Released: 2013, Feral House
Despite the large amount of attention paid to Black Metal in academic circles, I was somewhat surprised that there has not really been a comprehensive history of the genre. As we creep towards the 25th anniversary of the emergence of the genres pioneering acts, there have only been a handful of documentaries and the infamously sensationalistic book, LORDS OF CHAOS, which is not nearly as bad as some make it out to be. With traditional Black Metal experiencing somewhat of a mini-resurgence, the time was right for BLACK METAL-EVOLUTION OF THE CULT to be written.
Published in late 2013 on the Feral House, this 550 page book is a fin4 looking book. Sporting a simple but visually appealing cover the over-sized paperback is well designed and the layout is very nice. There are 64 pages of glossy plates in the middle with about 80 photos, most of them colour of various people places and Black Metal related things. Very few of them I had seen before. In addition there are dozens more black and white photos scattered throughout the book. Written over a period of five years and based on countless interviews for when Patterson wrote for some of the big Metal magazines, you will not find a more authentic and reliable source of credible info
Over 50 chapters, BLACK METAL traces the development of the genre with a brief overview of Metal. The book follows a system of overview chapters and chapters that specifically spotlight bands, a total of 37 bands in all. Running chronologically Patterson starts with the ‘Big Four’ (Venom, Bathory, Mercyful Fate and Hellhammer/Celtic Frost) and an excellent chapter of the first wave of Black Thrash. He even recognizes that at the time bands like Sodom, Kreator, Destruction etc, were not defined as Black Metal, but that their influence was undeniable.
Patterson does a fantastic job that reveals the origins of the cult , as it were. Bands that do not get the respect or have the name recognition that the big names do, all get some attention, for example Samael, Master’s Hammer and Tormentor. Don’t worry, this book was not just an exercise in detailing obscure bands, he speaks in details about the early days of Darkthrone, Mayhem and all the bigger names. I also like how he acknowledges that the process is evolutionary, as per the books sub-title. I agree with him when he says that bands like Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth, most certainly were black Metal in the early days. He is also wise when discussing the big bands that many of them are no longer black Metal, bands like Satyricon, Enslaved and others. The main narrative is on the early days of the bands before many of them evolved into something different, but he does says that bands like Ulver for example are still going making music. I enjoyed his chapters on Folk/Black Metal and he was clever enough to make the distinction between straight-up Folk Metal and the folk influence on Black Metal. He did not include the big popular Folk Metal bands like Korpiklaani, Finntroll, Moonsorrow and Ensiferum, (The Finnish Big Four) but did include Black Metal bands that have a folk influence like Windir, Primordial and the short-lived Storm.
Much of the book was heavily focused on Norway. I feel Patterson should have focused a bit more on the early Swedish scene, bands like Arckanum, Tiamat, Dark Funeral, Necrophobic, and indeed the global scene with little or no mention of pioneers like Moonspell (Portugal), or even Demoniac (New Zealand). Even though there was no Finnish Black Metal scene to speak of it would have been nice to touch on Impaled Nazarene or perhaps Barathrum. It was nice to see my countrymen Blasphemy get their own chapter and I was surprised to see Ancient did not get there own chapter. I also would have liked to have a bit more about information the pioneering females of the genre Sarah Deva Jezebel, Claudia Maria Mokri and Kimberly Goss.
As the book drew to a conclusion I had a sense of melancholy as I read the final chapters. It occurred to me that virtually ALL of my favourite Black Metal bands have changed dramatically or broken up. I already inherently already knew this but reading the book really drove the point home. Most of the second wave bands; Ancient, Behemoth, Burzum, Cradle Of Filth, Darkthrone, Dimmu Borgir, Emperor, Enslaved, Gehenna, Gorgoroth, Mayhem, Moonspell, Old Man’s Child, Rotting Christ, Samael, Satyricon, Tiamat, Ulver (and more) are no longer the bands I first was attracted to. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy all those bands as they continue to make interesting, exciting, innovative albums; but they are no longer truly Black Metal. In some cases these bands were only Black Metal for one or two albums before rapidly evolving.
The last six chapters focuses on the off-shoots of Black Metal, sub categorizations like ‘industrial’ and ‘ambient’ with bands like Aborym, Dodsheimsgard, Mysticum and others as well as some discussion of post-black Metal. These are important chapters to the overall story but I read them with considerably less interest, than the chapters about the origins, because, to be blunt, I don’t really like those bands as much. It saddens me to think that these post-Black Metal or Shoe-gaze (or Hippie-Metal as I prefer to call them) bands like Woods Of Ypres, Shining, Deafheaven, and Wolves In The Throne Room, get lauded by journalists who write for non-Metal publications such as PopMatters, Spin, Exclaim, Vice, Pitchfork etc, as the future of the genre. Perhaps this is why I continue to champion bands that stay true to Black Metal all these years; bands like Dark Funeral, Enthroned, Marduk and Ragnarok. There are thousands of active Black Metal bands and a precious few capture the original spirit and sound of the genre, but many of them come off as derivative of the original masters.
In his Afterword, Patterson echoes my sentiments and acknowledges the fact that while many people think all these new, young bands are an exciting, interesting development, he seems to be of the position that they really aren’t all that good. Black Metal has always been a regressive, conservative, misanthropic genre and many of these new happy, left-wing bands seem to miss the point. This added to my feeling that Patterson does a fine and balanced job, discussing the fact that these new bands and movements exist, while not being afraid to show his bias to the roots of the genre it is his book after all!
BLACK METAL is the definitive guide and history to a complicated, misanthropic and isolated genre, one that is radically different today. Patterson did a fine job detailing not only bands and personalities but secondary figures, industry people, zines, traders, regional scenes and of course some of the infamous activities of some of the more notorious people in the scene. I found it fascinating, especially since I am a huge Black Metal fan I followed the sound of the bands enthusiastically, buying countless albums and demos, and watching all the activities with interest, albeit from a safe distance in Western Canada. You don’t have to be a Black Metal fan to enjoy this book although fans will likely have more connection or even nostalgia about, what some would argue was the last truly great evolutionary leap in extreme Metal.
I have ended many of my reviews with recommending the book in question. In this I do not recommend this book. We want fewer people learning about and listening to Black Metal because most of you just don’t get it and you are not welcome. I’m just kidding…sort of. In a genre that does not want a book written about itself, BLACK METAL is elite.