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
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
4.59 | 11 ratings
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MELECHESH Sphynx Album Cover Sphynx
MELECHESH
4.55 | 13 ratings
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ASTARTE Quod Superius Sicut Inferius Album Cover Quod Superius Sicut Inferius
ASTARTE
4.75 | 5 ratings
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DISSECTION Storm of the Light's Bane Album Cover Storm of the Light's Bane
DISSECTION
4.43 | 38 ratings
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SEAR BLISS Glory and Perdition Album Cover Glory and Perdition
SEAR BLISS
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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
4.47 | 15 ratings
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WINTERHORDE Underwatermoon Album Cover Underwatermoon
WINTERHORDE
4.51 | 8 ratings
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MELECHESH The Epigenesis Album Cover The Epigenesis
MELECHESH
4.33 | 19 ratings
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MELECHESH Enki Album Cover Enki
MELECHESH
4.36 | 13 ratings
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melodic black metal Music Reviews

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.

SAILLE Gnosis

Album · 2017 · Melodic Black Metal
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Warthur
Melodic black metal ruminating on the musicians' personal occult interests is hardly new - Dissection were all about that, after all - but on Saille's Gnosis they offer a solid and enjoyable example of the form. Guest performer Dries Gaerdelen's keyboards and other features add some tasteful symphonic touches, but these are neither bombastically prominent enough to drag the album into symphonic black metal territory or clumsily heavy-handed enough to overwhelm what the rest of the band is doing.

With the sort of tributes to Biblical fallen angels, Norse gods, H.P. Lovecraft and Aleister Crowley that have littered innumerable metal albums over the years, you'd think that this would have entered the realm of utter cliche, but whilst there's nothing lyrically new under the sun here, musically there's plenty for melodic black metal fans to sink their teeth into.

BORKNAGAR Quintessence

Album · 2000 · Melodic Black Metal
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adg211288
I've had a long held belief that the Norwegian black/viking/progressive metal act Borknagar peaked with their second album The Olden Domain (1997). It's a view that many of my fellow fans seem to share. Recently though I've been spending a lot of time with the band's fourth album Quintessence (2000) and have had to seriously question whether I still believed The Olden Domain to be their best work, or if this one is. Both are quite different albums from the band and both have many claims to that top spot (while a good portion of fans will also throw the hat of the debut album Borknagar (1996) into the ring). Ultimately I had the question answered for me by my actions rather than any serious thought: whenever I thought I'd play one of my Borknagar albums my eyes always strayed first to Quintessence, which in turn has led to me playing this one more than any other of their releases that I own.

The music on Quintessence isn't quite like that of any other Borkngarar album. While many would put the band's transition from black to progressive metal at somewhere during this era of the band, which I think of as the ICS Vortex era after the then lead vocalist (he's since returned alongside his replacement Vintersorg), I find this album to be the band's truest fusion of the two genres, with the actual switch away from black metal only coming with the following Empiricism (2001), making Quintessence their last true black metal release even though they've always kept a blackened edge to their music after this point, notably through growling vocals.

I'd equally make an argument for this to be their most truly progressive metal album as well. Their later work I'd actually describe as an example of prog-lite metal (increasingly true with every new record), because it's not really all that adventurous to my ears despite the progressive label being regularly attached to the band (something I find true of many so called progressive metal acts). Quintessence is a different story, but it's also still a black metal album. To my ears this album is actually more black metal than the prior and first ICS Vortex fronted album The Archaic Course (1998), though it is of a much more melodic kind than that found on either of the band's first two albums, A.K.A. The Garm era.

The guitars of Øystein G. Brun and Jens F. Ryland are semi-raw and black metal based and there is some excellent keyboard work from Lars A. Nedland that absolutely reeks of classic progressive rock influence. It's musically an great sound that Borknagar have hit on for this one album, while ICS Vortex puts on possibly the vocal performance of his entire career here. As a singer mostly known for his clean vocals it's an unusual case to hear him growling, but he does it very well and in quite an epic manner that fits with the music perfectly.

The album's first four tracks are especially a real tour de force. The third of these is Ruins of the Future, which may just be the most epic song Borknagar has ever recorded and is without a doubt my personal favourite of the band (it's actually rare for me to have a favourite song from an artist's whole discography like this). Following straight away is Colossus, which is a great example of something I mentioned being possible (despite popular belief): clean vocal black metal, because growls are only used minimal and for backing purposes in this one, and try denying to yourself that the music in this track is any less melodic black metal based than Ruins of the Future, which is growl dominant. Next track Inner Landscape serves as an interlude a breather after the terrific first half of the album. While the remainder doesn't hit quite the same heights as those first four tracks, it's still very high quality work, with Genesis Torn and the finale Revolt being further tracks of note.

In summary Quintessence is a fantastic album from Borknagar. While I enjoy the works that followed they've never again been able to reach the same level that this is on. It has not only overtaken The Olden Domain as my favourite from the band, but I'd go as far to say that it's also overtaken Iron Maiden's Brave New World as my favourite album of the year 2000. I whole-heartedly recommend it as an essential purchase for both black and progressive metal fans.

You want to know what the real kicker about that finale statement is though? At least here in the UK this is the one Borknagar album not readily available to buy a physical copy of at normal prices. All nine others can be in a range of about £5 to £12 online, but this one will currently set you back about three times that, unless you get lucky. Bloody typical of the metal scene that!

WINTERHORDE Underwatermoon

Album · 2010 · Melodic Black Metal
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Warthur
Underwatermoon is Winterhorde's second album, with the Israeli outfit delivering another generous helping of melodic black metal with significant symphonic touches. In principle it's a concept album, though looking over the lyrics I can't figure out the story beyond that it involves ghosts and the ocean - still, the magnificent, big sound they have here is entertaining enough and makes the album a decent dry run for the rather excellent Maestro, the followup, which I personally found a bit more emotionally engaging than this one. Perhaps I'd rate this one a little higher if I hadn't already heard the masterwork that came after it.

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