overground scene


Whatever happened to Lars?

Lars Rosenberg has been part of some of Sweden’s most important bands. However, since his stint with a couple of small rock bands in the early 2000s his whereabouts are unknown to me and information available on the internet fails to shed light to what has become of this great musician.

Carbonized

From left to right, Piotr, Christopher and Lars as seen on the inlay of For the security.

Lars was a founding member of Carbonized, one of Sweden’s seminal brutal death metal bands. He composed music and played the bass in Carbonized’s demos, singles and all three albums. On the first album (For the security, 1991) he played bass, sang and composed most of the music. For the security is a fine example of brutal, grinding Swedish death metal. Lars’s vocals are more shouted and aggressive – something along the lines of Andersson’s vocals on Clandestine – compared to Christopher Johnsson’s super brutal vocals who also sings on the album. What sets this album apart from its contemporaries is the more prevalent grind elements (check out “For the security”, “Recarbonized” and “Hypnotic aim”, among others) and the use of dissonant melodies and weird rhythms (check out “Euthanasia”, “Purified” and “Third eye”). On their second album (Disharmonization, 1993) Carbonized went down a more experimental direction reminiscent of Celtic Frost’s change of character from To mega therion (1985) to Into the pandemonium (1987). Most songs are a big departure from death metal incorporating jazz fusion and progressive rock. Lars’s shouted vocals fit the music perfectly on that album, which is much more twisted, varied and dissonant compared to their debut. Still, death metal is represented in devastating songs like “The voice of the slained pig”, “Nigh shadows” and “Succubus”. On their third album (Screaming machines, 1995) their sound went towards a totally cacophonous mix of jazz fusion and industrial (“Fist” is probably the most conventional song on this album). A quite insane offering that showcases Lars’s varied contribution to extreme music.

Lars1

Lars, on the left, together with Aad and Ron.

In the early 1990s Lars also played with Aad and Ron from Sinister in the group Monastery, that only released some demos and two 7inch records (click here for their brutal e.p. The process – church of the final judgement). Sonically they are pretty unrefined and devastating, something between early Napalm Death and Sinister. Both Lars and Ron sing, and Lars’s vocals are particularly reminiscent of Lee Dorian of Napalm Death.

entombed1

Lars on the front, among the rest of Entombed, looking cool.

As the bass player of Entombed Lars contributed to two cornerstones of Swedish death, namely Clandestine (1991) and Wolverine blues (1993). On the former he co-wrote the music on the mysterious “Evilyn” and the hardcore-charged “Blessed be“, while on Wolverine he was the primary composer of the nowadays cult “Out of hand” and “Blood song“.

In Therion, Lars played alongside his band-mates from Carbonized (Piotr and Christopher) in the album Theli (1996). The latter was an album that took further the experimental/symphonic elements present on Symphony masses (1993) and Lepaca Kliffoth (1995), elements under which Therion’s sound would be totally subsumed in the years to come.

In 1996, Lars played the bass in the debut album of the doom metal band, in the vein of Candlemass, Serpent (Piotr Wawrzeniuk, his band-mate from Carbonized and Therion was also in the band). Listen to the song “Stoned the dawn” off this album here. A year later he played in the debut album of the Argentinian death metal band Mental Distortion.

According to the Encyclopaedia Metallum, Lars’s last known band was the stoner metal ensemble Roachpowder, on whose second album he played the bass (listen to “No reason” off this album). Lars’s movement away from death metal towards more conventional heavy rock music was consistent with many of his contemporaries, including Michael Amott (originally of Carnage and Carcass and then in Spiritual Beggars), Nicke Andersson (originally of Entombed and then in The Hellacopters), Fredrik Lindgren (originally of Unleashed and then in Terra Firma), and more recently Peter Stjarnvind (originally of Merciless and Entombed and more recently in Black Trip) and Fred Estby and David Blomqvist (originally of Dismember and now in The Dagger). The whereabouts of this great musician today are unknown to me.



Whatever happened to Pelle and Rasmus?

