Black metal has always baffled people outside of metal circles. This is mainly due to its distinct sound, the brutality that accompanied the genre, and dark lyrics. However, there’s one sub-genre of black metal that has bewildered even the metalheads themselves — symphonic black metal.
The uniqueness of symphonic black metal comes from the fact that it merges two musical directions that are on the opposite sides of a rather broad spectrum: black metal and orchestral/symphonic music.
Although admittedly an outlandish fusion, the strings, horns, and other symphonic elements enrich the raw black metal sound. If you aren’t yet acquainted with the genre, the music might sound a bit obscure at first. But we wholeheartedly recommend giving some symphonic metal tracks a few listens. They might very well grow on you, and you might genuinely enjoy the “fuller” sound the genre provides.
Here, we’ll quickly introduce you to the five most popular symphonic black metal bands according to various fan polls, as well as the artists’ success on the black metal scene.
Before we get into it, a quick disclaimer first — some of the names you’ll see here don’t consider themselves to be black metal bands, let alone symphonic black metal bands. However, there are various melodic elements evidently present in these artists’ songs that justify the classification.
Moreover, not every black metal fan will agree with this list, and that’s perfectly fine. Ultimately, we all have different preferences, and it’s solely up to you to decide which symphonic metal band you consider to be the best.
With that out of the way, here are our favorite five symphonic black metal bands:
1. Dimmu Borgir
Dimmu Borgir is an iconic name in the black metal scene. The band’s name stems from the volcanic formation in the midst of the gorgeous Icelandic scenery, Dimmuborgir. Additionally, the band’s name has dual meaning, depending on how you choose to interpret it. In Icelandic, the literal translation would be “Dark Cities.” In Old Norse, however, Borgir signifies a fortress, which is a lot more black metal than “cities,” you have to agree.
When the band first formed, back in 1993, their sound was melodic. They’ve released an EP in 1994 titled “Into the Darkness of Eternity.” The EP was a huge hit and sold out within a few weeks. That prompted the band to come out with a debut album For all tid the same year.
Since then, Dimmu Borgir has released ten metal albums, as well as one compilation album, three more EPs, and six singles. So if Mourning Palace, The Serpentine Offering, Gateways, or other hits by this Norwegian symphonic black metal band are your jam, there are plenty of other brutal tracks in their discography to listen to.
2. Cradle of Filth
Although Dani Filth, the band’s vocalist, wouldn’t exactly refer to Cradle as a black metal band, they still made our list. Firstly, there are undoubtedly symphonic elements in their songs. On top of that, as distinct as their sound may be, it still most closely resembles black metal than any of the other metal sub-genres.
This English band has been around since 1991 and has changed their lineup half a dozen times throughout the years. The band’s frontman, Dani Filth, was the only constant in the band’s 28-year-long career. So although Cradle evolved over the years, Dani’s vocals and screams the band is loved for are present to this very day.
You’ve probably heard Nymphetamine, Her Ghost in the Fog, Temptation, and a few others. These are the most universally popular songs; however, there are many more extremely powerful tracks in Cradle’s repertoire that might quickly become your favorites.
3. Carach Angren
For metalheads leaning more towards horror, Carach Angren is the go-to. This band’s wicked reefs, ghoulish vocals, and grisly lyrics will send shivers down your spine. The borderline maddening orchestral elements, contrasted by signature black metal riffs make for an eerie melody straight out of people’s worst nightmares.
Carach Angren made their debut in 2003 and have quickly made a name for themselves on the black metal scene. However, it was their fourth studio album, This Is No Fairytale, that made them a serious contender for the horror metal throne. The unique audio experience it provides is indescribable. So just give it a listen; you won’t regret it!
Vesania is a testament to the fact that Poles can create phenomenal black metal music as well. Although some choose to categorize them under “extreme metal,” their music justifies counting them among symphonic black metal bands, and even blackened death metal bands.
Categorization aside, there’s no doubt that Vesania is one of the most brutal black metal bands around. The name itself has Latin roots and signifies everything closely related to madness, insanity, and mental illness.
And make no mistake, Vesania has stayed true to their name. In true black metal fashion, they have limited the release of their first album Moonastray to 666 copies. Of course, they didn’t stop there. Instead, the band members signed each and every album in blood. Brutal; just the way we like it!
5. Opera IX
Opera IX is a black metal band from Italy, which throws elements of folk, gothic, and doom metal into the mix to create a bloody powerful, imposing sound. Interestingly enough, their 1990 demo Gothik was leaning more towards thrash metal.
However, after the legendary vocalist Cadaveria, the first female singer to enter extreme metal, joined the band, the shift towards a more darker music style was immediately evident. The band’s Demo ‘92 was comprised of well-composed, death/black metal tracks and featured Cadaveria’s unique vocal delivery.
Another way in which Opera IX differs from classic black metal bands is their philosophy. Namely, they do not share the extreme anti-religious attitude that is one of the core elements of the genre. In fact, they merge art and religion and advocate a “straight” lifestyle. The motifs in their music involve ancient Pagan knowledge, rites and rituals, and exploration of old folklore and superstitions.
Although many black metal fans would consider them “insufficiently brutal,” they more than deserve to be on this list, in our humble opinion.