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.

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WINDIR Arntor Album Cover Arntor
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BORKNAGAR Quintessence Album Cover Quintessence
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melodic black metal Music Reviews

DAWN Promotional Demo 1993

Demo · 1993 · Melodic Black Metal
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UMUR
"Promotional Demo 1993" is the 3rd demo release by Swedish death/black metal act Dawn. The demo was independently released in 1993. The three tracks from the demo are also featured on "The Eternal Forest - Demo Years 91-93" compilation album. Dawn were formed in 1990 and originally played death metal, but later shifted towards a more melodic oriented black metal style.

The music on "Promotional Demo 1993" is still old school Swedish death metal, but something has changed since the release of the "Apparition" demo in December 1992. A blackened touch has crept into the music, and while it´s only an element of the instrumental part of the music, the vocals by Henke Forss are now a blackened aggressive snarl, instead of the deep and largely unintelligible growling vocals featured on the first two demos. The difference is best heard on "In the Depths of My Soul" which is a track that was originally featured on "Apparition" but is included here in a re-recorded version.

The sound production is clear, and semi-professsional, and is actually pretty similar to the sound production on "Apparition". While the production is detailed enough, it´s not the most charming or suiting production for music like this. Especially the drums feature a cold clicky sound, which could have prospered from a more organic tone. When that is said the general quality of the material and the memorability of the tracks are better here than on "Apparition", the new vocal approach is also much more interesting and effectful than the monotone growling vocals on the early demos. Therefore "Promotional Demo 1993" is a good representation of the new more blackened death metal direction Dawn were heading in. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is deserved.

THE ELYSIAN FIELDS We... The Enlightened

Album · 1999 · Melodic Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
THE ELYSIAN FIELDS took an extraordinarily long time to follow up their debut album “Adelain” with a four year gap between their first offering and their sophomore release WE… THE ENLIGHTENED which came out in 1999, but it makes a lot more sense when you realize that this was not a normal type of band in any way whatsoever. This was a band that was initially composed of two music nerds who only wanted to make music in their spare time and never even once performed their creations in a live setting. Mostly this was due to the ambitious nature of the music itself and the unwillingness to collaborate with any sort of label in order to increase the band’s membership required for such live events to suit the sounds heard on the albums.

This was a passion and a hobby that only happened when the music allowed and in this case it took four long years to unleash the next chapter of the band which this time around found the addition of the third member Marinos A. who joined the Greek extreme metal band to add more guitars and keyboard skills to the mix which was an excellent idea because WE… THE ENLIGHTENED took all the signature sounds of the debut album and takes every several levels further. He would also help in the composition department which also saw many positive turns for the better.

While “Adelain” introduced the burgeoning 90s extreme metal scene to a totally new way of hybridizing not only metal genres but disparate influences ranging from new wave, classical and electronica (well, for those who were paying attention), WE… THE ENLIGHTENED further expands all those boundary crossing adventures and expands its tentacles even further all the while creating more sophisticated compositions, more intricate melodic developments and a much broader range of dynamic shifts, expansive soundscape horizons and metal hybridization possibilities. As with the debut THE ELYSIAN FIELDS deliver melodic based tracks that generally speaking utilize the melodic hook of a Pagan folk based keyboard riff as the main anchoring and then infinitely expand the dynamics and textures of the music around it.

The other constants making a reprise is the mix of death and black metal influences with other meanderings into thrash, doom and gothic metal territories. While the band did a great job at expanding the typical role of keyboards in an extreme metal band on “Adelain,” some of the antics on this one were just plain unprecedented at the time. The closest comparison would probably be early Emperor with biting caustic metal riffing accompanied by the pacifying effect of melodic keyboards however THE ELYSIAN FIELDS make the keyboards much more of an acrobatic player in their sound with key riffing so intense that it makes Keith Emerson wankery seem obsolete.

I’ll explain in detail the progressions of my two favorite tracks in order to demonstrate how sophisticated the band’s sound has become at this point. “Until The Cries Rise In The Heart” begins with a rather doomy sludge riffing pattern with a melancholic keyboard riff as a counterpoint but quickly picks up the tempo with the raspy vocals ushering in the black metal riffing and blastbeats. The keys increasingly display a more classical feel but drop out as the tremolo guitars, bantering bass and blastbeats are joined by Bill A.’s frantic angry vocals. After a couple of minutes the metal drops and the track morphs into a melodic yet high tempo piano run with thrash metal guitar riffs. The vocals exhibit a wide range of semi-spoken and shouted lyrics before the keys go fuckin’ crazy and sound like they’re ready for take off on a Philip Glass field trip before being joined in by the extreme metal riffing and vocal bantering. The interchange between melodic counterpoints is quite sophisticated as well as addictive.

