influences, punishing and brutal yet also with a lot of care, and even delicacy. This isn’t a simple full-on assault of the senses, but rather something that has been carefully created, and I was not surprised to see that it was mixed and mastered at Hertz Studio in Bialystok, Poland by the Wieslawscy brothers (Behemoth, Decapitated, Vader). It is the production that allows every single guitar note to stand on their own, for the bass to be the driving force, and for the drums to provide the necessary backbone while Dennie Grondelaers is in in commanding form.

As to the lyrics, Donnie says “With 'Gnosis' (Greek for 'knowledge') we venture into the world of the Promethean ideal and its Luciferian counterpart. This album explores a multitude of historical, mythological and fictional sources that tell us about the strife for knowledge and its (potentially devastating) consequences. We also visit several creation myths and scratch the surface of Aleister Crowley's Thelema. The concept was born during research into Russian composer Alexander Scriabin and his works. His 'Prometheus: The Poem of Fire' didn't serve as a direct source for the lyrics, but it lit the fire that made us venture into above topics." Now you know.

The band themselves feel that this is more in keeping with their second album, ‘Ritu’, yet they knew it had to be harder so they deliberately did that with the music and amended their logo, to show the slight change in approach. Unless you enjoy Black Metal then this isn’t for you, but if you are, then you need to seek this out as this is powerful stuff.

WINTERHORDE Maestro

Album · 2016 · Melodic Black Metal
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Warthur
A magnificent melodic black metal concept album with ample symphonic touches. Israel's Winterhorde offer to you Maestro, the tale of a Prague classical musician who finds himself coming under the sway of dark forces. Is this a Black Swan-esque crumbling under the pressures and stresses of performance, or does Satan himself really want the maestro for his unholy orchestra? Either way, the stage is set for a truly infernal conclusion.

To deliver the story Winterhorde fall back on an array of guest musicians, and I especially want to pick out Yulia Stoller's violin contributions for praise, since they really do the trick of providing this fragile, beautiful island of calm in the midst of all this chaos, much like the maestro's music is his escape when all around him is falling apart. But, much like an orchestra, the whole thing is a team effort, and Team Winterhorde certainly put themselves on the black metal leaderboard with this one.

ARCANE EXISTENCE The Dark Curse

Album · 2017 · Melodic Black Metal
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adg211288
Consisting of a lone instrumentalist, Kiera Pietrangelo, along with male vocalist Eligio Tapia and female vocalist Jamie Fong, Arcane Existence is a new black metal act from the United States and The Dark Curse (2017) is the trio's debut album. The album is based on the TV show Once Upon a Time and has been released as a free download, though physical copies also exist.

The band plays a brand of melodic black metal that also draws on symphonic metal and a bit of melodic death metal. It's incredibly polished music from a production standpoint and far removed from the raw origins of black metal. In fact a lot of the time the only thing that makes the album feel like a black metal release is Eligio Tapia's growl, which is mostly in that style although there are also instances of death metal growls as well, such as during Excalibur. The polished sound does of course allow every riff and melody to stand out well, showing Kiera Pietrangelo to be a competent instrumentalist for the group. The style is no doubt nothing that you won't have heard before, but it's enjoyable with the occasional standout idea.

If the mix of growls and female vocalist singing cleanly is making you think this album uses the now rather cliché beauty and the beast approach though, you'd actually be wrong as for the most part if you hear one vocalist in a track, you won't hear the other one at all. This actually works against the album somewhat though as it gives the impression that the setup with the vocals is a less than unified effort and although the music played by Kiera Pietrangelo remains in a similar vein, it's almost as if there are two different artists on The Dark Curse. For instance, the album leads off with some Eligio Tapia led tracks then abruptly he vanishes and it's Jamie Fong singing instead. It's made clear though on the group's Bandcamp profile that Arcane Existence is Kiera Pietrangelo's project, so that may explain why. I simply feel that the album would be more consistent if it didn't give the impression that the vocalists were going on coffee breaks because when Fong is in the driving seat all the black metal feel is lost. I believe that black metal can have clean vocals, but this music is too polished for that to really work here. Though I have to say that I do like her voice a lot. I'd have liked to have heard it more often in the album, interplaying with Eligio Tapia's growls.

The album closes with an alternate version of a track that appeared earlier in the album, The Dark One. Called the Dungeon Delver edition it's an instrumental, synth driven non-metal take on it. There's a synthetic sounding beat to it that I don't appreciate but the softer dynamic is quite interesting and makes me wonder how it would have worked inserted into the album proper. I think that's the story on this release: there's a lot of interesting ideas and it's professionally done, but Arcane Existence also exist in a rather crowded genre, one they're also just a bit too polished for to appeal to those listeners seeking out new black metal releases, so while The Dark Curse is enjoyable enough, it's also not very exciting. There are enough ideas on show it this album that that suggest that with some tweaking of how they're being used, this band could make something really quite good.

SAILLE Gnosis

Album · 2017 · Melodic Black Metal
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adg211288
To me it doesn't seem so long ago since the Belgian black metal band Saille burst onto the scene with their impressive debut album Irreversible Decay (2011), but lo and behold it was six years ago already. A lot has happened to the band in the time between that first album and this latest one, their fourth release, Gnosis (2017). For one thing there is only one constant member in the band between the two releases, guitarist Reinier Schenk (who primarily played bass on the debut), as founder member Dries Gaerdelen has stepped down from the band full-time, though he still plays on Gnosis as a guest musician, as the band have continued as a five-piece.

Saille have always had one of those black metal sounds where it's pretty easy to pigeon-hole them in the symphonic black metal genre due to their classical influenced aspects, but such has always been an overstatement about how symphonic their music actually is. They're a melodic black metal at heart and Gnosis is no different in that respect. However where the last couple of Saille records Ritu (2013) and Eldritch (2014) felt like more of the same as Irreversible Decay and thus somewhat derivative of that first album, this one immediately strikes me as considerably more fresh. The riffs of Reinier Schenk and new guitarist Collin Boone display a progressive and technical style in some of these tracks (such as Pandaemonium Gathers and Prometheus) that even when placed within the same polished melodic black metal sound as before change the dynamic of the band a whole lot. Overall it still feels very much like a Saille album, but not a rehashed Saille album and that's one of the reasons that I enjoy it a whole lot more than the prior album Eldritch, which I felt was solid work, but also too safe and familiar. Up until this point I'd have said that Saille's releases were giving diminishing returns, but Gnosis bucks that trend in a big way.

Indeed, while their debut album Irreversible Decay still holds a special place in my black metal collection, I have to say that with Gnosis Saille have come up with what I'd easily call their next best record. The band have produced a bunch of hard hitting black metal tracks here, that convey a number of different moods and atmospheres. It's a consistent release that doesn't make me feel as if any track is filler, but the standouts have to be Pandaemonium Gathers, Thou, My Maker and the closing duo of Magnum Opus and 1904 Era Vulgaris, which flow into each other. If you like your black metal to be direct, polished and epic, then Gnosis is a damn fine album to add to your collection.

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