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Symphonic black metal is a black metal subgenre that emerged in the mid to late 1990s. The genre is known for its symphonic and orchestral elements and is centralized in Europe.



The starting point for symphonic black metal was the early '90s sound of Norwegian black metal, specifically the wing of bands that employed sorrowful, melodic keyboard lines as a counterpoint to their furious assaults. Black metal bands looking to push past the inherent limitations of the form began emphasizing the guitar and adding elements of gothic metal. After outfits like Tiamat and Samael pioneered the form, a new wave of bands led by The Gathering also began incorporating ethereal female singers, sometimes as the sole vocal focus.

Gothic black metal

The Portuguesemarker band Moonspell debuted in 1994 with Under the Moonspell, "one of the more worthy black metal releases of the early '90s". The music on this EP was "atmospheric with folk and Middle Eastern influences", drawing inspiration from Dead Can Dance through the use of guest musicians on the flute, violin, timpani, gongs and Arabic vocals. On the strength of this EP, the band became the front-runners in the Portuguese metal scene and were offered a recording deal by the "major German independent label Century Media Records." It was through this label that they released their first full-length album Wolfheart in 1995, making a transition into Gothic metal by "incorporating the genre's trademark elements" of "morbid lyrical schemes, dreary and melancholy riffs, ambient keyboards" and "demonic chorales." While the music of Moonspell has "always flirted between Metal music and Darkwave and Gothic", the inspiration for this first album was still from black metal groups like Celtic Frost and Bathory. Their next album Irreligious in 1996 was inspired instead by the goth pioneers Type O Negative, a group that they soon toured with. Other influences that Moonspell has recognized include the gothic rock acts Mission U.K., The Sisters of Mercy and "especially" Fields of the Nephilim. Wolfheart had "caused a minor sensation on the European underground with its epic metallic hymns" while Irreligious had "reinforced their position as heralds of the Gothic metal movement". By the time of their fourth album The Butterfly Effect in 1999, Moonspell had "quickly evolved into one of the major players of the European goth-metal scene". In the process however, the band has strayed from their black metal roots for awhile. However, returning to black metal with their album The Antidote, and from then on staying within black metal.

Symphonic black's development

The English outfit Cradle of Filth has combined black metal's "distinctive angry guitars and tortured vocals" with "strong, although sometimes cliched, Gothic imagery, ever since their 1994 debut album The Principle of Evil Made Flesh". While other groups "tried to use goth flourishes in their music", Cradle of Filth made "goth conform to heavy metal, not the other way around". The "blatant goth influence" came in the form of "lengthy keyboard intros, intermittent operatic female vocals, and Dani Filth's black 'n' blood take on romantic poetry". They also added "a Sisters of Mercy style of melody to the singing". The debut album received a mixed reception but nonetheless "made waves in the early black metal scene, putting Cradle of Filth on the tips of metalheads' tongues, whether in praise of the band's brazen attempts to break the black metal mold, or in derision for its 'commercialization' of an underground phenomenon that was proud of its grimy heritage". The band then went through some changes in their line-up as members departed the group to form another gothic metal act The Blood Divine with former Anathema vocalist Darren White. Cradle of Filth's second album Dusk... and Her Embrace arrived in 1996 as a "gothic epic of bloodcurdling proporptions" and the group subsequently "enjoyed a streak of notoriety through the late '90s into the turn of the century that would be hard for a music fan to miss".. Symphonic black metal then became more separated from Goth music and took different directions and various styles, including the epic down-tempo sound of Summoning, to the fast death metal-influenced sound of Septic Flesh, the progressive elements of Emperor, the thrash-influenced guitar riffs of Dragonlord and the melodic guitar riffs of Graveworm and Dimmu Borgir.


Symphonic black metal is a style of black metal that uses symphonic and orchestral elements. This may include the usage of melodic instruments found in the sections of a symphony orchestra (string instruments, brass instruments, woodwinds and keys). Vocals can be "clean" or operatic in style, song structures are more defined or are inspired by symphonies. However, much of the characteristics of "traditional" black metal are retained, such as shrieked vocals, fast tempos and high-pitched electric guitars often played with tremolo picking. The sound is not always literally symphonic; that simply refers to the thick-sounding instrumentation and arpeggios, dramatic soundscapes. Nor is its connection to black metal always readily audible; although nearly all of symphonic black metal bands started out playing standard black metal, symphonic black metal often bears little surface resemblance to its immediate forebear. Black metal groups began emphasizing the guitar and adding elements of progressive rock (primarily psychedelic rock and space rock) and gothic metal, with its emphasis on a chilling, eerie texture. The result is a sound usually lush, and much more accessible than standard black metal. The symphonic black metal movement remains somewhat limited, partly because of its epic ambitions and partly because it isn't traditionally metallic, but its fascinating synthesis of influences made it an instantly identifiable alternative.

List of notable symphonic black metal bands

Band Country Formed Notes
Abigail Williams USAmarker 2005
...And Oceans Finlandmarker 1995
Anorexia Nervosa Francemarker 1995
Bal-Sagoth UKmarker 1989
Carpathian Forest Norwaymarker 1992
Ceremonial Castings USAmarker 1996
Chthonic Taiwanmarker 1995
Cradle of Filth UKmarker 1991
Darzamat Polandmarker 1995
Diabolical Masquerade Swedenmarker 1995
Dimmu Borgir Norwaymarker 1993
Dragonlord USAmarker 2000
Emperor Norwaymarker 1991
Equilibrium Germanymarker 2001
Graveworm Italymarker 1992
Hecate Enthroned UKmarker 1993
Limbonic Art Norwaymarker 1993
Opera IX Italymarker 1988
Shade Empire Finland 1999
Stormlord Italy 1991
Tiamat Sweden 1988
Twilight Ophera Finland 1996
Vaakevandring Norway 1999
Vesania Poland 1997


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