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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UADA Devoid of Light Album Cover Devoid of Light
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4.72 | 10 ratings
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DISSECTION Storm of the Light's Bane Album Cover Storm of the Light's Bane
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WINTERHORDE Underwatermoon Album Cover Underwatermoon
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MELECHESH Sphynx Album Cover Sphynx
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WINDIR Arntor Album Cover Arntor
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ASTARTE
4.52 | 6 ratings
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MELECHESH Enki Album Cover Enki
MELECHESH
4.35 | 17 ratings
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UADA
4.38 | 9 ratings
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UADA Djinn Album Cover Djinn
UADA
4.45 | 6 ratings
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melodic black metal Music Reviews

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.

CRADLE OF FILTH The Principle of Evil Made Flesh

Album · 1994 · Melodic Black Metal
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lukretion
British extreme goth metallers Cradle of Filth released their first album The Principle of Evil Made Flesh in 1994, following a handful of demos and a botched attempt at releasing their debut full-length (Goetia, whose tapes were erased by the recording studio when the label withdrew the funds to pay for it). Although much of the line-up that recorded Principle had been together for quite a few years, their future will be short-lived. After the album came out, keyboard player Benjamin Ryan and guitarists Paul Ryan and Paul Allender all left the band (though Allender will return later on in 2000) to form the short-lived goth/doom project The Blood Divine, leaving drummer Nicholas Barker, bassist Robin Graves and singer Dani Filth to carry on on their own.

Principle is a somewhat different beast compared to much of the rest of Cradle of Filth’s discography. Some of the classic trademarks of their sound are already here, such as the romantic and gothic undertones, the use of female recitations and symphonic keyboards, and a guitar approach that sits halfway between extreme metal and classic heavy metal, with ample concessions to melodic leads. But all these traits are just at an embryonic stage on Principle, which is instead characterized by a more extreme and savage stylistic approach, putting the album more firmly into black metal territory than most of their other records. The level of aggression remains high from the opening (post instrumental prelude) title-track through most of the rest of the album, with some songs showcasing an almost punkish bellicosity. Dani Filth’s vocals also sound quite different on this album relative to the vocal style he will develop later on. His voice is raspier and more guttural, the high-pitched shrieks that will soon become his controversial trademark are almost completely absent here. While some may prefer the more standard approach Dani uses on this album, I find it a tad too unidimensional as well as somewhat tentative and strained, as if Dani weren’t fully comfortable with his own performance (which I guess is not unusual for a debut).

Although I vastly prefer their later 1990s and early 2000s output, Principle is a pleasant album to listen to. Its main shortcoming is that it does not contain many stand-out moments and even the best tracks are characterized by a certain compositional clumsiness that bogs them down somewhat. Cradle of Filth’s music is characterized by a very progressive approach to songwriting, with multiple parts segueing into one another often without being repeated more than once, layered guitar and vocal melodies, hyperactive drumming, continuous tempo changes, and sudden alternations of fast and furious episodes with more relaxed and melodic parts. To write such complex compositions while retaining a smooth flow is a difficult art and Cradle of Filth here succeed only in a couple of occasions, like on the moody and majestic “The Black Goddess Rises” and what is probably the best song of the record “Summer Dying Fast” (which is preceded by another great track “A Dream of Wolves in the Snow”, a little atmospheric spoken piece featuring Anathema’s Darren White on vocals). Elsewhere, the songs feel rather messy and overindulgent and they fail to hold my attention through their entire duration. The title-track and “The Forest Whispers My Name” are also decent tracks, although they are played a bit loosely and chaotically, which detracts from the listening experience. The sound production does not particularly help either. The album has a low-fi sound that, if on the one hand it gives the music a nice underground feel that matches well its brutal, punkish energy, on the other hand it makes the sound muddy, which is a problem when one writes complex and articulated music.

Overall, The Principle of Evil Made Flesh is a worthy debut album, foreshadowing the band’s impending success, but not fully reaching the level of quality of their later output. The album does contain some good tracks, though, which indeed will be re-recorded and re-released in different guises in later albums and EPs. If you can get past some of its defects (slightly clumsy compositions, tentative vocals, low-fi production), it can be a pleasant record to play once in a while.

WORMWOOD Arkivet

Album · 2021 · Melodic Black Metal
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Time Signature
The loneliness...

Genre: melodic black metal

I think I've said this a couple of times before, but I am not really an expert in black metal. I acknowledge it as a genre of artistic expression, but I am not able to appreciate all its different subgenres as I lack insight into all the little details and conventions that a true aficionado has. However, every now and then, I happen across a black metal band or maybe just a black metal release that clicks with me.

Wormwood's "Arkivet" is one such release.

