An Exhaustive Study: Melodic Black Metal [1991-Present] Part VI – Renascent Genocidal Prophecies (’02-’03)

Here I present Part VI of the latest in a series of a comprehensive sub-genre analysis features that I began with Technical Thrash Metal and Melodic Hardcore in past years. This reforging of the unfinished feature means that I will semi-discontinue my ongoing ‘Melodic Black Metal: An Exhaustive Study’ efforts on Rateyourmusic/Sonemic. The method for this type of feature is straightforward: I procure a chronological list of demos, EPs and full-lengths from various sources. I then listen to every release in order and report my thoughts on each. I then decide if they truly resemble the sub-genre after I’ve experienced everything labeled as such to date. This isn’t about being a genre label elitist it is my personal comprehensive method for understanding musical style, nuance, and the need for distinction between sub-culture movements in underground heavy metal music. This third part lists and comments on the 370th through ~450th releases commonly labeled Melodic Black Metal from 2002 through 2003.

“I have long sought the meaning of life through heavy metal sub-genre exhaustion and recently, while sitting and chanting incantations and curses housed within torturous walls of meaningless comfort, bemused myself with the observation that Melodic Black Metal holds the key to the meaning of all things. What more academically inspired vision is there than to spend some my ‘free time’ than to listen to this mysterious sub-sub-genre and reveal the mythos of the Khaos Gnostic universe through my ear-holes and out my slowly crippling fingers.”

Of course I can’t call this an exhaustive study unless I address the existence of demo recordings, so they are included. I also can’t blindly accept everything labeled “Melodic Black Metal” on sites like Discogs and Rateyourmusic as ‘gospel’ and as such I will be giving the final, definitive observation on whether or not a band deserves the sub-genre modifier. Some of these, especially the ones from the prime era of Melodic Death Metal  and Symphonic Black Metal are NOT primarily Melodic Black Metal at all… but they are labeled as such because the difference can be difficult to distinguish. The subtleties of melodic death, melodic black metal and symphonic black metal blended together at various points in history. I can’t promise a few albums won’t slip through my abyss-stained maw filter, which is gaping, but kindly contact me and let me know if I’ve missed an important release that qualifies as melodic black metal.

Album art is missing for parts I, II, and III because I was linked to another site’s database and they blocked the traffic, I will likely not re-host all 280+ images until I have finished entries up to 2018. The features for this list won’t be on a regular schedule because each one requires upwards of 80 full album/demo/EP listens and I can only work through them one album at a time unless previously familiar. It won’t be long though! I’ve also reformatted this ongoing list to fit on mobile devices easier and in turn include more items, this means small album artwork.


Artist Signs of Darkness
Title [Type/Year] Beyond the Autumn Leaves [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Lead by circular piano riffs, reticent female vocals, and double bass drumming ‘Beyond the Autumn Leaves’ is exactly the type of trendy garbage that dates itself quickly and leaves no honest impression on the world. Well composed, atmospheric, and highly melodic Signs of Darkness played a symphonic black metal equivalency to top brass of the day and did an alright job of it. Though it is a form of black metal and it is melodic the tag for melodic black metal is incidental and ‘technical’ rather than actual style evoked. It really just sounds like Belgium’s answer to early Old Man’s Child or Cradle of Filth. I’ve started this session with this record to point out that if this is the worst melodic black metal can do in 2002, it wasn’t a terrible year. Kidding, it’s going to suck.


Artist Hyperborean
Title [Type/Year] Of Malice [Demo/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Swedes Hyperborean were ultra-refined on their first demo ‘Of Malice’ but their style hadn’t yet walked in line with their respective scene. Rock solos, prog rock keyboards, and lots of shredding make this a compelling and somewhat unique set of songs. There is an almost power metal like attack in some of this and I think their intentions were ultimately closer to melodic death metal despite a lot of the black metal of the time coming through in their sound. A good demo with nice clarity and I like the banged-up feeling of the drum sound. The full demo is on the ‘HyperboreanSwe’ YouTube page.


Artist Lacrimae
Title [Type/Year] Course to Arsoning [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Mid-to-slow paced Gothic metal from the Yucatán area of Mexico, elements of black metal exist alongside bad rock solos, Amorphis keyboards, and a style generally inspired by stuff like Moonspell. Decidedly not melodic black metal by most standards and for a second full-length this sounds incredibly bad. An amateur imitation of Scandinavian metal of the era with an intense psychedelic influence and avant-garde approach. This will either be horrendous irritation or an oddity for fans of keyboard driven black/folk/viking inspired music. I am only including it here because others have labeled it melodic black metal, it absolutely is not.


Artist Eternal Ruin
Title [Type/Year] Awaiting the Midnight [Demo/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

It was one and done for this demo only Polish melodic black metal band. The release isn’t particularly riff-based and instead seems to take influence and aspirations from symphonic black metal. The instrumentation is generic, the sound is muffled and cavernous, the keyboards are highly derivative. It should be no great wonder why this band did not continue onward after.


