Black metal is a very unique subgenre of extreme metal that is set apart from others by many reasons. Whether it be the common use of lo-fi production, the infamous history, or exhilarating stage theatrics in a live setting, black metal is easily recognizable. One interesting characteristic of black metal is how there seems to be a distinct sound that comes from every country or even parts of certain countries. When black metal is brought up, the initial bands mentioned usually cater to none other than Norway and its infamous second wave scene during the 1990s. This includes bands such as Mayhem, Emperor, and many more. Usually Sweden is followed up after that with a wide spectrum consisting of everything from Bathory to Watain. Finland, Austria, Germany – the list just seems to go on and on. But wait – what about United States black metal? The U.S. has been often accused of not having a good black metal scene due to many bands experimenting with the black metal formula, not having records as good as European bands, etc. As a firm believer that the United States has a growing interest in black metal and is starting to give birth to many new and breathtaking artists, I want to present the argument that the U.S. scene needs to be paid attention to. Here are fifteen artists that support why black metal matters in the United States.
Author’s note: I’d like to make note that this isn’t so much a list to show America’s super underground black metal projects. Most of the bands on this list are pretty well known (as far as black metal goes) and there may be a few new artists here and there you might learn about. Just keep in mind that this list has no particular order and is generally more targeted to someone that may have absolutely no knowledge of American black metal.
1. Wolves in the Throne Room
Wittr is one of the most well known black metal projects to come from America. Hailing from Olympia, Washington, the project is the child from brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver. Wittr has released five full length albums so far (the most recent being an ambient album). Wolves in the Throne Room’s material is incredibly atmospheric and captivating. “Two Hunters” is my personal favorite of their discography, but do not ignore any of their releases. Make sure to spin anything from this band on vinyl if you are given the chance. You will become lost in a trance.
Self-described as “Mythological Occult Metal”, Absu takes music to an entirely new level by blending black metal with countless other elements. I personally see a lot of solid blend between black and thrash such as in the example above. However, the Absu discography is full of riches and ranges to even include progressive elements in newer releases. The Texans are currently touring the U.S. and you should be sure to check out a show near you if you can.
One of my personal favorites, Xasthur creates an incredibly bleak atmosphere and has an instantly recognizable sound. This is that much more impressive when you consider this project is the sole work of Scott Conner AKA Malefic. Xasthur has released countless full lengths, eps, and splits that are all practically life changing. Unfortunately, Xasthur no longer makes black metal. After Xasthur’s final album “Portal of Sorrow”, Scott ended the project and continued music with the doomgrass project “Nocturnal Poisoning”. However, Scott recently has decided to go back to Xasthur but playing the style of music as Nocturnal Poisoning. Both projects are phenomenal and a must-listen.
4. Leviathan/Lurker of Chalice
Leviathan and Lurker of Chalice are both one man projects from the one and only Jef Whitehead (AKA Wrest). Wrest creates truly terrifying and emotion-filled art with both of these projects. Leviathan has a flawless discography full of countless releases and seems to be focused on more of a fast-paced note. Lurker of Chalice on the other hand experiences a different range of emotions, but there has only been one released LoC album. This is another example of essential listening.
5. Judas Iscariot
Judas Iscariot is yet another one man project from Ahkenaten and was located in Illinois. JI also seems to follow more of a fast-paced approach to black metal rather than a slower, atmospheric approach. JI has released six full lengths between 1996 and 2002 with plenty of eps and splits in between. However, Ahkenaten relocated to Europe and soon ended the project in 2002. Judas Iscariot only performed live a handful of times with session musicians.
Arguably one of the most well known acts in America with black metal elements, Agalloch truly pushed the envelope of music. Each album has a different twist than other releases and usually includes elements of black metal, progressive metal, doom metal, and folk. Considered to be Agalloch’s most important and influential release by countless fans, “The Mantle” (listen above) is most noted for the atmospheric blend of black metal and neo-folk. If you haven’t heard this album before, stop what you are doing and listen to this from start to finish.
