overground scene

The 10 best albums of swedish death metal revisited

Five and a half years ago I published a post in which I presented my 10 all-time favorite Swedish death metal albums. This post turned out to be the most popular one I have written so far. There have only been a few days since it was published that it did not bring in traffic. About three people read this post on an average day and it has been read 6,005 times in total.

Swedish death metal is gonna get you, no matter how far

Swedish death metal is gonna get you, no matter how far

However, given that writings are just snapshots in time, many times I feel weird when people read today things that I wrote a long time ago. That is why I decided to revisit this list and see whether I still agree with my choices five and a half years later. I decided that I agree with at least seven of my ten choices. Back in 2008, when the post was published, I had already been listening every single record on that list for more than a decade. This meant that I had a long time to reflect and settle on my tastes. Since 2008, however, several things happened which made me re-evaluate some of my choices. First of all, I discovered some Swedish death metal albums that I did not know back then. Secondly, I simply got over some records that I held in high regard in the past and appreciated more some others. Finally, even the first time around I was faced with several dilemmas regarding which records I should include in the list over others. Of course, I also discovered that certain things don’t change with time.

Seven records from the original list retain their status as all time favorite Swedish death metal albums of all time:

1. Dismember –  Indecent and Obscene (1993)

Dismember-i_oDismember’s second full length album maintains is position as my all time favorite Swedish death metal album. For almost two decades now I have not changed my mind once about the absolute perfection of this album. There is literally not one single moment in this album that is not brilliant. Every song in this album contains riffs that other bands have not managed to match in their entire careers. As much as it is true that Skogsberg was responsible for homogenising the Swedish death sound, this album sounds different from others. By Skogsberg’s standards Indecent and obscene sounds bad, but this is the beauty of it. The bass-drum on this album is the most satisfying I ever heard in my life. In any case, the band is on fire. This is a time when there was no shortage of ideas. The built-up of songs like “Case#obscene”, “Reborn in blasphemy”, “Dreaming in red” is mind-blowing and the way all of the songs develop is orgasmic. Every time you think that a song cannot get any better something extra-ordinary happens which leaves you speechless, be it a new riff, an amazing tempo change or a vocal pattern. I am so happy this album exists…

2. EntombedClandestine (1991)

1309_entombed_clandestineAs with Indecent and obscene, Clandestine never fails to amaze me every time I listen to it, although I know by heart each single moment. The last few years, Entombed themselves seem to have re-evaluated this masterpiece (it has been documented in Ekeroth’s book that neither Nicke nor Uffe particularly liked it back in the day). I personally could not understand how anybody cannot find this album brilliant. I would love to know what was going on in the minds of Nicke and the rest of the band when they were putting these songs together; to be able to experience their unrestrained inspiration running rampant.

3. At The GatesWith fear I kiss the burning darkness (1993)

147Their first album is a masterpiece of death metal with which they set the standard for the extreme musical interpretation of painful emotions such as fear of mortality and suffering. And they set the bar really high. Almost everything that happened in extreme metal since then pales in comparison, with the exception of this, their second album. This album is surreal. Each song in this album contains more ideas than entire albums by most bands. At the gates at this point look down upon the popular music canon that wants musicians to compose songs around standardised and easily identifiable structures. Instead, they write melodies which are dynamic and develop and constitute part of a coherent whole (rather than a series of individual melodies glued together). Every musical development cannot be disconnected and understood individually. An album that is one of a kind.

4. GraveYou’ll never see (1992)

Grave - You´ll Never See - FrontYou’ll never see is another masterpiece that never gets old. Grave is known for playing pretty stripped down and brutal death metal. Jorgen’s voice is considerably more brutal than those of most of his contemporaries. The sound overall is extremely heavy. Songs stand out due to the catchiness of their lyrical ideas and the vocal patterns. How can anyone forget lyrics like “I wanna die a brutal way, instead of just fade away”, “You make me sick – chosen one”, or “oh my savior set me free, release me from my agony, grant me your eternal reich, take me to where corpses lie”. The groove of the eponymous song is out of this world and the way “Severing flesh” develops is mindbogglingly awesome!

