Through Cruelty to Illumination: German Black Metal

This will be the first in a series of scene reports. If your favourite band of the particular scene isn’t represented here, tell us about it!

For some time now the German black metal scene has been burgeoning away. It’s proved itself to be a more than capable successor to the Norwegians of old, straddling the middle ground somewhere between the orthodoxy of the Norse sound and the experimental mindset of the French pioneers. What I find most compelling within the scene is the fantastic melodicism that has wormed its way into the region’s sound almost universally, causing Germany to spew forth some great acts since the mid-90s. Satanic elements have been widely downplayed (though we can forgive Katharsis on the grounds that they are one of the best) with many bands focussing strongly on pagan and folk heritage, and – without trying to pigeonhole the genre more than necessary – Germany has also made brilliant and forward-thinking contributions to the spheres of “atmospheric” and “depressive” black metal. Here are a handful of acts worth your time; some well known, some not so much. Feel free to add your own recommendations.

Luror

Luror are one of my favourite bands from Germany but the project has proved divisive. Some claim it to be bland and uninspired; others hail both The Iron Hand of Blackest Terror and Cease to Live as masterpieces. I am a member of the latter camp, because one focussed listen to Cease to Live particularly exposes the genius behind Luror. The mind in question is that of Unhold, perhaps best known for his work with the notorious Absurd.

I’ve never held Absurd in much high regard but Unhold’s move into solo waters is a different experience altogether. Listening to Luror’s second full-length, Cease to Live is like experiencing a grand work of classical music; it’s majestic, unbound, moving, and has some bloody fine riffing. A conscientiously composed work of black metal, the melodies and harmonies wind in and out of each other in an almost hypnotic fashion. It honestly wouldn’t sound out of place if performed by an orchestra, and when black metal expresses a sense of classicism I am on board (see Make A Change… Kill Yourself).

The debut, The Iron Hand of Blackest Terror, is different territory in many ways. While the production on Cease to Live is, dare I say, perfect for its melancholic despondency, its predecessor suffers from poor recording values. But overall …Blackest Terror is a far more aggressive and raw effort that the sound detracts little from. There’s also the peculiar classical guitar-led number, ‘In A Room In Hell’ that merges mournful clean vocals with utterly insane screeches over the top. The release is deep-rooted in orthodox timbres but remains an intensely entertaining journey. If straight-up black metal isn’t quite your thing, aim for Cease to Live; without doubt a master class in speedy black metal with a nihilistic, depressive edge.

Highlights:
The Iron Hand of Blackest Terror: ‘Into the Burning Fog’, ‘In a Room in Hell’, ‘A Fanfare of War Sounds in The Sky’
Cease to Live: ‘Through Cruelty to Illumination’, ‘Cease to Live’, ‘A Bleak Sun Enlightens Me’, ‘Boundaries of Evil’.

Wigrid

Wigrid awoke in the year of 1998 at the behest of sole-member Ulfhednir and became swiftly celebrated for writing the best Burzum material that Burzum never wrote with the 2002 debut, Hoffnungstod. Fortunately, Varg’s early material that Wigrid draws from remains, for the most part, still incredibly immature and poorly realised. Ulfhednir did away with Burzum’s tendency to descend into crooked pantomime and walked away with several atmospheric and beautifully composed tracks all of varying length and feeling.

Hoffnungstod ranges from brutal, stomping black metal to pondering dirges and moments of clarity, often within the reaches of one song. Vocal work is very reminiscent of Varg’s howls but within Wigrid’s music, it’s effective and heart-wrenching.

My advice is to listen to this album on a grey, rainy day when you’re feeling down on your luck and try your hardest not to get sucked into hopelessness, because it’s practically impossible to not feel worse after a spin of this record. Hoffnungstod represents for myself a place of solace that I can retreat to when nothing’s quite right. The sheer artistry that Ulfhednir conjures from these despairing tones is totally bracing. For this reason alone, Wigrid can be hailed as one of the finest depressive black metal acts of recent times, miles apart from the dross that developed in the wake of this once popular sub-sub-sub genre.

Highlights:
Hoffnungstod: ‘Ort der Eisamkeit’, ‘Die Enstehung’, ‘Hoffnungstod’

Throndt

Throndt seem to be a somewhat hidden gem within German black metal. Not widely known by any rate and barely operational from the looks of their discography. Only one self-titled album exists, with two splits with equally obscure bands on either side. F. Grimnir is the soul behind Throndt’s glorious homage to the forest and winter, taking on the roles of vocals, guitar and bass. Two additional musicians perform drums and cello.