Classic Swedish death metal is readily associated with bands like Entombed, Dismember, Unleashed, Grave and maybe At The Gates. All these bands defined the genre in their own special way. Comecon is one of the bands that followed shortly after the big bang of Swedish death metal in the late 1980s – early 1990s but never became popular and, hence, its influence can by no means be considered definitive of the genre. Given the lack of a (real person) drummer and of live gigs it is not difficult to imagine why this band never became popular. Additionally, it cannot be denied that Comecon’s music was neither as brutal nor as technically proficient as the music of its contemporaries, and both brutality and technical proficiency have always been crucial parameters upon which death metal bands have been judged.Comecon_logo

However, I have always considered Comecon a unique and brilliant band. The masterminds behind the band were Rasmus Ekman (Guitar/Bass) and Pelle Ström (Guitar/Bass). Both played hardcore and thrash in various Swedish bands, including Agony, Omnitron and The Krixhjalters, before forming Comecon in 1989 (source: Encyclopedia Metallum). In Comecon, they enmeshed thrash and hardcore elements, such as the Ramones drum beat, D-beat and thrash riffing, with death metal elements, such as Blast-beats and fast tremolo picking riffs. As such, music-wise, Comecon were fast, intense and some of the songs had frequent breaks and rhythmic changes, just like most of death metal bands of the time. It is true that they also had more straightforward songs, created in line with the hardcore/punk compositional canon (for example, The dog days). What really set Comecon apart from their peers is not as much the style of music as the explicitly ideological lyrics, another element they shared with thrash and hardcore. Comecon were critical of capitalism and its European manifestation in the form of the EU, they were eager for resistance, anti-fascist, and, in the end, pessimistic about the future of humanity. However, as opposed to thrash and hardcore bands’ often childish and inconsistent revolutionary rhetoric, Comecon offered poetry that included serious and sophisticated socio-political critique.

comeconphto2

From left to right: Petrov, Ekman, Ström and Green (the fake drummer). Note Ekman’s trademark attire and Petrov’s “I eat christians” t-shirt!

On each of their albums they recruited a different vocalist, L.G. Petrov (of Entombed fame) on the first one, Martin Van Drunen (Asphyx and Pestilence) on the second and Marc Grewe (Morgoth) on the final one. All three of them gave with Comecon some of the best performances of their careers; especially, Grewe and Van Drunen blow my mind! The style of the music also changed from album to album. Some of the more punk/hardcore elements of the first album (Megatrends in brutality – 1992) gave way to more death metal elements and emotion on the second one (Converging conspiracies – 1993). On the third album (Fable frolic – 1995) they shed lots of their speed in favour of a more dissonant, almost industrial sound.

In their life-span as a band, Rasmus and Pelle composed music that was at times heartfelt and compelling (listen to the magnificent Imploder, The whole world and Worms), at other times intense and devastating (Icons of urine, Wash away the filth, Slope, Bleed/Burn) and at other times dark, pessimistic and suffocating (Canvas of history). Their lyrics provided food for thought during my adolescence and influenced me artistically. Unfortunately, Comecon broke up, so the world never experienced the next incarnation of this great band. Pelle’s and Rasmus’ whereabouts after the demise of Comecon are unknown to me.

“Who opened the door for the democrator?

And how come he let in the market conquistadors?

Why is he acting as if he has something to hide?

The privilege of the stupid is to be taken for a ride.” (excerpt from Democrator)

“How many poor do we need to prosper?

How much starvation to make GNP rise?

Why are we sliding into hell when they’re pointing at heaven?

Let Europe recollect what must be done, with bourgeois lies.” (excerpt from Community)

“All over the world,

the carcasses of cultures drowned in civilisation.

Crawl over the world,

the carcasses of our cheap seductive virulent commodification.” (excerpt from Aerie)



With deadly force they take control and bring to us old school death

People who know me know that I generally have the tendency to exaggerate about things. Whenever I talk about music, for example, I use the phrase “this is the best record ever!” every 30 seconds. However, I make a conscious effort to avoid being hyperbolic when I write in this blog or elsewhere. What I mean to say is that in this post I am not exaggerating when I say that in the year 2013 Tormented is, in my opinion, the best Death Metal band from Sweden.