5. Unleashed –  Shadows in the deep (1992)

92_shadows_in_the_deepAnother album to which I will always be loyal. I love every single second on this album. It’s the epitome of darkness and brutality. It has some of the best compositions by Fredrik. Fredrik was a genius of Swedish death metal, among the very few who have been true geniuses and it’s a shame he never got the recognition that he deserved. I cannot think of any other of their contemporaries for whom it could be argued that every single song they wrote was absolutely perfect. But Fredrik wrote consistently perfect songs, which were at the same time extremely personal and unique (I think he perfected his craft on Victory. It’s a shame he left the band after that album). This album also has some of Johnny’s best moments. The passion with which Johnny utters every single line of “Land of ice” has never been achieved in extreme music again. The massive riff and tempo of “Onward…” is also unparalleled in music history. The slow part on “Final silence” followed by the fast break and Johnny’s scream are one of the moments that define intensity. The eponymous song is the one that could qualify as the best song ever recorded. Simple as that.

6. Edge of SanityThe spectral sorrows (1993)

spectralThis album has always been one of my favorite and at the same time always felt a bit awkward. The reason behind this latter feeling is that this album is one of the first “classic” Swedish death albums that challenged the generic conformity of death metal. The more traditional death songs are some of the best ever recorded, each one could easily be considered the best song if they were in most death albums ever recorded. For example, imagine any album by any band that included a song like “Jesus cries”, “The masque”, “Across the fields…”, “On the other side” or “Lost”. Any one of these songs would instantly stick out from the rest! However, as I said earlier, there are some other songs which are also amazing yet play with other generic rules, such as “Feeding the charlatan”, a hardcore-punk song given a death metal twist and “Sacrificed”, an all-out gothic/new wave song. In any case, this album is God.

7. Comecon – Megatrends in brutality (1992)

Comecon-MegatrendsInBrutality-FrontMy appreciation for this album, and band overall, will never wane. The power of this album is unique, and I still think that they achieved a rare blend of Swedish death and grindcore. Also, having Petrov singing on your album is already a big plus. Having him singing some brilliantly penned lyrics along really inspired vocal patterns can lift an album to outer space. There are some amazing choruses and some amazing riffs, more akin to hardcore than death metal, but the fast slayer beat and grind throughout the album add considerably to its death metal character. Every single death metal mix-tape should include at least one of the following songs: “Wash away the filth”, “Teuton tantrums”, “Slope”  and “Conductor of ashes”.

The remaining three albums (Hypocrisy‘s Final chapter, Tiamat‘s clouds and Desultory‘s Bitterness) would not necessarily be in that list. I still consider them monumental albums but not on the same league as the rest. Instead of suggesting three other albums to complete the original list I will instead suggest 10 albums, any of which could take the part of any of the previous three. Again, I will not include on purpose any other album by bands that have already been mentioned in the list. If I did that I have to confess that the list of best death metal albums would be monopolised by bands like Entombed, Dismember, At The Gates and Unleashed. In an effort to be fair to all those bands that have given us awesome music no band can be represented with more than one album in the list. So, here are the next 10 bands that I feel should be represented in a Swedish death metal “best of” list:

1. Furbowl – The autumn years (1994)

furbowlI never heard Furbowl when I was young. I discovered them through Daniel Ekeroth’s book Swedish Death Metal. Today it is hard to believe that this band never became popular. With their debut (Those shredded dreams) they paved the way for Entombed to evolve into the brilliant band that created Wolverine blues. (I imagine that when Andersson first heard “Damaged done” at once got goosebumps and cried for not coming up with it first.) On their second album, it was Furbowl’s time to be influenced by Entombed and particular L.G. Petrov’s style of singing. This album pushes the envelope even further than Entombed though, by incorporating in a marvelous way middle-eastern melodies, clean vocals and acoustic guitars in the mix of brilliance. The album kicks off with a pretty straight-forward song (“Bury the hatchet”) that effectively sets the death ‘n’ roll mood of the album. It then moves on to the more up-beat yet with a dose of sadness “Cold world“, from that to the soulful “Dead and gone“, and to the more driven pissed off D-beat of “The needle” (with a mid-section that punches you in the face), to straight on rock ‘n’ roll (“Baby Burn”). How can words describe the desperation on the chorus of “Weakened”? Pure genius! With the acoustic “Road less traveled” the band paves the way for the melancholic ending with a monumental song (“Still breathing“) about the will to resist and the suffering this entails. Liiva’s vocal performance is one of the very best, and not exclusively in the death metal genre.

