When Death Shall Close Full-Moon Eyes: A Primer on Lithuanian Black Metal
Shortly after attaining their independence following the collapse of the USSR, a collection of three small states on the southeastern shores of the Baltic Sea became ground zero for an exceptionally diverse and creative black metal scene that lasted from 1993 to 2002. Members of the extreme metal communities in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia launched themselves into a highly productive decade that incorporated traditional Baltic compositions and historical/pagan themes rooted in Baltic history. They often collaborated with each other, played in each others’ bands, and established lasting festivals to celebrate a uniquely Baltic take on metal.
This primer focuses on the largest and arguably the most influential member of this creative explosion – Lithuania. It is divided into four sections. The first is a brief discussion on Lithuanian geography so that references to various cities and features in the rest of the article will make sense. The second describes three main points of Lithuanian history that significantly influence Lithuanian cultural identity and, in turn, the Lithuanian black metal clime. The third section expounds upon Lithuanian culture in the context of black metal. The fourth and final section illustrates various influential and contemporary Lithuanian black metal bands, labels, and noteworthy albums that are best representative of that period.
Modern Lithuania is the southernmost and largest of the Baltic states, bordering Latvia to the north, Belarus to the southeast, Poland to the southwest, and the Russian exclave of St. Petersburg. The capital and largest city is Vilnius, which is also the home to the largest amount of heavy metal bands in the Baltic states. Before World War II, Vilnius was notable for having one of the largest Jewish populations in the world, being known as the “Jerusalem of the North” in the time of Napoleon. Its eclectic music scene included the pagan metal of Obtest, the death metal of Conscious Rot, and the neofolk/dark ambient Akys.
One of the main cultural centers of Lithuania is Kaunas, the second-largest city in the country. Officially granted city rights in 1408, Kaunas was the home of the majority of the Lithuanian black metal scene, including Anubi and Nahash. It was nicknamed the “Little Paris of the Interwar” in the early 20th century, and was one of the centers of the USSR occupation of the greater Baltic states area. Kaunas metal bands mostly played black and death metal which contrasted to the cosmopolitan musical scene of Vilnius.
A third notable area in Lithuania is Utena, one of the oldest continually-inhabited regions in the Baltic states. Although Utena proper is primarily known as a small industrial center, the city birthed several black/folk-hybrid bands such as Ha Lela and Zpoan Vtenz that incorporated strong traditional folk elements in their music. Utena County is one of the largest tourism areas in the Baltic states. One-third of the land area is forestland, and the county boasts over one thousand lakes that are popular for water tourism. It is the least populated region in the country.
It is impossible to discuss Lithuanian black metal without a brief overview of its national history, as Lithuanian black metal is heavily inspired by the region’s cultural and political development. Modern Lithuania is most heavily defined by three significant events: the clash between paganism and Christianity, the rise and fall of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and occupation/rule under the Russian Empire and the subsequent USSR. Please note that this is not intended to be a comprehensive overview of Lithuanian history, and so some historical trends are generalized.
The original Baltic tribes that inhabited historical Lithuania date to at least 2500 B.C. The demonym “Lithuanians” specifically referred to a tribe that lived within what would become Vilnius. Their relative isolation from main trade routes and other developing European communities resulted in the Baltics (and, by extension, the Lithuanians) being the final major pagan population on the European continent. Despite nominally becoming Christian with the establishment of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1253 under king Mindaugas (a prominent figure in modern Lithuanian culture), the Lithuanians retained their pagan heritage, which led to occupation by knights of the Teutonic Order. The Teutonic Order was ostensibly a Christian organization meant to aid pilgrimages, but it frequently acted as a quasi-mercenary group under the principles of defending and establishing Christianity.
The clash between the Teutonic Order and the Lithuanian pagans has been termed an “eternal war” by some historians, especially given the somewhat broad self-rule that Lithuanians enjoyed despite being technically a Duchy loyal to Catholicism. Numerous battles depopulated the southern region, although Christianity eventually overtook Baltic paganism as the chief religion of Lithuania with king Jogaila’s conversion to Catholicism in 1385. The defeat of the Teutonic Order in 1410 at Žalgiris practically ended most of the Order’s territorial claims in Lithuania. The battle has become a symbol of Lithuanian national pride as the establishment of Lithuania as a prominent actor in European affairs. The Lithuanians’ comparatively late conversion to Christianity (Columbus had already landed in America before the last Lithuanian pagan tribes converted) resulted in Baltic paganism and naturalism being an extensive cultural influence through the Lithuanian population.
