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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 | 67 ratings
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EMPEROR In the Nightside Eclipse Album Cover In the Nightside Eclipse
4.31 | 71 ratings
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CHTHONIC Seediq Bale Album Cover Seediq Bale
4.48 | 10 ratings
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AQUILUS Griseus Album Cover Griseus
4.41 | 12 ratings
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NOKTURNAL MORTUM Lunar Poetry Album Cover Lunar Poetry
4.33 | 13 ratings
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CRADLE OF FILTH Dusk and Her Embrace Album Cover Dusk and Her Embrace
4.19 | 40 ratings
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MASTER'S HAMMER The Jilemnice Occultist Album Cover The Jilemnice Occultist
4.45 | 7 ratings
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DIMMU BORGIR Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia Album Cover Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia
4.06 | 37 ratings
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CARACH ANGREN This Is No Fairytale Album Cover This Is No Fairytale
4.14 | 12 ratings
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CRADLE OF FILTH V Empire or Dark Faerytales in Phallustein Album Cover V Empire or Dark Faerytales in Phallustein
4.08 | 18 ratings
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CARACH ANGREN Where The Corpses Sink Forever Album Cover Where The Corpses Sink Forever
4.07 | 20 ratings
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SAMAEL Passage Album Cover Passage
4.05 | 19 ratings
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Beneath The Snow
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symphonic black metal Music Reviews

DIMMU BORGIR Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia

Album · 2001 · Symphonic Black Metal
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Kev Rowland
Can it really be more than 20 years since One of Norway’s most creative black metal bands released ‘Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia’? At the time they had gone through some artistic and personnel changes which would shape their future, with the arrival of bassist/singer ICS Vortex, drummer Nicholas Barker of Cradle of Filth and new guitarist Galder fitting in with Shagrath, Mustis and Silenoz. To celebrate the 20th+ anniversary, towards the end of 2022 Nuclear Blast released a limited edition 3 LP set containing remixed and remastered versions of the original 13 songs (as it is includes the bonus songs from the Japanese edition), with another LP (called ‘Dust Of Cold Memories’) which includes extensive bonus material, which includes the pre-production of the album and instrumental rehearsals.

Although I personally do not view this as important as the next album, ‘Death Cult Armageddon’, the addition of ICS Vortex to the band was a major step forward, along with the strong use of real orchestration as opposed to producing it on keyboards. There are some who feel this period of the band does not compare to their early days, bit for me this was when they were at their most interesting, challenging the norms on what was expected from Norwegian Black Metal, and forcing it into the mainstream without ever losing any of the power and atmosphere. Like many, I got this at the time so the question must be is it worth buying it again? Well, it has been remixed and remastered and the sound has been made punchier, plus it is available on vinyl, which is always nice. The third LP is very much for fans only but given they will be the ones getting this I guess that is okay.

CRADLE OF FILTH Existence Is Futile

Album · 2021 · Symphonic Black Metal
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Kev Rowland
There are few bands over the years who have generated so many as extreme reactions as Cradle of Filth, from being arrested by armed police at the Vatican in Rome for wearing ‘I Love Satan’ T-shirts in the Holy City to collaborating with Ed Sheeran, Dani has led this band through numerous line-up changes in their 30-year existence (and since the release of this album towards the end of last year there have been even more). He has always been at the heart of a metal beast which has its roots in black metal but over the years has embraced (darkly) many more styles, and here we find the band again bringing plenty of symphonic modes into their sound. Have they moved more towards Dimmu Borgir with this release, or vice versa? Discuss.

I loved their last album, 2017’s ‘Cryptoriana (The Seductiveness of Decay)’, yet there are moments on this album when they manage to exceed those lofty heights, with “Crawling King Chaos” being the perfect blend of Dani, black metal, symphonic and orchestral as it creates something dark and majestic. It is immediately obvious that this is a CoF album, and we are taken on a journey of styles and contrasts, with the instrumental “Here Comes a Candle... (Infernal Lullaby)” being both beautiful and totally at odds with the far more metallic “Black Smoke Curling from the Lips of War” which follows. This is one of the real delights of this album as one never knows where it is going to lead us, and Dani is the master manipulator ensuring he is always in total control. Although there have been some recent changes to the line-up, everyone else has been in the band since at least 2014, so one wonders if we are in for a period of stability, and possibly a more frequent release schedule?

