10 Greatest black metal vocal performances as chosen by The Deathtrip

(Image credit: The Deathtrip)

Kvohst (Ex-Dødheimsgard/Code/Grave Pleasures/Beastmilk/Hexvessel) might just give Erik of Watain a run for his money when it comes to the most kvlt responses this writer has ever had back from an interview. 

When asked to pick his favourite black metal vocalists of all time – to promote his long-due return to The Deathtrip and the release of their brand new album Demon Solar Totem next month – he replied with, "I believe that I am the greatest black metal vocalist of all time." And suggested he pick 10 of his best works including The Deathtrip.

We played along...

10. Void - Neutron Flux

From “Posthuman” 2003

"I was heavily into Burroughs and Cities Of Red Night being a book that inspired a lot of the lyrics on the album. The Cronenborg film of Naked Lunch gave a particularly sickly, hazy atmosphere that we really connected with when making Posthuman and I think about that film a lot when I listen back to these songs years later.

"The reason I would pick this song above all the others on the record is that it has early indicators of everything that I have become more proficient and fluent with in my later career as a singer/songwriter. 

"There are the choral chants and the raw black metal vocals but it also debuts some of my poetry spoken in what was then a South London drawl, before I left London and lost the accent altogether.

"I was obsessed with Jorges Luis Borges and lifted some of his words for the chorus of the song, in a tribute to him: 'La calavera, el corazón secreto/Los túneles del sueño', 'The skull, the secret heart/The tunnels of sleep'

"Those words felt like a very apt set of lines to describe my fragile state of mind in those days. I spent way to much time obsessing over death, the meaning of dreams and my subconscious, trying to make sense of my psyche. I was deeply troubled and you can hear it in the anxious drug-fuelled lyrics and the panic in the vocals.

"The black metal vocals are very Nocturno Culto from A Blaze In The Northern Sky by Darkthrone. I have always been impressed by his magical voice."

9. Decrepit Spectre - Graverider

From Coal Black Hearses 2009

"Title taken from Grooverider, as I listened to a lot of techno, house and jungle back in the day. That’s where that inspiration ends though, as this EP was quite a purist black metal affair. I still managed to bring some diverse influences into the voices and heightened the atmosphere into something very funereal. 

"By this point putting clean vocals into black metal was nothing new but I felt that there wasn’t enough of a personal feel about them in general so my approach was different to what was going on in the scene. I was trying to bring a fragility into the performance that felt human, and gives a more organic, familiar and at once creepier edge.  

"That’s my post-punk background of growing up in England. There’s no glamour or pizzazz like there was in the Norwegian scene, where everyone emulated the rock stars of the 70s and 80s. I was thinking about grime and dirt and the poverty of 80s London. It comes through here vocally.

"Some Martin Van Drunen inspiration running through the vocals of this record, as he is one of my favourite death metal singers. Also Atrocity’s Todessensucht album on the choral vocals, which I felt was truly great. I have always loved the vocals of Adrian Borland and Ian McCulloch. 

"I tried to evoke both of them here, which I would go on to do much more successfully in the underground band Beastmilk and then the more commercially successful Grave Pleasures.

8. Secrets Of The Moon - The Three Beggars

From Seven Bells 2012

"I did guest vocals on this track with Secrets Of The Moon and I think it’s an outstanding track. I love this band as musicians and people, especially after we toured Europe with them when I was in Code. 

"The atmosphere they evoke on stage is second to none and still gives me shivers to think of. Their music and approach has been incredibly influential on my style and presence and part of my DNA now.  

"I always feel that when you connect with musicians on the road you fall in love with some aspect of their musical spirit and you carry it with you, it becomes part of you. I don’t do much on this track but add some atmospheric voices but it was all it needed and so it was a good learning experience for me. 

"As a vocalist I am often very vocally focused when thinking about songs, but often less is more and you need to learn restraint when studying the craft of creating timeless music. 

"We lost Marianne (LSK) their bass player some years ago and I will forever hold deep inside what she said to me about my voice and music and I think of her and Secrets Of The Moon often when I sing and am in the moment of timelessness that is 'live performance.' In that realm we will never die.

7. Dødheimsgard - Cellar Door/21st Century Devil

From Supervillain Outcast 2007

"I was inspired by a lot of Crust-punk and went to see a lot of shows in Oslo. I loved World Burns To Death and Severed Head of State, From Ashes Rise, His Hero Is Gone etc and I so I channeled that with my vocals on this album. 

"I really loved what LG Petrov had done on Left Hand Path and Wolverine Blues in particular and so there was a lot of my love for LG’s vocals there. I think it was my attempt to make the harsh vocals of death-metal more musical and melodic and catchy and so I looked elsewhere than in the black metal scene for influences on what harsh and extreme could mean. 

"Dødheimsgard had been one of my most favourite bands in the world. I nearly killed myself doing the vocals on this album. 

"Of course I will forever be compared to Aldrahn and live in his shadow with what I brought to the band, but I stand by the vocals on this album being respectful to the past but bringing something very unique. It was this album that really opened up my creative heart with singing and my voice. It’s the foundation that made everything since possible."

6. Grave Pleasures - Atomic Christ

From Motherblood 2017

"An ominous set of lyrics and a song that I think owes a lot to black metal, given mine and Juho’s (Oranssi Pazuzu) work in redefining that genre. The atmosphere is there, even if the style borrows a lot from post-punk and Death rock, and the lyrics could also easily be screamed, as we do at the end of the song when we play it live. 

"This album and my vocal work on it is a testament to how far I have travelled as a singer and songwriter, but there is still very much Black-metal at it’s heart and roots. That aura and essence will never leave me, as it underwrote who I am and where I started."

