Pagan Black Metal

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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.

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NAGELFAR Hünengrab im Herbst Album Cover Hünengrab im Herbst
NAGELFAR
4.64 | 15 ratings
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HAVUKRUUNU Uinuos syömein sota Album Cover Uinuos syömein sota
HAVUKRUUNU
4.50 | 5 ratings
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HAVUKRUUNU Kelle surut soi Album Cover Kelle surut soi
HAVUKRUUNU
4.38 | 7 ratings
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CNOC AN TURSA The Forty Five Album Cover The Forty Five
CNOC AN TURSA
4.40 | 5 ratings
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АРКОНА Храм Album Cover Храм
АРКОНА
4.33 | 6 ratings
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NOKTURNAL MORTUM Weltanschauung Album Cover Weltanschauung
NOKTURNAL MORTUM
4.25 | 14 ratings
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WYRD Heathen Album Cover Heathen
WYRD
4.33 | 3 ratings
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NOKTURNAL MORTUM The Taste of Victory Album Cover The Taste of Victory
NOKTURNAL MORTUM
4.17 | 3 ratings
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DARKESTRAH Epos Album Cover Epos
DARKESTRAH
4.04 | 5 ratings
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PRIMORDIAL Imrama Album Cover Imrama
PRIMORDIAL
4.00 | 9 ratings
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KAMPFAR Mellom Skogkledde Aaser Album Cover Mellom Skogkledde Aaser
KAMPFAR
4.00 | 7 ratings
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PRIMORDIAL Storm Before Calm Album Cover Storm Before Calm
PRIMORDIAL
4.00 | 6 ratings
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Nomad
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DARKESTRAH
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pagan black metal Music Reviews

DARKESTRAH Nomad

Album · 2024 · Pagan Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Formed in 1999 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and then relocating to Leipzig, Germany, DARKESTRAH has delivered a unique strain of folk-infused black metal that stood out from the very beginning given its unorthodox infusion of Central Asian influences taking the world of Pagan black metal into completely new territory. The band led by drummer Asbath has undergone a ridiculous amount of lineup changes in its quarter century existence yet continues to sally forth like Gengis Khan conquering half of the Eurasian continent. The current year 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of the band’s debut release “Sary Oy” which launched DARKESTRAH onto the world’s stage of inventive black metal bravely reinventing itself in the 21st century from its second wave parent stock and in this calendar year we find the band returning after eight years with its seventh release NOMAD. The band did drop the EP “Chong-Aryk” in 2021.

The band featured the same lineup as 2016’s “Turan” only with newbie Charuk (vocals, percussion) delivers the expected mix of pagan infused black metal with frosty atmospheric backdrops, rasping vocals from beneath the din and the band’s knack for infusing traditional Kyrgyz folk sounds into the fabric of the metallic furor. DARKESTRAH has always delivered lengthy trotting tracks that emulate the procession of transversing the vast mountainous terrain and steppes of Central Asia and in that regard little has changed on NOMAD which continues the expected endless trajectory of lightning fast guitar riffing, blastbeats and moments of clean guitar contrast. The album features seven new tracks with four of them eight minutes or more. Atmospheric intros fueled with Kyrgyz folk melodies strummed on traditional instruments set the mood before the black metal bombast sets in. Throat singing technique yield to demonic black metal extremities. Yep, the DARKESTRAH formula is alive and well after all this time.

“Journey Through The Blue Nothingness” opens the album with the expected non-metal folk sequence before “Kök-Oy” begins the atmospheric black metal journey. After eight years the band is noticeably less vibrant than on past releases with the metal aspects set a bit back below the atmospheric melancholy. Likewise newbie percussionist and vocalist Charuk doesn’t seem as dynamic as former vocalists Merkith and Oldhan. Also noticeably missing are all those interesting contrasts within the tracks with most of them plodding along for their extended periods of time which makes me wonder if DARKESTRAH has finally run out of steam after two decades on the scene. The compositions are noticeably less complex in construct with simple guitar stomps punctuating a frigid atmospheric presence. Likewise the tracks don’t differ from each other as much as i would’ve expected with the title track sounding a bit too close to its predecessor. Dynamics, tempos and contrasts seem to evaporated like a life-giving water source during a drought.

This is a trend i find many long timers picking up lately. Deemphasizing the black metal intensity and setting it behind the atmospheric backdrop which now almost seems like the forefront, a sound that cheapens the overall effect and diminishes the value of the atmospheric contributions in the first place by showcasing how simplistic they are and why they are SUPPOSED to be set back in the mix. Overall DARKESTRAH has delivered a decent new slice of its classic pagan black metal with folk flavors but everything that made the band stand out all these years as been tamped down to a mere trickle and in the end this album comes off as a bit generic and lackluster. Sure the folk elements are weaved into the fabric of the music and the procession of black metal military march processions carry on but any element of surprise is sorely missing. Really the thing that bugs me most about this newest DARKESTRAH release is how the metal has been set back in the mix. It just doesn’t work for me. Add to that a rather by the books delivery of compositions and i’m not feeling the magic that this band once dished out in abundance. Despite that quibble, NOMAD is not a bad release at all even if not to my liking.