Along with conversion to Catholicism, Jogaila also accepted the Polish crown at the Union of Krėva, starting several centuries of close Polish and Lithuanian political and economic relationships. There are several reasons for this union. The most imminent was the expanding Rus empire out of Moscow, which began to threaten Lithuanian lands as the orthodox Russian monarchs claimed the Baltics to belong to Russia. Additionally, Lithuania’s previously-mentioned relative isolation from trade routes encouraged it to seek out economic alliances to better integrate with a European subcontinent that was willing to engage with these new Christians. The Poles also saw benefit in aligning with the Lithuanians for means of protection and warfare, as centuries of battles with the Teutonic Order and other incursions had inspired a Lithuanian culture of military prowess that modern minds may not have expected to have existed in the Baltics. Additionally, the comparatively small Polish kingdom saw union with Lithuania as a way to expand the lands available to their people. The Commonwealth incorporated lands now part of modern Belarus and the Ukraine.
The special relationship of Poland and Lithuania was most famously realized with the establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569, which immediately resulted in the creation of one of the largest formal nation-states ever to have existed in Eastern Europe. The languishing influence of the Teutonic Order (and by extension Catholicism) in the wake of the Protestant Reformation allowed the Commonwealth to make numerous territorial expansions into eastern Prussia and territories under the Holy Roman Empire. The Commonwealth stimulated a strong cultural exchange between the nations especially in language, as the Lithuanian nobles adopted what they saw as the more refined Polish script – which is one of the reasons why the Baltic countries do not utilize the Cyrillic script. Both nations were economically prosperous for their time upon the expansion of trade networks despite the encroaching Russian empire, and a strong central monarchy under a single democratically-elected king.
This period of relative prosperity lasted for approximately one century. 1655-1660 is known as the “Deluge” in Lithuania, when the Russians and Swedes invaded the Commonwealth and sacked Vilnius. This substantially weakened the monarchy and the Commonwealth’s economic status. Nobles retained more power under the parliamentary system of the Seimas, and the ability of a noble to veto political processes with which he did not agree effectively put the Commonwealth’s government in political deadlock and civil wars between fiefs. The spread of Lutheranism along eastern Prussia added further political strife, although this also had the effect of furthering use of the Lithuanian language among the populace due to Lutheranism’s focus on education and libraries in the region. However, the Commonwealth never recovered after the Deluge, and the Commonwealth was ended and lands partitioned upon capture of Lithuanian lands by Russia and Prussia in 1795.
From 1795 until the fall of the USSR, Lithuania underwent an intense period of Russification that suppressed Lithuanian language, culture, and heritage in an attempt to make the Baltics homogeneously Russian. Revolts by the nobility during the nineteenth century resulted in dissolution of many noble lands and others given to czars, and numerous Lithuanian education centers and churches (notably the Vilnius University in 1832) were closed and burned to make way for Russian schools and Orthodox churches. Russian rule did not permit Lithuanian economic self-development, resulting in Lithuania losing the economic foothold it gained in Europe following establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This also resulted in a strong trend of migration that lasted through the start of the 20th century. This is famously captured in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which depicts the struggles of Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkus and his family in industrial Chicago.
Although Lithuania was officially captured by the Germans in World War I, the country enjoyed a brief period of independence from 1918 to 1940. However, authoritarian statism affected the Baltics as strongly as it did Germany and the USSR, with a military coup in 1926 that led to fourteen years of authoritarian rule under Antanas Smetona. Lithuania’s fate for the next half-century would be decided upon the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentropp pact and Germany’s decision that Lithuania would be given to the USSR after World War II. Despite Smetona and the Lithuanian army’s attempts to resist Soviet incursions in 1940, Lithuania was successfully invaded by Soviet forces and Smetona fled to Germany, then Switzerland, and finally Cleveland, Ohio in 1941.