“Glorious” is a pretty apt description for what goes on in Throndt. The album opens with an understated plucking of an acoustic guitar, only to throw the listener into the deep when roaring buzzsaw guitars take form around what can only be described as a ‘jovial’ folk melody. Not quite Nargaroth’s Jahreszeiten mind you. From here the direction is solid; think Darkthrone encompassing folk and you might have an idea.

A downside to Throndt’s attack is that it does come off as very traditional, some riffs are just blatant black metal fodder as can be seen on second track, ‘Das Geschenk Der Holl’. But time and time again I forgive the record on the grounds that it’s a great ride. And listening to black metal fodder riffs will never stop being fun. Whether it’s the down-trodden doom of ‘Im Kerker’ or the warlike attitude of ‘Winterruh’, Throndt never ceases to please. A welcome addition to the album is the four acoustic interludes, spread symmetrically through the album’s eleven tracks. These delicate folk compositions break the album up nicely and shit you up each time the metal abruptly returns.

Highlights:
Throndt: ‘Heimat’, ‘Winterruh’, ‘Zwischenspiel’, ‘Im Kerker’

Lunar Aurora

No article discussing German black metal can deny Lunar Aurora a place. A chance discovery placed me directly in the thrall of the uncompromising brutality displayed on Mond, but each album from this grim institution has a sound completely of its own. Aran and co. were never afraid of experimenting with black metal right from the early days. The cold and synth-laden sound of the 1995 demo A Wandering Winterdream Beneath the Cold Moon founded their archetypal sound which would be built to new heights with each subsequent release.

Whether it’s the strange, off-kilter riffing of ‘Zorn aus Äonen’ from Elixir of Sorrow or the wall of power chords powered by Mond’s ‘Grimm’, it’s nearly impossible to favour one album over another for the vast differences in aim and approach.

Undoubtedly one of the greatest acts to come from German shores, it’s unfortunate that they are currently on hiatus. However, they are still signed to Cold Dimensions where the website lists the classic line-up, suggesting that they are due to make a return at some point. The incredibly strong discography all comes highly recommended.

Highlights:
Andacht: ‘Geisterschiff’
Mond: ‘Welk’
Elixir of Sorrow: ‘Zorn aus Äonen’
Of Stargates and Bloodstained Celestial Spheres: ‘Blutbaum’

Moonblood

Moonblood heroically stuck to their guns when it came to their brand of raw, epic black metal. They released material on vinyl and cassette only, no doubt adding to their cult status. All their promotional pictures were of that brilliant grainy, black and white style; swords, torches, fire breathing and snow covered gravestones all working towards that ‘true’ black metal approach.

Moonblood’s most celebrated release is perhaps the 1996 full-length, Blut Und Krieg, an unsavoury adventure into warlike, raw as hell black metal. The recording is what you’d expect from such staunch purveyors of tradition; wafer-thin guitars, buried drums and echoing snarled vocals but the composition really shines through the low sound quality. Riffs are military deathmarches towards hell, spurring the imagination into images of undead hordes battling elves and humans. Old school? Yes. Good? Definitely.

Highlights:
Blut Und Krieg: ‘…And Snow Covered the Lifeless Bodies’, ‘My Evil Soul’, ‘Blut Und Krieg’

Hates music and writing. Unfortunately, he's a journalist.

23 Comments

  • Reply August 22, 2010

    Anonymous

    Fantastic Article, Luror, Lunar Aurora and Moonblood are brilliant.

    Not aware of the other bands though so will deffo check them out.

    Looking forward to seeing what other scenes you will write about.

  • Reply August 23, 2010

    Rin

    Great article, thanks!

    Check out Wolfsmond if you don't know them already. Line-up includes Unhold as well as Sebastian from Absurd, and while I haven't heard the new one yet, their first two albums are fine examples of unmistakably German sounding Black Metal without resorting to early Absurd's unbearable dilettantism.

    Also, I'm a bit disappointed that Nagelfar weren't mentioned as they are widely regarded as one of the best Black Metal bands Germany has ever produced. Also, most of their members are still active and responsible for such gems as Graupel, Kermania or The Ruins of Beverast.

    Also: Nyktalgia, ColdWorld, Nocte Obducta and Secrets of the Moon.

  • Reply August 23, 2010

    Richard

    I really like the Wolfsmond track from the Tormenting Legends II compilation but that's all I have.

    On reflection, I really should have at least included Ruins of Beverast and some others, but otherwise I would've been writing for days and you would've got bored.

    I'll check out Nocte Obducta, otherwise we're waiting for people to comment with stuff we haven't heard!

  • Reply August 24, 2010

    Jo

    Very interesting article!

    Another one to check out: Imperium Dekadenz. I have two albums – Dämmerung der Szenarien and Procella Valens – and they're both great.