HELLVETO Autumnal Night

Album · 2002 · Pagan Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
HELLVETTO is just one of the many projects of the one-man act Filip Mrowiński better known as L.O.N (Light of Night) who operates out of Ostrołęka, Poland. Although HELLVATTO is his most famous alter ego, L.O.N. single-handedly also releases music under the monikers Blakagir, Neoheresy, Sarkel and Winds of Garden. Trouble getting along with others perhaps? The HELLVETO world began in 1995 followed by several demos and a split with Herrgorn before this debut AUTUMNAL NIGHT was released in 2002 on the Sanguinae Maremagnum label.

One of the most prolific artists in black metal, as HELLVETTO, L.O.N. released sixteen albums from 2002 to 2012 before dropping the name and changing it to Neoheresy. AUTUMNAL NIGHT set the stage for HELVETTO’s dramatic sound that mixed classical symphonic / orchestral elements with Pagan black metal. This debut features 10 tracks that add up to 52 1/2 minutes of playing time. HELLVETO handles all instruments including guitars, bass, drums, synthesizers as well as the orchestral arrangements with both raspy growls and clean vocal styles.

In many ways HELVETTO sounds like Summoning where the black metal is not the dominant feature but rather on an equal playing field with other elements in this case being the dramatic opera singing that often sounds like HELLVETO is being joined by a liturgical choir. The raspy vocals also remind a lot of Summoning’s Silenius however the orchestral classical segments make it sound like a black metal band ambushed an opera and then joined in. Other similarities can be made with Norway’s Limbonic Art as well as moments that remind me of early Nokturnal Mortem especially with the overlong “Intro / Switez” that is right out of the “Goat Horns” playbook.

I have mixed feelings about AUTUMNAL NIGHT. On the one hand it’s a very unique album that takes the classical orchestral sounds to levels most black metal bands wouldn’t even consider but to the point where they often dominate the album for too long. The compositions are well thought out and the dynamic flow of the album is quite intriguing but on the other hand the production and mixing is crap. Sure lo-fi works well for the more raw and brutal forms of metal but on AUTUMNAL NIGHT the black metal parts are set too low in the mix while the oft cheesy keyboards are set too high. Overall it’s an interesting release with lots of choral vocal styles offering a beauty and the beast effect with the raspy outrage.

While Ihsahn is getting a lot of praise for his 2024 release that mixes orchestral elements with black metal, many are unaware that HELLVETO was doing the same thing long ago however AUTUMNAL NIGHT was pretty much finding L.O.N. lingering in demo mode and his mastery of production and mixing would improve as time goes on. Musically i love this but the production is so wrong it hurts. Still though L.O.N. has proven to be a musical mastermind of both black metal and dark ambient styles for several decades now and seems he is in no danger of burning out any time soon. Sometimes the drifting into opera can be a bit too much but overall the orchestral classical moments are pleasant.

GONTYNA KRY Krew naszych ojców

Album · 2001 · Pagan Black Metal
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GONTYNA KRY is a Polish NSBM (National Socialist Black Metal aka Nazi) band that formed in the coastal city of Koszalin in 1993 by Bard Neur (vocals, guitar, keyboard) and Komes Lupul Kurhan (drums). This region of Poland was once the German state of Prussia from 1871 to 1932 and was basically the birthplace of the Nazi idealism that really took hold in the 1930s. Given the history of this region there’s no doubt that it has attracted followers of the NSBM ethos and GONTYNA KRY (Old Slavonic term meaning “Temple of Blood”) has joined the musical movement within the greater Pagan black metal scene to espouse its viewpoints.

This band released a few demos during the 1990s but didn’t unleash its official debut album KREW NASZYCH OJCÓW (Blood of our Fathers) until 2001. The style of GONTYNA KRY mixes raw lo-fi black metal with melancholic symphonic atmospheric backing along with tons of sound effects that depict going to war including the tedious 12-minute intro that features a lengthy marching procession and dungeon synth minimalism before finally getting to the black metal. The symphonic dungeon synth and percussive marching effects are recurring and reprise between tracks with overlong segments that quickly outstay their welcome.