I have only known Tormented for a few months. One day I was wondering what happened to Andreas Axelsson, of the mighty Edge of Sanity. Edge of Sanity is a band that I have loved since the mid-90s when I started listening to death metal. The first album I ever listened from them was the newly released Crimson. I was instantly hooked. While throughout the years Swano’s various endeavours were noticed by the media (including his dreadful resurrection of Edge of Sanity in 2003) the rest of the band – namely Andreas Axelsson, Sami Nerberg, Anders Lindberg, Benny Larsson and Robban Karlsson – was nowhere to be seen. It should be noted that Swano was not the mastermind behind Edge of Sanity. Axelsson and the rest of the band contributed equally to make Edge of Sanity one of death metal’s finest. Using the invaluable online source Encyclopaedia Metallum, I found out that Axelsson formed the death metal band Tormented in 2008. Axelsson plays guitar and sings in Tormented and he is enveloped by Robban Karlsson (who sang in the excellent Cryptic after Swano’s departure) on bass, Jocke Ollund on drums and Claes Holmberg on guitar.

Tormented_image002             Robban is clearly disgusted with the photo-shoot session

It is hard to describe how much I like this band. As a person who has been longing for good old Swedish death metal for more than a decade I cannot describe what pleasure it has been to find out about this band. It is well known that since the late 90s several bands have tried to recapture the feeling of old school Swedish death metal. I remember Repugnant with their Hecatomb E.P. as one of the first bands that tried to resurrect Death metal’s rotten corpse. Bands that followed include the now popular Bloodbath and the now defunct Kaamos and Chaosbreed. None of these bands really cut it for me. The Hecatomb E.P. was pretty amazing brutal and dirty death metal and Bloodbath’s first CD was also pretty cool albeit too polished and the voice sounded too fake. Most of the bands that followed, however, I found ridiculous until the glorious arrival of Death Breath in 2006. However, even with Death Breath and although Andersson’s compositions are some of the best I have ever listened (check this out and this), some of Pehrsson’s songs felt to me kind of forced. Some other bands like Interment, Evocation and Entrails, whose origins are in the first wave of Swedish death metal but never released a record back then and have recently reformed, again do not impress me. Truth be told, these three bands are loyal to the old school and their music is honest and really good. However, to my ears they are nothing more than first-class Dismember and Entombed clones. As far as the veterans go, and as much as I like the albums that Dismember and Entombed released during the last decade, I cannot help but feel that there is something missing. In other words, I thought that I would never again get the feeling I used to get from listening to Swedish death metal when I was young.* Enter Tormented…

rottenTormented’s first album, Rotten Death (2009), is a fucken masterpiece of old school death metal. It is as if not even one day has passed since Leprosy came out. To my ears, Tormented’s debut is a tribute to Death‘s first two albums, Scream Bloody Gore (1987) and Leprosy (1988), but with a punk attitude. It is a galore of fast tempos, catchy choruses, creeping rotten slow passages and minimal haunting melodies over an angry voice that growls about gore and death. And the best thing is that it does not feel forced! It feels natural! One of the most amazing moments is on the song “Death owns the night“. Near the middle of the song (at 1:35) the raging tempo gives way to a more restrained passage where Andreas sings “his work is perfection and his art is to kill, deadly dissection, it is your blood he’ll spill”. This passage is boiling with tension which eventually erupts into an amazing riff and the chorus. The genius of this song is that the specific verse appears later on in the song but this second time the drummer keeps the fast Slayer beat. I doubt that any old death metal fan can listen to this part without going berserk! In the same song the band pays tribute to Death’s song “Leprosy” with the lyric “with deadly force they’ll take control and bring you to your death”. Another awesome part is on the super fast song “Come back from the dead“. The part I refer to is the way Andreas sings the lyric “a sea of flames is where he drowned” and the ensuing auditory massacre. The album closes with the masterpiece called “Reversed funeral” which also pays tribute to the old school of Swedish death metal by name-dropping Entombed, Dismember, Unleashed, Grave, Merciless and Unanimated. This album is, in three words, relentless, powerful and enjoyable.

