A lot of purists would argue that modern black metal cannot reach the nefarity of the 90s, that it has lost the gravitas and the anger of the second wave. This list is the antithesis of that dialectical reasoning. Of course, there is enough uninspired drivel that masquerades as anything substantial, but the product most often exposes all its pretense soon enough, hence it is not that hard to find genuine ones. Note that this list does not contain war metal or black metal fused with other genres to the extent of being unidentifiable.
- Nagelfar – ‘Virus West’ 
I consider ‘Hünengrab im Herbst’, Nagelfar’s first album, to be one of my favourite black metal albums ever, and its musical approach was more atmospheric and symphonic. ‘Virus West’ on the hand imbibed a more straightforward style of black metal with production that suits it. Nevertheless, it does not fall behind when it comes to sheer energy in the drumwork and the face-melting riffs. A German black metal must-listen.
- Antaeus – ‘Blood Libels’ 
If you are a fan of barraging machine-gun stylized blast beats, then ‘Blood Libels’ should be your bible. The album is the third release of the French band, and they haven’t released an album since. The Satanic themes and the vile mood decorate the hate-filled composition resembling an auditory war. To keep up with the rapidity and enjoy every minute of it is overwhelming to say the least, hence requires a bit of patience.
- The Axis of Perdition – ‘The Ichneumon Method (And Less Welcome Techniques)’ 
I debated with myself on whether I should put this album or ‘Deleted Scenes’ in the list as I consider both of them worthy to be at the top of lists, but I decided on ‘The Ichneumon Method’ because of it being more black metal than ‘Deleted Scenes’ – well, the convoluted and demented kind of black metal anyway. ‘Twisted’ is a good way of explaining the kind of album this is, and there are hardly albums that come close to causing some kind of nightmarish episode to the listener like this album does.
- Negative Plane – ‘Et in Saecula Saeculorum’ 
Although having a catalogue of only two full lengths, Negative Plane can be considered as one the best US black metal units. Their first album ‘Et in Saecula Saeculorum’ has influences from both the first and the second wave of black metal and can fit somewhere between them. The pipe-organs influenced guitar work bring about a choir-like quality to the melodies, and it is something that people notice soon when listening to the band.
- Nightbringer – ‘Ego Dominus Tuus’ 
‘Ego Dominus Tuus’ is a monster of an album. Lasting around 72 minutes, Nightbringer summons all that is dark and evil in this splendid display of malignancy. Naas’ interests in ambient music is seen as well, as dense atmosphere propagates throughout the album. The influence of the occult and esoteric theology on Nightbringer’s themes is well known, and Ego Dominus Tuus is no different, as they explore and expose knowledge that is a result of the creation of their art.
- Dark Tribe – ‘In Jeraspunta – Die Rückkehr der tollwütigen Bestie’ 
The first thing you will notice about ‘In Jeraspunta’ is how primitive in emotion it is. Raw aggression and unrefined writing and production brings out the caveman out of the listener. You would be transported to a forest stuck in times of nightly fire rituals. The unnerving screams and atypical riff structures are abundant, and the psychotic atmosphere is something bands are seldom able to create.
- Inquisition – ‘Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm’ 
Inquisition are the masters of the riff, and ‘Ominous Doctrines’ is the best example of the result of the said mastery. The album is at the apex of their exceptional discography because it posits at the sweet spot when it comes to production, writing and vocals, but not to say their other albums are far behind. The album was also the band’s big break but without any compromise to the quality.
- Katharsis – ‘VVorld VVithout End’ 
Take the riffing of early to mid-90s black metal, contort them to a chaotic and suffocating form and turn up the rage and you have ‘VVorld VVithout End’. The tracks flow into one another with fluidity and riffs are layered and not unidimensional. The inhuman screams in the midst of stifling atmosphere are some of the most terrifying musical parts in black metal. I hope that they release another album sometime in the future but I would still be happy if they didn’t considering this is last full length they released, and the ‘Fourth Reich’ EP was spectacular as well.
