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 sub-genre of Black Metal music that musically sits somewhere between the traditional black metal sound as pioneered by the early Norwegian black metal scene and Melodic Black Metal. The atmosphere of the genre is generally raw and primitive sounding yet the guitars tend towards a less abrasive and more melodic tone. In addition, pagan black metal makes use of a degree of folk influences, either played on real instruments or replicated through modern technology. Clean singing will often be featured alongside black metal growling. It shares some similarities to Viking Metal, and due to its folk elements many pagan black metal artists have also produced releases that may be considered fully-fledged Folk Metal.

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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WINDIR Arntor Album Cover Arntor
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melodic black metal Music Reviews

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.

HAVUKRUUNU Kelle surut soi

Album · 2017 · Melodic Black Metal
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adg211288
Pagan black metal may just be the most loosely defined of the black metal sub-genres, if only by virtue of the fact that's its so often crossed with another black metal genre, usually atmospheric, that scant few artists actually play what could be described as pure pagan black metal. It's often used to add flavour and vibe to what is otherwise music that clearly belongs to the other sub-genre, with the work of acts such as Drudkh, Saor, Wodensthrone and Darkestrah springing to mind. Others simply exist on the fringes of it, otherwise playing fairly traditional black metal. More still amplify the folk element to it and ultimately become actual folk metal. As such, exactly what makes pagan black metal is something that, much like with the semi-related viking metal genre, is often misunderstood and categorised as a pseudo genre. This is not actually true. One band who excels at making pagan black metal as a distinct genre in its own right is Finland's Havukruunu, whose second full-length album Kelle Surut Soi (2017), puts them right up there with their countrymen Wyrd in that regard.

For most genres, describing something as textbook is like another way of saying it's completely generic, but that's not an argument that can really be applied the same way to pagan black metal, for the above reason. So when I say that Havukruunu play textbook pagan black metal on Kelle Surut Soi, I don't say it to be demeaning, but in admiration that these guys manage to capture this elusive genre so whole-heartedly. Folksy and with plenty of acoustic guitars to be heard right from the opening notes of Jo Näkyvi Pohjan Portit, yet with never a shortage of black metal riff work, some of it fast and some of it slower, with vocals that move between traditional growling and heathen chanting, results in songs that display a triumphant, epic character. The music feels tailored to celebrate the band's native Finland and its pagan ancestry.

Not being a Finnish speaker, following the lyrics of Kelle Surut Soi is a no go for me, but as with full-on folk metal I only find that to add to the authenticity of the compositions and the atmosphere the music creates. It's certainly not an issue against enjoying the release immensely, as Havukruunu's sound is quick to ensnare the eardrums. Not only is the black metal aspect satisfying and convincingly delivered, but everything else applied to it is tastefully done, especially the acoustic guitars. It results in an album that, even though it passes the fifty minute mark, is very easy to get so engrossed by that you don't notice the time passing at all. I would say that hands down, as few and far between as they are, that Kelle Surut Soi is the best pagan black metal release I've yet come across. This album represents a real lesson in how it should be done!

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.

DISSECTION The Somberlain

Album · 1993 · Melodic Black Metal
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UMUR
"The Somberlain" is the debut full-length studio album by Swedish black/death metal act Dissection. The album was released through No Fashion Records in December 1993. Along with acts like Unanimated and Necrophobic, Dissection are widely considered among the most prolific Swedish blackened death metal/melodic black metal acts from the 90s.

The music on the album treads the fine line between melodic black metal and blackened death metal. The vocals are mostly raspy and belong in black metal territory, while the riffing style is a bit of both worlds with both fast tremolo picking and more brutal riff based sections. Always layered with ultra melodic lead guitar work though. Often with folk influenced themes. Occasional use of keyboards help bring an epic atmosphere to the album and the classical inspired acoustic guitar interludes that appear a couple of times on the album, work well as breathers. The album is drenched in a melancholic atmosphere, but still quite aggressive and raw.

The musicianship are generally on a high level, although drummer Ole Öhman at times has a clumsy playing style that could have been a bit more imaginative. The classical acoustic guitar interludes played by John Zwetsloot also feature a couple of playing errors, but it´s not a major deal, and the rest of the music is very well played.

The sound production is powerful and suits the music well. Again it´s a feature on the album that sits in the borderland between black and death metal. Too high end sounding to be a "regular" death metal production from those days, and too "low end" to sound like a contemporary black metal release. No matter how you describe it, it´s a suiting production for the music, and that´s what probably matters to most people.

"The Somberlain" is overall a high quality debut release by Dissection, and right off the bat, they spearheaded the Swedish melodic black/blackened death metal scene. While the other artists I mentioned above are also quite prolific in their own right, Dissection has a cult following that those two and other similar size acts can only dream of, and it´s obvious to hear why when you listen to "The Somberlain". It´s simply more convincing on all parameters than most other contemporary releases in the same style and a 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

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