Artist Mustan Kuun Lapset
Title [Type/Year] Suruntuoja [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Mustan Kuun Lapset (Children of the Black Moon, more or less) are a Finnish band that began playing a laid back version of melodic black/death metal that evolved towards ‘dark metal’ and something slightly gothic over time. Somber and satisfyingly melodic but perhaps avoids spectacle so much that the entire album blends into a blob of average melodic sourness. Without any of the aggression of early No Fashion style even the heaviest release from this band lacks some conviction for the sake of depression and beauty. If you’re a fan of Rotting Christ‘s ‘A Dead Poem’ this should be an exceptional journey.


Artist Agatus
Title [Type/Year] The Weaving Fates [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

A minor classic in the Greek black metal pantheon Agatus‘ second album ‘The Weaving Fates’ is the first album from 2002 that I’d wholly recommend. This duo of brothers played a role in the early days of Kawir, Zemial, and Varathron. Their riffs and ideology combined a love of classic heavy metal but also featured a heavy use of a drum machine until this album. As the first greater elevation in the project’s quality and ambition ‘The Weaving Fates’ has some awkward moments that have grown endearing over time. It is more often a heavy metal record rather than a diabolical black metal attack, so it may be an acquired taste even for the well indoctrinated Hellenic black metal lover.


Artist Aisling
Title [Type/Year] Aisling [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Aisling began as a solo project of Cernunnos in 1998 but by the time of their self-titled debut it was a full band playing dense and aggressive pagan black metal. Though I am not familiar with a lot of Italian pagan metal I do love the focus on Celtic lore coming from this band. The music is a predictable alternation between blasting black metal, symphonic elements, and quiet piano (or acoustic guitar) moments. A niche product that isn’t memorably melodic, but certainly deals in melody, I would only recommend this if you’re a fanatic for pagan black metal obscurities. I won’t be reviewing the ‘Tráth Na Gaoth’ EP because it is included in the YouTube link and have no diverging opinions on it.


Artist Forefather
Title [Type/Year] Engla Tocyme [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on Bandcamp!

By their third album Forefather were still slightly marked by their use of overly loud programmed drums. ‘Engla Tocyme’ is a set of epics conveying Anglo-Saxon pride and ancient culture with slow, sweeping movements and some great inspiration from Suidakra and Falkenbach alike. More melodically available than some of their peers but perhaps lower budget, the charm of ‘Engla Tocyme’ comes with patience for it’s synthetic qualities. Like all Forefather records I generally love this music and entirely connect with it, “Fifeldor” is particularly exceptional.


Artist Orkrist
Title [Type/Year] Reginae Mysterium [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

A melodic metal oddity from Slovakia, Orkrist resembled a mix of symphonic metal, folk metal, doom metal, and black metal. The mix of female vocals and loud flutes is often disconcerting but the fantasy of the music is valuable. It reminds me of Eldamar slightly, but also earlier Summoning at times. Perhaps more relevant to fans of symphonic metal and folk metal obscurities, this should perhaps not be labeled as melodic black metal primarily.


Artist Catamenia
Title [Type/Year] Eskhata [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Another Catamenia album? I know, but before you slam your weak little wrists on your parent’s keyboard and break something this one isn’t symphonic black metal. In fact as generic as Catamenia can be they did evolve away from the bad symphonic stuff as the releases continued to plunk out year over year. A generic offering but not a bad one and certainly fits as melodic black metal.


Artist Dark Vision
Title [Type/Year] Full Moon Shines [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

A Greek melodic black metal band that took a lot of influence from Rotting Christ and heavily resembled ‘Triarchy of the Lost Lovers’ and ‘Non Servium’ era of that band. I’m a huge fan of Rotting Christ personally, so this semi-symphonic take on that style appealed to me despite a general lack of their own interesting ideas. Dark Vision would become more creative and interesting with time, so do not write them off for this rather rote appearance just yet.


Artist Panchrysia
Title [Type/Year] In Obscure Depths [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on Bandcamp!

A decent first offering from this Belgium based melodic black metal band. The album itself takes from the Norwegian classics as much as it does from Swedish melodic death metal melodrama and the result is something closer to Satyricon or Ablaze My Sorrow more often than Dissection. It is a riff salad built upon the ideas of others and less upon it’s own legs and as a result I find it quite generic.


Artist Naglfar
Title [Type/Year] Ex Inferis [EP/2002]
LISTEN on Spotify!

An unfortunate Dimmu Borgir inspired EP from a band that might’ve been able to eclipse their peers at some point. The cover of Massacre‘s ‘Dawn of Eternity’ is very cool and I like the black metal treatment of it quite a bit. ‘Sheol’ wasn’t an amazing record after it, so I won’t really prattle on about this EP much outside of the cover song. The tracks from an unreleased ’98 demo are quite good, though and worth hearing if their newer tracks on this EP reek of trendy garbage.


Artist Rotting Christ
Title [Type/Year] Genesis [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on Spotify!

The ecstatic momentum of Rotting Christ is felt on their deluge of releases up to and including 2004. The trouble I have with some of these records is that I feel they’d spread their ideas so think by the time ‘Genesis’ rolled around that Tolis and crew lost some of their impact. I have seen the band live several times and always felt like this record is almost exactly what they sound like live, minus the flat croak of Sakis Tolis‘ vocals. There is no major flaw here and it fits exactly where it should between ‘Khronos’ obtuse nature and ‘Sanctus Diavolos’ expressive strangeness. I am far more a fan of ‘Theogonia’ than most of their 00’s output while still understanding that it isn’t actually that different of a sound.