- Lunar Aurora – ‘Andacht’ 
If there is a band with a perfect discography when it comes to atmospheric black metal, it is Lunar Aurora. ‘Andacht’ is the bleakest Lunar Aurora have sounded in my view, and the ambient sections are breathtaking. ‘Andacht’ is a listen for cold autumn and winter nights, or summer, really, it doesn’t matter because oozes out its intrinsic chills. It is also a lesson on how to not overdo common tropes that atmospheric bands fall for. “Dunkler Mann” is probably the greatest atmo-black track ever.
- Mgła – ‘With Hearts Toward None’ 
It’s really hard to explain or review an album you have listened to more than a thousand times, and this becomes obvious with ‘With Hearts Toward None’. I’m not sure whether every riff and every shout in the album is anthemic, or if that is the result of my repetitive listening to it. Orthodox black metal riffing aplenty, the writing is extremely engaging, the guitar tone is perfect and the melodies are catchy to say the least.
- Ascension – ‘Consolamentum’ 
After releasing a demo and an EP, Ascension released what turned out to be one of the greatest debut albums in black metal. ‘Consolamentum’ pulls you into their world of Magick and chaos and spiritual focus. It is difficult not to feel temporarily religious and adhere to the mythos in the album. Musically, it is immaculately executed and the production is clean, which works perfectly for the kind of music.
- The Ruins of Beverast – ‘Rain Upon the Impure’ 
After Nagelfar split up, Alexander von Meilenwald channelled his genius into a project that I consider the best solo project in black metal. ‘Rain Upon the Impure’ is not the album with the easiest musical accessibility, but it truly is the most satisfying when you unfold its magic. The low end production enhances the dread felt throughout the album and the doom parts are tremendously unsettling. The album gets better with every listen, so it is advised to give it more time to fully grasp it.
- Svartidauði – ‘Flesh Cathedral’ 
The Icelandic scene is one of my favourite black metal scenes of recent times, and Svartidauði sits on top of this unholy pile. ‘Flesh Cathedral’ is their only full-length till date, but its calibre surpasses most. Intricately playing around with hypnotic dissonance and brutality, the band has constructed a frightening and sinister masterpiece. All the four tracks on the album are more than ten minutes long, all stand supreme on their own and together with ascendancy. The future of black metal does not look depressing after all.
- Blut Aus Nord – ‘Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue with the Stars’ 
Blut Aus Nord’s discography is quite varied, and each piece is an essential part that fits the overall mystic nature of the band. ‘Memoria Vetusta II’ is an album that leaves uncertain emotions of the listener in disarray. Words cannot capture the heartfelt beauty of a kind of release from dejection that is experienced and eased by the music through the interwoven melodies. The album is a transcendental cleansing and/or rebirth of sorts leading to the true nature of reality.
- Deathspell Omega – ‘Si Monvmentvm Reqvires, Circvmspice’ 
It would not be wrong to say that Deathspell Omega kickstarted the revival of the waning interest in black metal with ‘Si Monvmentvm Reqvires, Circvmspice’. As this dissonant monster came out of the ominous woodworks of DsO, the reactions ranged from being awestruck to having an outcry. Regardless, it was a sign that the interest was alive again. Maybe other bands after this bettered the atonal guitar work, and maybe the band themselves produced a more streamlined and well-knitted album with ‘Paracletus’, but the influence this diabolical entity has had on modern black metal is immense. Profound philosophical and theosophical undertakings in the lyrics and how the themes emanate into the eldritch atmosphere is what makes it to be the greatest black metal album of this century yet.
Weakling – ‘Dead As Dreams’
Darkspace – ‘Dark Space II’
Fanisk – ‘Noontide’
S.V.E.S.T. – ‘Urfaust’
Drudkh – ‘Autumn Aurora’