By The Void
Recently, Metal Matters contributor Lance Brock authored an article listing and describing his top 10 black metal classics. While of course I maintain editorial oversight of Lance’s work and therefore approve everything he post to the site, I don’t have to agree with him. Indeed, Lance’s definition of “classic” is significantly different from mine, presumably due to the generational gap. Obviously our definition of “black metal” is different as well.
While I understand what is commonly meant by the term, the metal genre itself is ultimately derived from the black-dominated blues genre. The blastbeats you hear on Pure Holocaust and De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas are nothing less than the whitewashed war drums of Africa calling the nations to battle. It is time then to heed the call and (dare I say it?) represent. Therefore, according to the math that white people devised in the late 18th century as it relates to people of color, we will be examining my own personal top 16.66666667 true black metal albums.
Bad Brains – I Against I
While some may challenge the inclusion of Bad Brains on a list regarding metal music, I (a) would point out the influence they would have on the development of the metal genre and (b) do not care. I Against I was an example of hardcore/metal crossover with an emphasis on “traditional” heavy metal stylings rather than speed metal that would typify thrash.It delves into early 1980s alternative rock as well, although the reggae stylings for which the band was famous do not really shine through here.
Bad Brains – Rock for Light
The album immediately preceding the one just discussed is more typical of the sound for which Bad Brains was famous: a combination of punk, hardcore, reggae, and Rastafarian spirituality. Still a landmark in all of these genres.
Black Death – Black Death
In much the same way that Black Sabbath was able to convince the world that they created rather than colonized the idea of metal, Black Death took it upon themselves to re-colonize the white safe space that metal became. Recalling the operatic, overblown theatricality of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Black Death successfully anticipated the style and image that would be most associated with the Italian cock metal band Death SS (a telling name).
Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom
A mainstay of what is called “black” metal for over 30 years, Canada’s Blasphemy is not comprised entirely of people of color (and indeed, neither are most artists on this list) but the main voice informing the songwriting process is the POC guitarist who pseudonymously calls himself Caller of the Storms. This band innovated the “war metal” sound that would later go on to be appropriated by Sarcófago, Black Witchery, and Conqueror (in addition to countless others). The false idols of Euro-Semitic Christianity crumble to dust before the pride of Africa.
Hirax – Raging Violence
Hirax bridges the gap between speed metal in the vein of Metallica and another band I cannot mention and the thrash tradition of D.R.I. and Cryptic Slaughter, Hirax has often received criticism due to its vocalist, who is naturally the only POC in the band. That said, Raging Violence reveals the side of early thrash that speaks to the under-represented demographics that constituted the majority of the denizens of southern California in the 1980s.
King’s X – Dogman
The immediacy and urgency of King’s X’s brand of progressive metal brings to mind both the grunge movement of the early 1990s and the progressive rock fiasco of the 1960s and 1970s. Still, King’s X is unique for offering an optimistic alternative to most of the rest of metal from this era and for being one of the few bands to present a queer POC viewpoint (perhaps the most important viewpoint available) as something other than a caricature or a novelty.
Mystifier – Goetia
As far as “black” metal is concerned, the Brazilian band Mystifier is the culmination of the genre. Comprised entirely of POCs and playing the blackest of the black, Mystifier’s Goetia is an improvement in essentially every way on also-rans such as Darkthrone, Burzum, and Graveland. That the band has not received a large amount of press is likely due to their ethnicity.
Sound Barrier – Speed of Light
Where Metallica and their contemporaries were more interested in speed and technical skill, Sound Barrier — comprised entirely of black metal musicians — went for gut emotions. Speed of Light is an ecstatic triumph of speed metal colored (pun intended) by the real experience of being black in America. Virtuosic.
Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten
While not as over-produced as their later efforts, Effigy of the Forgotten stands as Suffocation’s finest moment. The precursor to commercial so-called “brutal death metal” such as Cannibal Corpse and Nile, Suffocation reveals an insight into the failed multiculturalism of New York and America in general. The album cover frankly says it all: organic truth harvested, segregated, and devoured by technology for only the most malicious purposes. I cannot think of a finer example of the POC experience in the Western world than this brutal, dim, shocking, and remorseless album.
Thin Lizzy – Thunder and Lightning
Although Thin Lizzy has been whitewashed and normalized by the over-playing of “the Boys are Back in Town” in sullen dive bars across America (where divorced white fathers in their mid-40s sadly attempt to recapture their lost youth by trying to “crush some puss” and commiserating with other white men in the same boat), the band’s final full-length album featuring black Irishman Phil Lynott is a surprising metal classic. After enlisting the help of John Sykes, the former guitarist of Tygers of Pan Tang (itself an appropriated and fetishized name), Lynott was able to channel the rage of centuries of marginalization that his ancestors surely felt and produce an album that demonstrated the power of a black man no longer constrained by the norms of the Western hemisphere. This album is the blackest of the black and shows the potential that Lynott could have fulfilled before being assassinated by the American Central Intelligence Agency.