The very name “black metal” conjures up images of corpse paint, dark forests, and burning churches.

Behemoth “Evangelion” album cover by Damien Counihan.
A neo traditional burning church done by Alex Dörfler in Germany.

Black metal is a genre of heavy metal that started in the 1980’s with bands like Venom, Bathory, Celtic Frost, and Hellhammer. Coming out of England, Venom’s first two albums “Welcome to Hell” and “Black Metal” are often called the first black metal albums made, especially as Venom coined the term. Bands like the above mentioned formed the first wave of black metal, with the second wave coming out of the 90’s.

Celtic Frost album cover “Morbid Tales” by Mike Roberts at Port’s End, OR.
Gaahl portrait done by Uncle Allan in Berlin

The first wave of black metal was full of satanic words and imagery in their album art, music videos, and merchandise. Basically anti Christianity at its core. The second wave of black metal that came around in the 90’s was much more influenced by Norwegian black metal artist “Euronymous.”

Bathory Goat done by Georgia O at Southern Scars Outlaw Tattoo.
King Diamond portrait done by Ick Abrams.

Darkthrone became one of the most influential death metal bands coming out of the 90’s, despite their first album arguably being death metal. Their sound quickly developed and changed, and they were able to help put Norwegian black metal on the map.

Realistic burning church and skull done by Benjamin Trübner.
Black metal lady head done by Ice Abrams.

Norway is famous for black metal not only because of the music, but also because of what happened in Norway supposedly because of the music. In the 1990’s Norway became famous for the extreme music coming out of the country, and the mayhem its listeners carried out. This included the burning of traditional wooden Norwegian churches called staves. In June 1992 the first church was burned in the name of black metal, followed by three more churches being set ablaze that summer, and over 20 burnings over the course of 4 years by either black metal band members, or fans. Then in 1994, Varg Vikernes of the influential one man black metal band “Burzum” was found guilty of burning down Åsane Church and Stortveit Church in Bergen, Skold church in Vindafjord, and Holmenkollen chapel in Oslo. He was also found guilty of killing Aarseth, but claimed it was self defence.

Burning church by Renko Edge at Clan of Tusk Tattoo in Bruge.
Black metal shadow puppet done by Stephanie Cuevas Lost Harbor Tattoo Shop.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, atmospheric and ambient black metal started becoming more popular thanks to bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, Agalloch, Drudkh, Panopticom, and Alcest.

Darkthrone logo by Benjamin Toner at Hand of Hope Tattoo in Stockport.
Black metal lady and burning church done by Uncle Allan in Berlin.

Black metal has a very particular sound, and the different sub genres and waves of black metal have at least some of them in common. Much of black metal is known for its lower quality production, giving it a very DIY sound. Particularly the early stuff coming out of Norway. They tend to have heavily distorted guitars, lots of reverb, and low end bass (the sound not the instrument). Most black metal also has harsh guttural vocals, and fast pounding drums that are heavy on the double bass and snare.

American traditional burning church by Sebastian Berthe in Regensburg, Germany.
Arch Goat art done by Robert Z from Slovakia.

Some of the most popular black metal bands today (not necessarily still vatic bands) include Behemoth, Darkthrone, Burzum, Bathory, Immortal, Enslaved, and Cradle of Filth.

Portrait of Nergal from Behemoth done by Raul Khasanjanov.
Cute black metal portrait done at Tattoo Eternal Ink in Sweden.

Because black metal in general is either pagan or satanic in its themes, the imagery that comes with it often is too, including tattoos. Popular black metal tattoos include black metal band members, burning churches, skulls, goats, devils, and other pagan or satanic symbols.

Black metal corpse paint by Jose Daniel Valencia Giraldo at Black Lines Matter Columbia.
Burning church by Drew Gäben Hibler tattoo artist at Old Soul Tattoo. Gallatin, TN.

What’s your favourite black metal band?

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