Swedish death metal is a death metal music scene developed in Sweden. Many Swedish death metal bands are associated with the melodic death metal movement, thus giving Swedish death metal a different sound from other variations of death metal. Unlike American death metal groups, the first Swedish bands were rooted in hardcore punk. Gothenburg has a large melodic death metal scene while Stockholm is known for its more raw death metal scene.
The Swedish death metal scene's earliest originators were influenced more by punk rock, especially the D-beat and hardcore punk scene, than they were metal bands. The most influential of these bands upon the burgeoning Swedish extreme metal scene was Gothenburg's Anti Cimex. Influenced by such Swedish punk bands as Asocial, Mob 47 and Anti Cimex, emerged the country's first extreme metal band Bathory. Subsequently, becoming a primary influence for the black metal scene, Bathory were a pivotal group in Swedish extreme metal. Mefisto, Obscurity and Merciless were some of the earliest bands to follow in Bathory's footsteps, combining their sound with influences from German groups like Sodom and Destruction. Although Mefisto and Obscurity only released two demos each, and rarely performed live, Merciless became prominent in the extreme metal underground. Their live performances became notorious for bassist Fredrik Karlén's reckless behaviour, including climbing up buildings and jumping off of balconies. Furthermore, the band's 1988 demo Realm of the Dark, led to them becoming the first Swedish extreme metal band after Bathory to be signed to a record label, in this case of Euronymous's label Deathlike Silence Productions, who released Merciless's 1990 debut album The Awakening.
Stockholm's Morbid and Nihilist were two of the earliest Swedish death metals, who both began to record music at Sunlight Studio around 1987 and 1988. The distinctive "buzzsaw" guitar tone which would become emblematic of the scene was pioneered early on by Nihilist guitarist Leffe Cuzner. It was created by using detuned electric guitars (usually C# standard or lower), a maxed out Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal pedal, sometimes in combination with a single guitar through a Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal. As these groups gained attention locally, additional groups joined the scene in subsequent years including Carnage, Dismember and Treblinka. During this time, many members of the Stockholm scene began congregating in Stockholm Metro stations, where they would listen to music and party. This group called themselves Bajsligan, meaning "Army of Excrement" or "the Shit League". Outside of the city, Grave from Visby formed, who soon began associating with the members of the Stockholm scene. By 1989, this first wave of bands was beginning to conclude: newer groups like Carbonized and Afflicted Convulsion began to gain prominence in the scene and the members of Nihilist, Morbid and Carnage would soon fragment, founding Entombed and Unleashed, and reforming Dismember.
Entombed released their debut album Left Hand Path in 1990, which not only marked them as the most prominent act in Swedish death metal, but also influenced a countless bands both locals and internationally. The same year also saw the release of Carnage's Dark Recollections and Tiamat's Sumerian Cry two other albums which signified beginning of Swedish death metal's second wave. The four groups who eventually solidified themselves as the most prominent bands of this era were Entombed, Grave, Dismember and Unleashed.
The first death metal band to form in Gothenburg was Grotesque, who formed in 1988 and were influenced by both early death metal and black metal. After the 1990 disbandment of Grotesque, the band's vocalist Tomas Lindberg and guitarist Alf Svensson formed At the Gates alongside brothers Jonas and Anders Björler. At the Gates' melancholic and melodic take on death metal proved immediately influential upon fellow Gothenburg bands, with Eucharist and Ceremonial Oath quickly adopting a similar style. Dissection and In Flames were also an early purveyors of this sound, additionally incorporating elements of black metal and folk music respectively. By 1993, Dark Tranquillity too began to incorporate more melodic elements influenced by At the Gates. Following the 1996 disbandment of At the Gates, critics dubbed this style the "Gothenburg sound", and At the Gates, Dark Tranquility and In Flames as the "Gothenburg big three", credited as pioneers of melodic death metal.
Cemetary formed in Borås in 1989. The band's 1992 debut album An Evil Shade of Grey incorporating keyboards and elements of gothic metal and doom metal into its death metal foundation. The influence of Cematary led the other groups to form in the city pursuing a similar take on the genre, notably Lake of Tears and Beseech.
Other groups to have emerged from the Swedish death metal scene include Scar Symmetry, Hypocrisy, Tiamat, Arch Enemy, Soilwork, Meshuggah, Amon Amarth, Edge of Sanity, Opeth, Desultory, Cemetary, Avatar and The Haunted.
Newer bands playing in the "old school" Swedish style include Bloodbath and Repugnant. According to Stewart Mason of AllMusic, the "increasingly melodic" style of Swedish death metal combines the post-hardcore aggression and guttural vocals of black metal with melodic and technically proficient guitar lines.
