Black-thrash albums need a catalog. One of the first blends of extreme metal styles, black-thrash remains relatively niche. The borders of its canon are semi-permeable. Even so, the style has produced a healthy amount of essential LPs.
Steve Jansson of Crypt Sermon is an aficionado of the style. He released his own entry into the genre as the guitarist and bassist of Daeva recently. That band’s first EP, Pulsing Dark Absorptions was released on 20 Buck Spin in October of this year and is available here.
Jansson listed ten essential pieces in the genre, and discussed his selections with me. Our conversation is below.
Before we talk albums, would you mind talking about your relationship to black-thrash, and maybe how its inflected your playing, not just in Daeva but also in Trenchrot and Crypt Sermon?
I can’t really pinpoint when it was that I discovered it or really started recognizing or differentiating it as a subgenre. I was always drawn to the more Teutonic, aggressive style of thrash metal as well as black metal. It was just natural to want more of one in the other and vice versa. I wanted to have the relentless urgency of thrash but also wanted the evil and darkness of black metal. It was just the best of both worlds and it really clicked with me. I can’t say that it affects my playing or writing in Crypt Sermon. That’s just a completely different hat. It’s been a long time but I can vaguely remember it wanting to come out in the Trench Rot material but it just wasn’t right. Justin and I started this project for that very reason. It’s something I have wanted to do for a very long time now.
When we started kicking around the idea for this interview and list. Enrique Sagarnaga [drummer of Crypt Sermon] referred to black-thrash as “shitty guy” metal. That’s a funny name and I think I see why it describes black metal pretty well, but why do you think someone would attribute that name to this style?
There is nothing funny about shitty guy metal. Nah, I kid. Thinking back on how we even came up with this ridiculous term, I can link it back to when Chris [Grigg, also of Woe] and I were cutting vocals for the Unrest album. We were really pushing each other to make it as rabid as we could. I can remember saying to Chris after a take “You sound like such a piece of angry garbage. It sounds like we found on the street and just threw you in a room with a microphone and told you to yell into it. In fact, if I heard this recording I would think you were a shitty guy and that I probably wouldn’t want to be friends with you”. It just sort of snowballed from there. Black-thrash is rabid and unhinged and with that story, I think you could probably see what I mean. There is this sort of dicey grime to it.
Bathory – Bathory & Under the Sign of the Black Mark
There are a few releases on this list that I’m not very familiar with, but these two I know pretty well! Bathory’s whole discography is vital to black metal in general but what specifically about these two albums is so indicative of black-thrash as a genre?
You could really have picked any of the first 4 LPs. I think every single black-thrash band or recording has an extremely strong connection to the self-titled album. It was razor sharp and ugly-as-fuck but had a ton of sleaze and a ton of punky-thrashy energy. It’s black metal but it still had a ton of punk and speed undertones.
The first Bathory record set the template, but after that I usually reach for Blood Fire Death. You’re choosing the third LP, Under the Sign of the Black Mark. What is it about this album as opposed to Blood Fire… or The Return… that makes it a required listening?
It depends on the day for me. I obviously adore Blood Fire Death to pieces but sometimes only the darkness of Under the Sign of the Black Mark will do, which actually why I put this particular album on the list. It’s a much more evil record and just sort of falls in line with the aesthetic of black-thrash more. As I’m talking about it, I think this is probably the record that started steering me down this path.
After Bathory let’s go in alphabetical order.
Absu – The Third Storm of Cythraul
Here’s another one I know quite well. Maybe the most fun Absu album to listen to, I think. Also arguably where they really started to understand melody. What is it about this album that stands out to you?
It’s just so fucking relentless! While it seldom lets up and is extremely urgent, I’m going to have to agree with you on what you said about melody because it’s a pretty catchy album without being corny or hokey. This is the perfect marriage of Teutonic styled riffing but just turned up to 11 with the drumming and the vocals. Total ripper.
This record may be most well-known for “Highland Tyrant Attack”. Absu tend to play that song at every show, and it’s pretty catchy. How important do you think that song is to this record, and to Absu’s discog as a whole?
I mean, I would be a little bummed if I saw them and they didn’t play it. As far as how it represents the band and their discography, I think it would be a good intro to the band but if we are talking favorites on this I am all for “Swords and Leather”. Argh!
Aura Noir – The Merciless
Aura Noir! Another great band. Out of all their albums, what draws you to The Merciless?
I think it’s pretty obvious I am a big Aura Noir fan. It certainly came through a lot when writing for Daeva. One could argue maybe a little “too” much at times but that is a whole different can of worms. This was actually my introduction to the band and I can distinctly remember hearing Apollyon’s vocals for the first time. I just couldn’t get over how crude and rabid they were. The drumming on this also totally kills. An absolute staple for me.
This album’s a bit of a murderer’s row. Czral from Virus, Ved Buens Ende and Ulver. Rune Eriksen from Mayhem. But also Fenriz guest vocals here as well. What do you think is the significance of having all these musicians with varying, sometimes very progressive influences playing a sort of straightforward sound?
