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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melodic black metal Music Reviews

AXAMENTA Codex Barathri

Album · 2001 · Melodic Black Metal
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UMUR
"Codex Barathri" is the debut full-length studio album by Belgian melodic/Symphonic black metal act Axamenta. The album was released through The Last Shivering Planet Company in July 2001. Axamenta formed in 1993 and released a couple of demos in the 90s and the 1999 "Nox Draconis Argenti" EP, before being signed for the release of "Codex Barathri".

Stylistically the material on the album is a melodic and often symphonic type of black metal, featuring both snarling aggressive black metal vocals, the occasional death metal growl, and also some speaking vocals. The riffs are often closer to melodic death metal (and even thrash metal riffing at times) than to black metal riffing, and there is an occasional neo-classical touch to the music. The keyboards provide the symphonic edge.

While the music is relatively well written and performed, the sound production leaves a bit to be desired. It´s on the thin side and lacks bottom. Axamenta have not chosen a particularly innovative approach to their songwriting, and there´s not much here you haven´t heard before (and often better), but upon conclusion it´s a decent quality melodic/symphonic black metal release, and a 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

VÉHÉMENCE Ordalies

Album · 2022 · Melodic Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Just when you think the world of black metal has spread its ugly tentacles far and wide and impregnated every possible musical genre outside of its evil clutches, a new band will come along and prove you wrong and make like Ghengis Khan to conquer every possible nook and cranny of the free world. Well in the case of the Paris based VÉHÉMENCE it might be better to say Napoleon but whatever the case this blackened folk metal duo of Tulzcha (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, drums, synthesizer) and B.R. (vocals, lyricist) has come along and haunted the history books with its evil as fuck black metal anguish.

Formed back in 2013 VÉHÉMENCE started as a run of the mill melodic black metal band with medieval themes but after a few years of raiding the annals of time, the band returned in 2019 with “Par Le Sang Versé” which showcased a twisted fusion of medieval folk metal with all the ugliness of the black metal universe. The duo returns in 2022 with its third assault to the ears in the form of ORDALIES which finds Tulzcha dropping his drumming duties and T. Leitner joining the team to use and abuse this percussive play toys like a rabid knight in zombie mode lost in Middle Earth. Add to that a bunch of guest musicians who provide all the neo-folk goodies like a cello, flutes, a nyckelharpa and the wickedly cool sounding hurdy-gurdy.

While the folk metal shtick can be a little cheesy when taken to extremes, VÉHÉMENCE has developed a unique sound that sounds part Ensiferum, part viking metal Bathory, part Immortal and part, well unadulterated neo-medieval folk in all its acoustic majesty. ORDALIES (French for “ordeals”) is a lengthy beast swallowing up nearly an hour’s run of your precious life-force but once you run the gauntlet of ferocious rampaging black metal to the pacifying folk interludes. The folk parts appear as the shorter tracks carefully tucked in between the sprawling monstrous black metal assaults that maintain a perfect balance between the metal fury and melodic folk musical scales. Black metal wise expect the usual blastbeat driven speedfests, tremolo guitar picking with the standard evil as fuck distortion as well as raspy screamed vocals.

As far as the folk side of the equation is concerned, VÉHÉMENCE dishes out beautiful acoustically fueled medieval melodies with clean vocals and choirs as well as an atmospheric presence that makes you feel like Game of Thrones is about ready to begin. While many bands with such musical visions merely tradeoff stylistic approaches without ever really integrating the two, VÉHÉMENCE does a stellar job of not only crafting the authentic purity of each style but also by perfecting the perfect hybrid effect thus making this band one of the best black medieval folk metal bands i’ve yet encountered. Through the course of the band’s eight excellent tracks the style is perfectly integrated and all laid out so well that everything just comes together. When these two styles are unified it sounds like a viking metal tribute to Bathory.

Medieval and epic as fuck, VÉHÉMENCE delivers the goods in abundance on ORDALIES with the ferocity of the most vicious of black metal bands in the vein of Mayhem, Immortal or Taake in perfect wedlock with the melodic exaltedness of centuries old musical forms. Sounds like the perfect time heist and even though this album is an hour’s playing time, it rarely gets stale but there are a few moments where the repetition of riffs carry on a wee too long. VÉHÉMENCE has shown considerable maturation since its rather decent but nothing to blow you away debut and continues to ratchet up its presence in the relevance factor. True that medieval folk music and extreme black metal don’t sound like good bed fellows but one tiny listen to ORDALIES and you’ll surely be hooked. At least i am. Anachronistic futurism in the finest of forms.

