How did Norwegian metal music become some of of the best known of the metal genre worldwide?
Defined by a virulently anti-Christian ideology and a fair bit of violence — including the burning down of multiple churches throughout the 1990s — the music is noted for shrieking vocals, hard, fast beats, and dark, often controversial imagery.
Norwegian black metal spread fast throughout Europe and North America in the 90s. Norwegian metal bands such as Mayhem, Immortal, and Emperor are among the most well-known and oft-imitated.
The advent of black metal was influenced by the trash and speed metal sounds of the new wave of British heavy metal in the 1980s.
By the start of the second wave in the 1990s, black metal music already had the foundations of a dark and controversial identity in Norway, due not only to the sound of the music but to the artists creating it.
Instruments such as keyboards, string instruments (even the harpsichord!), and organs help create the two notable sub.genres of black metal: Viking metal and Symphonic metal.
History of Norwegian Metal Music
Black Metal, an extreme sub-genre of heavy metal, originated in Norway and has been a staple of Olso’s underground music scene for nearly 30 years.
The first dedicated black metal record store, Helvete (“Hell” in Norwegian), opened in Oslo in 1991 and is seen as foundational to the musical genre for providing a meeting space for the emerging milieu. It closed down in 1993, after its founder, Euronymous, was murdered by a fellow musician. In 2003 Neseblod, meaning “Nosebleed,” took up Helvete’s mantle in as the premier black metal music and memorabilia shop in Oslo.
Here the best Norwegian metal bands that you need to know about:
Varg Vikernes is better known as the one-person-band of Burzum. Varg became known as a founder of the Norwegian black metal scene during the 1990s. The fact that he murdered a former bandmate (Euronymous), coupled with his virulently anti-Christian views, made him infamous.
In 1993, Burzum released the album Hvis Lyset Tar Oss (If The Light Takes Us). The song “Det Som Engang Var (That Which Once Was)” from the album is a strong example of synth sounds blending with the traditional black metal sound.
Darkthrone is known for holding onto its original black metal sound, even as the band’s contemporaries continue to evolve their sounds within the metal genre. The song “The Hardship of the Scots” from the band’s 2019 album, Old Star, is the perfect example of Darkthrone’s sound: no synths, just the grit of heavy vocals and the grind of guitar!
Norwegian black metal had its beginning in the mid-1980s with the band Mayhem. The dramatic occult exhibitions of the band’s live shows were legendary. The murder of “Euronymous,” the band’s guitarist, by ex-member and guitarist Varg Vikernes, brought the band infamy throughout Norway and the rest of the world
Check out the band’s most notable album, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994), with its famous song, “Freezing Moon.”
Emperor managed to tap into its Norwegian culture through the region’s rich Norse folk history while innovating the black metal sound, reflecting Scandinavian winters’ lonely and violent darkness. In 1994, the band released“In the Nightside Eclipse,” an album showcasing its dynamic and progressive sound.
Listen to their track, “I Am the Black Wizards,” which delivers transitions into synth choral harmonies and catchy guitar riffs, supported by rolling double drums. The jarring vocals bring it all together.
Enslaved is the first Norwegian black metal band from the second wave to push the genre’s musical boundaries by establishing symphonic black metal and playing Viking metal.
Confined by the conventional elements and framework of black metal, the band strove to bring more out of its sound through higher quality audio production and diverse instrumentation in its music.
Here’s “the Watcher,” from their award-winning 2012 album, Vertebrae.
From Ulver’s first album, Bergtatt (1995), to its 2017 album, The Assassination of Julius Caesar, this is one of Norway’s most diverse black metal bands.
As the band shifts between black metal, progressive, heavy metal, and art rock, Ulver is fearless in the music they create. A great example of the journey between genres is “Southern Gothic,” from The Assassination of Julius Caesar.
Dimmu Borgir pays tribute to its thrash and extreme metal predecessors of the first metal wave, with a touch of symphonic fullness to their sound. If you’re wondering if they’re heavy enough to hold their own in the Norwegian black metal scene, then check out their song, “Puritania,” from the band’s 2001 album, Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia.
Some would say that the band Antestor goes against everything black metal stands for, with its pro-Christianity approach to the music. Some have even called their style of black metal “un-black metal,” which has stuck. Nevertheless, decide for yourself whether the sound stays true to the genre.
Aside from Gorgoroth’s frequent changing of its line-up, the band has consistently upheld its classic black metal sound with screeching vocals and shredding guitar since its founding in 1993. Take a listen to “Ritual” from their debut album, Pentagram.
Listen to our Norwegian black metal playlist:
Want more metal music? Find out about Scandinavian metal music and dive deeper into Swedish metal bands.