The death metal scene in Sweden has influenced many bands and genres outside Sweden. Stewart Mason has noted this popularity in the United States, using the term "Swedecore" to describe Scandinavian-style metal as played by non-Nordic bands. The Stockholm sound has been known to be very influenced by the first Entombed album and bands such as Autopsy, Death and Repulsion. The Stockholm sound has less reception but is strictly followed by bands like Trap Them and Rotten Sound. Melodic death metal, on the other hand, has had a notable influence on the melodic metalcore sound of the 2000s.
As in the case of Napalm Death, extreme metal often evolved from extreme punk rather than heavy metal. This is particularly true for the early Swedish death metal scene, which didn't really develop from any tradition of Swedish metal at all... Nobody remotely sensible can deny that the punk movement is where music originally started to get really fast and aggressive. Bands like Discharge and Black Flag were the most violent acts in the world in the late 70's and early 80's. When metal music started to get more brutal, it took aggression and speed from punk-from Motörhead via Venom and Slayer to Morbid Angel. Of course, the same development was happening in Sweden.
Perhaps the most important new brutal hardcore band was Anti Cimex from Gothenburg, formed in 1981.
Near the end of 1983, a young punk shaped the extreme ideas of crust into metallic form. He was Tomas Forsberg, better known as Quorthon of the band Bathory... The most extreme music Sweden produced-crust punk bands like Asocial, Anti Cimex, and Mob 47-were completely unknown to most people, even to fans of extreme music. Out of this environment of nothingness, the mighty Bathory emerged.
Up to this point, no Swedish band had really followed in Bathory's footsteps. The pioneers Obscurity and Mefisto faded after just a couple of demos. The first to break the ice were the soon-to-be classic Merciless, from the small and idyllic town of Strängnäs, sixty-five miles west of Stockholm.
Merciless was formed in 1986 by the very young metalheads Fredrik Karlén on bass, Stefan "Stipen" Karlsson on drums, and Erik Wallin on guitar. Fredrik had previously been in a punk band, while Stipen and Erik used to play heavy metal... Unlike Obscurity and Mefisto, Merciless also started to play live gigs very early in their career-probably one of the primary reasons why Merciless eventually succeeded where Obscurity and Mefisto had failed.
Realm of the Dark also caused quite a stir in the local metal underground. Everybody had the demo, and everybody loved it. I remember it being played endlessly at parties. The demo attracted the notorious Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth, who soon signed them to his Deathlike Silence Productions label... So Merciless was the first really extreme Swedish metal band to get a recording deal after Bathory. They started to play numerous live gigs during this time, and were soon recognized as the leading Swedish underground metal force. They became probably as well known for their outrageous metal lifestyle as for their music. Fredrik Karlén, especially, had a wide reputation of being the madman of Swedish metal. His regular behavior included jumping between balconies, and climbing up on roofs during parties.
I worked with some speed metal and stuff like that, but I think the death metal started for real in '87 and '88," recalls Skogsberg who founded the studio as a means to record his own punk rock bands in the mid-'80s. "The first band I did was Morbid, who were another Swedish band, but then it was Nihilist.
"It was our guitarist, Leffe, who actually came up with that sound from the Boss Heavy Metal pedal," offers Andersson. "You have the midrange on full. I think you have everything on full. He bought the pedal and just cranked it. He's the one to blame".
Nihilist had inspired numerous Swedish youth to form new high-velocity, brutally heavy metal acts throughout the country. The earliest of these was fellow Stockholm band Carnage, which was founded by guitarist Michael Amott in early 1988.
One of the most important bands of the earliest phase of the scene was Dismember, formed in April 1988 by Fred Estby on drums, David Blomqvist on guitar, and Robert Sennebäck on vocals. Fred was actually a guitarist, but when he couldn't find a drummer he got an old drum kit from his friend Nicke Andersson and taught himself to play drums.
Nicke initially had a great impact on Dismember-he also came up with the band name and designed their logo. His original idea was to call the band Dismemberizer, but he ran out of space while drawing the logo and so cut the name to Dismember.
The scene seemed like an alternate universe to another another extreme metal act in the small suburb called Taby, just north of Stockholm. In early 1988, frontman Johan Edlund got the group off to a regrettable start, initially naming the band Treblinka after the Nazi concentration camp in Poland where approximately 870,000 Jews were murdered during World War II.
At the time, the scene was very limited, and consisted of a few people who hung out together regularly. They formed a kind of underground society, called Bajsligan— "The Shit League," or "Army of Excrement." Under this moniker, they partied endlessly and raised some good hell. Since all were teens, they usually had to hang around town while partying. None had their own apartment or could get into the pubs. In particular, subway stations became the scene of countless drinking and headbanging excesses in front of startled travelers.