World War II inflicted heavy losses on Lithuania as Germany and USSR swapped occupation of the territory several times, with over 40 percent of the country’s 1939 population dying between 1940-1953. Following the War, Stalin and the USSR again pursued an intense policy of Russification and disestablishment of Lithuanian cultural identity. A paramilitary group of freedom fighters known as the “Lithuanian partisans” that included former Lithuanian military officers and civilians staged guerrilla warfare in Lithuania’s towns for the next decade before the leadership decided to end fighting upon realizing that Western states would not come to their aid. It is not uncommon to hear the phrase that World War II did not end for Lithuania until 1990.
As the USSR slowly opened itself in the latter quarter of the twentieth century (especially with Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika and glasnost in 1985), Lithuanians began to express themselves culturally with less fear of reprisal, which culminated in the Sąjūdis (or “The Movement”) political party led by Vytautas Landsbergis of the Lithuanian Conservatory of Music in the late 1980s. Sąjūdis won Lithuania’s first free elections in 1990. In 1991, the USSR attempted to capture Vilnius by force, but were rebuffed by the civilian population and completely withdrew by 1993, formerly ending Soviet occupation. Ironically, the newfound independence of Lithuania was not recognized by countries such as the USA, as they had never recognized the USSR’s presence in the country to start.
In contrast to the stereotype of Eastern Europe and the Baltic states as being decrepit and degrading cities with little to offer culturally or economically, Lithuania has made significant strides in betterment and cultural achievements since achieving its independence from the USSR. In 2015, it was 37th in the world according to the Human Development Index – higher than Slovakia, Hungary, Russia, and Montenegro. It is part of the Eurozone, is a member of the Nordic Investment Bank, and the European Union – the last of which it became a member in 2004 alongside its Baltic cousins Estonia and Latvia. Lithuania also boasts the highest rate of literacy and completion of secondary education in Europe according to the World Bank and Eurostat.
Resources on Lithuania and Baltic history include The Baltic: A History by Michael North, The Oxford History of Poland-Lithuania: Volume 1: The Making of the Polish-Lithuanian Union 1385-1569 by Robert Frost, The History of the Lithuanian Nation and Its Present National Aspirations by Antanas Jusaitis, and Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II by Prit Buttar. An excellent online overview is accessible at True Lithuania.
Black Metal and Lithuanian Culture
Lithuanian cultural and national history has been dominated by foreign influences either subtly as with the adoption of the Polish language and alphabet by the nobles under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth or blatantly with two centuries of nigh-uninterrupted Russification and authoritarian subjugation of Lithuanian identity from 1795 to 1990. Lithuanian culture in a post-USSR climate has focused on establishing what it means to be a Lithuanian, such as recapturing past mythologies and speaking the Lithuanian language. In the minds of many Lithuanians, their history was taken from them and their ancestors, and 1990 was the beginning of being uninhibitedly Lithuanian in a way not fully expressed since the sixteenth century.
The idea of Lithuanian self-actualization is metaphorically represented in many of the early Lithuanian black metal bands writing lyrics in Lithuanian. For a country that had been subjugated to extreme cultural suppression, being able to write lyrics in Lithuanian without fear of reprisal from Soviet political authorities was immensely freeing. For many countries, it’s no big deal to write lyrics in one’s own language – but imagine doing so in a country after centuries of political domination and cultural repression by outside forces, where expressing one’s cultural identity could earn a literal life sentence in a labor camp far from home. That eminent threat does not simply disappear from the national psyche upon political independence. One cannot help but wonder about the emotional catharsis that eighteen-year old Martynas Meškauskas must have experienced when he wrote the first words to God’s Pantheon for his new band Anubi in 1992, before Russian forces had completely withdrawn from Lithuania.
Music has always been a strong cultural component of Lithuania, as can be seen with Sąjūdis being started and led by a musician. A form of vocal folk music called liaudies daina has had particular influence on Lithuanian non-classical music in the incorporation of wedding, work, and war-historical songs. The two-/three-voiced polyphonic sutartinės (heard in the below video) and the lamenting raudos are particularly evident in the music of Anubi, who utilized the former in “Folklorinė Daina Apie Mirtį” on Kai pilnaties akis užmerks mirtis (1997). Valefar provides a black metal interpretation of the lamenting song on Frigus ex Tenebris Venit with “In Memoriam Dead”, which was dedicated to Per Yngve Ohlin of Mayhem. Liaudies daina concerning the harvest, festivals, and hunting are also a common theme in black metal, as heard from Ha Lela and Zpoan Vtenz.
