Black Metal for Beginners

Earlier this year I decided to pick up banjo again after an eight year break. Inspired by Modest Mouse, Show Me The Body, and a permeating boredom with guitar and synth. This go around, lessons seemed like a good way to land feet-first.

Banjo Hangout and my instructor have been indispensible — but there’s a major flaw with the banjo community. Banjo material on the internet tends to fall into one of three categories: “old timey” (see: folk), bluegrass, or post-ironic covers. You could achieve moderate internet fame playing variations of fiddle tunes, Pete Seeger anthems, and hip hop covers. These are valuable from a historical perspective and amazing learning tools. Yet, there’s a growing scene of “banjocore”/blackgrass, dark ambient, and black metal.

This March I saw Holy Fawn open for Deafheaven in Denver. I was entranced by their mix of shoegazing, black metal, post-metal, synthesizers, and banjo. Up until this point, I wasn’t familiar with banjo’s non-ironic use in heavier music. This spurred a Black Metal kick, a genre I’ve ignored, save for Phil Elevrum’s black metal-inspired albums and Ragana opening for The Microphones.

Having a more modern band expose me was fortunate. Black metal, especially folk instrument black metal, is often affiliated with far-right politics. Taake is notorious for both their banjo solos and nationalist views. Many of the bands in the nascent black metal scene had extremist politics.

You can get sucked into a hole of black metal drama and history. If you’re bored on a Saturday night, It’s Boundo.’s video essay is a great intro and will fuel your recommendations feed for an evening at home. This leaves us at an interesting crossroads. It’s completely reasonable to avoid black metal for its reputation. There’s guaranteed disappointment from looking up a second-wave black metal band’s Wikipedia page.

This began a journey to find opposition and non-political black metal. After all, I do need some banjo music I can play, or at the very least, some tremolo picking riffs for guitar. I asked my friends for a rundown on modern black metal and discovered a slew of modern nature-themed blackgrass, non-political black metal, and opposition black metal. The latter being known as Red and Anarchist Black Metal (RABM). If you’re trying to avoid any sort of political leanings in your music, you may want to skip RABM. That being said, the RABM subreddit maintains a list of “sketch-free artists” to get you started.

All of this has culminated in me starting a Black Metal list. Here’s what I recommend so far:

Band Album Year Political Screamed Vocals Fusion Genre Notes
Mayhem De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas 1994 N Y N/A Highly controversial for many reasons, but the seed of second-wave Black Metal.
Panopticon Into the North Woods 2015 Y Y Bluegrass Alternates between banjo-inspired blackgrass and more traditional Black Metal.
Krallice Years Past Matter 2012 N Y N/A Highly technical Black Metal.
Mount Eerie Wind’s Poem 2009 N N Lo-fi, Acoustic, Folk Black Metal-inspired. One of my favorite musicians. Unique for his catalogue.
Holy Fawn Dimensional Bleed 2022 N Sometimes Shoegazing One of my favorite albums of the year, and the band that started my journey.
Swampborn Beyond Ratio 2022 N Y Death Metal
Ragana You Take Nothing 2017 Y Y Doom Metal


Matthew Stingel @mwksl