5 Albums That Chart the Black Metal Spectrum in 2024

Darkthrone - black metal spectrum 2024

From the outside looking in, black metal is small. The Scandinavian scene in the early ’90s, better known as second-wave black metal, can appear as a be-all and end-all. Yet, as the subgenre’s multiple strains can attest, that’s not true, Atmospheric black metal, melodic black metal, depressive black metal, and blackgaze all reveal a less myopic style than originally present, though not one newcomers can easily parse. The genre’s gatekeeping attitude is mostly a fragment of the past, thankfully, but there’s still a lingering desire to be cast away from the world at large, creating ripples that affect it to this day. It is difficult to know where to go or what is black metal when the largest bands in the genre are either not considered fully black metal or are just too damn tough for supple, delicate ears.

This raises the question; how much black metal do you need to have in your black metal to be black metal? 

Black metal is a spectrum, an ingredient, and a genre. In 2024, its influence has bled past its roots and into music that is certainly not black metal. Knowing that black metal in its purest forms—if one were to consider Ulver’s Nattens Madrigal as its purest form—can be rough, it’s worth seeing how much black metal is in some of this year’s standout black metal albums, working in ever-increasing fashion.

For our purposes, think of black metal like the oil in a recipe for vinaigrette. Some vinaigrettes are largely acidic and sugary with hints of oil. These low-calorie garnishes are satisfying but merely hint at the richness of an oil-based dressing. Increase the oil concentration and you’ll taste it more, but the more you increase it, the less the other ingredients will stand out. Follow that rabbit hole to its endpoint and you’ll reach vinaigrettes that are nothing more than cold-pressed olive oil.

This is in no way a comprehensive list of the best black metal albums of 2024. While these are all great, they earned their places here as points among the spectrum from “music with black metal influences” to the subgenre’s nocturnal dimension. 

Alcest - black metal spectrum 2024
Nuclear Blast

Alcest – Les Chants de L’Aurore

Alcest is not a black metal band and Neige, the group’s main man, has long admitted that he doesn’t play black metal with Alcest. Despite those caveats, the genre’s roots were once Alcest’s trunk and bark. They gave way as Neige grew as a songwriter and explored his other fascinations, namely shoegaze and classical, as they better suited his specific yet unwieldy mission—to transport listeners to a fantastical place only he has been. 

Mood and setting are heavily stressed in black metal, so Neige’s aim isn’t a perversion of the genre. It’s just that his intended destination is floral, bright, and shimmering—far from the frigid catacombs that black metal usually portrays. He’s also an inherently optimistic person who strives to prove such music can be heavy without necessarily being dark. As anyone familiar with Alcest will tell you, the group’s positivity manifests not as pop metal but as a gentle reimagining of various dense musical styles, mining them for what works within Neige’s framework. As a result, they’ve become one of the easiest entryways into black metal. 

Their latest album, Les Chants de L’Aurore, is their lightest album in a decade but their clearest representation of Neige’s envisioned place. As such, it’s a way one can enter black metal without diving too deep into it. Many of the genre’s common traits like blast beats, tremolo picking, and screamed vocals are present but they’re dispersed among violas, pianos, shoegaze, and gorgeous clean singing. They’re never overwhelming. Each conveys power, which is why most black metal uses them in unison. Les Chants de L’Aurore doesn’t. New listeners can familiarize themselves with these elements when they crop up because they turn heads, implicitly learning the key components that are black metal’s foundation.

Take note; Les Chants de L’Aurore doesn’t represent all black metal—it’s too pretty. Listen to it to prime yourself for what’s to come.

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon (vinyl)

Darkthrone It beckons us all review

Darkthrone – It Beckons Us All

It Beckons Us All is the most black metal Darkthrone have been in a long-time, though not in the manner they’re most commonly associated with. It’s been decades since they abandoned the corpsepaint and have since mutated through several different eras, the latest of which is a child of Mercyful Fate and Celtic Frost. Currently, they are the most high-profile act keeping the first-wave of black metal from the 1980s alive. 

Seminal albums from that early period like Don’t Break the Oath and To Mega Therion aren’t as confrontational as Darkthrone’s famed ’90s works, meaning that It Beckons Us All’s allegiance to those influences is a solid next step after Les Chants De L’Aurore. As is customary for first-wave black metal, It Beckons Us All…… pulls from heavy metal and thrash metal at their scrappiest. The musicianship is unassuming, the vocals are unpolished yet comprehensible, and the tone is fuzzy rather than serrated. There is human warmth in the ability to rock out, and rock out Darkthrone most certainly do. 

The one element that strongly ties It Beckons Us All to black metal’s core is hypnotism. Tracks are long and winding, with Nocturno Culto playing with his food to enhance the flavors. He never sacrifices his riffs for solos because they wouldn’t be nearly as mesmerizing. Instead, he plants his feet and churns out riffs ad nauseam until darkness seeps through, giving the album a stronger identity than just Fenriz and Nocturno Culto playing first-wave black metal fanfiction. They’re disinterested with immediacy and trade it in for a slower dopamine release. What tests the patience is how stubborn they can be at times, though to wade deeper into black metal waters requires testing one’s patience. 

