Since it is black friday, many of my musically inclined friends are celebrating, not by fighting the crowds at the mall, but by listening to black metal. Black metal, being one of the most extreme subgenres of an already extreme genre, is not universally loved by every metal head. But if you get it, you get it. I get it, and I love it.
Surprisingly, even a mid-sized region like Baltimore-Washington can boast a few decent black metal (or blackened) bands among the scores of metalcore acts. I have cast my net far and wide to bring your attention to a few of the most grim and frostbitten acts in the area.
If you like your black metal raw and unfiltered, you will want to check out Baltimore's Xeukatre. This trio plays very simple, straight forward "necro" black metal. Necro implies low-end production, crappy audio quality and also abrasive vocals and fast tempos. These are actually very desirable attributes in the black metal "trve" community, and Xeukatre fulfills all the requirements. They even wear corpse paint during their shows. I have seen Xeukatre a handful of times and each time I find something new to appreciate about them. They always put forth an eerie atmosphere and give 110% to their performance. You can listen to them here.
On the other end of the production value spectrum is Barbelith. The music made by this group is much more lush and layered. It's still black metal, but this is what we call atmospheric or ambient black metal. The lyrical themes are more introspective and live performance includes a bit of quiet ritual. Band members more often than not keep their backs to the audience. You will still find fast tempos and abrasive vocals, but they will be tempered by more dreamy, even shoegaze-y melodies. Barbelith take their time with each song, which tend to be longer than more traditional forms of black metal. You can listen to Barbelith here.
The musical pedigree of The Oracle is impeccable, bringing former touring members of heavy hitters like Pentagram and Sourvein together. You would not think such a lineage would infer that the music would be black metal, but it is and very much so. But there are other elements in this band, even hardcore. The unrelentingly awesome guitar work is understandably the highlight of many of the songs. But the over all sinister vibe cannot be denied. At this point, I have been able to preview some unreleased tracks from this new blackened doom outfit. The finished and mastered works should be available for everyone to hear very soon, so keep on the lookout for them. You can listen to a teaser clip here, but seriously this clip does not even begin to do this band justice. I assure you, you will be blown away by the completed recording. I am looking forward to the live performances.
This band self-describes as blackened sludge jazz, and that's probably pretty accurate. Snakefeast performs some of the weirdest sounding music out there, whatever you want to call it. Built on a foundation of bass and drums, Snakefeat's vocalist howls into a rounded "bullet" type of microphone, which produces this other worldly effect on his voice. The lyrics become more like another part of the melody structure than actual words you need to worry about deciphering. On recordings, the group has used a saxophone to propel the song structure, but I have yet to see this happen live. Mostly the job of carrying the melody in live settings has fallen to the bassist, who does a fine job. Even so, the music being put out by Snakefeast should not be ignored. They might be an acquired taste, but if you are in that tiny minority that likes both jazz and black metal (me), you are more than halfway there. Listen here.
Somewhere between death metal and black metal, you will find a band like Thrain. On the one hand, they definitely have a black metal aesthetic with blistering tempos and tremolo guitar picking. But on the other hand their vocals fall more into the death metal growl. Melodies dip into death metal and doom elements. I have not had a chance to get out to see Thrain live yet, but what I have heard here on Bandcamp entices me. Maybe someone will book this Northern Virginia outfit closer to my home in Baltimore.