The late adoption of Christianity by Lithuanians has made paganism a strong cultural foundation for its population even to this day. As with Scandinavian paganism, some Lithuanians see paganism as a way by which to return to one’s cultural roots, even if they may not outwardly practice pagan rituals or express pagan beliefs in a country where Christianity is still a prominent cultural force. For example, one of the first black metal bands in Lithuania was called Poccolus, which refers to the Lithuanian mythological deity of death and darkness named Pikolas (per Lithuanian ethnographer Norbertas Vėlius). Given second-wave black metal’s historical antagonism toward Christianity and adoption of pagan themes (in addition to Scandinavia’s geographical proximity to the Baltics), it is easy to see how and why Lithuanian black metal became a prominent form of extreme music in the country following independence.
Indeed, Lithuanian pagan black metal vastly outnumbers other styles of black metal. Death/black and black/thrash hybrids are very rare in the Baltic black metal scene, with the only two notable bands being Dissimulation and Luctus – and the latter was founded in Italy. Pagan black metal in Lithuania often incorporates clean singing in addition to the melodic structures of liaudies daina. Although traditional folk instruments are lacking in modern releases, bands in the nineties and early noughties (especially Ha Lela) often utilized horns and acoustic guitars that manifest in a volkisch vibe – and may the Lithuanians out there pardon my German.
Most Lithuanian pagan black metal groups operate under Michael Strmiska’s “eclectic paganism”, in which paganism and historical mythologies are seen as a source of general inspiration and interest, often selecting specific ideas for exploration rather than practice. Ha Lela, Anubi, Valefar, Nahash, and others looked to Lithuanian pagan ideals as artistic elements, with Anubi in particular merging Lithuanian cultural practices concerning death (e.g. the aforementioned lamenting daina) with Egyptian mythology.
Rarely (if ever) does Lithuanian paganism as expressed through black metal cross into “reconstructionist paganism”, in which rituals and traditions are actually recovered and practiced. An informant for Agnė Petrusevičiūtė’s thesis on Lithuanian “pagan metal culture” stated that the expression of pagan themes within extreme metal is a “form of cultural resistance” against extant dominant cultures. Another informant said since “Christianity is not native here [but] brought by sword and fire”, pagan themes in extreme metal express “love for motherhood, their ancestors, and their traditions”. Petrusevičiūtė hypothesizes that Lithuanian pagan black metal’s intensely nature-centric themes are also a way to express “opposite with modern culture […] nature to them is something primal” despite “not [being] tied to any specific mythology as are reconstructionist pagans”.
A type of liaudies daina known as the “war-historical song” (heard in the below video) is another prominent theme among Lithuanian black metal bands. The war-historical song is a Lithuanian oral tradition that commemorates or laments historical conflicts through music. It is one of the most consistent aspects of Lithuania’s musical tradition, with historical liaudies daina including contemporary songs describing conflicts with the Teutonic Order to liaudies daina composed following the German occupation during World War II, Soviet occupation notwithstanding. This tradition shows itself in a number of Lithuanian bands including Obtest and Angis, whose music often describes thoroughly-researched historical conflicts with a perspective that evokes the glory of war and heroism on the side of the Lithuanian pagans against Christians with questionably-Christian motives. This is especially true in songs like “997” by Obtest, which describes pagan Lithuanian’s struggle against Central European invaders. “Ledo mūšis” by Angis describes the battle of Karusė, which took place in 1270 between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Livonian Order on the frozen Baltic Sea.
As with other European countries, there are a variety of Lithuanian metal festivals that also incorporate other bands in the Baltic area. Kilkim Žaibu is exclusively dedicated to “pagan metal” and black metal within the Baltics, and it has occurred for almost two uninterrupted decades. Mėnuo Juodaragishere.
Lithuanian Black Metal Bands, Labels, and Albums (1993-2002)
This fourth and final section lists influential and important Lithuanian black metal bands, albums, and labels from 1993-2002. If you immediately scrolled down to here and skipped the rest of the primer, then I implore you to at least read the section “Black Metal and Lithuanian culture”, as a solid understanding of Lithuanian black metal music and themes cannot be attained without that context.
