The Best of Black and Death Metal

Over a career as a death metal disc jockey spanning six years in Planet Southern California, Spinoza Ray Prozak developed a strong sense of history regarding the relevance of the music he played over the air. "Not all metal bands are equal," he once said, "and though we'd never want them to be, some are going to stand out in history as having addressed the human soul in the unique way a metal band can - while others will just be working within the paradigm."

Presented here are the bands and releases that Spinoza Ray thinks define the genres of metal - heavy metal, thrash, death metal, grindcore and black metal - by speaking directly the language of innovation within the architecture of metal's art. Covers and names link to reviews with more information about the bands and their albums.

Death Metal

sodom - persecution mania (best of death metal) morbid angel - blessed are the sick (best of death metal) at the gates - gardens of grief (best of death metal) therion - beyond sanctorum (best of death metal)
demilich - nespithe (best of death metal) unleashed - where no life dwells (best of death metal) massacra - final holocaust (best of death metal) sepultura - morbid visions/bestial devastation (best of death metal)

A bridge between thrash and death metal, Sodom made simple songs using fast tremelo strumming and along with fellow European bands Celtic Frost and Bathory, became the impetus toward the styles that would amalgamate into the new genre of death metal.
Morbid Angel
Influenced by the extremity of Sepultura and Possessed, Morbid Angel injected fantasy realms of the complex codices of musical theory into death metal, exploring the edge of atonality with chaotic yet centrally-fused melodic structures.
At the Gates
Exploring complex song structures and different chord voicings, At the Gates created a classically-influenced style for Swedish death metal which expanded its basic precept of melodic construction based around brutally distorted guitar picked fast in a tremelo which blurred it into contiguous sound, sounding often more like it was written for violins (and indeed, they had a violinist in the band for their third album).
Dark romantic metal that flows through individualized song structures like a book of poetry encapsulates divergent views of life into one complicated worldview, Therion brought fantasy metal to a realization of artistic relevance to the world and inspired a generation or two of death metal and black metal bands.
Almost universally misunderstood, this band created a form of metal that has never been explored, namely one in which the harmonic constructions of popular music were expanded and inserted within metal songs, allowing the melodic construction of the whole to detour into motifs reflecting a cyclic recombination of each idea.
Using rhythm like a blunt instrument, Unleashed combined the central chorus vocal rhythm organization of heavy metal with death metal's emphasis on the elements of rhythm microencoded in strumming and details of percussion to emphasize the band's mythological view of primal existence.
An early and often overlooked contributor, Massacra were contemporaries of Morbid Angel who used a similar style of fast tremelo picking and abrupt variations in song structure to create classically-inspired, monumentally dynamic forms of sonic art.
Starting with a dark and unravelling black metal entry to extreme metal but working into a fusion of speed metal and death metal rhythm, Sepultura developed an aggressive but light on its feet style that brought a currency of energy into death metal approaching the techno age.

Black Metal

hellhammer - triumph of death (best of black metal) bathory - the return (best of black metal) immortal - pure holocaust (best of black metal) ildjarn-nidhogg - cd (best of black metal)
enslaved - vikinglgr veldi (best of black metal) burzum - hvis lyset tar oss (best of black metal) emperor - wrath of the tyrant (best of black metal) graveland - the celtic winter (best of black metal)

Hellhammer/Celtic Frost
One of black metal's developmental influences, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost found simple songs a method of injecting viral dissonance to music and therefore extrapolating complexity without necessarily expressing it in the music, all while riding dark but spiritual grooves that still compell listeners to this day.
Raw and essential music follows rhythm through a pounding tribute to violence and darkness in this one-man war against the world; for basic blackmetal, none have surpassed this surprisingly current-sounding landmark.
Creators of beauty in darkness and believers in the empowering factors of imagination and unleashed soul, Immortal made a symphony to the night with "Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism" and then followed it up with an exploration of harmony in internal turbulence with the seminal "Pure Holocaust," an album which captured both the polyrhythmic spirit of chaos metal and the developing science of black metal melody.
Ildjarn uses clusters of related riffs made from a few chords whipped into phrases surrounding a motif-concept and massages them into organically structured songs in which a natural poetic impulse gives context to a change in perception. Like the best of black metal, this is simultaneously unlistenably abrasive and gently contemplative.
The genesis of this music is a fusion between the folk music of Norway, with its lengthy repetitive passages in which variation occurs as in nature, subtly and with slowly-building force that eventually alters the whole without a single clear causal trigger, and sonorous black metal with lengthy phrases of power chords culminating in a melodic concluding passage of the type that has always defined metal music as emotionally "heavy."
The master of all that is dark and free, Burzum is music "to awaken the fantasy of mortals." Highly successful at that it is a yardstick for all metal to aspire toward.
Sweeping melodic ushers of an imagination behind the wall of death, Emperor present a metaphor that is part escapism and part a realist dream of fantasy becoming realized against the current of aging and fatalistic human despair.
Unrepentant politically-incorrect medievalists who make flowing sonatas out of a handful of chords and a melodic idea in order to free the human soul from its servitude in Judeo-Christian intellectual aestheticism, Graveland generate majesty and reverence within savage and feral music.
This is not a complete list. There are plenty of runners-up, but for that you'll have to hit the bands listing.

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