Post-black metal, as an umbrella term for non-traditional black metal bands, has certainly become an interesting realm of music to be in over the past fifteen years. There is no geographical epicentre and there are bands from many different countries creating music that respond to black metal in a myriad of ways. Some bands stay close to the source, combining the shrieking and blast beats with ambient synthesizers or dreamy melodies, while others take it to the far end of the spectrum, shamelessly crossing over into other genres and giving up on the harsh vocals or even the minor scales that are so characteristic of metal music.
Due to the superiority complex of many black metal musicians and fans it is not surprising that there has been such a substantial amount of people that have chosen to dissociate from the norm. With the large mainstream attention that San Francisco-based Deafheaven have gotten in 2013 with their second album Sunbather, indie blogs – which are not necessarily covering metal – have also started to take more notice of the genre, resulting in a noticeable gain in momentum.
In this list I’ve gathered 12 notable bands that show – each in their own way – how diverse and dynamic this scene really is. This means not shying away from bands that push the envelope, and which are arguably not ‘metal’ enough, but also leaving room for bands that cross over into post-rock, drone and electronic music, ultimately questioning what black metal is supposed to mean. Above all, this list is a celebration of the uniqueness that bands in this global scene have to offer, and we hope you enjoy these bands as much as we do.
Presented in alphabetical order.
We can never have enough epic space sagas in our collective lives. Whether it be in music, film, or literature, tales about intergalactic space travel remain the coolest vehicle for expressing our existential doubts and beliefs. Archivist truly embodies the international character of the scene with members from Austria, Germany, and the UK, and with two full lengths under their belt they have cemented themselves as creators of monumental works of melodic beauty and epic songwriting. Their latest record Construct features a nice mix of black and post-metal influences, with subdued lead guitars popping in and out of the mix, engulfing the blasting drums and harsh vocals in a characteristically atmospheric haze.
Blackgaze is a term that has been used interchangeably (and arguably mistakenly) with the name of post-black metal. The crossover of black metal and shoegaze has for a long time been the dominant form of post-black metal and to the public it is the most known style. Asira are a new band, releasing their first album in April this year, but their members have been active in the UK black metal scene for a long period of time. On their debut Efference, the five-piece from Reading set out to create blackgaze similar to the work of Alcest, albeit with influences from British bands like Pink Floyd and Anathema. It sounds ambitious, but the result is a very convincing record that keeps getting better with every listen.
This is the happiest band you’ll find on this list. Somewhere in the past five years, these dudes from Groveland, Massachusetts decided to wave goodbye to growling vocals and minor scale riffing, and welcomed the influence of glam metal and dream pop to create a unique brand of metal. Astronoid are hard on their way to replace Deafheaven as the unofficial poster boys of black metal, if you can even still call this black metal. Nevertheless, their 2016 record Air is a record for the books. With an undeniably energetic character chock-full of good vibes, this album probably makes more elitists angry than Sunbather. Yep, this is metal!
After one of the more unconventional bands in this list we arrive at the most orthodox band—literally. Batushka from Poland shaped their blistering brand of black metal to match the liturgy of the Slavic Orthodox Church including lyrics and chanting in Church Slavonic and a spectacular live show in full-costume. The identity of the musicians is not known—the usual “may-or-may-not-be-members-of-famous-bands”—but the music does not lie. This is highly recommended for any metalhead, and if you get the chance to catch them live, certainly do so because it is a guaranteed once-in-a-lifetime experience.
San Francisco based multi-instrumentalist Otrebor has a knack for writing worshipful songs about plants in which he claims to channel a creative spirit called The Botanist. In pinching shrieks and soft whisperings Otrebor proclaims the end of the human race, at the hand of plants with intricate names. The stories of the Botanist are accompanied by the sounds of hammered dulcimer and harmonium, resulting in a brand of post-black metal that is heavily inspired by lo-fi and drone music. Guitars are notably absent on all Bonanist records, but the triumphant sounds of Otrabor’s music are still backed by glaring metal drums. His latest full-length VI: Flora is the most sophisticated Botanist outing to date, presenting the listener with 40 minutes of melancholic and bombastic music that takes the listener on a path to their own demise in the Verdant Realm.
