The History Of Scandinavian Death Metal Part Two
The Gothenburg death metal scene was started by the band Grotesque. Grotesque was formed in 1988 and only came to release one EP, Incantation, in 1990, and some demos earlier. These early recordings were re-released on the compilation In The Embrace Of Evil in 1996, which also contains two new songs. Grotesque's music is often labeled as a mix of death and black metal. After they split up in 1990, the vocalist Tomas "Tompa" Lindberg and guitarist Alf Svensson would come to form the band At The Gates, and the other guitarist Kristian Wåhlin would form Liers In Wait.
Liers In Wait is another of the more overlooked Swedish death metal bands. They only came to release one EP, Spiritually Uncontrolled Art, released in 1992. This is a highly recommended EP. The style is more technical death metal than the melodic death metal that the city would be associated with.
At The Gates, on the other hand, would start what would we now know as melodic death metal, also often referred to as "the Gothenburg sound". Exactly what the Gothenburg sound means is quite diffuse, since all these early Gothenburg bands changed their sounds in different directions over time. I will also note that many bands that are known as melodic death metal bands have nothing to do with the Gothenburg sound. The term Gothenburg metal is often used to bands with less death metal influences than other melodic death metal bands, but sometimes bands are labeled Gothenburg metal only because they come from Gothenburg.
At The Gates released their debut EP, Garden Of Grief, in 1991. At that time they were still more of a pure death metal band. Their debut full length, The Red In The Sky Is Ours, was released in 1992, and included more melodies. What really characterized this album, in comparison to other death metal albums, was the way they used a violin, something which I didn't know was used in earlier death metal. The album is also very technically well-played, and contains influences from folk music, something the other two big Gothenburg bands also would adapt. The next year With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness was released, another highly recommended album. The only negative I could say about the first two At The Gates albums is that the production could have been much better.
On their 1994 album, Terminal Spirit Disease, they started to change their sound towards what they would fulfill on 1995's Slaughter Of The Soul. Slaughter Of The Soul includes less of a death metal element than their earlier albums, and more thrash. The album would come to have an enormous impact on the American melodic metalcore scene. After this album, At The Gates split. Some of the members would come to form The Haunted. The Haunted was more thrash than death and will not be discussed further here.
Another early Gothenburg bands that would later reach big success is Dark Tranquillity, formed in 1989. They released two EP's in 1992 and a debut album, Skydancer, in 1993. Skydancer was more death metal than their later albums would be, but also included an atmosphere, almost reminiscent of black metal. Their next album, The Gallery, released in 1995, is often considered as their best. On 1999's Projector they incorporated more keyboards, something that have since become an integral part of Dark Tranquillity's sound. Dark Tranquillity is also more technical than most other bands labeled as Gothenburg metal.
On Skydancer the vocals were handled by Anders Fridén. After this album he left the band to join Ceremonial Oath, replacing Oscar Dronjak, who instead would form the death metal band Crystal Age and the power/heavy metal band HammerFall. Ceremonial Oath was formed in 1989, and initially also consisted of Jesper Strömblad, who formed In Flames, and Anders Iwers, who would play with Tiamat. Ceremonial Oath would release two albums, both recorded in Studio Fredman and produced by Fredrik Nordström, the man who would produce most of the early classic Gothenburg metal albums. They split in 1995 when Anders Fridén left for In Flames.
In Flames was formed in 1990 and released their debut Lunar Strain in 1994. Lunar Strain is In Flames' most death metallic album, although they already then were more melodic than any other Gothenburg death metal band. Lunar Strain is also the Gothenburg album with the most significant folk influences. At the time of its release they didn't have a singer, so they borrowed Mikael Stanne, at that time guitarist and later vocalist in Dark Tranquillity, to sing on the album. With Anders Fridén on vocals they released The Jester Race in 1996, which took the band towards a more melodic direction. Out of the Gothenburg bands, In Flames was the band that made the most heavy use of twin guitar harmonies, influenced by Iron Maiden.
On the 2000 album Clayman, In Flames started to change their sound. Personally I think this is their best album. The guitars became more aggressive and the melodies were more displaced to the vocals. This is also the last album that people can accept as death metal, although many people claim that In Flames never has been death metal. With Reroute To Remain they started to experiment more with synths. Personally, I think they still were brilliant on this album. Later they turned more towards what is sometimes described as melodic metalcore.