They may not be loved by all metalheads, but no-one can deny they have stayed true to the course and 30 years on from ‘Invoking the Unclean’ they are as relevant and exciting as ever.

EMPEROR In the Nightside Eclipse

Album · 1994 · Symphonic Black Metal
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While Master’s Hammer actually take the accolade for the first Symphonic Black Metal album, few would disagree that Emperor’s debut improved on and perfected the genre. In the Nightside Eclipse may have singlehandedly launched the boom of Sympho Black albums in the late nineties, and became the template for the genre’s sound. It’s still regarded as widely the greatest Sympho Black album out there. But does it live up to its reputation?

The answer is a resounding yes. Emperor’s debut is a masterpiece of songwriting and dark, cold, but epic atmosphere. Each song is a beautifully crafted piece lush with choirs and strings, yet still heavily focused on classic Black Metal instrumentation. The symphonic aspect is not overbearing or overblow – not that I mind those styles – but it very much serves as a core backbone of atmosphere to the cold Black Metal riffing. Each song is not only dense with nocturnal soundscapes, but there’s a ton going on within the primary band as well. The instrumentation is of very high technique compared to most Black Metal, and the songs are full of varying passages, with fast parts, slow parts, pummeling aggression and more calculated melody.

One of those albums without any glaring flaws. Aside from the pointless into, every song is of equal quality, each has something special about them. No dull moments. Easily lives up to its reputation. Another one of those bands that aced a new style of music on their first try.

NOKTURNAL MORTUM До лунарної поезії (To Lunar Poetry)

Album · 2022 · Symphonic Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Ukraine’s NOKTURNAL MORTEM is no stranger to controversy having been accused of advocating for the killing of Christians, burning of churches and neo-nazism in its pagan black metal music but despite all that the band learned quickly to distance itself from such controversy and focus more on its folk infused atmospheric black metal that has made them one of Ukraine’s top metal exports.

Well the band may have let go of its biting rhetoric but now in 2022, five years after the last release “Істина,” NOKTURNAL MORTEM returns with another controversial album, that being a modern recording of its classic 1996 demo “Lunar Poetry.” Like many metalheads i’m not fond of classic albums being re-recorded in general but once in a while there are some exceptions to the rule.

Meshuggah’s “None” comes to mind which clearly was a remarkable improvement over the original however most of the time the efforts come off as a desperate attempt to revive a stagnating career whether be in the world of metal with albums like Gorgoroth’s “Under The Sign Of Hell” or even prog with Camel’s re-recording of “The Snow Goose.” Most of the time it just seems utterly unnecessary.

True “Lunar Poetry” was only a demo but it has pretty much been re-released and presented as a bonafide early album for over two decades now with the CD release that emerged in 2002. A lot has changed in the 26 years since the demo haunted the 1990s including the lineup. Of the original lineup of Varggoth (guitars, vocals), Xaarquath (bass), Sataroth (keyboards), Munruthel (drums) and Wortherax (guitars), only Varggoth and Wortherax remain.

До лунарної поезії (To Lunar Poetry) features the new lineup of Varggoth (guitars, vocals), Wortherax (guitars), Karpath (bass), Surm (keyboards), Bairoth (drums) and although presented as a re-recording of the original classic demo, actually is a compilation of sort of most of the original “Lunar Poetry” along with the track “Return of the Vampire Lord” from the 1997 EP of the same name as well as another track “Акт віри (Ода інакомисленню) / Autodafe (Ode to Nonconformity)” which doesn’t seem to appear on any NM release.

This new updated version of “Lunar Poetry” is available as a nine track digital download and CD but also has been released as a collector’s edition limited to 333 copies and includes a 36-page booklet, T-shirt, flag and encased in a wickedly cool cardboard box with a magnet lock. The album has also found a vinyl LP release however only in Poland only.

Musically the tracks are presented faithfully in their original demo form with nothing compositionally speaking having been changed significantly. What’s new of course is the world of modern production value and an obvious larger budget to bring the original demo into the full spectrum digital age. As with all such re-recordings, this one misses that spontaneous lo-fi passion that made the original stand out so boldly and to be honest, the original “Lunar Poetry” featured a pretty good production for a black metal demo of its era. Since the lyrics are unintelligible it’s possible they have been changed to erase the band’s controversial content of the past which may be the intent of this release.

