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Symphonic Black Metal incorporates symphonic or orchestral elements as a backdrop for a number of other black metal sounds (such as atmospheric or melodic black metal), while also being a distinct genre in its own right.

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EMPEROR Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk Album Cover Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk
4.46 | 53 ratings
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EMPEROR In the Nightside Eclipse Album Cover In the Nightside Eclipse
4.37 | 61 ratings
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CHTHONIC Seediq Bale Album Cover Seediq Bale
4.48 | 10 ratings
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NOKTURNAL MORTUM Lunar Poetry Album Cover Lunar Poetry
4.33 | 13 ratings
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AQUILUS Griseus Album Cover Griseus
4.30 | 11 ratings
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CARACH ANGREN This Is No Fairytale Album Cover This Is No Fairytale
4.31 | 9 ratings
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CRADLE OF FILTH Dusk and Her Embrace Album Cover Dusk and Her Embrace
4.13 | 31 ratings
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CRADLE OF FILTH V Empire or Dark Faerytales in Phallustein Album Cover V Empire or Dark Faerytales in Phallustein
4.13 | 14 ratings
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CARACH ANGREN Where The Corpses Sink Forever Album Cover Where The Corpses Sink Forever
4.08 | 19 ratings
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LIMBONIC ART Epitome of Illusions Album Cover Epitome of Illusions
4.17 | 9 ratings
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CHTHONIC Takasago Army Album Cover Takasago Army
4.17 | 8 ratings
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DIMMU BORGIR Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia Album Cover Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia
4.03 | 28 ratings
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SIGH Infidel Art

Album · 1995 · Symphonic Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
SIGH’s connection to the world of second wave black metal is in many ways more circumstantial than musically related but throughout its multi-decade career and indeed displaying some of the characteristics that the Norwegian scene delivered in abundance, the band has continued to evolve its unique hybridization effect that really took off on this second album. The discovery of this band can be attributed to Euronymous of Mayhem, one of Norway’s premiere forces of black metal terror that the world wasn’t ready for. After hearing this bizarre hybrid of musical styles that mixed European black metal with symphonic and classical elements enshrouded in the avant-garde, Euronymous quickly signed the fledgling act to his infamous Deathlike Silence Records where the trio of Mirai Kawashima (vocals, bass, keyboards), Shinichi Ishikawa (guitars) and Satoshi Fujinami (drums, percussion) released the debut album “Scorn Defeat” but to the band’s dismay Euryonymous would soon die and the label would go down in flames with him.

Back the drawing board but having gained some momentum with a single release due to the band’s early idiosyncrasies that easily stood out amongst the burgeoning packs filling up the wolf’s den and found a new home on the British based Cacophonous Records where they would soon release the second album INFIDEL ART. The fact is that SIGH has never truly fit into the black metal scene even from the very beginning but on “Infidel Art” it was obviously that they had no interest in trying to adapt to that cookie-cutter description and instead opted to explore a wide new arena of possibilities and in the process of going down this path has become one of Japan’s most interesting bands to exist within the greater metal paradigm with one album after another showing yet another distinct persona that never seems to find an end to the variations and experimental touches that this band has nurtured every step of the way.

While still generally dropped into the black metal category for convenience’s sake, INFIDEL ART doesn’t exude the typical rage and boisterous angst that the early 90s delivered in the second wave scene. Instead it mixes the elements of black metal that include the filthy raw guitar distortion and raspy vocal style with Western classical infusions that offer long drawn out symphonic piano motifs with many moments more reminiscent of Frederic Chopin than anything Darkthrone or Emperor ever created. There is a clear sense of nonchalant meandering on SIGH’s second offering especially with the tamped down tempos that offer more glimpses of doom metal than the blackened blastbeats or tremolo picking styles almost ubiquitously implemented in the style of the era. Add to that a clear sense of progressive sensibilities that allowed the compositions to spiral into sophisticated layers of tones, timbres and labyrinthine constructs that eschewed the predictable tritone fury and instead created journeys into a more surreal sonicscape.