While the subject matter is steeped in the idealism of the NSBM scene, luckily the lyrics are entirely in Polish and since my Polish language skills are minimal, i gratefully am oblivious to the actual lyrical content. The album features nine tracks with a 51 1/2 minute playing time. The album is designed to be epic in scope with the introductory battle preparations and mid-section ambience providing a context for the brutal black metal tracks in between. While noble in intent, the actual execution is fairly poor with a shoddy production that makes the synthesized parts sound rather cheesy and the black metal moments sound hollow and monotonic. Lo-fi is one thing but this sounds totally cheap as if it was recorded on some super primitive equipment.

Production and lyrical content aside, GONTYNA KRY aren’t exactly skilled musicians either as the composiitons are fairly generic and the lineup that features four members don’t really excel at any particular aspect of crafting unique black metal for the 21st century. There are no technical workouts to wow the listener and the atmospheric minimalism is just too cheesy to take seriously. At times the black metal and the symphonic parts play together and really don’t jive too well together. As far as the black metal itself goes, the vocal style is decent and the drummer delivers some nice blastbeating but usually fairly tame and the guitar parts are fairly uninspiring as they are generally set too low in the mix especially when the cheesy synthesizer parts are playing over them.

I’m certainly not against free speech and really don’t care about subject matter when rating music although i do not condone anything hateful in general however this album is just not that great mostly due to the fact the premise of the album makes you expect so much more than it delivers. There are many NSBM acts out there particularly and many in Eastern European nations such as Poland and Ukraine. I judge a band by its talent alone and the music without any reference to lyrical content and in this case KREW NASZYCH OJCÓW is simply not that good on many levels. Nokturnal Mortem who espoused the same NSBM tendencies in the past at least showcased a high level of musical competence. In this case this band only uses black metal as a means for espousing their viewpoints. A fairly generic and waste of time really this one.

YMIR Ymir

Album · 2020 · Pagan Black Metal
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Time Signature
Winterblasting...

Genre: black metal

Okay, I'll be the first to admit that, while I appreciate black metal as a genre, I am by no means a black metal afficionado, and I'll also be the first to admit that there are some genres of black metal that I simply just don't understand. However, every now and then, I happen across a black metal release that just clicks with me.

Ymir's eponymous 2020-release is one such release. It's not totally lo-fi in production (which might be a reason why I like it), but not polished either. It has a lot of the black metal tropes that so many know and love like the blastbeats, the tremolo picking, the dark atmosphere, and the harsh vocals. One thing that I like is that, while we are not dealing with super complex compositions, there is a nice balance between variation and repetition, so the listener is treated to both the trance-inducing effect of repetition and the excitement of changes and transitions. Another thing that I appreciate is how darkly melodic the entire effort is. Oftentimes, the melody emerges from the tremolo-picked parts themselves, but there are also the occasional melodic leads, which are often simple and melancholic. It all makes for a type of black metal that I feel I can appreciate.

Fans of early 90s black metal as well as of more melodic black metal should find this release appealing. It could also be a gateway for 'noobies' from the more polished contemporary black metal scene into the darker and rougher style of the 90s.

TAGAT Ourar n Itran

EP · 2014 · Pagan Black Metal
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Black metal coming from the African continent is quite rare but even stranger is when it comes from a predominantly Islamic nation like Morocco which is where this band TAGAT emerges from. Having formed in the southern city of Agadir, this duo of Ulzasen and Oshen conjure up a veritable maelstrom of black metal fury with a dash of local Amazigh folk flavors.

The Amazigh better known as the Berbers exist in many of the northern African nations and are considered the native peoples of many of the Arab speaking nations. TAGAT formed all the way back in 2002 and existed until 2017 but in that lengthy time only managed to record and release this sole EP titled OURAR N ITRAN which is a mere three songs that only clocks in at 13 minutes and 25 seconds.

The short EP begins with ethnic flavors of a women’s chorus sprinkling tones that contrast with the black metal fury that follows. Black metal hybridizes quite well with many local folk flavors with bands like Romania’s Negura Bunget taking their style of Romanian folkened black metal all the way to the international scene however TAGAT wasn’t quite that accomplished.

The main problem with OURAR N ITRAN is that the folk elements are simple intros and outros of the three songs and the black metal is typical second wave in the vein of Darkthrone and other early pioneers from the Norwegian scene. Neither of the other two tracks really develop into anything unique and daring but the juxtaposition of the Amazigh elements including the history and mythology of the region in the lyrics offers a glimpse into a promising style that could blossom but to date TAGAT has still not released any new product.

This is certainly not a bad EP but with only three songs feels like a preview for an album that never came to be. The Berber peoples constitute a variety of rich cultural heritage and the possibilities of mixing their folk music with extreme metal seems promising but for this little EP it didn’t quite happen. What’s frustrating about this one is that i know that it could be done much better. Good but not essential by any means.

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