Around Summer 2004, I started a three-year “hiatus” from metal. The reason I put hiatus in scare quotes is that I didn’t swear metal off completely. I still listened to metal but not as much and I didn’t really listen to any new albums coming out. I vividly remember not listening to any metal during that summer except for basically From Wisdom to Hate by Gorguts and Miss Machine by The Dillinger Escape Plan.

To this day, I can’t remember what brought on this hiatus. I think it was a combination of feeling like I had outgrown the genre, getting the sense that the whole genre had gone stale, and discovering a multitude of bands and albums outside of the genre that piqued my interest. It’s hard to recall with any certainty if it was all of those reasons or none. What I do remember is that there were three specific albums that brought me back into the metal fold in 2007: Two Hunters by Wolves in the Throne Room, Ordo ad Chao by Mayhem, and FasIte, Maledicti, in Ignum Aeternum by Deathspell Omega.

In 2007, I was nearing the end of my college experience. Two of my friends and Malicious Intent co-conspirators Wulf and The Inverted Cross Examiner (f.k.a. The Commissar of Doom) were living in an apartment in my hometown dubbed The Metal Stronghold. While I was visiting home during that year’s summer and winter breaks, the three of us and many of our other friends often spent a lot of time at the Stronghold drinking cheap beer, watching Conan The Barbarian and Roadhouse on repeat, eating Chipotle, having the goofiest of sausage parties, and listening to ALL the new metal that was coming out. It was during these times when I discovered these three gems.

While these are three albums that I regularly return to twelve years on, I think it’s time to do a deep dive in order to find out what exactly about these albums brought me back to the genre I so dearly loved for six years before essentially dropping it for three years.

Two Hunters, by Wolves in the Throne Room

I remember listening to a Southern Lord Records sampler quite a bit while walking around my college campus in 2007. This sampler had “Cleansing” on it, and I was intrigued by the beginning of the song that featured tribal drumming, spectral female vocals, and undulating, oceanic waves of soft static. This collection of sounds speeds up and opens up into a full-on black metal blast at the sound of a crash of thunder. I don’t think I had ever heard anything quite like it up until that point.

When I finally hear the full album, and I heard that stunningly beautiful, narcotic opener of “Dia Artio”, I realized that Two Hunters was a new direction for black metal. This was the first band I had heard who was combining the cinematic, layered nature of post-rock with black metal — and doing it with an entirely new aesthetic and philosophical approach to the genre. Gone were the odes to Satan and condemnations of Christianity. Instead, Two Hunters represented a metaphysical battle between man and nature.

The hype and mystique produced by the Weaver brothers’ off-the-grid lifestyle and ecological radicalism were tantamount to that of Bon Iver’s self-imposed exile in a cabin in the woods of Wisconsin for the recording of For Emma, Forever Ago. That is to say, the reputation that the Weaver brothers had enhanced their black metal credo and, without a doubt, contributed to the status that Two Hunters still holds in the minds of American black metal fans and metal fans in general. However, the hype that this origin story created for, arguably, America’s most important black metal band should not detract from the power that Two Hunters still holds over fans.

If anything, this album reinvigorated my interest in black metal by laying bare the possibilities and unchartered territory that American black metal was only then beginning to explore.

Ordo ad Chao, by Mayhem

While Two Hunters demonstrated to me that there was new life in black metal, Ordo ad Chao demonstrated that there was still life in its rotting corpse.

Despite the reverence that most of the metal world hold for Mayhem, and especially 1994’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, they are really hit or miss for me. I absolutely adore 2000’s Grand Declaration of War for its forward-thinking and experimental approach, and I think it’s easily one of the most underrated black metal albums of all time. But Ordo ad Chao is in much respects the opposite as it illustrates Mayhem digging into their past and exhuming a sound that reeks of putrefaction and other necrotic miasmas. As Hellhammer is quoted as saying that “the production sounds necro as fuck, but that’s the way we wanted it this time. It represents Mayhem today.”

With that in mind, the atmosphere that the production creates is a central component of this album — and it’s one of the main aspects that drew me into the album’s funereality in 2007.

Blasphemer has been, far and away, my favorite Mayhem guitarist (eat your heart out, Euronymous), and his wily experimentation, detailed flourishes, and generally angular approach are still on display here as they were on Grand Declaration of War, though more primitive and scaled back.

I now can’t imagine this album without Atilla’s vocals. His gravelly snarls juxtapose so well with his avian shrieks on songs like “Desecrate”. The fact that his vocals are somewhat in front of the mix is totally deserved.

Overall, I don’t think this album is quite as good as I remember it being. Structurally, some of the songs just don’t seem to be quite as tight as they could be. While Blasphemer definitely has his own unique style, some of the riffs just lack distinction. Entire parts of songs just seem half-baked as best.

I think this album grabbed my attention and helped bring me back to metal because it was a black metal album that combined class musicianship and a unique approach to writing with a kvlt atmosphere. With Ordo ad Chao, Mayhem once again transcended the insipid sound of their trite imitators to create this idiosyncratic monster which helped lull me back into the metal fold.

Fas-Ite, Maledicti, in Ignum Aeternum, by Deathspell Omega

I find it strange but not entirely surprising that all three of the albums that brought me back to metal are all black metal albums. It is hard to disagree with the argument that black metal offers a palette that is endlessly malleable and where experimentation is often pursued and encouraged — at least, among many besides the kvlt elitists.

So then, what more appropriate title for one of the most groundbreaking black metal albums of the new century than Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum (translated as “Divine Law – Go, Accursed, into Everlasting Fire”). Like so many forward-thinking black metal albums of the last 20 years, Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum absolutely ripped apart the playbook. In a lot of ways, Deathspell Omega made black metal scary again.

First of all, the band members were openly Orthodox Satanists. They rejected the notion of a philosophical LaVeyan Satanism where Satan is a mere symbolic figure for individualism and rebellion. Nay, these were Satanists who professed their belief in the biblical Satan. They were just rooting for the opposite side that most Bible readers are rooting for.

Second, the lyrics followed suit. Rather than invoking Satan as a symbol to offend those with more conservative sensibilities, Deathspell Omega was exploring the metaphyiscal relationship between God, the Devil, and humankind by invoking the work of post-surrealist and transgressive French author Georges Bataille.

Third, rather than relying on standard minor chords and minor-key tremolo picking like many black metal bands before them, Deathspell Omega utilized dizzying and disorienting dissonance played over inhumanly fast blast beats. These chaotic thrill rides were often juxtaposed against intermittent dark ambient passages that lulled the listeners into unnerving uncertainty before exploding again into cacophonic malevolence.

While albums such as Mayhem’s Grand Declaration of War, Emperor’s Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire and Demise, and Wolves in the Throne Room’s Two Hunters ripped apart or redefined the playbook of black metal in various ways, what Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum did so well was take black metal to new extremes while ALSO ripping apart the playbook…into everlasting fire.

Coming full circle, I remember when Wulf introduced me to Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum while we were hanging out at the Metal Stronghold. Hearing Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum was jaw-dropping, and it’s that shock and awe that helped revitalize my interest in the metal genre as a whole.