Artist Woods of Ypres
Title [Type/Year] Against the Seasons: Cold Winter Songs from the Dead Summer Heat [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

A self-released album from this Ontario, Canada band that gained some greater attention im 2005 with it’s superior remastered version. After gaining some greater popularity on Earache Records the accidental death of David Gold in 2011 would ultimately dissolve the project. The style of this album is a cross of melodic black metal and pagan black metal with some heavy elements of early melodic death metal. I’m not incredibly familiar with their gothic leaning metal albums but I do think their comparison to early Agalloch is apt considering their black metal records. This EP is rhythmically exciting with the drumming providing a powerful basis for some driven tremolo picked guitar work. It feels like a refined, confident vision beyond A Canorous Quintet at times. Gold‘s vocals, clean or harsh, are impressive throughout their discography.


Artist Funeris Nocturnum
Title [Type/Year] Code 666: Religion Syndrome Deceased [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Another release that is improperly tagged for several reasons. Funeris Nocturnum began as a brutally fast thrashing Finnish black metal band that experimented with death metal. This third album tried out symphonic and industrial sounds as well. While I do find some of it pleasantly aggressive, most of it sounds far too much like later Old Man’s Child. Don’t come in expecting Aborym or even Abigor, but rather something far more stale with over-emphasized industrial metal influences towards the end.


Artist Martyrium
Title [Type/Year] Withering in Voluptuous Embrace [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

A complete garbage album from Malta that features heavy use of symphonic black metal cliches but also incorporates some black/death metal sections. Trite and feigned gothic metal trash music without an ounce of sincerity. One of many, many bandwagon releases from this era.


Artist Absenta
Title [Type/Year] Through the Forest of Shadows [Demo/2002]
No Clip/Stream Available

Spanish atmospheric black metal band’s first demo that is quite ambitious but under-delivered symphonic black metal. I wouldn’t bother tracking it down as even their 2004 demo is quite bad. If curious about the band I would suggest their most recent album ‘Eels’ to see where they developed beyond some quite terrible influences early on.


Artist Vampiria
Title [Type/Year] Wicked Charm [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Vampire themed melodic gothic black metal and honestly not the worst album released in this style. Definitely not as entertaining as Siebenbürgen but still far better than Gravewurm or Theatres des Vampires. I consider this type of music somewhere in between symphonic black metal, video game music, and power metal on some level. This style had already been exhausted by 2002 and these sorts of beggars and hangers’on types were late to the party with half of the inspiration and no ideas of their own. Generic and derivative even within their own misguided niche.


Artist Sanguis
Title [Type/Year] Chaosgate Guardians [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Ah, even if these Austrians were not original in sound their conception and delivery is admirable throughout. ‘Chaosgate Guardians’ captures the serpent-like slither of Dawn and rasping quake of later Sacramentum for a regal, cloudy burst of underground melodic black metal. For my taste this is a rapturous gem exemplifying the form of melodic black metal devoid of symphonic or gothic tendencies, and their Immortal-like riff attacks would come more frequent with each of their three records. The record is all about riffs and less about a string of differentiated songs, it is one great blasted consciousness and that’ll either make it rote or exciting depending on your tastes. I found the guitar work amazing, and compares favorably to comparable bands like Dark Fortress, who were a bit more trend-prone. On the top tier of 2002 melodic black metal, for me at least.


Artist Transmetal
Title [Type/Year] El Amor Supremo [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

This well known classic Mexican death metal band had written two albums by the time they entered the studio with producer Mike Sheffield (The Chasm, Cianide) in 2000. Because the band were influenced by The Chasm at the time ‘Debajo de los cielos púrpura’ and ‘Tristeza de Lucifer’ were a similar type of progressive death metal with black and thrash metal elements, this wasn’t uncalled for in Transmetal’s discography but it was a cool movement away from their odd groove metal period in the late 90’s. ‘El Amor Supremo’ came several months after ‘Tristeza de Lucifer’ instead featured Maurice Acevedo (Impaled, Exhumed) and James Murphy (Disincarnate) producing. It’s style is a mix of melodic black metal, death metal, and the signature Transmetal sound. Keyboards trickle in through the background at first but become prominent as constant backing as the album progresses. It is corny, kind of bad, and the production is really poorly done for 2002. I would only recommend this to folks who are willing to give Transmetal a chance from start to finish, this is a weird entry in their history.


Artist Soulgrind
Title [Type/Year] Into the Dark Vales of Death [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Another awkward and cheap symphonic black metal record and from this trashheap of a band too. Soulgrind began as an avant-garde death metal band with heavy Gothic rock influences and evolved towards gothic metal. The trouble is that they could never combine genres effectively and their entire discography offers a jumbled mess of sub-genre accidents and tawdry gothic vocal affect. Absolutely cheap and unlistenable music for my taste. Does not fit into the melodic black metal realm.