VORGA Striving Toward Oblivion

Album · 2022 · Melodic Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
While technical death metal has been racing pellmell to escape the gravitational stranglehold of our homeward (assuming you’re reading this on the Earth), other sub-sectors of the metal universe are quickly catching up with black metal evolving past its anti-religion and misanthropic roots to a more cosmic vision of bleakness, depression and everything bad! The German band VORGA is just one of many up and coming acts that has eschewed the black and white monochromatic second wave black metal shtick and opted to debut in full multi-hued Kodachrome effects with its debut release STRIVING TOWARD OBLIVION.

This band emerged from the Karlsruhe region of southern Germany in 2016 and features three members from the UK, Bulgaria and Germany making this an interesting tour de force that offers a bit more mystique than the average stuck in the past black metal band these days. The space metal thing is hardly anything new and with black metal bands like Darkspace and Oranssi Pazuzu getting the space party started, it was only inevitable that all those forces of darkness would gravitate to something even bigger than perpetual goat worship and body corpse paint, namely the cosmos!

While the cover art may insinuate yet another tech death band setting off to distant galaxies far far away, VORGA is a melodic yet dynamic black metal band through and through. Melodic in its essence with a black’n’roll sorta groovy musical procession but kept in the black metal throes of ugliness with mangled jangly guitar chords, raging tempos that include dueling guitar riffs, direct energy weapon percussive precision and of course the blackest of black metal attributes in the raspy screamed vocal department. Add a slickly produced atmospheric overcast that pacifies the raging metal attributes and you have the perfect soundtrack to accompany your theme park space travel on your way to the archeological finds on Planet X!

For a debut album VORGA has found its own style although comparisons have been made to the Icelandic frigidness of Kvaen and Ifellow space travelers Imperialista, both up and coming acts with a similar vision. VORGA walks that tightrope between repetitive riffing that offers a consistency to latch onto while adding enough variety to keep things from growing as stale as mashed potatoes without any condiments. The brutal bombast of the guitar riffage keeps the black metal aspects in full fury mode while the atmospheric keys provide a melodic backdrop which oft become the dominating factor but it’s Petar Yordanov’s consistent set-to-fury mode that keep this firmly planted in the extreme metal section of the head banger’s musical playhouse.

While VORGA is a new creation, drummer Fran k Jervas is a seasoned veteran having playing in many metal bands over the last couple of decades and the relative recent formation of this band is belied by its undeniable command of all the elements required to craft an intriguing and attention keeping black metal album of the modern era. According to the band’s own words, VORGA will appeal to fans of Dissection, Necrophobic, Imperialist, Mare Cognitum, Unanimated, Sacramentum, Dark Funeral, Immortal, Gorgoroth but in reality sounds like none of those bands thus inching the world of black metal into another branch of the parent tree. This is a vital and dynamic debut and clearly VORGA is a force to be reckoned with in the modern crowded world of black metal and beyond.

DISSECTION The Somberlain

Album · 1993 · Melodic Black Metal
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SilentScream213
Yes, this brand of sombre Melodic Black Metal is absolutely to my taste. It also helps that this has huge Melodeath influences, enough so that you could easily give this album the accolade of being at the forefront of both genres. Mixing two genres still in infancy and managing to ace that combination is quite an incredible feat!

That’s what makes The Somberlain unique, but certainly not what makes it good. Every song is packed with excellent riffs that dance the line between evil, sombre, and folky. The drums have an incredible amount of diversity for a Black Metal album (the Melodeath influence is very strong here rhythmically) and you can expect much more than constant blast beats. The rhythm section is always changing, usually quite energetic but slowing down surprisingly often to allow riffs and atmosphere to marinate in a calmer zone.