In the beginning we hardly knew about anything beyond the underground scene in Gotland," says Sandström. "But later on we discovered a record store in Stockholm called Heavy Sounds, and they sold demo tapes. If you were in a band you could leave your tapes with them and they sold them for you. So we decided to make five copies of the Corpse demo, and ten of the first Grave demo and handed them over. So I think Nicke and Uffe from Nihilist bought a copy each. Then we ran into them at a gig somewhere and we bought their demos, and then they introduced us to the underground scene by sending us shitloads of tapes with bands we never had heard of.
[Anders Schultz:] When I myself joined in somewhere in 1988/1989, the tag Bajsligan had already started to be used. By this point, the guys from Nihilist and Dismember were hardly the inner core anymore. Instead it was people from Carbonized, Crematory, and Afflicted Convulsion who raised the most hell.
Entombed became the undisputed leaders of Swedish death metal. Loads of bands started to imitate them, while others turned against their style to distinguish themselves, probably due largely to envy. What Altars of Madness had been for international death metal, Left Hand Path was for Sweden. "When Entombed got a recording deal, and their debut went so well, it ignited the whole Swedish scene. But it also created some envy. Personally I was a bit envious, even though I would never have admitted it back then." [says Christofer Johnsson]
In addition to Grave, there was one band outside of Stockholm that actually produced true death metal in 1988—the amazing Grotesque from Gothenburg. The origin of Grotesque can be found in Conquest, formed by guitarist Kristian Wåhlin in 1986.
"[Kristian Wåhlin:] I guess we all got more into extreme music, and personally I was very much into Possessed and Bathory at this time. But it was Tomas who got us into the underground death metal scene and tape trading. After that, everything got extremely brutal, and we started to get serious with inverted crosses and corpse paint. People here thought we were insane. You have to remember that around 1988 the black metal thing was considered very dated and techno-thrash reigned supreme"... As you might expect, Grotesque sounded very different to the other bands in the area.
Towards the end of Grotesque's career, Lindberg also played in the band Infestation with the twins Anders and Jonas Björler. Yet Infestation's 1990 demo When Sanity Ends never really got any attention. When Grotesque folded, Lindberg and the Björler brothers teamed up with Grotesque's guitarist Alf Svensson to form At the Gates. The melodic and melancholic death metal of At the Gates would inspire the whole Gothenburg region. With this new band, Gothenburg metal musicians had started a distinguished style of their own. Many would follow in the footsteps of At the Gates.
Another Gothenburg band that started already back in 1989 was Eucharist, who promptly employing the ideas of At the Gates and released their own acclaimed debut demo tape in 1992... Another band in the new melodic style was the heavy metal band Desecrator, renamed Ceremonial Oath as they started to get into brutal stuff.
Dissection and At the Gates showed the world how to combine strong melodies with musical brutality. As Dissection discovered their own field of blackish death metal, At the Gates did more to pave the way for other melodic Gothenburg bands. "Up until 1994 we had a pretty unique style, but then Dissection and In Flames started to get more melodic. In Flames went for the 'happy' folk music thing, while Dissection peeked at traditional heavy metal like Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden. It was some kind of symbiosis where we listened to our friends' bands. It was a creative environment with a quiet competition, where you wanted to outdo everyone else." [says Anders Björler]
Dark Tranquillity started as a pure death metal band in 1989, but by 1993 they had been influenced by At the Gates to start playing melodic death metal. Although some of their riffs feel uninspired, they gained a lot of success with Skydancer in 1993 and The Mind's I in 1997. Eventually the band drifted away from the Gothenburg sound to explore electronic and ambient music.
[Anders Björler:]There was never any hype until At the Gates had already split up. Bands like In Flames and Dark Tranquillity continued on in our style, and created a second wave with the likes of Gardenian and Soilwork. I guess the term "Gothenburg sound" wasn't really established until the late 90's, when the sound started to spread.
In tiny Borås, forty miles east of Gothenburg, a doom/goth scene started to reign. In 1989 a guy named Mathias Lodmalm was pretty alone with his ideas about death metal. He created the band Cemetary, which gradually gained attention with the 1992 album An Evil Shade of Grey on Black Mark. Though in essence death metal, the album also contained keyboards, melodies, and some very slow parts. Over the years, Cemetary became increasingly mellow, inspiring other kids in Borås to start similar bands.
The first bands Cemetary influenced were Forsaken Grief, Morbid Death, and Carnal Eruption, all formed in 1990. These bands soon split, however, and spawned the softer and far more successful Lake of Tears in 1992. After one demo tape, Lake of Tears signed to Black Mark and released a bunch of albums throughout the 90's. At this time of writing, they remain the second-best-selling band on Black Mark-next to Bathory, naturally. Nineteen ninety-two also saw the birth of goth/metal band Beseech, who would later make a slew of albums.