Many of these albums may be difficult to find on physical or digital format since they were either produced in limited runs by local labels or were self-released. However, several labels (such as Ledo Takas) have begun to make some of their early releases available for download through Bandcamp, and YouTube channels such as Lithuanian Metal and LithuanianMetalTapes have posted digitized editions of early tapes. The Forgotten Paths zine is an excellent source on the historical and contemporary Baltic black metal scenes. Otherwise, get ready to do some Internet crate-digging.
The 1993-2002 Lithuanian scene may be interpreted as having two distinct groups. The first centers around the city of Kaunas and features eclectic, even progressive black metal tendencies that incorporated various aspects of Lithuanian mythology and beyond. The second group was primarily based in Vilnius and Utena, and they introduced a variety of traditional Lithuanian folk elements with lyrics that primarily focused on Lithuania’s military history, especially concerning clashes with Christianity.
The Kaunas Four
Those who have no experience with the Lithuanian or Baltic black metal scenes should begin here. These four – Anubi, Poccolus, Nahash, and Valefar – were primarily centered in the Lithuanian culture center of Kaunas. They closely collaborated with each other, and it was not uncommon for bands to share members (as is the case with Valefar’s relationship to Anubi and Nahash). They were most active from 1994-1998, and they incorporated folk influences in the sense of traditional Baltic imagery mythological lyrics rather than instrumentation or composition – see the Vilnius/Utena scene for that.
- Anubi: Probably the best example of this group and of Baltic black metal as a whole, Anubi was founded in 1992 by Martynas Meškauskas (a.k.a. Lord Ominous). Anubi subverted the Lithuanian black metal tropes before they were even established by incorporating Egyptian mythology with Lithuanian folk and language. The band combined folk melodies with black metal instrumentation in a highly eclectic take on songwriting that became less overtly “black” as their career progressed. Their first demo God’s Pantheon (1993) mixed ambient music and raw Norwegian black metal for a strange, experimental milieu. The band expounded upon the dark ambient influence with the haunting melodies and hypnotic repetition found on Mirties Metafora (1995), which anticipated the direction Lord Ominous was to take on the masterful Kai pilnaties akis užmerks mirtis (1997) – from which this primer takes its name. Kai pilnaties… featured straight black metal rippers, dark ambient music, and even jazz. Lord Ominous’s vocals swapped between an operatic basso profundo and black metal shrieks. Sadly, the band dissolved in 2002 following Lord Ominous’s drowning at the age of 28 in a salmon fishing accident on Lake Michigan, which effectively ended the first period of Lithuanian black metal history. Those who are interested should listen to Kai pilnaties… first, followed by Mirties Metafora.
- Poccolus: Starting in Kaunas but spending most of their existence in Utena (one of the oldest cities in Lithuania), Poccolus was founded following the split of the extremely short-lived black/thrash band Nemesis (which also birthed Nahash). In contrast to the eclecticism of Anubi, Poccolus featured more traditional black metal elements with a large synthesizer presence comparable to early Emperor. Poccolus’s vocal style incorporated a very peculiar style of shrieking that recalls Varg Vikernes on the first Burzum album. Like Anubi, they released only one full-length – the self-titled Poccolus (1996) – before breaking up in 1997. Their demos (1993-1994) were exceptionally lo-fi even for black metal standards; those demos featured a much stronger folk presence than would appear in the full-length. Poccolus briefly reunited in 2009 for the release of the compilation album Ragana, which featured select demo and live tracks from their original nineties run. Frontman Ramūnas Peršonis has since focused on the ambient project Sovijus. Start with the full-length Poccolus; the demos are better viewed as interesting black metal history than they are engaging black metal releases.
- Nahash: This band’s namesake comes from a traditional Christian name for the snake who tempts Eve to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in the Book of Genesis. Nahash frequently played shows with Anubi. Nahash’s music featured a high-pitched rattle akin to that used by Poccolus with crunchy guitars with a wall-of-sound production style. As with their sister bands, Nahash only released one full-length release titled Wellone Aeternitas (1996), which incorporated semi-progressive elements and some haunting dark ambient. Lyrics focused on ideas of darkness and desolation rather than paganism/mythology like Poccolus and Anubi. Nahash went on an extended hiatus after releasing the Daath demo in 2003, which they re-recorded and released under the same name for Drakkar Productions in 2016. Start with Wellone Aeternitas and the darker Nocticula Hecate demo.