2. TiamatThe astral sleep (1991)

album79Clouds has always been an all time favorite. I know all the lyrics by heart since high-school and every single note and drum-beat on it. However, even the first time around I was torn between Clouds and The Astral sleep. The latter is a more obvious choice for a death metal list, because it is simply more brutal than Clouds. So, today I would go with The astral sleep, because it matches all the atmospheric excellence of Clouds, with songs like “Dead boys choir” and “The southernmost voyage”, but also contains dark claustrophobic hymns of desperation like “The mountain of doom” and “Ancient entity” (fucking masterpiece! That melody in the middle of the song always makes my skin crawl), as well as more up-tempo horror tales such as “I am the king of dreams”, “Sumerian cry (part III)” and “Lady temptress”.

3. Dark TranquilityThe mind’s I (1997)

The_Mind's_I_album_coverI bought this album when it first came out and I loved it since the first time I listened to it. I think that it has some of the best songs I have ever heard, some of the most inventive riffs ever, some excellent lyrics and brilliant performances. The drum sound and style (basically a very fast Slayer bass-snare drum beat with minimal use of fills throughout the faster songs) was obviously inspired from At The Gates‘ break-through album that came out a couple of years earlier. This more straight forward and in-your-face approach that Dark Tranquility took on this record appealed to me more than anything else they ever did (I also liked a lot Fiction which also had a very similar approach). The power in the beginning of songs like “Jodijackyl light” and “Scythe, rage and roses” is unparalleled. The amazing textures of songs like “Hedon” and the unique use of arpeggiated chords and harmonised melodies on top of muted, chunky riffs, have been genre-defining. Finally, the way most songs develop – like in the brilliant “Tongues”from Celtic-sounding tunes, slowly building up to a furious Slayer beat, on top of a sequence of awesome trademark triplets-riffs – is jaw-dropping.

4. Unanimated – Ancient god of evil (1995)

34nmm4mThis is an album that I came to appreciate the last couple of years. I first listened to it around 1997. That proved to be an unfortunate time to listen to this particular album. By 1997, Swedish death metal had become saturated with countless At The Gates and Dark Tranquility wannabes, which were of far inferior quality (some, like Ablaze my sorrow disappeared, while others, like Soilwork, became quite popular). Anything melodic that I heard at that time was instantly rejected. Ancient god of evil was one of those albums, despite the fact that Rickard Cabeza and Peter Stjarnvind were in the band. Luckily, I recently decided to give it a listen and I was blown away. Now I consider it a masterpiece among classic Swedish albums. The trademark drumming of Peter Stjarnvind and the vocals of Micke Jansson bring into mind the mighty Merciless, while some of the fast tremolo-picking riffs bring into mind Dismember‘s and Desultory‘s more melodic moments. All the songs are built according to very simple structures (verse-chorus-verse-chorus) but are nevertheless very refreshing, owing much to the majestic and dark choruses and the singer’s soulful screams (listen for example, the “Eye of the greyhound“, the brilliant “Ruins” and “Dying emotions domain“). The textures are also quite lean. The rhythm guitar and the bass usually have the leading role, playing the same melody line. Many times rhythm guitar and bass are used to give color to the minimal melodies played by the lead guitar, a technique very common to the Swedish death metal genre. Harmonic progressions that would not be normally “accepted” early on in the genre – such as the “happy” i – VII – V used throughout “Life demise” or the i – VI – VII resolving back on home chord throughout “Oceans of time” – are quite common. Keyboards are also tactfully placed here and there to the effect of atmosphere without ever assuming a leading role. The background percussion bit halfway through “Ruins” sounds like something influenced by Rotting Christ‘s “Non serviam”.