One of the not as well-known bands on this list is California’s Ash Borer. The atmospheric black metal group is fairly recent and has only been around since 2008. Since formation, AB has released two full lengths and the EP above. Make sure to check this band out as I’m sure Ash Borer is a name we are going to be hearing more and more of in the future.
8. Caladan Brood
Another practically brand new project is Caladan Brood. Hailing from Utah, the band has only released the above full length, which has been critically acclaimed by many. CB is already earning themselves a dedicated group of followers after releasing such an epic and atmospheric black metal album. Highly recommend this band for those who enjoy Austria’s Summoning.
Tied with Xasthur for my personal favorite American black metal band, Inquisition creates some of the most unique black metal I’ve ever heard. Consisting of solely two members (Dagon and Incubus), the duo has created one of the strongest discographies I have ever seen. Each album is unique in its own way and is at least a 9.5/10 in my book. I’ve also heard the two put on an astonishing live performance (I’m still waiting to be able to catch them myself). Inquisition recently finished recording their seventh full length album so keep an eye out for any new information on that.
Crebain is a one man project that probably will not be as well-known as others on this list. Although the project has not released much material, it is all thoroughly enjoyable. The highlights of Crebain’s discography is one full length released in 2015, a demo, and a split with Leviathan. Here is to hoping we hear more from Crebain in the future.
11. Falls of Rauros
Another amazing atmospheric band is Falls of Rauros. The band has three full lengths and comes from Portland, Maine. I don’t know how anyone couldn’t fall in love with FoR’s folk-influenced black metal that truly seems to resemble the beauty of nature. For some reason, I like to think of this band somehow to be somewhere in between Agalloch and Caladan Brood as far as the other bands on this list. Either way, check this band out if you haven’t already.
Contrary to many other bands on this list, Krallice seem to whip out albums like crazy. Krallice has released five full length albums so far that are all lengthy (not in a bad way) and full of depth over the course of seven years from 2008 to 2015. To add on to this incredible feat, they are all extremely well written as well. How could you not admire this band fascinating musicianship?
13. Black Funeral
This band exhibits more of that lo-fi production and sticks more to the classic black metal formula. This might be something easier to check out coming into USBM from second wave European bands. An interesting fact is a key member of this project Michael Ford is also an occult author who has written books such as “Bible of the Adversary” and was a contributing author of The Great Church of Lucifer’s “Wisdom of Eosphoros”. So this band even has that Satan factor if you’re still convinced American black metal isn’t “trve”.
14. Black Witchery
If you like black metal, death metal, and grindcore and you think you haven’t found music extreme enough, you might want to check out a subgenre gaining popularity known as either war metal or bestial black metal. Bestial black metal combines all these elements and one of the more accessible bands at the forefront of this movement is Florida’s Black Witchery. This band is great workout music or a great trick to getting pumped for anything. Unfortunately, Steve Tregenda who was BW’s guitarist from 1999 to 2013 passed away this year. Thank you, Tregenda, for aiding in the creation of such memorable and blasphemous music. RIP.
Finally, the fifteenth reason why American black metal matters is none other than the one man project Panopticon. Another of one of the most unique bands on this list, Panopticon blends black metal with folk, bluegrass, and also includes post and progressive influences. This is yet another band that produces a hypnotizing atmosphere that will utterly enthrall you. Panopticon also has a very solid discography consisting of six full lengths and countless splits.
Overall, I truly think that black metal is overlooked in America not only as far as bands go, but also the amount of people that take the genre as a whole seriously and give it a chance. However, I will say I’m finding more and more people who are black metal fans. I used to wear a black metal shirt and not a single person would notice. Today, I get complimented on my Burzum shirt when I’m walking around in Tampa, Florida (which is pretty cool because this city is mainly known for its history with death metal). Although American black metal experiments with the black metal formula, I think we are seeing a beautiful evolution of underground art unfold right before our eyes. If you are new to the bands on this list, I’d like to encourage you to familiarize yourself with the bands and discover the countless gems out there because this list could honestly go on and on. Don’t forget to attend a show, pick up some merch, and help support a truly captivating, underground music scene as it continues to grow.