5. Code - The Ascendent Grotesque

From Resplendent Grotesque 2009

"I was listening to Patti Smith’s Horses album and a lot of pop music. I wanted my sung vocals to have a masculine and feminine quality. I always wanted to be a girl when I sing and it’s the female or genderless spirit that manifests in me when I sing. 

"There when you channel the voice of your soul there is no human terminology for that. I think the sung vocals and the black metal voices here are really some of the most desperate and impassioned I have thrown forth from the void. 'I am bloodless and cry, my vessel breaks releasing ire . . .' 

"I really mean what I sing here and I really put everything I had at that time into this record. It’s quite flawed now when I listen back, that I didn’t have an experienced producer or engineer helping me arrange the vocals. But you can hear a lot of the spark that went into later recordings when I was a more confident producer."

4. Dark Buddha Rising - Sol'yata

From Abyssolute Transfinite 2011

"I believe that this is still one of the greatest things I have done. Vocally, compositionally and arrangement wise it was a deep work that I totally submerged myself in. Everything I do, I do with an immense amount of passion and seriousness. Anyone who knows me, knows that. 

"I remember that the band were happy with what I brought them and that I had connected with the loftier, spiritual meaning of the song itself. It’s well worth the 20 minutes invested to give yourself to this journey. 

"I built on Gregorian chants and my background in the choir at my Catholic boys school upbringing to layer a wall of voices. It’s something you have to have in your blood and then it’s going to be part of your sound. 

"The Catholic church will always be inside the sound of my voice, whether painful or cathartic. There’s a whole world here in this song, which is of course easy to paint with voices when the atmosphere Dark Buddha Rising create is so special. 

For me it’s very ancient pagan worship brought to light. I was very honoured to take part in that record and am still very proud of this track in particular in my career."

3. Code - Brass Dogs

From Nouveau Gloaming 2005

"An oppressive dark tale that conjures a sense of old English horror. I sang Andrew Nicol’s words on this album with great reverence and I still think they have a powerful magic. 

"There’s a real John Balance in here, even if inadvertently inspired by Coil, after getting into them through Carl-Michael Eide who played drums briefly in Void some years earlier. 

"There’s a lot of inspiration from Carl-Michael’s vocals here too, from Ved Buens Ende, who were of course also present sound-wise through Vicotnik’s masterful bass playing. 

Written In Waters was a record that made a profound impact on me and vocally it’s a very important influence. I still haven’t heard many black metal tracks like this, and perhaps there is some Code to be heard in Gaahl’s latest album, which I rather liked the sound of. It’s an under-rated album and I do believe has been influential in it’s own way."

2. Beastmilk - The Wind Blows Through Their Skulls

From Climax 2013

"Me and Johan (Goatspeed) brought our black metal youth into a new era and combined it with our love of outlandish punk and weird outsider pop. People call it 'post-punk' but it was way more than that and very different I feel. It had its roots in England's Hidden Reverse and Crowley. 

"It was very black metal in some of it’s essences and roots somehow and that was very much in Johan’s and my DNA. Our audiences featured a lot of black metal and metal people seeking something new. 

"We hit the spot at exactly the right time and then imploded spectacularly, as all good rock and roll bands should. 

"What other black metal vocalist has gone from say one of the Norwegian 90s bands that featured Fenriz (DHG), to tickling the coiffed moustaches of the major music industry with such a buzz? Tobias from Ghost perhaps, coming from Repugnant to touring with Metallica? We made him nervous, even if only for a short while."

1. The Deathtrip - Enter Spectral Realms

From Demon Solar Totem 2019

"And so we lead up to the circle closing and returning to the source, not as a regression but more as an upward spiral and an inevitable culmination. I come back to approaching black metal no longer as a child but as an older man. 

"With a lot more 'Weltschmerz' and pessimism about the universe, coupled with a much deeper understanding of my voice and the genre I fell in love with as a teenager I think I have finally mastered my art. There are nods to all of my influences here. 

"Attila, Nocturno Culto, František "Franta" Štorm, Nuclear Holocausto, Varg Vikernes and Aldrahn being in my pantheon of vocal masters. But also Vladimir Vysotsky and Screaming Jay Hawkins, Tom Waits and Howling Wolf, Don Van Vliet. 

"I reach into every part of my career and influences and have created something which I feel lives up to the works that made me who I am. It’s a logical progression of my lyrics and vocals on Supervillain Outcast.

"Under A Funeral Moon, Drawing Down The Moon and Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. The album is a pure work, not experimental or progressive. It’s not meant as a tribute or to be retro but simply as an act of worship. I create this in a timeless vacuum. Very much the timeless void I have dwelt in with black metal since the early 90s. 

"Some great things have come along the way: Burzum’s return, Beherit’s return, seeing Blasphemy live finally, Seeing Ved Buens Ende live finally. But in the end I will always live in that time, since I am of that time and a church burner at heart.  

"Enter Spectral Realms is an invitation and Demon Solar Totem is a manifesto or an epitaph. If death takes me before I continue my musical life work, then I can be happy with this work as a black flag hoisted at the pinnacle of my craft."

Enter Spectral Realms is taken off The Deathtrip's forthcoming album, Demon Solar Totem, to be released on November 15 via Svart Records in Europe and Profound Lore in North America. 

The album reunites Kvohst with Host and Storm (Ex-My Dying Bride, Blasphemer) and introduces Thomas Eriksen (Mork) on bass. Demon Solar Totem promises to capture the primal spirit of Darkthrone, Thorns and Beherit charged with old-English occultism and the chanting of sacred sound formulas.

Listen to the previously released single Abrazas Mirrors and pre-order the record here.