Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Top 10 Norwegian Black Metal Album Covers

Norway's infamous second wave of black metal is one of the most infamous scenes in music history. It produced some of the most iconic bands, albums, and images in the extreme metal world. The movement's aesthetic was unmistakable, and it has long since become the face of black metal to the rest of the world.

Amidst the church burnings and corpse paint, though, the movement also gave us some of the most stunning and starkly beautiful artwork ever to grace an album cover. Below, I list my personal choices for the 10 greatest album covers ever to emerge from Norwegian black metal. You'll doubtless notice a stylistic trend as you near the top of the list.

[Note: Honorable mentions go to Darkthrone's Panzerfaust, both versions of Dimmu Borgir's Stormblåst, and to Windir's Arntor which I wanted to fudge for, but which I decided I couldn't honestly count as black metal.]


#10. Enslaved - Eld (1997)
It's pretty uncommon to see good full-color portraits on black metal albums. Those that we do see are usually so heavily filtered that they may as well be black-and-white. With this cover, Enslaved went against the grain in a really compelling way. I wouldn't want to see a ton of album covers in this style, but I think Eld comes across with a really effective look.

#9. Arcturus - Aspera Hiems Symphona (1996)
Admittedly there isn't very much to this one. It's fairly minimal, but it's minimal in the right way. The image captures the feeling of northern cold, solitude, light in the darkness, and the hauntingly magical mysteries of nature that all come with the Northern Lights. You may not see a lot when you look at this, but I for one feel a lot when I see it.

#8. Old Man's Child - Ill-Natured Spiritual Invasion (1998)
This cover kind of looks more like a death metal album cover to me. That doesn't really matter, though, because it also looks pretty damn cool. The background, easily ignored when staring at that striking central figure, has a haunting, supernatural glow and those tattered banners that reminds me of the Black Gate of Mordor. Given the departure here from the usual black metal aesthetic, I think this stands as a good example of effective alternative styles black metal bands can adopt.

#7. Burzum - Filosofem (1996)
This one is a classic. Admittedly my perceptions may be colored by the fact that I really love the album, but nonetheless I think this cover really captures the old-world mystique of the music really well. It always makes me think of the silent vampire classic "Nosferatu" and that's a great image to have in your head when listening to black metal.

#6. Dimmu Borgir - For All Tid (1994)
It's easy to forget, given their lack of street cred these days, that once upon a time Dimmu Borgir were a pretty serious black metal band. They've had several good album covers, but their first full-length in particular sported a gloomy, evil-looking cover that just looks spectacular. The black, deathlike figure is as ominous as can be, the towering white fortress is suitably ancient and fantastic, and the whole thing ties together perfectly.

#5. Burzum - Burzum (1992)
Speaking of grim, ominous figures, Burzum's self-titled debut features one of the darkest, gloomiest images I've ever seen. I can just imagine myself, freezing cold as I wander lost across a frozen moor, icy breeze swirling the thick fog, and seeing this black-robed ghoul loom out of the darkness ahead. It's chilling, and that's exactly how a black metal cover should be.

#4. Immortal - At the Heart of Winter (1999)
Immortal peaked a little later in their careers than most of their contemporaries, as far as I'm concerned. The high-water mark for the illustrious black metallers came in 1999, both in terms of music and artwork. The frozen fantasy land that Immortal craft in their music is beautifully illustrated here, with a black metal cover that has just enough darkness to keep its edge.

#3. Antestor - The Forsaken (2005)
Kristian Wåhlin is unquestionably my favorite metal cover artist, and one of his best works belongs on an album that comes out of left field. Antestor are a rare breed: a Christian Norwegian black metal band. In their early career they reportedly received death threats from several of the more aggressive members of the scene, and after disappearing from the music world for years they re-emerged in 2005 with an album so fantastic that even the actively anti-Christian black metal reviewers of Metal Archives give it a 97% score. Wåhlin contributed the artwork, which I absolutely love.

#2. Dark Funeral - The Secrets of the Black Arts (1996)
I didn't even know this one was by Wåhlin until I just now, but that fact that it is just illustrates how much his style appeals to me. This cover combines the dark, gloomy figures on numbers 5 and 6 with the blue tones and fantasy landscape of numbers 3 and 4. Even the band's logo looks cool and evil on there. This cover really has it all, and it would be an easy pick for the top spot if it weren't for. . . .

#1. Emperor - In the Nightside Eclipse (1994)
Wåhlin's masterpiece. This cover is perfect. On top of that, it couldn't belong to a better album. This isn't just my favorite black metal cover, it's my favorite album cover of any kind. I won't go into details about this record, since it should be very familiar to anybody with even a passing interest in black metal, but the harsh, delicate beauty of the cover art speaks for itself.

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