Reviewing The 5 Worst Rated Atmospheric Black Metal Albums
I made a mistake. Picking a genre so caked in controversy probably did not return the worst sounding music, for which my ears are grateful, but instead dropped on my lap some wild things that have happened in metal recently. Unlike progressive metal, which (usually) takes some amount of instrumental proficiency to reach even the mildest notoriety, I had to put some restrictions on this one so the top five wasn’t just a list of bands you have never heard of. So, without further ado, here are the five lowest-rated atmospheric black metal albums with over 100 ratings on rateyourmusic.com. I’ll note some of the smaller fish at the end.
#5 Velvet Cacoon: Dextronaut
RYM Rating: 2.86 | Ratings: 186
If you don’t know the story about this band, it’s a doozy. The TL;DR version is that they basically lied about everything: their origin story, their instruments (seriously, a dieselharp?), their radical political activities, and their ritualistic live shows. Hell, they even straight up plagiarized an album. After disbanding, they claimed that the whole thing was a stunt to make a mockery of the scene, but they still left behind some original music in their wake, and so it must be judged. While listening to Dextronaut, I can’t shake the image of two people in a basement cackling like madmen trying to come up with the lamest low-effort ideas they can while still appealing to underground black metal nerds. It’s lo-fi, it has church bells, it has indecipherable Gollum growls, and it has repetitive atmospheric riffs. Every song seems to be made up of one singular idea and never really goes anywhere, but that sorta fits for this style, right? It’s lazy and unimaginative, but if we are to believe their postmortem claim, that’s kinda the point. What do we have to learn from all of this? You all are dorks for liking lame music because it’s kvlt. Dextronaut is not unlistenable, it even has some parts that reveal a tiny bit of artistry, but it’s also not very interesting. There’s also a second disc that is 70 minutes of ambient noise, I guess.
#4 Sacred Son: Sacred Son
RYM Rating: 2.83 | Ratings: 132
I listened to a bit of this when The Son first blessed us, so I was very excited to have an excuse to try again. An album that SHOULD have flown totally under the radar with single digit reviews made it to 132 by means of an album cover. Black metal is amazing in the worst ways. Musically, it’s better than most bedroom black metal. By far. That’s not to say it’s a spectacular album, though. Dane Cross has some serious black metal chops; there is plenty of variation, the mix is solid, and the classic atmo-bm sections sound pretty dang good. There isn’t a ton separating it from similar bands I enjoy, like Fen and Falls of Rauros, besides being a bit less melodic. There is nothing at all wrong with this debut EP; it’s totally acceptable and even possibly a tease for great material in the future. Concurring with Richter’s fantastic write-up, I can’t fault the fault the guy for trying some sort of gimmick that is totally harmless and actually very amusing. Unfortunately, there are more edgelords than people with a sense of humor on RYM.
#3 Xasthur: All Reflections Drained / Portal of Sorrow
RYM Rating: 2.84 | Ratings: 261 / RYM Rating: 2.86 | Ratings: 355
Both of these Xasthur albums are right next to each other at the bottom of the list, and perhaps not coincidentally, are the final two albums before his complete genre change. I’m grouping them together because it’s my post and I’ll do what I want. This band, and most DSMB, isn’t really my thing, but I can at least appreciate the value of the preceding albums. All Reflections Drained is so over-the-top dissonant and effects heavy, the production and equalization seem to change on a per-track basis, and there’s a lot of empty space. There’s nothing wrong with experimentation, but people probably won’t like it if it sounds bad. Disorienting is a good word for this album. Portal of Sorrow, on the other hand, is more accessible with some folk influence and vocals from Marissa Nadler; however, it is still extremely dull. Xasthur never really stuck to any real script, but he really went off of it for this release. It’s profoundly weird in an ‘almost’ enjoyable way but ends up sounding silly. The spoopy synth really paints a picture… of a Scooby Doo haunted house. Again, I find it difficult to poke fun at experimentation since I appreciate trying to demonstrate a unique vision, which this certainly accomplishes, but it’s just not enjoyable. At all.
#2 Burzum: Umskiptar
RYM Rating: 2.73 | Ratings: 1,315
Strangely, this album doesn’t land here purely for Varg hate since the top two albums in the category both belong to him. I have intentional lack of knowledge of his past work (here come the Geoff Tate people again), so excuse me if anything I say is heresy (it will be). Taking a quick peek back at what is considered “good” Burzum, the production on Umskiptar sounds relatively really good, but only because I think those old recordings sound like asshole (but I can see why you “but the riffs” people stick around despite his past). Seriously shrill. How do you lo-fi people not have severe hearing loss? Anyway, back on topic. Taken for what it is, a sort of minimalistic black metal album with some spoken word, it starts off fairly better than the reviews make it seem. It’s slow, but some of the guitar work is actually pretty nice, albeit repetitive. When it’s not busy being boring, which is basically the whole second half, I like some of it more than I expected. “Aera” and “Joln” are pretty decent tracks. But since there are probably racist motifs hidden all the Norse shit, I’m staying away. I don’t need it.
#1 Ghost Bath: Starmourner
RYM Rating: 2.36 | Ratings: 384
Amusingly, Noisey has an article titled “From Velvet Cacoon to Ghost Bath: the Curious Anatomy of a Black Metal Hoax”, so in an astounding coincidence, our listicle is sandwiched by those same names. Starmourner was their first release after being de-masked, but I’m doubtful that the “hoax” was the reason for the ratings bust. Generally, people enjoyed Moonlover and Funeral, so where did they go wrong? By making it more melodic and less METAL, of course. We hate that. But seriously, I was shocked to see this album land at #1 since both Breno and 365 enjoyed it quite a bit and I’m a sucker for bipolar music so I’m not opposed to it. It’s very possible that Ghost Bath just peaked with their happysad riff on “Golden Number” and people are just mad that they can’t continue to up their game. There are a lot of good tracks on Starmourner, but with its length, there are bound to be a few flat moments too. Chopping upwards of 15 minutes off select parts would have made me love this album, but I’m not going to rail against it for having some extra parts. For instance, I thought my Spotify account was skipping like my “Summer 2005” burned mixtape for the last 5 minutes of “Ambrosial”. The vocals/lack of lyrics might be bothersome if I didn’t find them so darn amusing. Anyway, I think when it comes to black metal listeners, we can distill the bad user reviews down to this one RYM comment: “i’m almost tempted to listen to this just to see how bad black metal can be when you overdose on soy”. Yep. This album is fine, it’s the people that suck.
Other Notable Losers:
- In order from worst to less worse, the less-than-100-ratings crew is: The Unchaining Ithilien, Vooram Vooram, Airs A Left Turn at Happiness, Scylla Nascency, Vranorod Vranorod. Though it would have been fun to review the lolbuttz (and boredbuttz) on display here, I would have run out of negatively charged words very fast. Check them out.
- Burzum also had From the Depths of Darkness near Umskiptar in the list but I disqualified it for basically being re-recordings of old tracks. Still, people hated that he did that.
- Eldamar’s The Force of Ancient Land would be #6 according to my rules.
- Our pal Striborg shows up with Foreboding Silence.
- Myrkur’s M would be #7.