Your plan to not get bored and burnt out. One album per day.
Part 1: Origins
Some people consider these albums to predate Black Metal, but those people are wrong. Also I’m calling Black Metal BM from here on.
Venom – Black Metal
Obvious place to start, they coined the term. The music is like a lo-fi Motorhead in places, but note the simple occult minimalist art. This is the beginning of the aesthetic.
Bathory – Under the Sign of the Black Mark
Bathory is described as “the person who started two genres”, and this is the first one, referring to his work in establishing the BM sound.
Hellhammer – Apocalyptic Raids
While probably better known under their later name Celtic Frost, arguably the Hellhammer era stuff was more influential on the BM genre.
Mercyful Fate – Melissa
We covered the noisy part of BM’s evolution, here is the theatrical part. We can also see the origins of corpse paint here (also in KISS but you can listen to KISS on your own time).
Possessed – Seven Churches
An album from before death and black metal really separated. Foreshadows the entire subgenres of “Blackened Death Metal” and “War Metal” when the two re-unite later.
Bathory – Hammerheart
Mentioned that Bathory started two genres, well, here’s the other one: Viking Metal. Not just for the viking motifs, but also the over the top dramatic production.
Part 2: ‘That Era’
This is the bit that everyone thinks of when BM comes up. It’s really the Oslo local metal scene: a group of bands that stop playing swedish death and start hanging out at the Helvete record store.
Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
Arguably the most famous moment in BM. I went with this over Deathcrush as Deathcrush is still basically a death metal recording at heart, while De Mysteriis is the real moment where the sound, aesthetic, and lyrical themes are nailed down and finalized.
Gorgoroth – Pentagram
A great early BM album and a good way to see how fast the style solidifies.
Immortal – Battles in the North
Another classic of the period. One notable aspect is how both complicated and imprecise the drumming is: there’s no correction or drum triggering here, this is an intentionally raw sound.
Darkthrone – Transylvanian Hunger
So I didn’t pick A Blaze In The Northern Sky. That’s not to say that that’s not a great if not better album, it’s that this one is more significant in the sense of pioneering the Atmospheric Black Metal subgenra. The riffs are intentionally hypnotic, repetitive, and anti-catchy. We’re far from anything ‘groovy’ here.
Burzum – Filosofem (Raate – Halki Kuolleen Maan…)
Ah yes, and here we are. So while quite a few of these people are problematic, Krisitan Vikernes of Burzum has since become a full time professional racist. This album had incredible significance with slow tempos, atmospheric builds, and use of electronics, but I understand if you want to give it a pass cause, well, Burzum. If so, you can check out the Raate above. As best as I can tell it’s some Finnish kid that seemed to have done an entire EP completely ripping off that era Burzum sound, enough that you get a pretty good idea what the original sounds like.
Satyricon – Nemesis Divina
Just an absolutely fantastic album, probably my favorite on here. And Forhekset is probably my favorite song on here. Nothing to add, just fantastic.
Emperor – Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk
Again, skipping to later in the discography to show the stuff that was more influential. Anthems is the root of symphonic black metal, and is a definite intentional bringing back of compositional complexity (vs Immortal and technical complexity) and greater effort in writing. By the way, the welkin is the sky.
Part 3: Diversification
So the groundwork has been laid down, the massive publicity wave broke, that one book was published, now new people are taking the sound in new directions.
Arcturus – La Masquerade Infernale
Why does avant-garde metal always sound like circus music? I don’t know. But this is what avant-grade black metal sounds like. It sounds like an evil circus.
Dødheimsgard – 666 International
The industrial side of avant-garde. Unabashed use of drum machines and loops, and bewildering changes in songs. Also surprisingly pleasant piano instrumentals.
Summoning – Stronghold
Sometimes dismissively referred to a Tolkien Metal, Summoning invented a weird mini genre where every song is slow, distant, and oddly melancholic. Also neither here or there, but they have the worst logo of any band on this list. And yes, every song is about Tolkien.