I just think it further proves how brilliant all of these guys are. Even when doing something that is more straight-forward and meat and potatoes, they do it perfectly. That being said, Czral is going to throw some really twisted and weird riffs at you no matter what he’s doing. Also, I’m just going to use this as an opportunity to say that Rune Eriksen is one of the most underrated guitarists in metal.
Desaster – A Touch of Medieval Darkness
This one’s a little new for me. Desaster has since swapped out many members. What is it that makes the debut so special?
I love Desaster. I initially was going to put The Arts of Destruction on here but went with this one because I wanted to try and include stuff from different time periods and embodied different elements. While definitely clunky compared to their later material, there is something I really enjoy about the more melodic style black metal riffing on this.
Desaster’s German, and they’re named in part after a Destruction song. I know we’re going to get more into Germany later, but how does the Teutonic thrash song factor into black-thrash as a whole, do you think?
I’ve used the word Teutonic in this interview like 30 times and I can’t really stress it enough. It is absolutely and 100% essential. Unlike something like bay area thrash, Teutonic thrash isn’t as “fun” or bouncy. It’s much more aggressive and dark. The speed and pacing of it has so much to do with giving it the rabid or unhinged feel of black-thrash.
Massacra – Final Holocaust
Another one I’m not super familiar with. To me, this sounds like it’s as much a death metal album as a black-thrash album. How’d you select this record?
This one has been on my playlist a lot and you’re right, it technically is a death metal record – fight me, nerds – but it has the breakneck pace that I seek and is plenty evil sounding to me. I considered putting Merciless’s The Awakening on here, which was a huge influence on me writing for Daeva but went with this one. It’s just such a ripper.
Massacra is no more, whereas many of the bands on this list are still at least superficially active. Are there any contemporary bands that you think draw influence from them?
None that I can think of off of the top of my head but I’m sure that there are plenty of them. That, or not enough? Probably the latter.
Nifelheim- Servants of Darkness
Now here’s a band everyone needs to hear. Nifelheim never did that many records, but they’re super-consistent songwriters. Why select Servants of Darkness?
This is a real nasty fucker. Nifelheim just don’t mess around at all. This is the first one I got into and I feel like it’s the best from front to back and probably the catchiest. You can write super aggressive songs and still be catchy and I think a lot of people forget and maybe even refuse to realize that. “Black Evil” is absolutely perfect!
I feel as though Nifelheim is one of those bands that many people know of, but few people take the time to really dive into. How does Servants of Darkness serve as an intro to their discography?
You can’t really go wrong with any but this is the one that got me first.
Ravencult- Morbid Blood
I remember when this record came out. I thought the guitar tone on it was so savage. This one just grabs you by the throat right at the start. Why select this record to put alongside the others?
Honestly, it doesn’t get much better than this. This just has it all. I was completely blown away by this record and listened to it non stop for like a month. It’s fierce, evil as shit, relentless and so catchy. I love how the songs flow and these guys understand the art of urgency and don’t miss a beat. Also, those sleazy ass speed metal riffs that they throw in are just the cherry on top of the cake. It’s damn near impossible not to bang my head every time I throw this on.
I can definitely hear the thrash, but to me this is maybe the most ‘black metal’ record you’ve selected. How do you hear the thrash elements entering it so that it belongs in such esteemed company?
It goes back to what I was saying about those speed metal or thrash parts above. I think it is the perfect marriage of the two, honestly.
Sodom- Obsessed by Cruelty
Sodom! There’s that Teutonic sound again. This is also the oldest record on your list. Is it fair to call this the origin of black-thrash?
Absolutely, and that is why I included it. I’ll admit that Persecution Mania is my go-to Sodom record and one of my absolute favorite records of all time but this just embodies everything that is black-thrash. It’s more blasphemous and evil.
It’s easy to see why you’d select this record as one of the best black-thrash records, but how do you think it slots into Sodom’s whole discography? This is a band that never really dipped in quality and has a bunch of other must-listens. I’m thinking Agent Orange and maybe even M-16.
I love Sodom. Again, Persecution Mania may be my favorite thrash record of all-time. This is excluding any of the Big Four stuff that I don’t lump into the thrash category but that’s a story for another day. I’m not sure how I would compare it to the others. It’s definitely among their best and most classic records. If you’re looking for a more raw and more evil Sodom, this is the one. I also should point out that I favor the US recording over the Steamhammer. Does that make me less true? Tears may be shed. Either way, they are both great.
Tormentor – Anno Domini
This one’s only a demo tape. Of all the Tormentor discography, why select this one?
I had to be “that” guy and put a demo on the list, didn’t I? I really really really love this demo. It’s when black metal was still blossoming and the Teutonic thrash feel that I keep mentioning it still really prevalent It’s totally and utterly savage and no one has ever really come close to getting this particular sound. It’s just incredible and certainly a desert island release of the style.
Of course many people probably know Tormentor as Attila Csihar’s first band. How do you feel his vocals here stack up to his later work, and also the work of other vocalists on this list?
His vocals are perfect on this. He and Apollyon on the Aura Noir album mentioned are my favorite of the style. There is a reason Euronymous asked him to be the vocalist of Mayhem and this is it. Of course, he came completely into his own when he did De Mysteriis and after that. He’s one of the best extreme metal vocalists of all-time. There is absolutely no arguing that.