How the Acoustic Guitar Affected the Evolution of Black Metal. Wait–What?

Every once in a while, I run across a musical fact that makes me go “Really? No shit!” This is one of them. I’d never connected the acoustic guitar with black metal before. Check out this article from

With cold, treble-tipped tremolo riffs, agonized rasps and Satanic imagery, black metal might seem like the farthest thing from acoustic folk. But despite their distance, acoustic guitar has slowly crept into black metal since its unholy birth, even with the strict cultural norms that once governed the sound and image of black metal. Interestingly, the use and purpose of acoustic guitars in black metal is not random, but traces patterns across the evolution of black metal, from Bathory to Panopticon.

Acoustic guitars are a barometer of black metal’s progression, tracing its rise from grim home recordings to polished post-black vinyl. In the beginning, there was Bathory. Everything about their self-titled debut – the guitar distorted to a mangle, Quorthon’s seething rasps, the frenetic pace – either pushed the boundaries of what metal could sound like in 1984 or simply steamrolled right past it. With the subsequent releases of The Return… andUnder the Sign of the Black Mark, Bathory solidified what was becoming the first wave of black metal’s standard sound. To this point, Bathory shunned acoustic guitars in favor of the unmatched brutality of distorted electrics. But with the release of the seminal Blood Fire Death, acoustic guitars made their black metal debut to a resounding success. It’s no coincidence that acoustic guitars were used on the most complex (and frankly, the best) songs on the album. The opener, “A Fine Day to Die,” is a Bathory classic and a black metal paradigm, having been covered by Emperor and endlessly emulated since.

Read on.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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