Opeth – Blackwater Park
Opeth always mixed prog-rock elements into their metal, and this is considered a peak for the sound. Very long songs, very rewardingly complex structures. They went on to go even deeper into the retro prog sounds, with their later releases competing with some of the best stuff in the genre, but definitely less metal than here.
Black Witchery – Inferno of Sacred Destruction
The opposite of “Blackened Death Metal”, but instead of calling it “Deathened Black Metal” it ended up either War Metal or Bestial Black Metal depending who you ask. Hangs on to the very earliest harshest BM sounds and runs with it.
Dimmu Borgir – Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia
I went with this one instead of the arguably better Enthrone Darkness Triumphant cause this is the more finished sound. This is taking the Emperor sketch and turning it into the (very well selling) blueprint to every future Symphonic BM album.
Enslaved – Vertebrae
Enslaved took the Viking Metal idea and ran it the distance. They had more great more BM-y stuff earlier, and some fantastic stuff later, but I think Vertebrae really captures the moment where they transition from their early raw sound to the more polished and mystical later sound.
Part 4: Recent Research
There’s a lot of metal now. A lot. There’s a lot of bands that do a great job of making small variations on the above, and do so well, but I tried to pick ones that took slightly greater risks that may or may not have landed instead.
Cthonic – Takasago Army
The first non-European/American album on this list. On Takasago Army Cthonic started adding more of the traditional folk Taiwanese sounds to the black metal structure, as well as abandoning earlier more traditional BM themes and becoming more overtly political in their lyrics.
Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage
The start of what’s sometimes called “Cascadian Metal”. Even more atmospheric, even more remote sounding, and noticeably less ‘cold’ than the Norwegian sound. Quite a few US bands took this sound to be the prototype for what US BM should sound like.
Nachtmystium – Assassins: Black Meddle, Pt. 1
The other major style of US BM. Melds in elements of shoegaze in the leads and structures, and the lyrical themes are more about relationships and other awful, self-pity stuff. Look, I’ll say it: I don’t like this and I don’t like the main guy in the band, but I also can’t deny it had a huge impact. Shit sounds like The Killers trying to re-invent themselves for a Halloween show.
Kvelertak – Kvelertak
BLACK ’N ROLL
Finntroll – Nattfödd
The inevitable answer to “what would happen if we take Folk Black Metal and keep extending it all the way to folk stuff that sounds like polka?” naturally ended up being “it would rule actually”.
Infernal Coil – Within a World Forgotten
Takes the technical genre of Grindcore and applies it to BM concepts and themes. The strange discordant chromatic whooshing riffs are quintessential to the genre, as well as the high reverb blast drumming that sounds like a single tone instead of a beat.
Mgla – The Futility of Existence
The new Polish BM sound. Note the slower tempos, repeating guitar, and very complex drumming. Mgla became a template for recent east European metal overall, with an entire Polish scene imitating them. They are also the number one likely candidate for me having to go back and amend this with “Oh, they turned out to be far-right political, sorry”, but fingers crossed.
EDIT: It’s spelled with a line through the ‘l’ but my wordpress doesn’t support polish letters.
Batushka – Litourgiya
Digs into old eastern orthodox masses for structure themes and vocal style. Excellent live shows too, if you’re the youtube of live shows type. Obligatory drama: after this album Batushka split into two bands. The singer kept the Batushka name but changed the sound to more traditional BM, and the main writer is releasing under his own name: Krzysztof Drabikowski.
Khonsu – The Sun Protectorate
We’re far from home now. Sci-fi BM is a thing, and I intentionally picked one that’s more sci-fi than most in the genre that just use a spaceship on the cover art, though it also means the sound is less traditional BM. Very heavy use of synths and programming, very industrial song structures.
Zeal & Ardor – Devil Is Fine
Going out with a wild one: an intentional hybrid of old gospel spirituals and BM. A lot of the previous albums were here for their influence, this one as far as I can tell is the only thing that sounds like it, so it’s just here cause it sounds great.