With two distinct album slices called “SIde Terror” and “Side Funeral,” INFIDEL ART opens with “Izuna” which displays some connections to the black metal world, it doesn’t take long for the copious piano rolls and symphonic touches to usurp the existential angst and instead create a lush form of progressive rock. Tracks like “Desolation” get even weirder as it lollygags slowly down a lamenting trajectory at a funeral doom metal’s pace only accompanied by lush atmospheric orchestration, classical piano riffs and even eerie theremin sounds creating a haunting vibe. The vocal performances eschew singing for the most part with some sort of declarative poetic prose only half-sung which after listening to this so closely after reviewing Dødheimgard’s magnum opus “A Umbra Omega,” it becomes perfectly clear exactly where the inspiration behind that album originated from which makes SIGH a significant early band of influential prowess for the avant-garde splintering off bands of the black metal world who also quickly tired of the one-dimensional nature of the most simplistic paradigms and went for the avant-garde jugular.

The longest track “The Last Elegy” at 10 and a half minutes begins like a symphony from the 1700s in all its authenticity before morphing into a doom metal monster that sounds a bit like My Dying Bride only with classical keyboards replacing the lugubrious string sounds of the violin. The track ratchets up both the metal and symphonic touches as well as becoming more progressive with a continuing parade of musical motifs building intensity with interesting call and response vocal sections as well as a more upbeat Black Sabbath guitar riffing section. The album continues with not one but TWO more tracks that just miss the ten minute mark with a continuation of the classical music motifs fortified by both doom and black metal styles all decked out symphonic touches and progressive build ups that explode into thundering climactic resolutions. I’ve never considered INFIDEL ART to be one of SIGH’s best works but after a few more listens lately this album has gotten under my skin and for those who aren’t black metal purists and appreciate the dexterity of genre juggling so perfectly performed then you can’t go wrong with this album. Not quite as adventurous as some of the future albums but what this album lacks in sheer diversity of musical styles, it more than makes up for in top notch compositions that find the perfect balance between beautiful melodies and metal bombast although tamped down to the doom metal variety for the majority of the album’s run.


Album · 2018 · Symphonic Black Metal
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Kev Rowland
It has been way too long since Dimmu Borgir last released a studio album, and I felt the only way to be able to understand how this fits in the canon was by playing a few tracks from this and then dip into ‘Death Cult Armageddon’. This was an interesting exercise, not least because I always felt that a major part of their sound (at least for me) was the clean vocals of ICS Vortex, but of course he departed long ago. Vocalist Shagrath, as well as guitarists Silenoz and Galder are still there providing the material, while drummer Daray has been there for a decade, keyboard player Gerlioz has been there since 2010, so there is only one new boy, bassist Victor Brandt. Deciding to take their time on the songs has obviously been worthwhile, as there is far more breadth and depth to this than anything that have released previously. They have moved far more into the orchestral and symphonic arena, while still playing black metal like no-one else.

A special mention must be made of Gaute Storås and his work on the choral arrangements for the Schola Cantrum Choir, as it isn’t possible to overstate the impact they have had on the album as a whole. This is very much a metal band, but one that is attempting to create a genre of their own making, taking black metal and forcing into something that is far deeper, heavier and orchestral than anything they have managed up to this. The production is simply superb, incredibly clear while also very heavy indeed, allowing the band to spread their wings and show that when it comes to this style of music there are very few in the world who can even approach the majesty and dark beauty of what they are producing. It has been way too long since these guys have provided us with a new album, let’s just hope that the world tour to follow is just that, and that they make their way down here, as that would be a show not to miss.

SIGH Scenes from Hell

Album · 2010 · Symphonic Black Metal
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The first Sigh album to include the scintillating contributions of Dr. Mikannibal on saxophone and vocals, Scenes From Hell continues the band's explorations of symphonic avant-black metal frenzy. David Tibet of Current 93 is an unexpected but welcome guest this time around, offering spoken word recitations on The Red Funeral and Musica In Tempora Belli (roughly translating to "Music In Times of War"). It's all gruesome, rough fun, though I do wonder whether a more lively production job wouldn't have teased out all the ingredients of Sigh's bizarre stew a bit more evenly. That said, the air of murkiness does harken back to Sigh's earliest releases, setting this in a continuity of musical development that began in the second wave of black metal and has fruited in this bizarre hybrid.