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Rough Trade (vinyl)

black metal spectrum 2024 - Narzissus
Shape of Storms/Fiadh

Narzissus – Akt III: Erl​ö​sung 

Akt III: Erl​ö​sung is the next step towards the famed black metal sound of the second-wave black metal. But, Narzissus doesn’t fit that mold. He posts photos of himself with vintage Mercedes-Benz cars while wearing racing sunglasses and oversized white t-shirts. His projects outside of Narzissus, Bergfried and Ancient Mastery, are as heavy metal and epic as devil’s horns and Conan. They bleed through to Narzissus in the most pleasant way; in other words, big, sexy guitar leads. Main man Erech Leleth slides heavy metal’s posture through the cracks, puffing out its chest and planting its flag in the ground. In practice, it creates a warmer black metal timbre that retains its edge via Leleth’s hellish vocals. 

Why Akt III: Erl​ö​sung makes this list instead of the plethora of other epic black metal releases this year (including those by Fellwarden and Inherits the Void) is that it heralds black metal’s experimental roots. The latter half of the ’90s saw the likes of Emperor and Mayhem injecting new sounds and approaches into black metal, revealing how well the sound and mindset interact with progressive rock and trip-hop, among other genres. For as bullish as black metal can be, experimentation has always been in its genetics. Just look at the gulf between Under the Sign of the Black Mark, A Blaze in the Northern Sky, and In the Nightside Eclipse—three records that stand among the genre’s highest peaks and present totally different interpretations of it, yet were all released in a seven-year span. 

It’s that boldness to grow that earns Akt III: Erl​ö​sung its place here as it tosses caution to the wind by melding black metal with baltic folk music. Folk and black metal have a long history, but rarely has black metal given way to a Romani folk jig that actually rips as hard as the metal. It’s not a chance to breathe. Combine this with Narzissus’ fat guitar leads and atypical track structures, and you have one of the best metal albums of the year.

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp

black metal spectrum 2024 - Hekseblad
Hypnotic Dirge

Hekseblad – Kaer Mohren

Hekseblad’s debut album Kaer Mohren is the puritan’s pick of the list because it checks off so many of the boxes that traditional black metal requires; guttural vocals, shoebox production, blistering pace, and overzealous fantasy theming. Tremolo picking technique needn’t be mentioned because you know they’re there. Hell, it even has a blue and purple cover. For all intents and purposes, it’s the most archetypal black metal album on the list. If it tickles your fancy, Dissection and Sacramentum and the other melodic black metal acts await you. You’ll have no shortage of albums you can put on and find kinship with.

However, praising Kaer Mohren for just fitting the bill and having the “good shit” ignores its unique successes. Mainly, its source of inspiration; Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher. If you’ve never read it, you should change that. The high fantasy series has enough violence to justify a metal album, but it’s just as interested in examining destiny, processing emotions or the lack thereof, and individuality. These themes retroactively fit black metal’s adolescent stage that was as much a rebellion against all forms of mass culture as it was an attempt for its participants to define themselves. There are basic comparisons one could make between The Witcher and black metal, like how Geralt (the titular character) is regarded with contempt by nearly everyone and oogled because of his dangerous capabilities. That’s not dissimilar to how black metal can be derided, and Kaer Mohren subtly puts those ideas forward.

Most people can, and likely will, satisfy themselves with Kaer Mohren and branch off towards similar acts with similarly blue and purple album covers. It marks where conventional tolerances will end, unless someone is looking to push their tastes. If so, there’s one stop further. 

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp

Udad - Black metal spectrum 2024

Udåd – Udåd

Raw black metal’s not necessarily the heaviest form of black metal, but it is often the most abrasive. Production values plummet and songs revere repetition. The lack of variety in the music, to the point that riffs can live on incessantly, is an artistic decision. So much of this is a barrier to entry that many simply do not wish to pass, notwithstanding that, once you clear it, on the other side lays negativity and expressionism that’s unfettered by good tastes. It’s the wild west of black metal. 

There are millions of raw black metal albums out there because having shitty production is interchangeable with having no production quality, so why not skip the mastering phase and call it an aesthic statement. That’s all the more reason why Udåd is the best avenue into the genre if you’re looking at 2024 releases. It’s the newest project from Thomas Eriksen, who’s more widely known for his project Mork. He’s been around for a while and understands how to craft captivating black metal, though as time has lurched forward, he’s found himself exploring (in his words) complex and textured pastures. Thus, Udåd is his self-imposed return to his necro roots, shoddy production and all. 

Eriksen has never been the fastest nor most aggressive musician. Rather, he possesses an innate knowledge of how and why black metal works. He gets that it’s all about attitude, which is not the same as image or ego, but an unshakeable faith in one’s actions. This is likely due to his adoration for the kings of attitude, Motörhead. He carries that into Udåd for a repulsive album that osmoses into your brain with surprising ease. 

Udåd is a vibes-first listen; it encapsulates black metal’s cold heart, the prickly ice shard ice that repulses those it deems unable to touch it but melts into others who can meet its vision where it stands. Look, the production is dogshit and Eriksen’s vocals are unhinged. He bleats and cries and howls. But, both aspects are vital to Udåd that it’d be a worse album without them. The record is so estranged from musical norms and so brazenly animalistic that you have to disconnect from what you expect music to be and take it for what it is. What you will find is a vulnerability that’s often shied away from and locked inside. 

That’s the monkey’s paw of Udåd and raw black metal as a whole—you don’t want to understand its appeal, because once you do, you won’t find it anywhere else. 

Listen/Buy: Spotify | Rough Trade (vinyl)

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