10 pop songs every black metal fan should hear

Black Void
Black Void with Lars Nedlund (centre) (Image credit: Nuclear Blast)

Lars Nedland was embedded deep in the Norwegian black metal scene of the 1990s and 2000s as a member of cult bands Borknagar and avant-garde boundary-pushers Solefad. But as the son of a music journalist, he’s always had a sneaking admiration for pop music – something evident in White Void, his art-rock project whose 2021 debut album Anti touched on everything from new wave to 60s psychedelia. 

Now Lars has flipped things completely with Black Void. Essentially the dark mirror image of White Void, their debut album, Antithesis, sees him returning to the grimy, nihilistic sound with which he made his name in the first place. 

It might seem a big leap between what Lars is doing with Black Void and pop music, but there’s a connection. When he offered to give us a list of 10 pop songs every black metal fan should hear, we weren’t going to turn him down. And granted, it’s a broad definition of ‘pop’, but then popular music by its nature is everything to all people. So open your ears and dive in. 

Metal Hammer line break

Leonard Cohen - You Want it Darker (You Want It Darker) 

Leonard Cohen was dying, and he wanted the world to hear. You Want it Darker was recorded in excruciating pain and released just about two weeks before his death, and you can hear his agony as the album plunges into the darkness. Cohen sang his own death fearlessly, and his attitude towards his own demise bears semblance to that portrayed by many a black metal artist. I love a performer who lives his art. Cohen made his death a masterpiece.”

Portishead – Mysterons (Dummy) 

“Gloom and quiet despair. A pressure cooker threatening to explode at any second. Portishead can barely contain their own emotions, and Mysterons shakes with beautiful desperation, much like the black metal of the mid-nineties, where anguish was a driving force and shrieks, minor chords and orchestration made the music an almost physical force. I’m not crying. I've just got something in my eye.”

Suicide – Frankie Teardrop (Suicide)

“Confrontational, violent electronic music meant to disturb and provoke. Suicide is darkness in waves, buzzing with electronic sounds and anguished vocals. Frankie Teardrop is a ten-minute descent into hell, as we follow Frankie through murdering his family, committing suicide and going to hell for all eternity. Suicide’s counterculture approach to sound and attitude reminds me of the insolence that drove Norwegian black metal to international notoriety in the early nineties. Listen and feel your heart sink.”

Woodkid – Iron (Iron EP) 

“Melancholia and introspection. Woodkid finds your emotional wounds, stabs them and twists the knife for good measure. Just the way good black metal does. Even though the musical framework here is calm, the feeling it provokes is eerily similar to the one you might get from the melancholic black metal of the early days.”

Scott Walker – Clara (The Drift) 

“Dark, unsettling themes and twisted soundscapes: The Drift, and Clara in particular, is a tour de force in disturbing reverberations and words. War, plagues, torture and death. What’s not to love for a BM fan?”

Pulp - This is Hardcore (This is Hardcore) 

“Society is falling to pieces. We indulge in decadent hedonism, shameful egocentricity and decay is all around. We die long before our bodies, living our lives with mechanical movements and blank stares. This is Hardcore is life in full decline: miserable and bombastic, it poses no excuses, but floats on like thick oil towards its own destruction. That’s pretty dark. That’s also pretty black metal!”

Nick Drake – Things Behind the Sun (Pink Moon) 

“The quiet desperation of Nick Drake is never more pronounced than on Things Behind the Sun, one of the last songs he wrote before taking his own life with an overdose of anti-depressants (yeah, the irony is not lost on me!). His ability to handle his own life was crumbling, and this song in all its fragile, simple beauty stands as an emotional monument containing much of the same feelings that depressive black metal would accentuate more than 20 years later, though in a very different form. The veil separating life from death is thin. This is the sound of an artist trying to pretend the veil isn’t disintegrating.”

Kanye West – Love Lockdown (808s & Heartbreak) 

“‘What the hell is Kanye West doing on this list?’ Well, after the loss of his mother and a major breakdown, our REAL favourite soon-to-be-ex-Kardashian entered the studio to make an album about falling apart. And it’s the musical equivalent to watching a car crash. Despair is running Kanye completely into the ground, and Love Lockdown is a testament to what a driving force mental illness is in true art. The core feeling of this song reminds me of Niklas Kvarforht  of Shining at his most desperate. Kanye and Niklas. Go figure.”

The Cure – Cold (Pornography) 

“The masters of gloom opened a Pandora’s box of darkness and depression with Pornography – an album sounding as jolly as the funeral of a six-year-old. Cold is particularly glum as it runs out of the speakers like thick, oily blood from an open wound. You want darkness? Here it is!”

A-ha – Manhattan Skyline (Scoundrel Days) 

“Black Metal was originally about cutting the shackles of modern society and going back to the roots, to embrace simplicity. A yearning for nature, forests and mountains. A-ha’s Manhattan Skyline is a very urban song, but underneath the surface lies a desperation and a longing caused by the urban environments. It’s twisting in the alienation that big cities cause. I’m pretty sure Morten Harket and Fenriz would make great hiking buddies. Also, black metal royalty Ihsahn made a cover of this song. And a video of him playing the signature riff on the top of a Norwegian mountain. That’s metal!”

Black Void’s new album, Antithesis, is released on May 27 (opens in new tab)