LIMBONIC ART Moon in the Scorpio

Album · 1996 · Symphonic Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
LIMBONIC ART originated as a band of three members but as the story goes in the world of extreme metal, personalities clashed and the project was whittled down to the two members of Daemon on lead vocals, guitars and bass and project manager Morfeus on keyboards, lead guitars, drum programming and vocals. Riding in the wake of fellow Norwegian bands in the second wave of black metal, LIMBONIC ART was one of those who opted for the symphonic route in the vein of Emperor, Arcturus, Dimmu Borgir and Cradle Of Filth. MOON IN THE SCORPIO was the debut and displayed the early years of black metal engaging in increased uses of symphonic elements that while already explored in black metal, hadn’t been fully exploited to full effect.

The main focus on MOON IN THE SCORPIO is in creating an operatic symphonic circus of sorts although a rather deranged one. Like much black metal of the day, the guitar and bass create receptive tritone riffing loops while the keys provide the atmospheric accouterments delivered in a more sophisticated symphonic fashion. While the black metal elements such as tremolo guitar playing, demonic raspy vocals and blastbeat drumming patterns are successfully utilized, what sets LIMBONIC ART apart from the pack of the day is that the main focus is on the melodic symphonic keyboard atmospheres that make the whole affair sound like some sort of black metal version of Phantom of the Opera especially when the showtune type segments break from the bleak monotonous riffing and Deamon sounds like a Broadway star.

Overall the atmosphere is dark and chilling with the tracks slowly ratcheting up with extended lengths. The opener “Beneath The Burial Surface” cranks it out for almost fourteen minutes. The album also makes use of a variety of vocal styles including Gregorian monk type chanting on “Overature: Nocturne” and choral arrangements on “In Mourning Mystique.” While the drum machine isn’t quite as satisfying as a real drummer would have been, the truth is that black metal drumming isn’t quite as technically necessary as say a killer death metal band requires and although a little variety is always preferred, i have to admit that in the case of MOON IN THE SCORPIO it works out just fine as the arrangements are well thought out and nothing sounds canned. Add to that the nice production and mix of the aggressive metal elements and the melodic sensual darkness of the synthesizer runs, bell chimes and other sounds that make a rather compelling listening experience.

At times the droning march does remind me a bit of Summoning’s brand of atmospheric black metal but LIMBONIC ART creates a more diverse use of several different movements within tracks that go through different stages with diverse dynamics and tempos. It’s obvious that LIMBONIC ART was very much an influence for later bands like Carach Angren that mixed black metal with dark Gothic operatic features. For me the atmospheric and symphonic branches of black metal can be very hit and miss and the results depend on the proper balance of the opposing forces involved. LIMBONIC ART manages to craft the proper tug of war between those forces to create a unique and satisfying debut in the form of MOON IN THE SCORPIO and a formula that they would utilize for their multi-decade run to the present. The title of the album was most likely taken form the 1987 film but doesn’t really convey any sort of connection.

CRADLE OF FILTH Cryptoriana - The Seductiveness of Decay

Album · 2017 · Symphonic Black Metal
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Kev Rowland

It is hard to believe that Cradle of Filth have now been making a nuisance of themselves for more than 25 years, but here they are back with their 12th album, their second for Nuclear Blast. True, they have been through one or two musicians during that period (okay, so it’s the best part of 30, but who’s counting?), and while Dani has been there since the very beginning, only drummer Marthus can also claim to have been with the band for more than five years. Somehow it never seems to matter, as Dani has a very strong view on what the band should sound like, and the image they should portray, and to my ears it seems like all the travails and efforts have been leading to this point as to my poor abused ears this is the finest thing they have ever done.

For me there has always been a fine line with CoF as to whether they really mean it, or if they are in danger of becoming a parody of the very thing they are trying to represent, but here their blend of symphonic gothic black metal hits every mark, every time. I just can’t fault this album, as from beginning to end I found myself deep inside the dark world of Dani’s creation, where the drums pummel when they need to, the guitars are clean and melodic or distorted and riffing as the need arises, the symphonic histrionics are just right, the female vocals create just the right amount of balance (congratulations to Lindsay Schoolcraft who has large shoes to fill – I was always a huge fan of Sarah Jezebel Deva – but here she gets it spot on) and then there is Dani. Now solidly into his forties, young(ish) Mr. Filth has created an album that takes the bands to new heights, and while I have always had a soft spot for ‘Dusk...And Her Embrace’, I know this has taken the #1 slot for me. If you love CoF then rush out and get this now, as it is everything you have ever enjoyed about the band, just taken to the next level. If you have never been too sure, then now is the time to give them another try.

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