5. Arch Enemy – Black earth (1996)

20101225181532!Black_EarthArch Enemy’s first album is nothing short of a Swedish death masterpiece. Most death metal fans, myself included, would consider Michael Amott’s career a disgrace after Burning bridges (1999), but I don’t think there are a lot of people who would not acknowledge the brilliance of this first album. The big advantage of this album is Liiva’s powerful and emotional vocals. Liiva gives a truly unique performance. The album kicks off in a massive way with “Bury me an angel“, a song that successfully establishes the mood of the album as at once devastating and melodic. “Dark insanity‘s” furious D-Beat and Slayer-like melody after the chorus are astonishing. “Eureka” is a slow, unusual song built around a super heavy “pull-off” riff and a gratifying chorus. All songs are fucking amazing and I cannot even begin to think about which ones are my favorite. Special reference should be made, though, to the frantic “Transmigration macabre“, which starts with one of the heaviest riffs on earth, the also speedy “Cosmic retribution” which has an amazing clean-guitar passage near the end, and the melancholic and majestic “Fields of desolation” that closes the album, one of the best songs ever written.

6. AfflictedProdigal sun (1992)

6919Afflicted evolved from being a brutal band in the style of early Entombed/Carnage/Grave in their demos/first E.P., to an uncompromising band that pushed the barriers of the genre in this, their first, album. With the exception of songs like “The empty word”, “In years to come” and “Consumed in flames”, where the D-Beat fury, grind and sheer brutality tend to be more prominent, the rest of the songs retain the extremity yet go down more technical/progressive paths previously explored by bands like Atheist, Atrocity (Germany) and Entombed to a new level and play with crazy structures and vocal ideas (the vocals are brilliantly insane), resulting in a thickly textured album with a very chaotic atmosphere. Especially the theatrical and flexible vocal delivery bring into mind Nicke Andersson on Clandestine and Alex Krull on Hallucinations. The beginning of “Spirit spectrum” sounds like something you could find in Atheist’s second album. Despite the inevitable influences, this album has a unique character and such variety that no matter how many years one listens to it there’s always new things to be discovered. The song “Ivory tower” closes the album in an unbelievable way! For those who love this album, make sure you check out Morbus Chron (they’ve got a new album coming up), a young Swedish band that sounds a lot like Afflicted.

7. CarnageDark recollections (1990)

48801_carnage_dark_recollectionsThe reason I did not include this album in the initial list was that I always considered Carnage the early incarnation of Dismember. That is not entirely inaccurate, however Carnage was primarily Amott’s  project (although I think that the band became a force to be reckoned with after Estby joined). In any case, it is such a fantastic album that I cannot just ignore it altogether. Dark recollections is about claustrophobic down-tuned insanity, sickly composed minor melodies, furious beating (that constantly shifts from Slayer-beat, to D-beat, to grind) while Karki vomits his guts screaming about horror and humanity’s demise. The lyric “In a century of darkness, the horror spreads within, when the planet stops to turn, all hope is lost for man”, off “Infestation of evil”, was used by Arch Enemy on their Stigmata album. (on “Infestation of evil” there is also the hilarious misheard lyric “trapped in the place, of no escape, eternally you are lost, you are eating FRIES!”.) The intro riff of “Deranged from blood” is classic Swedish death, as it was and as it was always supposed to be.

8. Death Breath Stinking up the night (2006)

Death Breath - Stinking Up The NightAndersson’s return to death metal happened in a big way. Enveloped by Robert Pehrsson on guitar and vocals, Magnus Hedquist on bass, Scott Carlson (Repulsion!) on vocals,  Jorgen Sandstrom (ex-Grave, ex-Entombed) on vocals and Nicke on drums Death Breath could only be fantastic. Nicke’s genius shines through in compositions of unique inspiration such as the infectious groove of “Chopping spree” and “Christ all fucking mighty”, and the sheer power of “Heading for decapitation” and “Coffins…”.  The times when Pehrsson gets the upper hand on composition the results are also excellent, especially in the mind-blowing “Flabby little things…” and “Reduced to ashes”. The Autopsy-inspired “Dragged through the mud” is somewhat less fascinating and “Morbid mind” is cool, but the Birdflesh-sounding chorus feels a bit out-of-place to me. The days when Nicke took death metal too seriously have been long gone. The lyrics on the album are a testament to this. Don’t get me wrong, the lyrics are phenomenal, better than most bands can imagine. However, they are brilliant in a Pungent Stench kind of way, clever but funny. “Christ all fucking mighty” is one of the best songs ever recorded.