While everything on До лунарної поезії (To Lunar Poetry) is well played and decently recorded, personally i prefer the original since “Lunar Poetry” was one of the earliest albums that got me into the entire world of black metal. Aside from the obvious production upgrades, the musicians do not replicate the tracks exactly the same which is to be expected from a completely new cast of characters on board. Add to that Varggoth’s vocals sound more like Mirai Kawashima from Sigh than old NM. All in all a decent album but if you’re a huge fan of the original you will probably find that one more authentic.

CRADLE OF FILTH V Empire or Dark Faerytales in Phallustein

EP · 1996 · Symphonic Black Metal
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V Empire is the second studio release by British extreme goth metallers Cradle of Filth. Released in 1996, it is an EP that was recorded to set the band free of their contractual obligations with their record label Cacophonous Records (the band will soon sign a deal with Music For Nations to release their second, and immensely successful, full-length Dusk … and Her Embrace). Given this background story, one may expect V Empire to be a sub-par, throwaway release, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. V Empire is actually an excellent record, much superior to the band’s debut album The Principle of Evil Made Flesh, and at times capable of competing with the impending heavyweight Dusk … and Her Embrace.

Relative to the band’s debut full-length, Cradle of Filth sport a new line-up on this record, with guitarist Stuart Anstis and keyboard player Damien Gregori joining drummer Nicholas Barker, bassist Robin Graves and singer Dani Filth after the demise of half of the band following the debut record (a second guitarist, some Jared Demeter, is mentioned in the CD booklet, but it turns out this was just to give the impression that the band still had two guitar players, when in fact Anstis recorded all guitar parts on the record). This is the same line-up that will record Dusk … and Her Embrace and indeed the sound of the album is closer to Dusk than to the debut. The gothic and melodic elements find more space on this album and so do the female vocals that here are not just used in the form of recitations but also to sing melodies. The brutality and aggression are toned down a notch. The guitar work is more melodic and closer to classic heavy metal than to black metal. Nicholas Barker’s drumming, although always furious and hyperactive, is more nuanced, using fills and breaks and a more varied and less relentless approach. Dani’s vocals have also improved. His performance is more varied and sophisticated and his voice does not sound so strained and tentative as on the debut.

The songwriting and production also show clear signs of improvement. The production is cleaner and more nuanced. The drum sound is vastly improved compared to the debut, and one can now hear all the subtleties in Barker’s playing that were totally lost on the previous record. The guitar tone is also quite good, powerful but not too harsh. Perhaps the EP sounds a bit too loud, but this is a minor issue. The songwriting approach is still complex and multi-layered as on the debut, but Cradle of Filth have now learned to streamline their compositions to make them more accessible and memorable. This is particularly the case on “Queen of Winter, Throned”, by far the best track of the EP and one of the greatest songs ever written by the band. The use of a catchy and melodic chorus that is repeated a handful of times is a useful signpost that greatly helps the listener to orientate among the whirlwind of tempo changes and alternations between fast and furious segments and melodic episodes. The track lasts more than 10 minutes, but the music is so adventurous and smoothly composed that time flies by as one listens to it.

The other tracks included in the EP are two short semi-instrumentals pieces, a re-recording of “The Forest Whispers My Name” from the debut, and two new compositions, “Nocturnal Supermacy” and “The Rape and Ruin of Angels”. All tracks are enjoyable, albeit none reaches the level of quality of “Queen of Winter, Throned”. “Nocturnal Supermacy” is probably the song that gets closer to it. It’s a slightly more aggressive piece, similar to some of the material that had appeared on the debut, but it has some great, memorable moments and a good level of energy. “The Forest Whispers My Name” was a good, but slightly chaotic track on the debut. The new version improves it, especially since the playing is tighter and the vocals are better. “The Rape and Ruin of Angels” starts with the most furious and fastest episode of the EP before plunging into a moody mid-tempo, only to accelerate then again. It feels like this is a track written using the same template of “Queen of Winter, Throned”, albeit less successfully.

Overall, V Empire is a strong sophomore recording, showing that the band is on a clear upward trajectory. Indeed, in the same year when this EP came out, Cradle of Filth will release what many consider their crowning achievement, the LP Dusk … and Her Embrace. V Empire is not at that level, but it does come close especially in its best tracks. It is not by chance, after all, that a song like “Queen of Winter, Throned” will become a staple of Cradle’s live concerts for years to come: it is that bloody good! In sum, give this EP a chance and don’t be discouraged by the fact that it was released as an escamotage to fulfill the contractual obligations with Cacophonous. Highly recommended!

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