In Flames is, along with Opeth, the most commercially successful band that comes from the Swedish death metal scene. Two of their albums have been number one on Swedish album charts, and their latest album was number one in Germany. In 2006, In Flames was prized by the Swedish government, when they were awarded the Swedish music export prize.
Other bands that come from Gothenburg that are sometimes referred to as Gothenburg metal include Dimension Zero (with two of the former members of In Flames), Nightrage, Gardenian, Taetre and Sacrilege (In Flames' drummer Daniel Svensson's former band). From Gothenburg also doom death band Runemagick comes.
On the Swedish west coast also other bands were adopting a more melodic version of death metal. The first of them was Eucharist.
Eucharist was formed in 1989 in Varberg. They would come to release one EP in 1992 and two albums. The first of their albums, A Velvet Creation, was released in 1993 and was the more death metallic of the two. The second, Mirrorworlds, released in 1997, was more melodic.
Dissection from Strömstad is sometimes also associated with the Gothenburg scene, but more often labeled as melodic black metal; a genre on which they would have an enormous impact, especially among Swedish black metal bands. After two albums in the 90's, vocalist Jon Nödtveidt was going to prison for accessory to murder. After he had been released, he re-formed Dissection and released the album Reinkaos in 2003. Reinkaos is often described as being more melodic death metal than black metal. In my opinion, it is their best album, but the black metal fans often consider this album as a disappointment. In melodic death/black also Gothenburg band Sacramentum could be mentioned.
Other bands from the west coast that have been labeled as Gothenburg metal include Arch Enemy (from Halmstad; with the Carnage guitarist Mike Amott, who is also playing in hard rockers Spiritual Beggars), Soilwork, Darkane (both latter two from Helsingborg), Ablaze My Sorrow (from Falkenberg) and Eternal Lies (from Varberg). Out of these, the first two bands have become very successful, although especially Soilwork drifted away from death metal, towards a more metalcore reminiscent sound.
Out of the bands I mentioned above, Ablaze My Sorrow is my personal favourite. They were formed in 1993, and released three albums. The first album, If Emotions Still Burn, was released in 1996, a great album in the vein of early At The Gates/Dissection. I also love their third album, Anger, Hate And Fury, from 2002, which sounds more like Dark Tranquillity before they brought in keyboards.
In the mid and late 90's, many of the bands from Stockholm that would debut would lean more towards the Gothenburg form of death metal than the Stockholm form. These bands include, among others, Excretion, A Canorous Quintet (on the border to melodic black metal) and, the most successful of them, Amon Amarth. Amon Amarth would reach unbelievable big success, even reaching top 40 on American Billboard with their latest album. Because of their Viking image they are sometimes labeled as Viking metal, although they don't sound like other Viking metal bands.
One of my favourite death metal bands ever is The Crown, or Crown Of Thorns, as they were initially named. The Crown was formed in 1990 in Trollhättan. They debuted in 1995 with The Burning, and released their second album Eternal Death in 1997. Both are usually called melodic death metal, but they didn't sound like Gothenburg metal, especially not like the later evolution of Gothenburg metal. Eternal Death is probably my favourite death metal album ever (along with In Flames' Clayman, if you still consider that one as death metal). It is more technical than the debut and is also very dark, sometimes almost to the border to black metal. What I love about this album is how they manage to create such a dark atmosphere without use of keyboards and still maintain great melodies and also be so well-played. Especially the song "The Black Heart" is a must checking out. "The Black Heart" is almost like a ballad, but played in a death metal way.
After Eternal Death the band had to shorten their name to The Crown, because there was already an American glam rock band with the name Crown Of Thorns, who claimed their right to the name. As The Crown, they changed their sound towards more death/thrash. Their 2000 album Deathrace King is often considered as their best album, although I personally don't agree with that, but it is still a great album.