- Valefar: Valefar was comprised of Lord Ominous from Anubi and three members of Nahash, making it a sort of Lithuanian black metal supergroup. Their entire discography consists of the demo Frigus ex Tenebris Venit (1995) and a split with darkwave band Anapilis (2002). Frigus ex Tenebris Venit is an excellent example of now “low-fidelity” does not mean “low quality”, and how low-fidelity may stimulate the imagination. The demo extensively utilizes static and tape hiss to evoke a dungeon-esque atmosphere. There are several dirge-like electronic instrumentals that bear some similarities to dungeon synth music. As with Anubi, Valefar broke up following the death of Lord Ominous. Frigus ex Tenebris Venit is highly recommended, especially for fans of Anubi.
Utena/Vilnius and Volkisch Metal
The second group of early Lithuanian black metal groups were primarily centered in Vilnius and Utena. In contrast to the raw and eclectic black metal styles of the Kauna bands (plus Poccolus), these bands were far more influenced by traditional Lithuanian folk instruments and lyrical themes, with prominent usage of themes found in war-historical daina.
- Obtest: Without a doubt the most commercially successful Lithuanian black metal band and the earliest alongside Anubi, Obtest was founded in 1992 in Vilnius and has continued to release music uninterrupted as of February 2018 – the only band of the 1993-2002 period to claim this honor. Obtest’s lyrical themes exclusively focus on Lithuanian paganism with the EP 997 (1998) being entirely dedicated to military conflicts with European Christendom. Their early releases were primarily melodic black metal with some folk elements; since Iš kartos į kartą (2005), they have incorporated power metal. The demo Prieš audrą (1995) and full-lengths Tūkstantmetis (1997) and Auka seniems dievams (2001) are strongly representative of the greater Baltic pagan black metal style.
- Ha Lela: Founded in 1993 in Utena, Ha Lela is the first of the Lithuanian black metal acts to utilize Lithuanian folk music as their compositional foundation. The band released two demos in 1994 and 1996 (Rauda and Pabudimas), and also participated in a notable 1997 live performance in Riga, Latvia alongside Poccolus and Latvian group Skyforger. Ha Lela featured cleanly-sung backing vocals and traditional Lithuanian musical instruments such as the pipe, the lumzdelis, the kanklės, and the dambrelis. Along with their friends in Zpoan Vtenza, Ha Lela’s songs were often “epic” in structure, seeking to evoke the glory of pre-modern Lithuania. As with so many of these bands, He Lela released only one full-length – Pabudimas (1998) – before splitting up.
- Zpoan Vtenz: Zpoan Vtenz comprised of three ex-members of Ha Lela. I have been unable to identify the circumstances of the relationship between the two bands, but it appears that the bands were on good terms throughout their run. Zpoan Vtenz was headed by Ramunas “Munis” Personis, who was also members of Nemesis, Poccolus, and Nahash. As with Ha Lela, Zpoan Vtenz strongly utilized traditional Lithuanian folk elements with long, war-historical song structures that strongly identified with Lithuania’s pagan and pre-Commonwealth history. Recommended listening is their only full-length, Gimę nugalėt (1997).
- Ugnėlakis: Ugnėlakis is from Vilnius and only released one demo in their short existence from 1997-1999(?). “Ugnėlakis” means “fire-licker”, and the group’s promotional artwork features them gathered around a hearth. Their self-titled release (1999) is lo-fi pagan black metal like one would find in second-wave Norwegian black metal but with a focus on melody and traditional Lithuanian imagery.
- Angis: Although located in Kaunas, Angis better fits the Vilnius/Utena scene. It includes members of Poccolus, Anapilis, Luctus, and Xess. Angis began as a death/doom band, but its two demos Prieš aušrą (1998) and Praeities ženklai (2001) are firmly within war-historical pagan black metal alongside Obtest.
These bands have limited notability, did not fit into the geographical or thematic scenes, or are otherwise distinct from the Lithuanian black metal sound.
