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Who invented black metal?

Black metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music that originated in the early 1980s. Known for its harsh, dark, and atmospheric sound, black metal is often credited as being pioneered by a handful of bands in the first wave of the genre.

The First Wave of Black Metal

Most historians cite a few key bands that emerged in the early to mid 1980s as the pioneers of black metal:

  • Venom
  • Bathory
  • Hellhammer
  • Celtic Frost
  • Mercyful Fate

These bands originated from different parts of Europe, helping spread the new black metal sound. While their styles differed somewhat, they shared a raw, lo-fi sound, fast tempos, high-pitched vocals, and dark lyrical themes. Let’s take a closer look at their contributions:


Venom formed in 1979 in Newcastle, England. Their 1982 album Black Metal is considered hugely influential and lent its name to the emerging genre. Venom’s music was harsher, darker, and more extreme than traditional heavy metal. Their song topics embraced the satanic and occult. Important elements like the blast beat drumming style and raspy, screaming vocals became hallmarks of black metal.


Swedish band Bathory was founded in 1983 by Thomas Forsberg, known more commonly by his stage name Quorthon. Bathory’s early work mixed elements of thrash metal and classical music. Their 1984 self-titled debut displayed raw production, low-tuned guitars, and themes of Satanism and the occult. Quorthon is credited with helping to define the Scandinavian black metal sound. The band’s 1985 album The Return…… marked a shift toward Viking metal themes.


Swiss band Hellhammer formed in 1982 and produced a primitive, lo-fi sound. Their music was bleak and atmospheric, with lower-tuned guitars, fast tempos, and horror-inspired lyrics. Hellhammer was a short-lived project, releasing only a few EPs. But their raw, uncompromising sound was very influential on early black metal.

Celtic Frost

Growing out of the ashes of Hellhammer, Celtic Frost formed in 1984. Their music mixed elements of thrash metal and doom metal with occult themes. Their debut Morbid Tales in 1984 and follow-up To Mega Therion in 1985 captured the dark, evil atmosphere that would come to define black metal. The guttural vocals and haunting guitar tones of early Celtic Frost were especially impactful.

Mercyful Fate

Formed in Copenhagen in 1981, Mercyful Fate brought theatricality and melody to black metal’s dark sound. Led by King Diamond’s falsetto vocals, Mercyful Fate’s 1983 debut Melissa and 1984 follow-up Don’t Break the Oath used complex compositions and lyrics focused on the occult. Their influence shaped the emerging Norwegian black metal scene.

The Second Wave of Black Metal

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a second wave of black metal emerged, largely centered in Norway. Key bands like Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, Emperor, Immortal, Satyricon, and Gorgoroth developed the classic Norwegian black metal sound. Some common traits included:

  • High-pitched, raspy “screamed” vocals
  • Fast tempos and blast beat drumming
  • Tremolo-picked guitars creating dark, atmospheric soundscapes
  • Lo-fi, raw production
  • Misanthropic and anti-Christian themes

Bands like Mayhem and Burzum were at the center of black metal’s rise in Norway. Their music became more extreme, rejecting commercialism and embracing Darkness. The scene developed an association with church burnings and violence.

At the same time, other regional scenes began developing their own black metal styles. Bands like Rotting Christ (Greece), Samael (Switzerland), and Enslaved (Norway) incorporated more melody and progressive elements. The 1990s saw black metal spread worldwide.

The Evolution of Black Metal

After its origins in the 1980s and classic period in the 1990s, black metal has evolved and diversified into a variety of styles:

Symphonic Black Metal

Symphonic black metal features orchestral elements like keyboards, strings, and choirs mixed with traditional black metal guitars and vocals. Key bands include Dimmu Borgir, Emperor, and Cradle of Filth.

Melodic Black Metal

Melodic black metal focuses more on guitar melodies and cleaner vocals alongside the typical black metal sound. Important melodic black metal bands include Dissection, Sacramentum, and Naglfar.

National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM)

NSBM promotes neo-Nazi and fascist ideology through black metal music. Notable NSBM bands include Absurd, Der Stürmer, and Satanic Warmaster. Most of black metal rejects this controversial subgenre.

Post-Black Metal

Post-black metal incorporates significant influences from post-rock and shoegaze into atmospheric black metal. Alcest, Deafheaven, and Fen are some key post-black metal artists.


Blackgaze fuses elements of black metal and shoegaze. Bands like Alcest, Deafheaven, and Voices combine the aggression of black metal with dreamy, layered guitars.

Industrial Black Metal

Industrial black metal combines black metal’s sound with electronic industrial textures. Important industrial black metal groups include Mysticum, Aborym, and Blacklodge.

Avant-Garde Black Metal

Avant-garde black metal features unusual experimentation, unconventional song structures, and progressive elements. Solefald, Arcturus, and Blut Aus Nord are leaders in the avant-garde black metal style.

While black metal originated in the 1980s underground, it has since diversified and spread around the world. New styles and fusions continue to emerge, expanding black metal into new territory while retaining connection to its dark roots.

Key Innovators and Influencers

Beyond the pioneering bands that spawned black metal’s first and second waves, certain individuals have been hugely influential in shaping the genre and sound:


Øystein Aarseth, better known as Euronymous, was a founding member of Mayhem and owner of the record shop Helvete in Oslo. He helped foster the early Norwegian scene. His cold, misanthropic persona and extremist views influenced black metal’s ideology.

Varg Vikernes

Varg Vikernes founded the one-man band Burzum and helped craft black metal’s lo-fisound and atmosphere. He was convicted for arson attacks on churches and the murder of Euronymous. Varg’s neo-Nazi views brought controversy.


As Darkthrone’s drummer, Fenriz helped define Norwegian black metal with raw, primitive songs and heavy use of distortion. He coined the term “True Norwegian Black Metal” to describe his preferred sound.

Attila Csihar

Hungarian vocalist Attila Csihar sang for Mayhem and Tormentor in the 1980s, bringing guttural vocals and a unique style. He later fronted Norwegian bandKeep of Kalessin.

Per “Dead” Ohlin

As Mayhem’s vocalist Dead, Per Ohlin pioneered black metal’s intense corpse paint and malevolent stage presence. His suicide in 1991 only added to his legend.

Musician Contribution to Black Metal
Euronymous Helped create early Norwegian black metal scene
Varg Vikernes Developed raw, lo-fi black metal sound with Burzum
Fenriz Defined “true” black metal sound with Darkthrone
Attila Csihar Influential early vocalist for Mayhem and Tormentor
Dead Brought intense theatrics and corpse paint to black metal performance

These key figures all helped shape different aspects of black metal, from ideology to sound, vocals, aesthetics and beyond.


While many individual musicians and bands contributed to the birth of black metal, the genre arose through a combination of factors coming together in the early 1980s underground metal scene:

  • Venom coin the term “black metal” and pioneer a harsh, extreme sound
  • Bathory, Hellhammer, and Celtic Frost develop the raw sonic qualities
  • Mercyful Fate brings a theatrical, occult focus to lyrics and image
  • Norway becomes an epicenter through Mayhem, Burzum and Darkthrone
  • Black metal spreads worldwide and diversifies into new styles

Rather than crediting any single band, it was the cumulative efforts of these pioneering groups, combined with influential figures like Euronymous, Varg, Fenriz, and Dead, that truly invented the black metal genre starting in the early 1980s. They defined the quintessential black metal sound that all later bands would build upon.

While originally a niche underground scene, black metal has expanded globally and continues to thrive today thanks to these founding fathers of darkness.