The vocals sit right between Death growls and Black Metal shrieks, having a nice weight to them but maintaining a raspy enunciation that works very well. Most of the lyrics/themes are standard BM fare, focusing on occult darkness, but they’re well written. I will say, the acoustic interludes really don’t add anything to the album, and would have been more effective if interwoven into the songs. Unfortunately, they hurt the momentum because they aren’t strong enough to stand on their own. Otherwise, a great dark triumph that still stands above a vast majority of the hundreds of attempts at this sound since.

BORKNAGAR Quintessence

Album · 2000 · Melodic Black Metal
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lukretion
Quintessence, Borknagar’s fourth album, was released two years after the underwhelming response to their 1998’s album The Archaic Course. It is a record that rights many of the wrongs of its predecessor (messy and unfocused songwriting; overambitious experimentalism; sub-par production), but that also contains lots of material that falls into averageness and mediocrity, giving the overall impression of an album where Borknagar decided to play it safe. It is not necessarily a bad thing, especially in light of the pas-faux of the previous album. But in a period of burgeoning avant-garde extreme metal, it may be seen as a step back that puts Borknagar in the position of playing catch-up with other purveyors of the genre, like Arcturus, Enslaved or Ulver.

The band underwent a couple of significant line-up changes in the period between The Archaic Course and Quintessence. Ivar Bjørnson, who had played keyboards for Borknagar since the debut album, left to concentrate on his main project Enslaved, while drummer Grim (also with Borknagar since the beginning) sadly passed away of drug overdose. They were replaced respectively by Lars "Lazare" Nedland from Norwegian avant-garde band Solefald and drummer Asgeir Mickelson (Spiral Architect). Bass player Kai K. Lie also walked out, but was not replaced by any new member, as vocalist ICS Vortex doubled up as bassist on Quintessence, instead. With this renewed line-up, in early 2000 Borknagar entered Abyss Studios and recorded the album udner the supervision of Peter Tägtgren.

Sonically, the album takes a half-step back towards the days of The Olden Domain. There are less clean vocals, and more grasps and growls. The music is also simpler and more direct, leaving behind much of the experimentation that one can find on The Archaic Course. The performances are also more streamlined, especially thanks to Mickelson’s tight drumming replacing Grim’s more extravagant style. Newcomer Lars Nedland also makes his presence heard, as the 10 songs of the album are washed with tons of stylish vintage keyboards (Hammond organ, mellotron). Despite these more or less subtle changes, Borknagar’s music direction does not differ much from what the band had proposed on the previous two albums. Centred on Øystein G. Brun’s dense riffs, Quintessence offers a mixture of black metal, folk and avant-garde that bends the rules of extreme metal into more melodic directions.

Tägtgren’s production is good, giving good balance to the various instruments and vocals. If anything, the sound is a tad too balanced, in the sense that none of the instruments stands out particularly on this album and one has to make an effort to figure out the instrumental leads that are being played on the songs. Much of the problem, however, lies in the songwriting and arrangements that are very much nondescript, almost as if Borknagar were afraid to indulge in bold songwriting after the backlash they suffered with the previous album. The result is 10 songs that are fairly bland and lifeless and where it is difficult to find episodes that one gets excited by.

The album starts well, with “Rivalry of Phantoms” and “The Presence Is Ominous” representing two of the strongest tracks of the record. The playing is tight and the music strikes a good balance between aggression, melody and structure, alternating between epic mid-tempos and faster parts. Nedland’s keyboards take centre stage, especially on “The Presence Is Ominous”, and stand out as perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the whole album. Alas, the expectations created by these initial songs are soon disappointed, as the record starts to spin on itself, essentially recycling the same ideas over and over for its whole duration. “Colossus”, with its clean vocals, and “Invincible”, with its death metal vibe, rekindle some interest, but otherwise I find it a bit of a chore to remain fully attentive as the record plays through to its conclusion.

Overall, Quintessence is a decent album that certainly represents an improvement over the messy results of The Archaic Course, but also fails to reach the levels of inspiration and creativeness of The Olden Domain. If you are willing to forgive the somewhat dull and uninspired songwriting, you’ll find things to like here as Borknagar’s sound remains pleasant and enjoyable. But this record does not hold my interest enough to ensure I’ll be playing this very often in the future, as there are better albums of progressive extreme metal out there even from the same period (Enslaved’s Monumension) or from Borknagar themselves.

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