“Arcana Caelestia” begins with howling wolves and then a thrash metal guitar attack with black metal vocals before morphing into a tremolo picked power metal type of riff that alternates with a more black metal oriented sequence. The vocals remain wickedly raspy and evil as the metal bounces back and forth between the stylistic shifts. The real surprise comes in as the metal turns into an epic soundtrack theme with military march style drumming and then finally a slow and melancholic organ and acoustic guitar passage. The interplay of tremolo guitar picking and keys returns and goes through a series of melodic repetitions before the earlier thrash metal riffs make a reprise but the track picks up speed on the last minutes with the intensity ratcheted up with the guitar, bass and drums and the keys go insane all the while Bill A. is coughing blood.

While those 2 are the most extreme and varied tracks, the others are carefully crafted and exhibit many stylistic shifts as well like a restless chameleon parading down a psychedelic street fair. While speed and aggression often rule the roost, they never usurp the throne of the melodic development but on the other hand always keep it intense and edgy. Add with that plenty of tempo drifting into doom, goth and even what sounds like early porto-metal chord changing domination and you’re in for one brilliantly composed album. While the comparisons to other Hellenic black metal acts such as Rotting Christ are valid in certain areas especially in the vocals, at this point THE ELYSIAN FIELDS delivered some of the most unique sounding metal in all of Europe.

Needless to say, this band has been woefully underrated, tearfully under the radar and utterly forgotten as time has marched on throughout the ensuing decades. While this lack of recognition is somewhat understandable since this is a band that has never played live and existed in a small European country far away from where most of the action was taking place, it is still dismaying that it has never seen the just dessert of its fruitful labor and quite sad that in this modern era that this unique band hasn’t seen some sort of resurrection in popularity for its most unique contributions that could possibly give it the subgenre tag of “chameleon metal.” Personally, THE ELYSIAN FIELDS has become an unexpected favorite band in my world with WE… THE ENLIGHTENED finding its way to not only the top of their four album canon but also ranks fairly high on my absolute favorite melodic extreme metal album list. This is one that should not be missed. Don’t let the melodic tag fool you. This is brutal and gentle at the same time in ways you’d never expect.

THE ELYSIAN FIELDS Adelain

Album · 1995 · Melodic Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
While the Scandinavian second wave of black metal was in its full glory, the lesser areas of Europe were busy gestating their own version of musical misanthropy in the form of extreme metal ranging from the death and doom dirges of maximum distortion to the blackened pits of fiery hellish metal that served as the soundtrack for Hades. Eastern European black metal bands may have been few in number in comparison to their northern neighbors but nonetheless some persistent aficionados of the style churned out some memorable albums. Greece has never really been on the forefront of any musical movement perhaps since the homegrown folk styles such as rebetika, however lurking in the shadows arose a few well known extreme metal bands such as Septicflesh and Rotting Christ. One of the lesser known but no less worthy of recommendations were THE ELYSIAN FIELDS who may have taken their namesake from the conception of the afterlife in Greek religious philosophies but were very much a part of the here and now of the 90s when they released their debut album ADELAIN in 1994 after a couple of attention getting demos.

THE ELYSIAN FIELDS created one of the most unique forms of melodic black metal in the 90s despite sounding somewhat familiar in comparison to its Hellenic counterparts of the scene but yet somehow drifted into its own unique arenas that took disparate sounds and made them their own. The band very much developed their sound in conjunct with bands such as Rotting Christ and Varathron but somehow fell off the radar while the others rose to the ascending throne of the world’s attentive ears. THE ELYSIAN FIELDS gained a loyal following in the early 90s as they released a few demos and demonstrated a unique interpretation of the black metal scene. Dominated by heavy aggressive guitar riffs and blastbeats that offer a backdrop for the angry raspy vocals to lash out against, this melodic black metal band’s sound was actually centered around a melodic keyboard riff that served as the anchor for the full fueled fury to dance around. In this regard THE ELYSIAN FIELDS took the same approach as the Ukrainian band Nokturnal Mortem did on their debut demo turned EP “Lunar Poetry” which uses a simple melodic hook on the keys to generate a never ending stream of aggressive riff changes and second wave black metal fury.