Tormented-Death-AwaitsTheir second album, Death Awaits (2013) is equally amazing. The main difference between Rotten Death and Death Awaits is that the latter is much slower. If I had to compare it to an old school Swedish death metal album, that would be Grave‘s You’ll Never See (1992). On this album Tormented keep the Leprosy-era recipe of death metal combined with the heaviness and brutality of early Swedish death metal. Again the freshness of these songs is unbelievable. Every single song has awesome vocal patterns – which, by the way, are less repetitive than on their first album – and really cool structures. The way each song develops brings joy to my ears. I don’t know if that suggests that I’m just happy because a band simply managed to meet my expectations by successfully following a well trodden musical path, or whether they really enjoy what they do which is then reflected in the music. What I can say is that these songs make me feel good! The album kicks off with a song that changes moods, starting with a majestic heavy intro, moving on to a thrashy vibe which reminds of post-Morning Star Entombed and Death Breath and eventually settling to a slow and heavy apocalyptic section dragging until the end. The two very fast songs on the album, namely “Blood orgy” and “Black sky” are classic relentless death metal songs with excellent vocal patterns, buzzing fast-picking and cool choruses. The more mid-tempo/D-beat tempo songs are my favorite on the album. “Incantations of the dead” has a main riff that reeks of early Entombed, nice rhyming lyrics, and an awesome bridge that builds to the redemptory melody of the chorus. Right after the second chorus the song goes into a brilliant slow crawling section typical for Swedish death metal. “Insane with dread” is another awesome song with a driving tempo, a tense bridge, a catchy chorus and a slow section with a powerful chord progression. “Into the crypts of death” is another brilliant mid-tempo song with an amazing opening riff, a rotten main riff, a bridge which breathes Swedish death into the song, leading once again to an awesome chorus and a brutal slow section. The album closes – like their previous album – with a majestic song called “In the presence…“. The opening riff and chorus give a blackened quality to the song and the main riff is classic Autopsy (hear for example, “Ridden with disease“). This album is, in three words, majestic, powerful and enjoyable.

It is true that Tormented do not attempt to break any new ground with their music. It is also true that their style of Swedish death metal is not even as evolved as Dismember’s first two albums (1991, 1993), Entombed’s Clandestine (1991) or At The Gates’ With fear… (1993). However, an album such as Clandestine is a mystery still to this day. It is impossible to grasp its perfection. So, it would not be fair to judge other bands on the basis of trying to surpass something so indisputably perfect. Axelsson himself has been involved in albums  of sheer perfection in the past – Unorthodox, Spectral…, Purgatory…, Crimson, Cryptic – that took the genre much farther from where Tormented are today. However, what Tormented do should not be underplayed. They credibly compose and perform utterly awesome death metal with passion, conviction and no gimmicks. In this sense, they are the contemporary leaders of true Swedish death metal.

*Desultory‘s comeback album Counting our scars is an exception, as I consider it a masterpiece of Swedish death metal (check this out). They haven’t been active lately. Hopefully they will not fold again.



Whatever happened to Ron?

This is the first post in a series of posts I plan on the topic of unheard music heroes. I realised over the years that some of the musicians that made a big impression on me when I was young either never got the recognition they deserved or disappeared. The aim of these posts is to pay tribute to these great musicians. I start this series of posts with someone who was a true death metal innovator and for many years I thought had disappeared. I recently found out that he is still active, yet flying under the radar: Ron van de Polder of Sinister.