Heretoir from Augsburg, Germany have a past firmly rooted in atmospheric black metal, but recently they have traded those influences for a more proggy sound. Their name is a neologism consisting of the first half of the English word ‘heretic’ and is completed by the french suffix ‘-toir’, supposedly meaning something like “going an own way”, which they definitely do. Effortlessly switching back and forth between violent blast beats and atmospheric interludes, Heretoir draw their own diverse landscapes with a variety of sounds and stylistic influences. This year they released their first studio record in 6 years, called The Circle. It is a loose concept album detailing the story of our human lives—our birth, our death, and our rebirth—and like all great progressive metal albums it has an epic final track to end the record in pompous grandeur.
Liturgy were never the most conventional act in the scene, but with their 2015 outing The Ark Work they are really pushing the boundaries of what could be considered black metal. With its unabashed use of midi horns, bells and glitches, as well as its preference for the major scale, The Ark Work sounds nowhere near the work of bands like Emperor and Burzum, and even Deafheaven and Wolves in the Throne Room sound miles away from what Liturgy have to offer. Nevertheless, the music on The Ark Work carries a distinct quality that still feels like black metal, even transcending the ‘evil’ sound that many claim is typical for metal, leaning towards values as profound as they are arcane. The last weird band in this list—promise.
This Polish band has been around for quite a while—13 years to be exact—but by the time they released their first full-length in 2008 the majority of the original members had been replaced and guitarist Static remained as the only constant factor within the band. The band’s latest album Hope features four songs that make the album’s name seem as inapt as can be. However, guitarist Static is quick to dispel these thoughts as he comments, “Hope is most cruel emotion we experience. It makes our suffering longer.” Where previous efforts by this band were highly influenced by themes of spiritism and esotericism, Hope is a much more personal affair to the point that Static is unwilling to talk about the events that lie at the heart of this record. What remains are four portraits of despair that are sure to deprive you of your dreams and desires.
When Respire released their debut album Gravity and Grace in April last year, it went largely unnoticed in the mainstream media, and even a run of vinyl and cassette releases in October couldn’t do much about that. They only entered our radar somewhere this year, which is a shame, because this 6-piece from Toronto are truly something spectacular. Backed by violas, trumpets, saxophones and a various array of other instruments, these guys provide an incredibly emotional three-quarters of an hour that sees the faint line between horns and guitar feedback blur into one homogenous wall of sound. In fluently resonating between post-rock, screamo and black metal, Respire create an unforgettable experience of what these genres encompass and what separates them, as well as what they have in common.
One album that has me really excited is the upcoming Sannhet album called So Numb. Advance single Way Out shows the Brooklyn instrumental post-metal act inching more and more into their own specific brand of music. Their previous efforts showed influences from both black and sludge metal, but Way Out sees these influences further diluted and combined with guitar playing that is reminiscent of post-rock bands like Jakob and Meniscus. The use of blast beat-driven passages is similar to what bands like Outrun the Sunlight and Set and Setting do on their latest records, and with that black metal seems to have made a lasting mark on the post-metal scene.
Named after a 19th century dreamer-prophet from the Native American Wanapum-tribe, Smohalla are a duo hailing from Normandy, France. Led by multi-instrumentalist Slo and backed by bassist Camille, this band produces a brand of post-black metal that already crossed over into retro synth territory, even before retro synth was cool. Their only full-length Résilience is a mythical journey through unearthly landscapes, merging influences from dark ambient, darkstep and science fiction soundtracks with recognisable elements from black metal music. The result is a colourful palette consisting of equal parts cyberpunk and Native American tribalism, but which above all inspires awe and a sense of the uncanny.
A remarkable act of cosmic proportions, this one man-band from Azerbaijan released a seemingly endless string of EPs and singles before coming up with a full-length called Desperate Dreams in 2015. Where Emin Guliyev’s previous efforts were largely rooted in ambient and drone music, Desperate Dreams presented the listener with an atmospheric black metal sound that was carried further by subsequent albums. What the two periods of Guliyev’s music have in common is the large diversity of influences, ranging from Middle Eastern folk and classical music, to shoegaze and electronic music. This diverse sound, in combination with a high output of material, makes Violet Cold a controversial act among some metal fans, but nevertheless it is a band with a dedicated following all over the globe.