Also unique to the band were its exemplary ability to utilize aspects of death, gothic and doom metal in their musical cauldron to create a larger than life experience that mixed the typical blackened metal aggression with piano laden spoken word segments and more moody slower parts that created a unique contrast. At times during the slower parts the band can bring a doom metal band like My Dying Bride to mind but during the heavier parts the vocalist known only as “Bill A” is a dead ringer for Sakis Tolis of fellow Greek band Rotting Christ as do their crunchy guitar riff attacks mimic periodically throughout the album. THE ELYSIAN FIELDS also had a knack for a poetic prowess like few others of the day and created a more epic feel with their lyrics rather than simply blasphemous or misanthropic passages. Having been well steeped in the traditions of the Ancient Greek mythologies, this band utilized their exposure to these hidden worlds quite effectively and likewise utilized the proper mood setting musical principles to amplify their power. While the following album “We.. The Enlightened” expanded the overall sound manyfold, ADELAIN remains a typical melodic black metal 90s album that while not quite as frenetic as what Emperor or Cradle of Filth were pulling off back then, maintained a heavy sound with only certain moments where the full speed of their fury was uncaged.

THE ELYSIAN FIELDS remains one of the forgotten obscure Hellenic black metal bands that has fallen through the cracks to the point of true obscurity but more than deserves a resurrection from the vaults as the band crafted some excellent melodic black metal with death, doom and gothic touches. The piano and keyboard accompaniments are purely evil in their minor key hauntings and usher in the perfect storm of extreme metal savagery with devilish guitar distortion that alternate between tremolo picking and doomy sustained chords that linger on to infinity. This is an excellent taste of extreme Greek metal from the 90s and in my opinion much more sophisticated than what Rotting Christ was cranking out at the time with their early releases. THE ELYSIAN FIELDS knew just how to craft their compositions with the proper ingredients to create something not too far removed from the overall second wave black metal scene but yet with enough touches to make it sound totally original at the same time. Highly recommended.

MELECHESH Emissaries

Album · 2006 · Melodic Black Metal
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Warthur
Who says black metal can't be catchy? Melodic black metal is, to an extent, a subgenre founded on questioning that assumption, but Melechesh on Emissaries really go the extra mile in demolishing it. Undeniably catchy and accessible and yet at the same time undeniably steeped not just in black metal, but in the esoteric ancient Assyrian aesthetic and mythology that Melechesh have made their own. The Middle Eastern folk influences that come out more prominently on other Melechesh albums are more towards the background here, but it's still a very smooth introduction to their particular sound and to current trends in melodic black metal.

WORMWOOD Ghostlands: Wounds from a Bleeding Earth

Album · 2017 · Melodic Black Metal
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adg211288
Wormwood, who are not to be confused with no less than four other metal bands who have used the same name (all from the US) is a fairly new Swedish melodic black metal act. Formed in 2014 and featuring two members, vocalist Nine and guitarist Nox, of the black metal act Withershin, they previously released the EP The Void: Stories from the Whispering Well (2015). Ghostlands: Wounds from a Bleeding Earth (2017) is their debut full-length studio album.

The music on Ghostlands: Wounds from a Bleeding Earth (which I'm going to refer to as simply Ghostlands from herein) is, for the most part, an example of a fairly standard melodic black metal sound. That means aside from there being plenty of melody the production is extremely well polished for the black metal genre with absolutely no trace of cold rawness and the songwriting favours directness over any kind of atmosphere. Given the near one hour, twelve track running time of the album were this all the album did it would most certainly outstay its welcome as while Wormwood show themselves competent musicians, whose ear for melody is noteworthy, there wouldn't be all that much variation in their approach. Fortunately they find that much needed variation by also including an influence of folk metal, which changes up the feel of their songs considerably when it comes into play.

While this makes Ghostlands a more interesting album, it also acts as something of a double edged sword as the more folk metal based songs also show off how much stronger an album Ghostlands could have been if Wormwood had made it their focus, as these certainly are the best tracks on the release. There just isn't enough of a folk influence here for Ghostlands to be considered a true folk/black metal hybrid even though the influence is used on a regular basis and the only non-standard instrument in use is the fiddle. One track that stands out in particular is Tidh ok Ödhe (and by extension the shorter Silverdimmans Återsken that acts as something of a lead-in to it), which features guest female vocalist Alexandra 'Lalla' Moqvist, whose clean singing provides vocal interplay with the growls and adds another dimension to the music that instantly makes it the most memorable song Wormwood have here. It actually strikes me as a melodic black metal version of some of power metal band Falconer's folksier tracks, especially those that have featured a guest female voice as well.

Ghostlands ultimately stands as an enjoyable first major release for Wormwood, but an overall lack of memorability means that come its conclusion I'm struggling to recall the individual tracks even after giving the complete album several listens. This drags down the likelihood of my returning to it too often, except of course for that one really exceptional track Tidh ok Ödhe where everything just fell together and showed what the band were really capable of. If they can manage more tracks of that calibre in the future then they can definitely expect a much more enthusiastic review from this writer.

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