When most people think of black metal it is in the context of corpse paint, tremolo picking, and burning churches. Long before the infamous activities of the second wave, the fledgling genre grew as the hideous cousin of thrash and speed metal.
Here are the ten best first-wave black metal albums
10. Bulldozer – The Day Of Wrath
They say “Italians do it better” for a reason. The debut LP by Milan’s legendary blackened horde Bulldozer is a bombastic ass-kicker of an album that exists somewhere between Motörhead at their most raw and Venom at their most fun. Bass-driven, riff-heavy anthems to hard-partying that might sound dark and gritty but clearly prioritizes having fun above all else.
9. Destruction – Infernal Overkill
Where the early works of their fellow German countrymen Sodom are ragged exercises in terror and brutality, the method to Destruction’s madness was all about speed and refinement.
Pure aggression coupled with a sense of musicality that is not unlike what their American counterparts in Slayer were doing at the time, but with a sense of hook-driven melody that isn’t far off from more traditional heavy metal. Infernal Overkill might very well be the perfect bridge between thrash and black metal.
8. Tormentor – Anno Domini
Although best known for being Attila Csihar’s pre-Mayhem band, Anno Domini is an important piece of black metal history that had a profound impact on the landscape of black metal as we know it. Brutal and dynamic metal from the heart of the Eastern Bloc. Recorded in 1988, the album was shelved because of Communist state repression, but a dubbed copy made its way onto the scene and was subsequently traded widely across Europe. It’s the kind of legend that black metal was built on, thriving in the darkness against all odds. Essential listening.
7. Sodom – In The Sign Of Evil / Obsessed By Cruelty
The ultimate first-wave black metal mess. Because the original version of Sodom’s debut LP was deemed too raw for their German label Steamhammer, Obsessed By Cruelty was recorded twice. Funny enough, the rejected version was accidentally sent to and subsequently released by American distributor Metal Blade, so that’s the one most of us are familiar with. These Germans might have been inspired by Venom, but In The Sign Of Evil / Obsessed By Cruelty is entirely more disgusting than Sodom’s British counterparts could ever dare.
6. Sarcófago – I.N.R.I.
A true milestone in the evolution of black metal, these Brazilian pioneers’ reflected life in the slums of Belo Horizonte through a devastating sonic assault that is as epic as it is hideous. A ragged, Discharge-inspired punk stomp coupled with the ferocity of Possessed and the aesthetics of Venom’s rotten corpse. Crude, brutal, blast-beat-driven blackened death metal that would prove a huge influence to the Scandinavian scene a few years down the line.
5. Blasphemy – Fallen Angel Of Doom
The true standard bearers of extreme North American music and one of the most terrifying bands of all time, Blasphemy are the architects of an uncompromising style rooted in pure evil. Fallen Angel Of Doom draws upon the rabid onslaught of Possessed-inspired death metal and UK grind, but reinforced it with the aesthetics and speed of blood-drenched blackened, satanic thrash. Violent invocations of tormented oblivion. This is war metal.
4. Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break The Oath
Hands down one of the best heavy metal albums ever written and an essential influence to every band that dares flirt with evil. Mercyful Fate‘s record is structured around a similar narrative framework to its predecessor Melissa, but Don’t Break The Oath is refined to perfection. Pure anthemic perfection, there is not a wasted moment on the whole album. This is the quintessential Satanic panic album to leave pearl-clutchers shaking in their boots for decades to come. As good as evil gets.
3.Venom – Black Metal
Like a much drunker Motörhead prowling a decrepit graveyard, this is the record that would inspire a legion of troubled kids to take up guitars and create the most disgusting music possible. Setting the standard for speed and vulgarity coupled with an overtly satanic aesthetic, Venom laid the bedrock for an entire genre. Masterful in its ineptitude, Black Metal is an album that launched a movement and changed the world. This is the record that your parents were warned about.
2. Celtic Frost – To Mega Therion
As a direct descendant of Hellhammer, Celtic Frost didn’t stray too far from that evil path early on. Where the two bands differed significantly was in attention to musical detail and a pure willingness to experiment. With To Mega Therion, Celtic Frost took full ownership of that artistic, forward-thinking side and evolved into a multi-horned beast that prioritizes ethereal qualities as much as it does aggression. A grandiose juggernaut that set the bar for atmospheric black metal and doom.
1. Bathory – Blood Fire Death
From Quorthon’s blood-curdling shrieks to the breakneck tremolo riffage, Sweden’s Bathory inspired the sound of the second wave of black metal more than any other band. Although all of their first four records are absolutely essential, it’s with Blood Fire Death that the pagan themes really begin to take hold and the Viking aesthetic starts to rear its head. Given the trajectory that black metal has taken since a few teenagers started taking matches to churches, it’s hard to imagine what the world would look like without this album.