Black metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music. Common traits include fast tempos, shrieked vocals, highly distorted guitars played with tremolo picking, blast beat drumming, raw recording, and unconventional song structure.
During the 1980s, several thrash metal bands formed a prototype for black metal. This so-called "first wave" included bands such as Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. A "second wave" arose in the early 1990s, spearheaded by Norwegian bands such as Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, Immortal and Emperor. The music of the early Norwegian black metal scene became a distinct genre.
Black metal has often been met with hostility from mainstream culture, mainly due to the misanthropic and anti-Christian standpoint of many artists. Moreover, several of the genre's pioneers have been linked with church burnings and murder. For these reasons and others, black metal is usually seen as an underground form of music. Additionally some have been linked to neo-Nazism, however most black metal fans and most prominent black metal musicians reject Nazi ideology and oppose its influence on the black metal subculture.
Black metal guitarists usually favor high-pitched guitar tones and heavy distortion. The guitar is usually played with much use of fast, un-muted tremolo picking. Guitarists often use dissonance—along with specific scales, intervals and chord progressions—to yield foreboding and fear-inducing sounds. The tritone or flat-fifth is often used, for example. Guitar solos and low guitar tunings are rare in black metal.
The bass guitar is seldom used to play stand-alone melodies. It is not uncommon for the bass guitar to be minimal or difficult to hear, or to homophonically follow the bass lines of the guitar. Typically, drumming is fast and uses double-bass and/or blast beats.
Black metal songs often stray from conventional song structure and often lack clear verse-chorus sections. Instead, many black metal songs contain lengthy and repetitive instrumental sections.
 Vocals and lyrics
Traditional or "purist" black metal bands usually use high-pitched and raspy vocals which include shrieking, screaming and snarling. This vocal style was influenced by Quorthon of Bathory, and is one of the traits that distinguishes traditional black metal vocals from those of death metal, which usually uses low-pitched growls.
Black metal was originally used as a term for extreme metal bands with Satanic lyrics; today, the most common and founding lyrical theme is opposition to Christianity and other organized religions. As part of this, many artists write lyrics that could be seen to promote atheism, antitheism, paganism or Satanism. The hostility of many secular or pagan artists is in some way linked to the Christianization of their countries. Other oft-explored themes are depression, nihilism, misanthropy, death and other dark topics. However, over time, many artists have begun to focus more on topics like the seasons (particularly winter), nature, mythology, folklore, philosophy and fantasy. For more information about black metal lyrics, see the ideology section below.
Low-cost production quality was typical for early black metal artists with low budgets, where recordings would often take place in the homes or basements of artists. However, even when they were able to raise their production quality, many artists chose to keep making low fidelity (lo-fi) recordings. The reason for this was to stay true to the genre's underground roots and to make the music sound more "raw" and "cold". One of the better-known examples of this is the album Transilvanian Hunger by Darkthrone – a band that has been said to "represent the DIY aspect of black metal" by Johnathan Selzer of Terrorizer magazine. Many have claimed that, originally, black metal was not meant to attract a big audience. Vocalist Gaahl said that during its early years, "black metal was never meant to reach an audience, it was purely for our own satisfaction".
Imagery and performances
Unlike artists of other genres, many black metal artists do not perform concerts. Bands that choose to perform concerts often make use of stage props and theatrics. Mayhem and Gorgoroth among other bands are noted for their controversial shows; which have featured impaled animal heads, mock crucifixions, medieval weaponry, and band members doused in animal blood.
Black metal artists often appear dressed in black with combat boots, bullet belts, spiked wristbands, and inverted crosses/pentagrams to reinforce their anti-Christian or anti-religious stance. However, the most stand-out trait is their use of corpse paint – black and white makeup (sometimes mixed with real or fake blood), which is used to create a corpse-like appearance.
In the early 1990s, most pioneering black metal artists used simple black-and-white pictures or writing on their record covers. This could have been meant as a reaction against death metal bands, who at that time had begun to use brightly-colored album artwork. Most underground black metal artists have continued this style. In the main, black metal album covers are usually atmospheric or provocative; some feature natural or fantasy landscapes (for example Burzum's Filosofem and Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse) while others are violent, perverted, sacrilegious and iconoclastic (for example Marduk's Fuck Me Jesus and Dimmu Borgir’s In Sorte Diaboli).