9. Merciless – Unbound (1994)

26410_merciless_unbound My first contact with Merciless happened through this album. I was hanging out to this friend’s house (who introduced me to some of my all time favorite bands, like Sinister, Altar, Desultory, Vader) and he put on the album. When the acoustic intro part of “Unbound” was over and the manic drumming on top of simple power-chords started, my friend started headbanging like crazy, as if he was about to jump out of his body (typical of him), a spectacle which actually increased the intensity of the music! From that moment on I was hooked on Merciless. I cannot think of many bands that can achieve this degree of intensity. Ridiculously fast riffing, Maidenesque melodies, insane screams and some folk tunes make up an amazing opening song. “The land I used to walk” is one of the most bad-ass songs ever to come out of Sweden; its rhythmic changes and the chorus are just brilliant. “Feebleminded” is an awesome in-your-face song typical of the style of music Merciless became known for. Their fast bass-snare drum beat is faster than most Death metal bands (maybe with the exception of Unleashed); some times it’s actually on the verge of becoming a blastbeat, and reminds a lot of Sadus. Peter Stjarnvind’s super tight drumming has never fitted equally perfectly in any of the other bands he played with. The slower songs on the album are also excellent. “Back to north” and especially “Lost eternally” are two gems of Swedish death.

10. Hypocrisy – The fourth dimension (1994)

Hypocrisy - The Fourth Dimension Maximum AbductionHypocrisy’s Fourth dimension is probably the first album I heard from them, so it has a soft spot in my heart. It has an amazing atmosphere appropriately represented on the fascinating album cover art. Lyrically, this album moves away from satanic themes towards topics such as alien life, murder, religion and metaphysics. “Apocalypse”, the song with which the album kicks off, is an undisputed Epic, a unique homage to Eloy and Bathory, two diametrically opposite influences that only Tagtgren could combine with such astonishing results! Songs like this one, as well as “Fourth dimension” defined Hypocrisy’s trademark sound. “Reincarnation” is another brilliant, melancholic song that established Hypocrisy as the pioneers of atmospheric death metal. The awesomeness of some of the lyrics should also be pointed out: “Silence, the only sound is the knife through the air – Hell, is where I’ll be when I’m through with you”. The more up-tempo songs like “Mind corruption” (this song has an awesome tempo, riffs and vocal patters, I love it!), “Orgy in Blood” and “Reborn” showcase Hypocrisy’s thrash influences, especially in the case of intro-riffs. Each single song (maybe with the exception of “Slaughtered) is a masterpiece.

On the original post I once received a comment from a guy who decided that my choices were irrelevant and that I was not a “true old-school death metaler”. Back then, I explained that I did not pretend to be an old-school death metaler, whatever that means. I started listening to death metal in the mid-90s and my tastes were to a large extent shaped by the first death metal albums I heard (The dreams you dread by Benediction, Slaughter of the soul by At the gates, Victory by Unleashed, Massive killing by Dismember, Spiritual healing by Death) by the tastes of friends (Sarcofago, Dismember, Massacra, Carcass) and the suggestions of the Greek magazine Metal Hammer (Morbid Angel, Pestilence, Asphyx, Bolt Thrower, Massacre, Napalm Death, Entombed). That is why I always loved both the early brutal phase of Swedish death metal along with the later more melodic and experimental phase. I once again run the risk of being accused of being a wimp by including Dark Tranquility, Unanimated, Arch Enemy and Furbowl (four quite melodic bands), but that’s fine. If I had to make another list of Swedish death masterpieces I would include even more melodic albums, such as Massive killing capacity (Dismember), but also some brutal masterpieces, such as Therion‘s second album and Carbonized‘s For the security. Finally, from both lists I created, a specific type of Swedish death is missing, the more “Americanised” brutal Swedish death. Some of the best ambassadors of this style are the awesome Deranged, Seance and Vomitory. Although I have loved these bands since the late nineties, I always thought that they cannot compete with the traditional Swedish death sound.


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