Artist Abusiveness
Title [Type/Year] Krzyk świtu [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Polish atmospheric black metal where all of it’s parts melt together into one moving pulse of sound. Folkish as often as it is symphonic ‘Krzyk świtu’ offers a non-pompus, furious sort of black metal that reaches beyond the limited abilities of bands like Sacrilegium and finds that same ‘epic’ spark. The sound is undeniably cluttered but the atmosphere is something that people rave about quite a bit when indoctrinated with the Polish black metal scene. This release is one of the earliest to feature drummer Wizun, who went on to feature prominently in bands Deivos, Blaze of Perdition, and Graveland. I personally don’t consider this album fitting for a melodic black metal list but it is quite a pretty pagan black metal release with an old school atmospheric black metal sound.


Artist Trails of Anguish
Title [Type/Year] Relentless Abhorrence of Misery’s Grievance [EP/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

The first of two demos from this Quebec melodic black/death metal band. The style of this EP is relentless with very sharp death metal drumming, almost technical in it’s post-At the Gates delivery a la later Dawn. Blasting and resting in alternate bursts Trails of Anguish resemble the most classic era of Swedish melodic black metal and should appeal to fans of that purist school of thought. I might suggest Thy Primordial or Sacrilege instead of this demo, just because this EP offers a great sound but lacks in terms of memorable moments and replayability.


Artist Ravenarium
Title [Type/Year] Sounds of a Dying Age [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on Bandcamp!

Though this was a seemingly amateur release the conception of it was brilliant enough as Ravenarium combined heavier, modern death metal ideas with classic melodic black/death metal guitar runs. Occasionally breaking into classic thrash riffs and technical death metal influenced by Anata, ‘Sounds of a Dying Age’ is an interesting mixture of things. It ultimately falls on it’s face as a melodic black metal album as they couldn’t seem to incorporate the influences without sounding like an odd salad of sub-genre. If you’re a fan of obscure European technical death metal and also dabble in melodic black/death metal then I’d highly recommend checking this out. Despite it’s jumbled ideas there is a lot of value to dig into here.


Artist Odium Immortalis
Title [Type/Year] Odyssee ins Verderben [Demo/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

German atmospheric black metal demo. Bedroom black metal, highly incompetent guitar work and ruinous sound quality obscured with computer tricks. Reverb soaked nonsense that isn’t practiced enough to play along with his programmed drumming. No clue why anyone ever labeled this release as melodic black metal.


Artist Moria
Title [Type/Year] Turning of the Sorrow [Demo/2002]
LISTEN on Spotify!

Naturalist Bulgarian folk/symphonic black metal that is highly atmospheric. Cannot find a proper copy of this demo and instead I have linked ‘Mountains in Sorrow’ from 2003. This will serve as a review for both because they feature similar approach and the same songs in general. Some of the melodies found here remind me of other culturally influenced Bulgarian black metal bands such as Shambless.


Artist Astriaal
Title [Type/Year] Deception Revelation [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

This will seem melodramatic or short-sighted but by 2002 I largely considered melodic black metal a dead scene, a fully dying art, and perhaps something even the greats were unwilling to continue with. Few of the new bands were willing to break outside of the terrible shadow of the popular, cheesy symphonic black metal cash cow. Astriaal was, and still sort of is that second coming of melodic black metal for me. These Australian monsters created a brutally ripping vision of melodic black metal without sacrificing the thoughtful spirit of the early 90’s. ‘Deception Revelation’ is an existential exaggeration of ‘Storm of the Light’s Bane’ into the new millennium and accomplishes more in just the first two tracks than most bands could manage in redundant 50 minute records. Even if they weren’t the world’s second coming of chaos, I personally place Astriaal in the greats of all time for melodic black metal.


Artist Slechtvalk
Title [Type/Year] The War That Plagues the Lands [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on Spotify!

A folkish ‘unblack’ album from these Christian folks from the Netherlands. Like many bands of this style Slechtvalk overused keyboards and folk melody to cover up their generally lacking guitar composition skills. Forgettable and highly reminiscent of it’s time. Bargain bin throwaway stuff and the album is painfully long, plodding and uses every cheap trick in the book to keep going. The war between the Christian ‘light’ and the dark evil isn’t so much offensive as it is inconsequential as a story or concept, about as vapid and forced as a late 90’s JRPG plot, really.


Artist Mephistopheles
Title [Type/Year] Modern Instinct’s Purity [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Well the Dimmu Borgir train hit this band hard and this shit might seem very heavy at first but you’ll soon be drowned in bad Casio keyboards, endless/shapeless blasting, and cornball riffing. I really wanted to like this album because the guitar work is highly technical and aggressive most of the time. The trouble arises when the keyboards and melodic guitar solos start to take over each track and the result is some generic garbage moments. It’s a damn shame because I really liked ‘Songs of the Desolate Ones’.


Artist Bloodrose
Title [Type/Year] Into Oblivion [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

I’ve seen a lot of weird hype aimed at this album over the years and I think it comes mostly from folks who are still nostalgic or in love with the era of symphonic black metal and the awkward albums that resulted from the late 90’s boon. Absolutely typical and average for it’s time this Finnish black metal album is highly symphonic and uses every melodic death metal cliche to stretch it’s low worth across 40 minutes of derivative shit. Sounding like a Norwegian symphonic black metal band that couldn’t afford a drummer or an orchestra this cheap garbage album was rare because it wasn’t good, point blank.


