For the most part, metal fans associate black metal with Scandinavia and old-world Europe. This is in part because it’s where the genre saw its biggest bloom, in the late ’80s and early ’90s in Norway. But black metal has also always courted a love of those Gothic tropes that are so inherently part of European literature and culture — crumbling castles, raging storms, relics of an era long since lost, and all the sweeping emotions that go with them. As such, black metal has been considered by most to be European in nature, forever tied to the continent and its classic history.
But metalheads know better. As fans, we know that metal is a universal language, and that black metal’s grand, violent satanism is a message that kvltist’s the world over can understand. So to make your average newcomer to the scene more open-minded, and even to give the old guard some new music to listen to, we compiled this list of bands who make excellent black metal outside of Europe. Here’s how the shadow falls…
Not only are Sarcófago one of the most influential non-European black metal bands, they’re also one of the most influential black metal bands period. These dudes’ noisy, ugly music inspired both the Norwegian members of the black circle and their own countrymen like Sepultura. Their complete dedication to sonic mayhem and metal extremity automatically ranked them as truer than even many of the Scandinavian sect. Bullets, vests, war paint and noise — the original winning combination.
Woods of Desolation (Australia)
When it comes to sprawling, emotional black metal, few bands can match Australia’s Woods of Desolation. The one-man project doesn’t only pack its music with tremolo picking and blastbeats, but it also uses them to paint pictures of misty fields and bitter heartbreak that feel like a maturation of black metal’s stricken emotionality. The end product is something that a listener could use to both inform their epic medieval fantasies or work out their own personal trauma. Rarely can a band so deftly handle both sides of this ancient coin.
Satan’s Anger (Jamaica)
It’s easy for Westerners to think of the Caribbean as a place without black metal, since they perceive it as all resorts, weed and reggae. But Satan’s Anger prove there is something ugly and human dwelling beneath the surface of Jamrock. Last year’s The Killing of God is as stripped-down and gnarly a black metal release as one can find, harkening back to the genre’s clunky beginnings. Once you get over the excitement of telling people you’re listening to “Jamaican black metal,” you’ll find some very nasty, very satisfying music here to enjoy.
Wolves In The Throne Room (US)
While America has scores of impressive black metal bands to its name, it’s Olympia, Washington’s Wolves In The Throne Room who have captured America’s essence with their music. As huge and elemental as they are emotionally resonant, the band have taken the genre to the core of its pagan roots. Though at one point diverging into synth-driven ambient music, the trio have since returned to more aggressive pastures, with this year’s Primordial Arcana hitting that beautiful sweet spot between destruction and creation. Never not exciting to listen to.
It’s no secret that Sigh have long been the black metal band of Asia, with frontman Mirai having known and traded tapes with Mayhem svengali Euronymous back in the day. But what’s especially impressive about Sigh is where they’ve taken their music since. Albums like 2012’s In Somniphobia and 2018’s Heir to Despair don’t dig their heels into black metal traditionalism, they sprawl out and incorporate everything from techno pop to mariachi music into their sound. A band who shows exactly what black metal can be.
How Forteresse manage to be simultaneously so beautiful and so punishing is anyone’s guess. The Quebecois band’s black metal is charging and merciless, but their use of emotional melodies only heightens their sense of frenzy. The result is a band who drive black metal forward, their music a mirror in which so many Norway-worshippers can see that they’re stuck in place. Remember, friends, Mother North America is a terrifying thing.
While the Scandinavian second wave of black metal launched interest in the genre around the world, Brazil’s Mystifier were the movement’s South American peers from the get-go. The band were making murky, eerie, grating occult metal alongside Mayhem and Burzum, with 1993’s Goetia best illustrating their sound. Since then, the trio have built a massive kvlt following, even putting their own powerful spin on corpsepaint that accentuates the art’s warlike qualities. A must-know band for any hardcore devotee of the genre.
At first listen, the sheer harshness of Lebanon’s Aurgia might put some listeners off. But listen through the icy gale of their pure distortion, and one finds a deep well of powerful, drawn-out ache beneath the surface. The Beirut three-piece are definitely more influenced by the genre’s experimental champions, as the music on 2014’s Reflection of the Majesty and 2016’s scathing VII – Dimensions of Asymmetry both thrive on those moments where the blastbeat whirlwind settles down and the guitar aurora takes over. Not for the impatient.
The speed with which Uada have become one of black metal’s most exciting bands speaks to their incredible talent. From the moment their released their 2016 debut Devoid of Light, the Portland-based four-piece became one of the scene’s most talked-about bands. While their hooded appearance lends a certain shadowiness to their approach, it’s their music, elemental in nature but possessing a tireless momentum that makes them feel more like the fire than the forest, that has taken them to such heights. It’s awesome to see a band like this emerge before our eyes.
Oathean (South Korea)
Anyone who’s ever seen a South Korean soap opera knows that the country understands sweeping emotion, and Oathean channel this perfectly. The band’s symphonic approach has both incredible songwriting and gigantic heart, weaving its melodramatic elements perfectly into its harsh, thrashy base. The mixture of eerie horror synths and furious kinetics make this a perfect addition to the collections of anyone who worships acts like Naglfar and Chthonic. And to think that on other other side of the fence, music like this might get you killed.
Words by Chris Krovatin