Black metal is not just the most infamous genre in metal, but it’s also one of the most creatively fascinating. Over the years, black metal has spawned various sub-scenes, from atmospheric, to war, to blackgaze, and more. At this point in time, black metal has become a far more diverse genre, representing not just an array of technical approaches, but also a brilliant variety of creative flair.
The genre’s history is vast, and so like our past features pertaining to death metal, thrash metal, nu-metal, and industrial, we have combed through black metal’s past (and present) to find the 10 greatest black metal albums of all time. The following records are not just amazing black metal albums, but they are also the 10 records that have had the most impact on modern black metal.
De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas – Mayhem
While Venom‘s Black Metal gets a lot of credit for influencing the existence of the genre, Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is THE record that defined black metal’s sound. A true competitor to every other subgenre, this album unleashed one of the evilest forms of music to ever be created in the world. Through De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Mayhem established the foundation of black metal, presenting blisteringly fast instrumentation coated in a raw, gritty, and chilling production.
Stronghold – Summoning
When it comes to creating an atmospheric experience that exudes mood, while also offering up some awesome Tolkien-Middle Earth-inspired lyrics, Summoning is one of the best around. While the band has crafted a number of great records, 1999’s Stronghold is by far the record that shows off the band’s incredible songwriting abilities. Through each track that makes up this record, Summoning invites the audience to embark on an enchanting and epic sonic journey. While black metal is known to sound evil as hell, Summoning is more interested in creating an exciting adventure through methodical pacing and mood.
Dead as Dreams – Weakling
Though the band only ever released one studio album while they were active, Weakling’s Dead As Dreams is one of the eeriest and most raw-sounding releases to come from black metal. Featuring a lo-fi quality that offers haunting key work and pounding instrumentation, Weakling’s music gives off a deeply unnerving, almost ethereal quality. On top of the intense instrumental performances, John Gossard brought forth chilling vocal performances that exuded chills. In terms of the rawer, more gritty side of black metal production, Weakling put forth one of the genre’s best.
Under a Funeral Moon – Darkthrone
As one of the most legendary acts in all of black metal of course Darkthrone is on this list. Under a Funeral Moon both captures and presents a thrilling sonic menace; blending both slow-burning mood and riveting fast instrumentation, this Darkthrone album features a plethora of captivating tracks. When you think of the evil musical tones that make up so much of the genre, a big source of inspiration for that overall presence comes from the likes of Darkthrone and what they laid out early in their career.
Sunbather – Deafheaven
When it comes to the black metal albums on this list, Sunbather may be the most polarizing. While gatekeepers took issue with the record upon its release, many publications championed Deafheaven’s bold approach to shoegaze and dream-heavy black metal. Though the genre existed prior to Deafheaven’s rise to prominence, the band helped to further popularize “blackgaze,” which has gone on to become one of the most prominent subgenres in metal. Through the band’s use of shoegaze and pop qualities, they brought forth a new captivating shade of black metal – one that expresses haunting melancholy through unique uses of heavy melody.
Nattens madrigal – Ulver
While Ulver has drastically reinvented their sound and style over the years, they are still – without a doubt – one of the most influential black metal bands of all time. Though several of their early black metal albums are worth shouting out, 1997’s Nattens madrigal is their standout work. Even in their early days, Ulver was interested in presenting black metal that was more experimental, as compared to their contemporaries. Among all their earlier black metal releases, Nattens madrigal makes for an awesome display of the band’s remarkable songwriting abilities.
Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk – Emperor
Another album that also stands as an astounding achievement of technical and creative black metal is Emperor’s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk. Through this record, Ihsahn and the band crafted a symphonic experience brimming with epic and chilling appeal; mood oozes from these songs, whether a given track is slowly building up atmospheric tension or is going all-out on gripping speed. Displaying an array of technically intriguing compositions that engage listeners – both in a sense of entertainment and intellectually – Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, in general, is one of the most innovative metal records of all time.
H.A.Q.Q. – Liturgy
Another polarizing, although incredible work of black metal, comes in the form of the 2019 Liturgy album H.A.Q.Q. Throughout this record, Haela Ravenna Hunt-Hendrix and her band offer some of the most technically fascinating music to come from black metal. Given her efforts to create something new with Transcendental Black Metal, Hunt-Hendrix has been able to elevate the genre in creative ways that are both shocking and captivating. There are very few bands in the scene that offer such astounding technical depth as Liturgy, and among the band’s records to have the most impact on the genre, look no further than H.A.Q.Q.
Kentucky – Panopticon
Whereas Hunt-Hendrix brought jazz and electronic music into black metal, and Deafheaven brought uses of pop, Austin Lunn of Panopticon approaches his brand of black metal with touches of folk and Americana. While Lunn has created several great records, Kentucky is where he really stepped his game up, crafting an atmospheric experience brimming with jaw-dropping creative twists. Incorporating folk instrumentation within rip-roaring black metal songs – going from wicked-sounding riffs to a gentle droning air of haunting minimalism – what Lunn does throughout Kentucky is brilliant, and the record stands as one of the most unique works to come out of black metal to this day.
Diadem of 12 Stars – Wolves In The Throne Room
Equally as important to influencing atmospheric black metal is Wolves In The Throne Room, and a fantastic record to shout out is their debut LP. WITTR write songs that exude a tremendous palpable atmosphere; when you listen to one of their songs, you feel like you’re in the midst of a rainy, dense forest. Weaving together lyrical themes pertaining to nature and the occult, WITTR craft music that is nothing short of magical. Blending the enchanting with the heavy, Diadem of 12 Stars is an essential record that has further influenced the spread of atmospheric black metal.