Artist Abismo Eterno
Title [Type/Year] La ultima elegia del guardian [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Ecuador’s entry into the Norwegian imitation game and not a good one at all. The weirdest aspect of this album is it’s strange guitar playing that seems to meander and get lost during solos. The riffs can’t necessarily keep up with the artificial sounding drumming. It is a terrible sort of ‘poser’ record with little value in hindsight. I was assured that this was ‘melodic black metal’ but really it sounds like an approximation of Covenant that fails and ends up sounding like a Gothic metal band trying to cover Nocturnus at a middle school talent show.


Artist Arrival
Title [Type/Year] An Abstract of Reality [Full-length/2002]
LISTEN on YouTube!

This one is probably more for the Children of Bodom/Norther/Wintersun crowd and not even a very good version of that with cheap sounding drums and stolen melodies. For a Finnish melodic black metal band Arrival were accessible and very dull with no bite or even modern interest beyond sterility and corny melody. This is technically a style of melodic black metal where you get the core melody from lead guitars. I generally avoid it because only a small handful of bands are really worth listening to, or they’re more relevant to folk/symphonic or even power metal discussions. True melody versus circular guitar pattern alternation is a discussion for another day I guess.


Artist Winter of Sin
Title [Type/Year] Obscura [Full-album/2002]
Listen on Bandcamp!

Winter of Sin is generally a band I like quite a bit but this first album is just so strangely symphonic metal in affect that I have trouble listening to certain songs, with the opener “My Tears” being particularly fuckin’ weird. After that they chill out and you get a mid-paced melodic black metal album with some odd organ keyboards floating in the front of the mix. ‘Obscura’ completely lacks in the riff department throughout and the clean vocals are abysmal when they do pop up. It is worth sticking with this band through their follies, but I wouldn’t suggest that this debut full-length is a classic at all.


Artist Forest of Fog
Title [Type/Year] Rabenflug [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on Bandcamp!

A beautiful demo from 2003 Ivo Henzi who is best known as one of the longer running guitarists for Swiss folk-metal band Eluveitie until 2014. This demo is entirely instrumental and brings to mind the warmth of Falkenbach and the wanderlust of early Drudkh. The melodic black metal guitar work here is riveting and full of power, I’d only wished there were vocals to keep up with the strong melodies. I think if you’re a fan of both melodic black metal and pagan/viking black metal of the era the melodies here will excite. The delivery/recording is just rough enough to feel organic but not so raw that it sounds like Quorthon making a thrash album.


Artist Keep of Kalessin
Title [Type/Year] Reclaim [EP/2003]
LISTEN on Spotify!

After two full-lengths Keep of Kalessin called it quits and they’d return three years later with studio musicians accompanying head douche Obsidian Claw. Attila Csihar provides vocals and Frost provides drums for this release alone. Mid-paced black metal is all I hear and the use of melody is so understated that I don’t consider this melodic black metal proper. Not bad but also nothing special, some nice moments where Csihar provides some unintentional comic relief help things along.


Artist Burning Darkness
Title [Type/Year] Rites of Mist [Demo/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Not the aggro-groove metal band but this is the Swedish melodic black/death metal band. This is a decent demo that runs a full 30 minutes and I’m surprised all of their demo CD-r releases aren’t available for digital download, I think they’re polished and good enough to see digital release at the very least. They released a decent album in 2017 that I’ve overlooked until more recently. The guitar work is quite effective if not fairly standard, but I love how he trails around the songs relentlessly without stopping to chug too often. Worth tracking down if you’re a fan of the early Swedish style that doesn’t rely on melodic death metal for it’s ideas.


Artist Deva Noctum Entropia
Title [Type/Year] Transerpentual [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Another interesting release from the odd side of Greek black metal from this band that would go by Diva Noctum Entropia or Deva Noctum Entropia depending who you ask. Decent melodic black metal with a heavy influence from Rotting Christ‘s more recent popular releases of the day. Nice attack on the guitars that leads to a grand, stately aggression throughout. The release is not cluttered by symphonic elements and while it may sound chunky on the YouTube post from it’s label, the guitar work is actually quite good. “Two Teeth” is a good example of how jumbled and strange the style of the album is, but also how powerful the riffing can be. Would only really recommend this to fans of ’98-’04 Rotting Christ or perhaps Nightfall.


Artist Trails of Anguish
Title [Type/Year] Scarred Memento [EP/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Even more intense and perhaps less death metallic on thier second EP it appears Trails of Anguish were as depressive as they were driven initially. An ultimately aggressive and beautiful 11 minutes of melodic black metal, undisturbed by trend or interruption ‘Scarred Memento’ is a short and vital attack upon the listener’s sensibilities. Soaring tremolo riffs rake atop the violent drumming while the vocalist howls and writhes in pain, doing anything he can to communicate his angered defeat. This is basically the ‘right’ soul of melodic black metal intensified as far as it can possible go without verging on the comical or mechanical. Again the riffs aren’t so memorable as the journey you’re taken on and this is no more a single than it is a jolt back to life for the jaded and dead inside.