  • Reply August 24, 2010

    Richard

    You're right,Imperium Dekadenz are great. There are so many decent bands from Germany.

  • Reply August 24, 2010

    sotar79

    no mention on Endstille, but one of my favourite bands from germany too,
    new record with former nagelgar singer Zingultus soon

  • Reply August 25, 2010

    Musical Warfare

    The German scene is one of my favorites right now, there are so many good black metal acts coming out of Germany. Aside from the ones already mentioned, Farsot, Drautran, Dark Tribe, and Verdunkeln are a few bands I'm really digging right now.

  • Reply August 25, 2010

    sotar79

    i love the german BM bands plus i´m learning german actually and that helps me to dig more into the music, i´m looking for german BM bands with german lyrics, anybody can say?

  • Reply August 25, 2010

    Richard

    Errm most German BM bands?

  • Reply August 25, 2010

    sotar79

    yeah a lot of them, but I´d like to know not so underground bands like typical demo and no more ones

  • Reply August 25, 2010

    sotar79

    Todgelichter, total hate, eternity, good ones too

  • Reply August 25, 2010

    sotar79

    as well as Abigor aus österreich

  • Reply August 26, 2010

    Anonymous

    No Ruins of Beverast….disgraceful 🙂 cool article though…Coldworld is pretty cool too, if you like the hazier side of BM

  • Reply August 29, 2010

    random

    Luror never caught on with me for some reason, except that one bloody brilliant song from the Tormenting Legends II compilation. Awesome compilation, with other notable acts being Klage and Katharsis. Klage should be on this scene report.. I think I've mentioned Klage before on this website.

  • Reply September 20, 2010

    sotar79

    another band to mention is graupel , with zingultus from nagelfar

  • Reply October 16, 2010

    Anonymous

    All you need to know: Ascension – With Burning Tongues (2009)

    • Reply November 21, 2010

      John

      Indeed probably among the best Black Metal releases of 2009. No more words needed. I guess the band consists of Katharsis members.

  • Reply November 21, 2010

    John

    From the older bands NAGELFAR should be mentioned. Also THA-NORR, one of the oldest german BM bands who put out a very original album called “Wolfenzeitalter”, one of the best BM albums ever. anyone into very obscure and occult BM should check out the first UNGOD album “Circle of the Seven Infernal Pacts”, actually the first german BM band and a great classic BM record. THE RUINS OF BEVERAST and KATHARSIS are among the best still active bands.

    KLAGE and KARGVINT have created some of the best nordic and melancholic BM, too.

    Anyone into a bit more radical and evil sounding traditional BM should check out the last album by THE TRUE FROST “In Eternal Strife”.

  • Reply November 21, 2010

    John

    Nihil Nocturne and Deathgate Arkanum should be mentioned, too. Highly recommended! Nihil Nocturne´s “Wahnsinn.Tod.Verrat” and D.A. “Stillhallen” defy any description. Great music beyond any genre boundaries.

  • Reply December 12, 2010

    Aas

    If you report about german black metal, you do not have to forgot Nagelfar, whose album Hünengrab im Herbst was essential for the developement of the typical “german style” of black metal riffing, which has a melodic, between a melancholic and almost “happy” feeling in their music. The Rock Hard Magazine called Hünengrab im Herbst under the 15 most important Black Metal Albums ever and many other bands from Black Metal to Pagan Metal, like Odal, Nargaroth, Kermania and Drautran are highly influenced by it.

    Nargaroth, I think this is the most well-known german black metal band. Their debut Herbstleyd has got good ratings, but “Black Metal is Krieg” not only got many musical attention, phrases like “Black Metal ist Krieg” and “Duschen ist Krieg” are often parodied on german festivals.

    Nocte Obducta was one of the first avantgardistic Black Metal bands from this country, starting with raw, atmospheric black metal like Nagelfar, later they got influences by progressive rock, gothic rock and post punk.

    Other famous Bands are Endstille, which has a similar reputation like Nargaroth, the occult/satanic Secrets of the Moon, whose first 2 albums have Cult status, the newcomer-band Coldworld and last but not least the more commercial oriented Dark Fortress.

    I think the german style of Black Metal was very underrated in the world (because of the german lyrics and pagan themes?)

  • Reply December 13, 2010

    Aas

    and I forgot Aaskereia, which kombine black metal with acoustic guitars

  • […] has always produced top-tier modern black metal, whether it’s Lunar Aurora, Luror, The Ruins of Beverast, Katharsis or Ascension. Although France […]

  • […] this lurker had been waiting a long time for word of their return. A couple of years ago, in an article about the legacy of the German black metal scene, we conjectured that due to their lingering […]

Leave a Reply