Book Review: Black Metal, Evolution of the Cult

If any branch of the extreme metal tree were to be singled out as the most extensively covered, studied, reported or criticized, it would undoubtedly be black metal. Capturing the imagination of everybody from sensationalistic journalists and religious conservatives to impressionable teens, the genre’s past association with an array of negative events has led any study given over to it to be preoccupied with some of black metal’s most notorious, yet superficial history (Lords of Chaos, look here).

This is where Dayal Patterson’s Black Metal, Evolution of the Cult comes in; with its utterly exhaustive and meticulous study of black metal’s international genealogy, as told by the personalities that each put their own mark on the initial emergence and development of the genre. Expertly assembling a chronology of black metal that allows each featured and pioneering artist to add their own voice to the narrative, Patterson transcends the well-trodden path of church burnings, murders, and misinformed teenage Satanism, bringing the true story beneath the media sensationalism to the surface through a range of incredibly in-depth and detailed interviews. Choosing to focus on the creative impulse that drove the musicians featured here to craft their own form of black art, Patterson gives the reader a chance to experience a side of black metal that has too-often been ignored by writers, journalists and academics; the music itself. From Venom’s punkish attitude and the ground-breaking darkness of Bathory, to the genre’s more recent progressions in DSBM and atmospheric black metal, every contributory element to the map of black metal has its place in Evolution of the Cult, resulting in undoubtedly the most complete and admirably researched tome on the genre out there.

Patterson employs a relatively straightforward yet engaging and informative writing style throughout the book, revealing an underlying foundation of an unparalleled personal immersion and knowledge of black metal, and an ability to bring each band’s stylistic contribution to the genre to the fore through highly descriptive analyses of their work. Alongside the well-documented works by Mayhem, Darkthrone, Emperor et al, Patterson draws attention to the influence of bands instrumental in developing such fringe genres as industrial, folk, avant-garde and gothic black metal, as well as the unique characteristics of black metal scenes in France, Poland, and more, diverting attention from the well-studied Norwegian bands. This approach provides a far fuller picture of the genre’s development than has been previously published, and as such means that Evolution of the Cult is an essential read for both black metal initiates and the most seasoned listener. Completed by a collection of both classic and previously unpublished photography, Evolution of the Cult is sure to surpass any previous works as the ultimate catalogue of a fascinating and fluctuating genre.

Published by Feral House and The Cult Never Dies


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