Artist Månegarm
Title [Type/Year] Dödsfärd [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Well, if you’ve followed this list with me you’ll know I’ve got some great love for tastefully done black/folk metal and viking metal hybrids. This is primarily a viking metal release for it’s combination of genres and doesn’t necessarily qualify for melodic black metal discussion. This band is continually tagged as melodic black metal by fans so I can’t necessarily argue with groupthink, but there are more fitting suggestions for this type of music. So, I won’t include any more of this brilliant Swedish band’s stuff on this list that is likewise ill-fitting but I wanted to give another nod to this underappreciated era of viking/folk/black metal and Månegarm‘s undeniable skill with melody.


Artist Mistweaver
Title [Type/Year] The Aftermath [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Mistweaver was an experimental melodic death metal group from Spain that incorporated a lot of keyboards into their sound. They are often mislabeled as melodic black metal because folks don’t listen to the full album and realize that symphonic metal elements do not equate with melodic black metal. Not only is symphonic black metal not always melodic black metal, but keyboard use does not make music ‘melodic’ by default. If you’re a fan of 90’s symphonic metal, progressive death metal, or epic melodic death metal then try out Mistweaver for sure. I would not say this passes for melodic black metal outside of a few riffs that really outline a melodic death metal style better.


Artist Astriaal
Title [Type/Year] Renascent Misanthropy [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on Spotify!

Well, I already ranted about this band a bit earlier but I’d add that this release shows an increase in technical ability for the band as their attack is violent and relentless. I hear more Emperor in the guitar work than Dissection on the earlier tracks but they stretch out their influences sparingly in shaping this release. I see Astriaal as the direction that those old No Fashion bands could have gone in if they weren’t distracted by money and success found in the trendy European scenes.


Artist Nocte Obducta
Title [Type/Year] Stille – Das Nagende Schweigen [EP/2003]
Listen on YouTube!

An EP from this progressive black metal band that blurred the lines between the avant-garde and atmospheric forms. I don’t like this EP much but there are some undeniable melodic black metal riffs thrown in as it progresses. Would generally recommend trying this band out with no expectations other than they were considered off-kilter for their time, and much of their music could fit into today’s trends as they explored shoegaze and different atmospheric ideas around this time.


Artist Cryptic Wintermoon
Title [Type/Year] A Coming Storm [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

As much as I’d love to have shit upon Cryptic Wintermoon‘s second album and laugh it off the guitar work here is largely undeniable in it’s strength and delivery. By virtue of bringing riffs I can shrug off the bad symphonic elements that pop up early on and follow an impressive string of guitar work. Where I can heavily criticize ‘A Coming Storm’ is in it’s exhausting run-time of a full hour and all of the horribly redundant compositions that clog up the butt-end of the album. I love the viking metal stuff that pops up on “Darkness Forever” and absolutely wanted more of that and less keyboard fondling by the time the album ended. Definitely one of those albums I would recommend with some hesitation because I have not given it a ton of listens, after two listens I was generally impressed through attrition.


Artist Nephtys
Title [Type/Year] …Yet The Choirs Of Vendetta [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

A quite rare Portuguese melodic black metal album. They knew some guitar tricks but this album is short and largley riffless stuff. The keyboards and a few Emperor-esque guitar squeals give a hint of chaos and deliver no compelling guitar work outside of a few bland solos. I consider this type of music largely ‘smoke and mirrors’ metal where they’ve padded their compositions to fake their way through a full-length that has no real ideas. Nothing against symphonic metal but there are hundreds of examples of records lead by keyboards and guitars that have well thought out themes, ideas, and offer more than a cheaply strewn attack.


Artist Trollech
Title [Type/Year] V rachotu hromů [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Trollech are an impressive pagan black metal band from Czech Republic that additionally pulled influences from Immortal. The guitar work throughout their discography is striking but before you get too excited, their first four albums feature a cheap programmed drum sound that is often quite poorly implemented. This is also true for ‘V rachotu hromů’ but it does not hold the experience back for me personally. Because the guitar work is so strong throughout I found myself zoning out the funny drum machine sound, at least when I was wearing headphones. If you listen to music like this on speakers, I don’t know how you could tune your EQ to manage the awful splash sound. Czech black metal gets very little love and realistically features some of the most creative and impressive underground groups yet to be discovered, past or present. I know thier name is funny, but they aren’t at all a cheesy folk metal band, much closer to ‘At The Heart of Winter’ or ‘Damned in Black’ overall.


Artist Windir
Title [Type/Year] Likferd [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on Spotify!

As far as I can tell the Ulcus crew had fully integrated here and in turn helped compose and write the music. The result is an earthless, polished and overtly ‘cleansed’ version of Windir without the guitar heroics. The ‘classical’ guitar runs to show up on “Dauden” and “Fagning” but they’re a bit mushed over because of the odd guitar tone. I don’t feel the spirit of viking metal, and as a result I never warmed up to it. Too much rock guitar, which is odd because early Vried, Cor Scorpii, and Mistur would each revert to sound more like Valfar‘s own work after his death. I think I’m largely alone in my gripes but I do not see this as an exceptional record and refuse to love something simply because the artist tragically died.


