Winter has arrived. For those of us in the northeastern United States, that usually means snow, cold and hopefully some decent skiing. For all of the United States and elsewhere, that means an overdose of obligatory happiness and family time that comes with the holiday season. But while the grinding misery of holiday shopping and insipid Christmas music can cause dread in even the most hardened souls, there’s still something for us metalheads to look forward to: the atmosphere of winter, the perfect backdrop to cold, grim black metal.
The white dressing on pine trees, old buildings and frozen lakes has a certain grandeur to it that’s best captured by snarling guitars, howled screams and blasting drums. What follows here isn’t meant to be some contrarian exercise to show off all the obscure black metal bands I know. Rather, I just want an excuse to list off some of my favorite black metal tunes I like to listen to during the months between Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day. (Note: Yes I know I didn’t include Darkthrone’s “The Pagan Winter.” This is only because I just spent an entire article talking about that album). Anyway, check it out:
Immortal “Cold Winds of Funeral Dust”
“Through the dark Northern valleys, Where only winds of funeral breathe, Hovering through the whispering darkness, With frost in my eyes.” I really could have put any Immortal song here, as the realm of Blashyrkh provides a vast canon of blackstorms and frozen battlefields. And though songs like “Unsilent Storms in the North Abyss,” “In My Kingdom Cold” and “Withstand the Fall of Time” are more honed and refined, the crude Bathory-worship of Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is irresistible.
Enslaved “Svarte Vidder”
There are usually two reasons people have for loving Enslaved, aside from them being one of the best metal bands of all time. One set of people enjoys their challenging and progressive later material. Another set is perfectly content with their early years spent making cold, brutal Viking-influenced black metal. And though many of those fans prefer the first album, there’s something about the razor-sharp compositions on Frost that wins out for me. And while the lyrics are mostly (all?) in Norwegian, there’s a couple lines on this song that translate into: “A black empire, eternal winter, Frozen fields, eternal cold.”
Agalloch “Falling Snow”
A bit literal, isn’t it? This song, along with just about anything from The Mantle has the effect on the listener where you can’t help but imagine yourself in a mountainside watching the…well, falling snow!
Lunar Aurora “Sterna”
At least within the confines of black metal, Germany’s Lunar Aurora was able to play an impressive range of styles. On releases like Mond and Andacht, the band could play a more polished style, while on 2012’s Hoagascht, they went for a more atmospheric approach akin to Paysage d’Hiver and Ulver. Listening to this song makes me think of being in a lonely shack somewhere in the Alps…hopefully with central heating or a decent fire…and some booze.
Mayhem “Freezing Moon”
Well, no hiding from this one. While it’s very cliche and predictable of me to pick this song, that’s only because it works! However, if you click the link, you’ll see I opted for the Live in Leipzig version instead. While De Mysteriis Dom Santhanas is one of the best black metal (or metal) albums ever made, Dead’s vocals are so scorching on this version that I have to pick them over Atilla’s eerie murmurings. Like being caught in a blizzard, Euronymous’ unbelievably simple riffs, Hellhammer’s roaring drums and Necrobutcher’s ominous bass lines here are legendary for a good reason. A song about a dead soul entranced by the cold moonlight, the music fits the title and subject matter perfectly.
So happy holidays! Perhaps you can take use these songs to build a playlist for when you’re ready to self-immolate after hearing “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” or “Jingle Bell Rock” ten thousand agonizing times.