While it is rich in many of the tropes that make black metal what it is, such as tremolo-picking, harsh and screetchy vocals, and blastbeats galore, the album has another feature that hits it home with me: melody. That is not to say that I don't like the black metal figures that I just mentioned, because I do, and they work really well on this album. They work so well because they are not just juxtaposed with the melodic elements; the harsh intensity and the melody are intertwined in an unholy union of melancholy.

The melodic element consists in guitar melodies, which are often but not always tremolo-picked, along with the chord progressions themselves. Adding a slightly epic feel are atmospheric keyboards, and in a track like "Ensamheten" there is even some traditional Scandinavian folk instrumentation. In addition, there is the occasional breakdown into mellow clean-guitared sections.

"Ensamheten" is Swedish for "the loneliness", and, if there is one emotion that captures the atmosphere on this album, it's gotta be loneliness. There is a pervasive sense of melancholy on this album, and I guess that, with covid and lock-downs and all that, this sense of loneliness and desparation makes this album even more relevant. I'd say that we are not dealing with the typical type of self-pitying attitude that characterizes much melancholic black metal. This is bigger than that. This is about humanity itself. No, seriously, it is; just check out the lyrics. While personal suffering is tragic, the suffering of humanity does raise the stakes just a bit.

I think the songwriting is really good as is the musicianship. We are dealing with a band of musicians who are not afraid of letting melodic sensibilities not just shine through but be the fundament of a black metal release. We are even treated to some pretty good almost rock-like guitar solos every now and then which go well together with the melancholic in-built harmonies that characterize the entire album. The compositions are dynamic with changes and shifts where necessary and lack thereof where necessary. This means that there is a nice blend of black metal hypnoticity and interesting dynamicity.

Not surprisingly, I think this is a great black metal album. It immediately made it into my top ten of black metal albums (for what it's worth, of course, seeing that I'm not a trve kvlt gvy). Fans of melodic, melancholic, folky, and maybe even epic and symphonic black metal should find this a very intriguing listen. It is also likely to appeal tp people who are looking for a gateway into black metal.

VARATHRON Glorification Under The Latin Moon

Live album · 2020 · Melodic Black Metal
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Kev Rowland
Co-founded in 1988 by Stefan Necroabyssious, the band's vocalist and sole original member, Greek black metal band Varathron has been on a steady release schedule since 2004's ‘Crowsreign’, but for some reason have never put out a live album until now. Recorded on August 4th , 2019 in São Paulo during the final show of their "30 Years Of Darkness Tour", the setlist includes songs from throughout their career, including the entirety of the 1993 album ‘His Majesty At The Swamp’, to more recent songs, taken from 2018’s ‘Patriarchs Of Evil’. Alongside Rotting Christ and Necromantia, Varathron are seen as one of the founding fathers of the Hellenic Black Metal scene, and with 30 years already behind them there is no sign whatsoever of them mellowing out just yet.

This is classic black metal, and they utilise backing tracks with vocals and the odd keyboards to provide additional emotion and atmosphere, and if one were to remove that and the vocal style, one would possibly describe the music as being quite different as it is highly complex, technical and (dare I say it) melodic. This shows just how easy it is for genres to become confused as there are plenty of people who will say they do not like black metal who could very easily get into this album which crosses over many different styles from tech into power. They know how to use dynamics, and switch styles throughout so there is a great deal of contrast, which means that all aspects of their music come across with real power. Black metal live albums can somewhat suffer through lack of depth, as it loses some of that intensity, and while that is also the case here that can be somewhat mitigated by just turning it up. Yet another really solid release from the Greeks.

V:28 VioLution

Album · 2007 · Melodic Black Metal
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UMUR
"VioLution" is the 3rd full-lengh studio album by Norwegian black/death metal act V:28. The album was released through Vendlus Records in September 2007. It´s the successor to "SoulSaviour" from 2005 and features the same lineup as the predecessor: Kristoffer Oustad (guitars, programming), Eddie Risdal (rhythm guitars, vocals), and Atle Johansen (bass).

Stylistically the band continues the industrial tinged black/death metal style of the first two albums. They´ve grown as composers though and "VioLution" is generally more varied and more adventurous than the preceding releases. The atmosphere is pitch black and the lyrics laden with post-war/apocalyptic nightmare visions. The tracks are predominantly slow-to mid-paced, but there are faster parts featured on the album too. In addition to guitars and bass, the music features programmed drums and atmospheric synth effects/samples. The vocals are mostly raspy black metal style vocals, but there are clean vocals on "The Absolute", performed by Ulver´s Kristoffer Rygg. The clean vocals add more of a melancholic/depressive atmosphere to the music than a sense of "light at the end of the tunnel" (which clean vocals sometime add to extreme music). So this is overall very bleak music.

The material is well performed and the album is well produced too, and the band succeed in bringing an atmosphere of impending doom to the listener. There is great conviction behind the delivery and the programmed drums work well within the band´s sound. So upon conclusion "VioLution" is a high quality release and a 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

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