Artist Ajattara
Title [Type/Year] Kuolema [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Intermittently melodic and quite barely black metal there are few other ways to describe the clobbering groove of early Ajattara, a band featuring former Amorphis and Shape of Despair vocalist Pasi Koskinen. The way I see ‘Kuolema’ is like early Samael but symphonic and informed by Finnish melodic sensibilities. It is a different kind of symphonic black metal that doesn’t copy others so directly and has a sort of black/doom feeling as it crawls along. The trouble is that for all of the great parts much of ‘Kuolema’ is too similar. I don’t think most melodic black metal fans will be thrilled by this release but if you’re a fan of symphonic metal it’ll be interesting, and potentially a ‘grower’.


Artist Naglfar
Title [Type/Year] Sheol [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

I don’t think I am such a ‘Vittra’ fan that I can’t see the rest of Naglfar’s discography in objective light. That said, I don’t think ‘Sheol’ is a high point for the band outside of recording quality. Folks really started throwing around the ‘norsecore’ label around this time and I felt a sort of melodic black metal equivalent for ‘Sheol’ where it is all bombastic sounds and just a few good songs. “Black God Aftermath” is brilliant (note: If you like Old Man’s Child? lol) but after that I’m not sure if there is a ton to cling to on this third album. I lost my excitement for the band with this release, though ‘Teras’ is alright.


Artist Ritual Day
Title [Type/Year] Sky Lake [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

An unexpected melodic black metal release from Beijing, China of all places that perhaps gets more notice for it’s point of origin rather than it’s actual content. I like this album’s second half as the band begins to resemble early Dawn more and more but they don’t necessarily deal in great riffs. The composition is a bit lacking in terms of variation and I’m not sure every song holds up so well on their own. The lead guitar work is particularly bad and generally a lot of rock influenced and random, barely composed guitar noodling. This really kills the weighty feeling of melodic black metal and softens my enjoyment of ‘Sky Lake’ as a whole.


Artist Crimson Moonlight
Title [Type/Year] The Covenant Progress [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Another ‘unblack’ metal recording from one of the better known Christian black metal bands. They’re largely known for their later albums that would distance their sound from typical Norwegian symphonic/melodic garbage and become more precise and technical with increased death metal elements. Folks often hail this as a classic but it has always felt just as rote and derivative trend hopping as most bands from this cluttered era. It is also far too long with about 50 minutes of the same speed of double bass clicking incessantly, pure headache metal for me personally.


Artist Furia
Title [Type/Year] Un lac de larmes et de sang [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

A mixture of symphonic black metal and melodic death metal riffs. Passed off as a melodic black metal album, it really isn’t anything special. Their melodic sensibilities are clouded compared to their first album by the weak use of symphonic elements, vocal skits, sound collages, and uh pitch shifted vocals. The whole thing feels talentless, artificial, and feigned. It is a weird combination of power metal, death metal, and really has no place in the history of black metal in my opinion. If you’re ever listening to a bad album and can’t stand to finish it or analyze it, don’t vote for it’s genre on databases! An uninformed vote is useless.


Artist Forlorn
Title [Type/Year] Hybernation [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

So, this album is total crap. Chuggy symphonic metal that doesn’t even attempt to be melodic. If you’re a fan of viking metal and symphonic black metal definitely go check out their self-titled EP and ‘The Crystal Palace’ album, otherwise I’d suggest skipping the rest of this band’s plastic, cheesy output.


Artist Dawn of Relic
Title [Type/Year] Lovecraftian Dark [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Think of this one like Noumena but melodic black metal, cheery and melodramatic stuff but rasping vocals. For me it veers on ‘dark metal’ more than melodic black metal perhaps because of the guitar wankery and compared to sister band Catamenia. Not as convincing as Mustan Kuun Lapset outside of generally stronger guitar work, this band’s second album is not incredibly noteworthy. Recommended if you’re a fan of Gothenburg melodic death metal and Finnish melodic death metal alike, as this is a nice medium with a black metal aesthetic.


Artist Klabautamann
Title [Type/Year] Our Journey through the Woods [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

A very strong and long forgotten pagan black metal album from Germany. This band was formed by the founder of Zeitgeister Music who also plays in Island and Valborg. This first record is aggressive from the start and when it does slow down it tears through classic metal riffs, some speed metal ideas, and even some Emperor influenced guitar trickery. It also borrows some ideas from the Ulver school of atmospheric black metal while still featuring a somewhat ‘elevated’ and aggressive form of pagan black metal. Perhaps as avant-garde as it is melodic black metal, I think this album deserves some great mention even if it isn’t a hundred percent focused on any one style.


Artist Hydra
Title [Type/Year] Phaedra [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Hydra was a Swedish melodic black/death metal band that were constantly plagued by disinterest and lax band members and this kept the project from reaching their full potential sooner than 2003. So, after many years of bullshit we only ended up with one Hydra record and thank fuck it was a very good one. Guitar driven and not saccharine the guitar work on ‘Phaedra’ is confident and thinks well outside of the box on nearly every song. “Sacrifice of Nobler Blood” is a brilliant example of how to break outside of expectations while still returning to the core of melodic black metal when it counts. Their songwriting reminds me of Excretion and post-1992 Merciless at times, without getting entirely too death/thrash in the process. A lot of people complained that the band lost their Greek black metal influences in favor of more typical Swedish death metal style, but I think songs like “Altar Fires” still hit upon that old sound as well. Good luck finding anything by this band, it seems they don’t care about preserving it.