Sinister-Logo

One of the bands me and my friends have always held in very high regard is the dutch death metal band Sinister. The first album I bought from them was Hate (1995), back in the summer of 1997. Cross the Styx (1992) and Diabolical Summoning (1993) followed shortly after. Every single album they released up to their demise in 2004 (and before their reformation) has been a masterpiece of death metal, taking the genre to new territories. With Cross the Styx, they defined their own style of death metal, which was closer to the American tradition*. However, I always thought that Sinister made use of the different rhythms and techniques as well as the potential of electric guitar, in a more imaginative way than any other band. Sinister’s style of riffing and sense of dissonant melodies are like no other band’s. Even on their first record, Sinister sounded like mature musicians. Their songs had never been a patchwork of riffs, and riffs rarely guided the songs. The latter could be described as dark musical themes orchestrated with impressive fretboard work. After Hate they started experimenting with longer, atmospheric songs often including keyboards, encasing the brutality is a swamp of mysticism and fear. Mike van Mastrigt’s awesome vocals and imaginative and catchy vocal patterns defined Sinister’s trademark sound in the early years. However, even after his departure from the band, his successors, Eric and Rachel, did an awesome job as frontman (on the hyper-brutal Aggressive measures) and frontwoman (on the phenomenal Creative killings and Savage or Grace) respectively.

One of the things that always amazed me about this band is that although they went through numerous line-up changes over the years their identity remained intact, and without compromising freshness and creativity. Another interesting thing about Sinister was that the person responsible for nearly all the music in their debut album, the music that defined their sound, was Ron van de Polder (I think their other guitarist Andre Tolhuizen had a couple of co-writing credits) a member who left the band after the debut. Nevertheless, all the albums that were released in the in-between years were phenomenal despite Ron’s (pictured below in the Entombed t-shirt) absence. Sinister is an exemplary group of musicians that fully embodied their artistic identity and reproduced it in the most natural way throughout the years, in spite of the fact that the person responsible for the original artistic vision was no longer there.

Sinister - Cross The Styx - Back

Until Ron’s informal return on the amazing Savage or Grace (2003), on which he contributed music without being a full-time member, we had no idea what he was up to and we always wondered, especially in the days when internet was still new, what happened to him. Such a brilliant musician, responsible for creating some of the best death metal in the world, should be making music. Although Savage or Grace had the classic Sinister sound that had been constant over the years, Ron’s touch gave it a Cross the Styx feel. A truly brilliant album (check out one of the most amazing songs off this album here). Yet, he did not become a proper member of the band and after that record we lost track of him again. A couple of years ago I discovered that he actually put together the brutal death metal band Infinited Hate.

He released three albums with that band between 2004 and 2007, all three of which with Aad and two with Rachel from Sinister. The style of Infinited Hate could be described as intense technical brutal death metal, much faster and complex than everything Sinister ever recorded. Heaven Termination (2005) specifically is a pretty amazing album. The most recent band in which he plays is called Weapons to Hunt and from the little that I’ve heard its music is full of Ron’s classic riffing, albeit a lot more straight-forward than Infinited Hate. Hopefully, we’ll be listening to more music from Ron in the years to come.

* Sinister were clearly influenced by Deicide‘s approach to music, as well Immolation‘s and Morbid Angel‘s approach to riffing, but my opinion is that they took it to a whole new level. Also, I personally think that the most successful of all US bands, Cannibal Corpse, owes a lot to Sinister. My opinion is that Sinister effected the drastic transformation that Cannibal Corpse went through after Tomb of the Mutilated (1992). I would go as far as to say that Cannibal Corpse totally ripped Sinister off. The entire The Bleeding (1994) album sounds like it’s been influenced by Sinister’s first two albums and particularly Diabolical Summoning (1993). The beginning of “Staring through the eyes of the dead” is classic Sinister, reminiscent of the song “Diabolical summoning”. The beginning of “Stripped, raped and strangled” is also reminiscent of the beginning of “Sadistic intent”. Other songs, such as “Forced fed broken glass”, draw heavily on “Diabolical summoning” and “Desecrated flesh”. And, with all respect due to Scott Burns, the production of The Bleeding also sounds a bit like the production of Diabolical Summoning. More recent work by Cannibal is also reminiscent of Sinister. “To decompose” off Evisceration Plague has a riff directly borrowed from “The cursed mayhem” off Hate.