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Has black metal guitar just been evil surf rock all this time?

When you imagine riding the crest of a wave off the coast of California, it’s the twangy, spring reverb-drenched electric guitar of Dick Dale, the Beach Boys and the Ventures that provides the mental soundtrack right? Not the cacophonous arrangements of Emperor, Mayhem and Darkthrone. 

Well, you might want to reconsider, because as it turns out, surf rock and black metal are not as far removed from each other as you might think.

Yes, on the surface, both genres sound worlds apart, but as YouTuber Kevin Balke demonstrates in his latest video – aptly titled Black Metal Without Distortion Is Just Surf Rock – all that separates the two, at least in terms of guitar, is a little bit of gain.

Armed with a Fender Telecaster running through a clean guitar amp, Balke plays a selection of six classic black metal riffs, including Emperor’s I Am The Black Wizards, Mayhem’s Freezing Moon, and Satyricon’s Mother North, and honestly, without distortion they wouldn’t be out of place on a Ventures compilation album.

Of course, the guitarist transforms the drums for each riff, because there’s no two ways about it: blast beats just don’t work with surf rock. But the riffs are played how they appear on their respective records.

Balke has given each song a surf-appropriate name, so we've taken the liberty of providing the originals below – with timestamps – for those not as versed in black metal.

  1. Emperor – I Am the Black Wizards – 0:02
  2. Burzum – Jeg Faller – 0:57
  3. Mayhem – Freezing Moon – 1:34
  4. Dissection – Night's Blood – 1:48
  5. Darkthrone – Transilvanian Hunger – 2:40
  6. Satyricon – Mother North – 3:03

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Sam is a Staff Writer at Guitar World, also creating content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar (opens in new tab).