Artist Hyperborean
Title [Type/Year] Thorns Scar Her Soul [EP/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Unfortunately Hyperborean‘s promising aggression on their first demo was likely the result of an overexciting or nervous session because this EP is bland and too typical for 2003. This is a great testament to how you can have seven musicians on stage and still end up with something incredibly mediocre if the song-writing is trash. They’ve also moved towards a mix of Century Media style gothic extreme metal and that weird operatic side of Cradle of Filth. Not my thing and not very enriching for a melodic black metal fan.


Artist Mephistopheles
Title [Type/Year] Death Unveiled [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Riding in still high off of their weird symphonic black metal record Mephistopheles redact some of that trend-hopping in favor of something more death metal oriented. Not at all a favorable change, in fact ‘Death Unveiled’ is equally worse. Grating, terrible production sound is a constant shrieking terror atop double bass drumming and groove/death metal riffs. I would say it is safe to avoid this band outside of the first and second albums unless you’re really interested in amateur crossover between groove/death metal and Norwegian symphonic black metal.


Artist Ceremonial Castings
Title [Type/Year] Midnight Deathcult Phenomena [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

This was a ‘local’ band for me as a young adult but I didn’t learn about them until they were several albums deep into their recording career. This is a formative release in my opinion where they were still largely recreating their idols too closely. This has more of a Limbonic Art vibe than their Dimmu Borgir influenced style typically dictates. I like that they do incorporate melodic death/black riffs and some various other influences but this is largely still the band stretching their symphonic black metal wings.


Artist Dark Fortress
Title [Type/Year] Profane Genocidal Creations [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Well, even if I do like Dark Fortress I can generally agree they bought into the symphonic black metal side of things too much on this record. Granted they still did their own thing with plenty of clean vocals, folk metal parts, and their own brand of songwriting that was still centered around guitar riffs most of the time. I really like the guitarist’s approach even when Dark Fortress are at their ultimate dorkiest bullshit, for whatever reason. A nice alternative to a lot of the symphonic stuff I complained about on this list, and also a good example of how to do symphonic black metal while still staying true to melodic black metal.


Artist Pagan Reign
Title [Type/Year] Spark of Glory and Revival of Ancient Greatness [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

This one is perhaps better suited for a pagan black metal list. It will thrill folk metal fans and pagan metallers alike, but I think it is redundant to discuss this as a melodic black metal album when this is so clearly fitting for other more prominent sub-genres. Great album though, I am generally impressed with Pagan Reign for their interplay when the guitars and keyboards do collide. Again, because this band was not technically melodic black metal I won’t be including further releases unless they are strictly melodic black metal.


Artist Camulos
Title [Type/Year] Spiel Des Blutes [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

A very strong second album from this German melodic black/death metal band. They approach composition like a lot of early Scandinavian melodic black metal bands did in terms of relying on influences from the second wave of black metal, early death metal, and then Camulos takes it a step further with breaks into pure death metal. Harder to find with each passing year, this obscurity is well worth preserving if you can get your hands on it. I’m not sure if their current label has it in print or not. Perhaps my favorite melodic black metal related release from the year that isn’t pure melodic black metal.


Artist Mustan Kuun Lapset
Title [Type/Year] Kauniinhauta [Full-length/2003]
LISTEN on YouTube!

Even more sleepy than the previous album but overall this is the best release from this obscure Finnish band, at least for my taste. They do a wonderful job of incorporating melodic black metal into their sullen folk metal ideas. With some great patience I think ‘Kauniinhauta’ reveals itself as a thoughtful and earnest black metal album. The vocals sort of waiver between death and black metal and the style is amorphous between melodic styles as well, so this will have great crossover appeal for fans of melodic death metal and black metal alike. It is a lot of mid-paced guitar work, however, thus my recommendation of patience when approaching it.

Part VII will see even fewer symphonic black/melodic black hybrids because the trend was fully dying at that point. I want to reiterate that I don’t hate symphonic black metal but I think it is VERY important to separate true melodic black metal from symphonic black metal, the two are certainly related and mixed often but there is a distinct difference and predominance in every case. 2004-2006 generally saw a small boost in popularity for melodic black metal releases while the return of Dissection energized a few small pockets of the world with nostalgia and world tours. The core of melodic black metal will be lose adherents to it’s orthodoxy until other trends (atmospheric black metal) begin to explore greater melody, BUT there are some awesome throwbacks and long-standing artists coming up with strong album. I will largely refuse to include anything that is primarily Symphonic Black metal, and this likewise meant for about 40 Dimmu Borgir/Cradle of Filth clones being clipped from Part VI.

Please remember you can contribute to my Patreon @ only $1 USD per month ($12 a year) to help keep me in front of the computer writing about metal. Thanks.

<strong>Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:</strong>

Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.