Okay, so, I ended with the divergence of the Norwegian and Swedish metal styles, both of which still held this very strong naturalistic bent to their lyrical qualities and musical soundscapes, bringing us into the early 90s metal scenes that began the foundation for the modern Black Metal scene.
Amon Amarth, a Swedish Metal Band, focused on folkloric style lyrics (note that I’m not using Viking here, because the band states that they are not a viking band). They are very much in line with the Swedish Death Metal style with skullpounding riffs, double bass drummed assaults, and a strong combination of nature and traditional life way lyrical themes and music. Their album Once Sent from the Golden Hall (1998) began the exploration of this sound:
Finland’s Amorphis got in on the act three years earlier with their album Tales from the Thousand Lakes. It is a doom filled exploration of Finnish National Identity and its relationship with nature and the land. Their earliest release reminds of Katatonia with a bit more death metal energy than that band would ever show:
This would continue for Amorphis as they evolved and continued their style as well, slowly stripping their sound down and becoming more rock oriented with folksy sounds interjected. Their most recent releases have worked with very specific ideas from the Kalevala, while their most recent release is an exploration of a concept of an unlucky man.
Ultimately, I choose these examples because of the Power Metal quality of both bands; the high concept lyrics and themes are very much from the Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon metal styles. The degree to which this is ramped up is heavily dependent on the overall feel and atmosphere the band wishes to create. With Amon Amarth, it seems to be very high, whereas with Amorphis at first it is a touch lower.
The black metal style continued to evolve, especially in the underground scene, and became more and more antagonistic to world religions in general. Taake, a band whose music I generally do not like and whose showmanship is highly questionable, began on the scene in early 90s as Thule and released as full length titled Nattestid ser porten vid in 1999 after several demos in the mid-90s. They adhered fully and heavily to the Black Metal sound:
Taake continues to this day and is best known for using Black Metal Banjo on their song “Myr” off the album Noregs vaapen.
Ulver began in 1995 with Bergtatt – Et eeventyr i 5 capitler (Taken to the Mountain, a fairytale in five chapters). In this black metal did not snarl straight for your throat, rather it became a cold backdrop of the mountains, evoking a dark, frozen landscape. Ulver truly began setting the sounds of modern shoegaze influenced black metal on this piece and at the same time really emphasized the folk aspects of the style:
It demonstrated that black metal could be used to create mystery and that the sound could be more than the sum of its parts alone and could be incorporated into something far larger.
In the US, these styles were begin coalesced into the Technical Death Metal scene, specifically in Florida. Early on, the themes had very little to do with nature at all. Death, with their 1991 release Human, began this introspective approach in the States to very technical music and metal:
Cynic, Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinnart, were instrumental players in this scene in 1993 on their initial release of Focus, bringing esoteric philosophy to the table. Their Buddhist lyrics and duality between heavy and light, dark and bright, &c was a watershed moment:
Generally, the American scene was thrashier (owing to the Bay Area scene popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s), but was starting to bring in the acidic growls and the introspective, philosophical themes that the members of the bands believed. It is a divergence from the Scandinavian styles in this vein, because it focused on the quantity of the soul and the mind rather than the physical.
This brings us to the oldest band of the burgeoning CBM scene in America: Agalloch. Their 1999 release, Pale Folklore, extends from the aforementioned though most closely resembles Amorphis, Katatonia, and Ulver:
As they were the first to my knowledge, I choose to end this part here as I’ve hit 750 words and at this point for those of you still awake, you’ll start falling that much more asleep I’m certain. We’ll continue tomorrow with the movement into the 2000s and the re-emergence of this style in several different places around the world.