- Dissimulation: Founded in 1993, Dissimulation was one of the earliest melodic black metal acts within the Baltic region. Their nineties output includes a rehearsal tape from 1995 and the demo Juodo mėnulio pasveikinta (1997), which resulted in invitations to several local festivals and eventually signing with Ledo Takas Records. Dissimulation then switched their style to a rather mediocre form of black/thrash for their subsequent full-lengths, and as such they are not recommended for those interested in a particularly Lithuanian style of extreme music. However, the Juodo mėnulio pasveikinta demo is certainly recommended, and it is available on the Juodo mėnulio archyvai compilation released by Ledo Takas in 2016 – albeit with scrambled track listing and somewhat unnecessary post-production.
- Meressin: This group hails from Telšiai, a relatively small town in northwest Lithuania close to the Baltic Sea and the Latvian border. Meressin plays a mix of heavy and black metal. The band was primarily active between 1993 and 2001, after which Meressin experienced a decade of inactivity before releasing a demo in 2011 and a new full-length in 2014. Meressin is notable alongside Nahash for being one of the very few early Lithuanian bands to use the English language in their lyrics instead of Lithuanian. Recommended release is their exceptional first demo Satan, Oro Te, Reo Porta Patere (1995).
- Šiaurys: Coming toward the end of the initial period of Lithuanian black metal, Šiaurys was founded in 1998 in the small central town of Kaišiadorys. They released three demos from 1998 to 2001, all of which have stylistic (and perhaps coincidental) similarities to the raw Estonian black metal scene. Start with Pilnaties naktimis miške (1999).
- Akys: Akys (“eyes” in Lithuanian) was an experimental metal project that was briefly active in the mid-90s. Akys was featured on numerous influential Baltic black metal compilations, including the first and third editions of the famous Dark Fire Dancing. One member of the group was Liukas, who was a founding members of Anubi (credited as Thoth). The discography of Akys is limited even within the Lithuanian extreme metal scene, mostly being single tracks featured on compilations. However, the six-track demo Sugelti Juodakmiai (1994) is worth pursuing.
There are several compilations of Lithuanian black metal from the 1993-2002 period that present fascinating snapshots of the scene. The most important one is Dark Fire Dancing, which was a series of four compilations released by Dangus Productions from 1994 to 2001. The first compilation (1994) was a cassette-only release of ten tracks from Akys, Poccolus, Nahash, Anubi, and Wejdas – the last of which was an early neofolk/dungeon synth project. The other three compilations were released in 1996, 1998, and 2001. Of these, the third – Dark Fire Dancing III – is the both the easiest to find and the most comprehensive, consisting of twenty-five tracks from twenty-five different artists in the greater Baltic music scene. The first side is called “Sword Part” and consists of black metal; the second, “Amulet Part” and neofolk/dark ambient.
Latvian label Beverina Productions released a series of compilations called Unto a Long Glory in 1996, 1997, and 1998. These compilations featured fewer artists than the Dark Fire Dancing compilations and incorporated artists from all over Eastern Europe (including Nokturnal Mortum and Thy Repentance) rather than just the Baltics.
There are two primary labels in the 1993-2002 Lithuanian black metal scene.
Dangus was the first extreme music label in Lithuania with the release of Altorių Šešėly from punk rock group Varnų Vėjas in 1993. The label had the greatest influence on the evolution of Lithuanian black metal, having released two Anubi demos (Mastabos Dvelkamas (1994) and Mirties Metafora (1995)); Meressin’s Satan, Oro Te, Reo Portas Patere (1995); the Dark Fire Dancing series; the Poccolus self-titled album (1996); and other releases from Zpoan Vtenz, Ha Lela, Ugnėlakis, and Wejdas. The label continues to be active in extreme metal, although their reissues of early releases have been fairly inconsistent. Dangus’s current roster is primarily composed of industrial, rock, and folk artists who are based in the Baltic states.
Ledo Takas was formed in 1996 and released a variety of early demos and full-lengths from the core group of the 1993-2002 scene including Nocticula Hecate and Wellone Aeternitas by Nahash, Frigus ex Tenebris Venit by Valefar, and Auka Seniems Dievams by Obtest. Currently, the label focuses on black/death metal by way of Conscious Rot, Soul Stealer, and Dissimulation in addition to the pagan metal of Obtest. As with Dangus, Ledo Takas has haphazardly reissued their early releases, with very few available on their Bandcamp page.