Two other recommended Swedish melodic death metal bands from the 90's are Gates Of Ishtar and Godgory. Gates Of Ishtar, from Luleå, is reminiscent of early In Flames, although their second album also has some black metal influences. Some of the members of Gates Of Ishtar formed The Duskfall with the split of the former band, and some of the members have also played with other melodeath bands, The Everdawn and The Moaning. The latter of them could as well be described as melodic black metal. Godgory, from Karlstad, is almost reminiscent of a less technical Opeth, with their beautiful use of acoustic guitars and atmospheres, but also influences from early Paradise Lost albums is clearly present.
Opeth is sometimes described as melodic progressive death metal (or more often only progressive death metal), but there are discussions whether they could be accepted as death metal at all; many people consider them more of a prog metal band than a death metal band. Opeth was formed in 1990 and debuted in 1995 with Orchid. Initially they at least had some death metal influences in their sound, although they moved away from them more and more over time, and on their 2011 album Heritage, which even reached top 20 on Billboard, they even abandoned the growls. Mikael Åkerfeldt, the frontman of Opeth, also sang on two albums by Bloodbath.
Finland also had two hugely influential bands for the melodic death metal scene: Sentenced and Amorphis.
Sentenced was formed in 1989 and released their debut album, Shadows Of The Past, in 1991. At that time, they were still a quite traditional death metal band. On their second album, North From Here, released in 1993, they changed their sound towards a more melodic sound. North From Here is sometimes called the first true melodic death metal album, but exactly where to draw a line to when something deserves to be called melodic is, of course, impossible. North From Here is sometimes also referred to as black metal.
On their next release, Amok from 1995, Sentenced started to move away from their death metal roots, although this album is still often labeled as melodic death metal. It is also the last album with vocalist Taneli Jarva. On Down, Sentenced left the death metal for a sound often referred to as gothic metal, although I, and many other people, think the tag gothic metal isn't really fitting for Sentenced. On this site they are called Suomi metal. I have nothing against that tag, it is just that I have never heard that tag anywhere else. Anyway, they continued in that direction, releasing four more albums, until their split in 2005.
Amorphis was formed in 1990 and released their debut album, The Karelian Isthmus, in 1992. At that time they were still a death metal band, which made use of a dark and epic atmosphere. On their next album, Tales From The Thousand Lakes, from 1994, they turned towards a more melodic death metal sound, but it also included influences from doom metal and folk metal. Tales From The Thousand Lakes is often considered as Amorphis' most classic album, and had a huge influence on both the Finnish death metal scene and the later Finnish folk metal scene. The lyrics for Tales From The Thousand Lakes are based on the Finnish national epic Kalevala, and the music includes a big use of synths and also clean vocals.
After Tales From The Thousand Lakes, Amorphis turned away more from death metal, changing their sound towards a sound that, just like in the case of Sentenced, is difficult to describe with conventional terms. It is alternately described as melodic/heavy/progressive metal.
In Finland, there also was this thing, which on this website is called "extreme power metal", including the bands Children Of Bodom, Kalmah, Eternal Tears Of Sorrow, Norther and Wintersun. These bands are often described as melodic death metal, but except for the vocals, most of these bands have very little to nothing to do with death metal, so I will not discuss them further here.
In the 2000's, there also were some Finnish bands where the death metal element was more present. These bands, who are often referred to as melodic death metal, include Insomnium, Omnium Gatherum, Before The Dawn, and Noumena.
Sweden is still producing new melodic death metal/Gothenburg metal bands, too. The two biggest more recent bands are Scar Symmetry and In Mourning.
Denmark also have one Gothenburg-influenced band, which have gained some recognition: Mercenary. Mercenary was formed already 1991, but didn't release a debut album until in 1998. They had earlier released one EP, in 1996. Mercenary have also a significant element of thrash, especially in their early sound.
I will end this article with saying a few words of the form of death metal I have skipped so far, the more brutal one. I briefly mentioned Deranged in the first part. A more recent Swedish brutal death metal band is Aeon. Some grindcore bands, including Finnish Rotten Sound and Swedish Nasum are sometimes also associated with death metal. There is also a scene with more technical death metal bands in Sweden, including Spawn Of Possession, Anata and Visceral Bleeding. I could also mention that there are also some new bands in the 2000's playing old school death metal. The most notable of not already mentioned bands is Repugnant.
Guest article disclaimer:
This is a guest article, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.
This is a guest article, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.
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