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Black metal is a form of extreme metal featuring harsh shrieking vocals, fast guitars with tremolo picking, blast beat drumming, and raw or lo-fi production. Lyrics include topics such as: satanism, evil, viking culture, paganism. Some forms of black metal put an emphasis on the nuances of ambience or atmosphere, while others focus more on melody or technicality.

The roots of black metal originate from bands such as: Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost and Mercyful Fate.

The 'second wave' of black metal began with Norwegian bands in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with artists such as Burzum, Darkthrone, Mayhem, and Immortal playing a major role in the development of the genre. Black metal bands from the United States, such as Profanatica and VON, also formed around this time. Most modern black metal has built upon the groundwork laid by bands during this time period. Furthermore, following a series of church burnings associated with black metal musicians and the murder of Euronymous of Mayhem by Burzum's Varg Vikernes, the Norwegian black metal scene received considerable attention from the mainstream media.

There is no well-defined 'third wave' of black metal, but many modern bands have explored territory outside of the traditional frameworks of the genre. Bands such as Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega are particularly known for incorporating various unorthodox elements into their music. Other bands, such as Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, have become more popular by incorporating gothic sensibilities with a basic black metal framework, with both bands renowned for their use of prominent keyboards and synthesizers especially.

Although there are exceptions, modern black metal as a musical style tends to make use of high-pitched tremolo picking, shrieked or growled vocals, blast beats, unconventional song structures and an emphasis on atmosphere over technical playing styles. Black metal rarely features verse-chorus structures, generally favoring a more basic style that features extended musical sections and repetitive guitar riffs. Guitar solos are a rarity in black metal, although they are featured prominently in the music of some bands. Black metal often features very lo-fi, primitive recording quality reminiscent of the early days of the genre, but some bands have favored more professional recording techniques. While the harsh vocal style of black metal has become nearly universal, some bands still feature clean vocals, used either in conjunction with more extreme vocals or as the primary vocal style.

Some black metal bands have incorporated keyboards, neofolk instruments or other musical influences into their music. Emperor was a key band in the development of symphonic black metal, with many later bands adopting a similar, keyboard-heavy style. Bands such as Ulver and Nokturnal Mortum incorporated influences from ethnic folk music. Other influences from music such as martial industrial and dark ambient are also common. .

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