Owing to its geographical placement between two of Europe’s most historically powerful empires, Lithuania has a vibrant cultural history grounded in ideas of self-actualization, naturalism, and war-historical themes. The early Lithuanian black metal scene is typified by its utilization of the Lithuanian language as opposed to Russian or German, and it significantly features Lithuanian traditional elements such as daina, folk instruments, and Baltic mythology. Although the modern scene has lost some of that particularly Lithuanian edge, it remains a strong cultural component of Baltic extreme music and is demonstrative of the Lithuanian people’s drive for re-discovering what it means to be Lithuanian in a period of unprecedented political and cultural autonomy.
BONUS: Contemporary Lithuanian Black Metal (2003-2017)
The contemporary Lithuanian black metal scene is marked by a much more cosmopolitan take on black metal due to influences from Scandinavia and increased access to other scenes per the Internet. The contemporary scene is therefore less centered around specific areas, and many acts are either one-man black metal groups or exclusively release their music on forms such as Bandcamp as pay-what-you-want digital downloads.
The modern Lithuanian scene is all over the place. Generally speaking, most bands are characterized by raw black metal inspired by the second-wave Norwegian style of fast tremolo-picked guitars and icy, tenor-heavy production. There are also significant influences from the Polish black metal scene. Finally, atmospheric black metal and war metal make appearances, with a glut of the former being expressed through “bedroom black metal” acts. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of thematic or geographical cohesiveness that strongly influenced the first decade of Lithuanian black metal. Fewer bands are utilizing Lithuanian lyrics, with most artists opting for English (Obtest being a notable exception).
Listed below are several notable acts that are best representative of the direction to which Lithuanian black metal was and might be headed over the past fifteen years.
- Sisyphean: One of the newest bands in the Baltic black metal scene, Sisyphean was founded in Vilnius in 2012 as Division before changing their name in 2014. Their debut full-length Illusions of Eternity (2017) was released by Drakkar Productions, which was the biggest signing of a new Lithuanian band in almost a decade. The full-length is primarily influenced by the dissonant singular riffs of Mgła circa-With Hearts Toward None, although with prominent mid-tempo moments.
- Juodvarnis: Although no modern band has taken up the mantel of traditional Lithuanian folk elements in extreme music to the extent of Ha Lela or Zpoan Vtenz, Juodvarnis might be the closest. Currently based in Vilnius, this young group has released two albums that mix melodic black metal with cleanly-sung folk metal. Listen to Mirusio Žmogaus Kelionė (2016).
- Fuck Off and Die!: Believe it or not, Lithuania has a minor war metal presence by way of this Kaunas-born, Vilnius-living group (that also briefly spent time in Italy). Sociopathic Regression (2012) is recommended for fans of black/death with bassy production.
- Blackthru: Having since changed their name to Triangle of Art (and questionably active), Blackthru released Iš tamsos… on Candarian Demon productions in 2007. It’s seven tracks of buzzsaw atmospheric black metal in just under a half hour.
- Sanctophoby: One-man project Sanctophoby was without a doubt the most misanthropic of the modern Lithuanian black metal scene. Over a decade-long career, Andrius released eight splits or demos and two compilation albums with title such as Demonic Blessings (2008), Rape the Mother of God (2010), and Satanic Ceremonies of Imperfection (2011). Tracks primarily featured harsh, buzzsaw black metal with strong bass that embodied hatred toward modern man, often invoking the philosophical freedom represented by Satan. Start with Satanic Ceremonies of Imperfection (2011).
- Inquisitor: This band is an outlier even among outliers. Inquisitor was founded in Vilnius in 2002, but has almost nothing to do with the folk/black metal hybrid scene that the city incubated. Instead, Inquisitor plays an avant-garde style of black metal that uses start-stop rhythms, technical guitarwork, death metal-influenced screams, acoustic piano, and electronic production effects. Lyrics include philosophy and metaphysics rather than mythology or war-historical themes. Recommended for fans of progressive metal – try out The Quantum Theory of Id (2010) and Clinamen | Episteme (2014).
In November 2017, six contemporary Lithuanian black metal and extreme music bands self-released the Nekrokatarsis split album. Living Altar, Haeiresis, Karkasas, Sisyphean, Pogrom, and Luctus contributed one track each to the compilation. If there exists a picture of the scatter-shot modern Lithuanian black metal scene, then Nekrokatarsis is probably the best possible one.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted to the Metal subreddit as a primer. It has been reformatted for SUNNbleach