C O L U M N S
Made in Sweden
"Swedish Death Metal" by Daniel Ekeroth
2008's "Swedish Death Metal" weighs in at a massive 447 pages and features a black matte finish (naturally) in a wrap-around cover. Its front artwork is created by a man who many consider an accomplice to the very formation of the genre itself--Nicke Andersson (Nihilist, Entombed). The book's author not only chronicles the scene as an eye witness, but also a participant. Ekeroth is a death metal musician and has performed in bands like Usurpress, Iron Lamb, Tyrant, Third Storm and Insision. It is that valued combination of fan and professional that provides such a unique take on death's chaotic and caustic scene.
After a perfected introduction simply entitled "Why Sweden" the author unveils nine chronological chapters divided by sub-chapters that envelope the beginning of Sweden's fascination with brutal music to its eventual downsizing and stagnation in 1993 (although the author covers a great deal after 1993 in his A-Z section). For me personally, I felt that I had enough knowledge on the subject to consider myself an experienced journalist. After all, I was almost there--in 1993 I had begun collecting imports of a lot of the albums, EPs and demos featured here. I may have been a bit late, but damnit I was right there. So, it was with great astonishment that Ekeroth slowly re-educated me on what I professed to know and absolutely enlightened me on the things I didn't--which ultimately proved I didn't really know shit.
For example, my undying love for Hypocrisy and Edge of Sanity (Swedish pioneers Peter Tagtgren and Dan Swano respectively) had clouded my judgment. I had just assumed their contributions in 1991 and 1992 were firm foundations and pioneering efforts for the Swedish extreme scene. To prove how silly that statement is--Hypocrisy shows up for the first time on page 215 and aside from some valuable quotes and a great review for Edge of Sanity's early work, Swano and Tagtgren are typically looked at by Ekeroth as good producers with great studios. In fact, Ekeroth doesn't have fantastic things to say about the rushed Hypocrisy debut 'Penetralia' (1992) but generally likes it. I suppose.
So, what did I miss? Hell, nearly everything. Ekeroth's early chapters examines the beginning of Sweden's heavy metal scene (essentially Heavy Load and Europe) and its fascination with American and German thrash metal. Eventually, as the author displays, that movement was really soaked up by less than 100 kids ranging from ages 10-14. Tape trading, a few gigs and the rise of Bathory helped the scene along. Ekeroth suggests that the first true death metal recording could have been Possessed 'Death Metal' EP from 1984 and the subsequent full-length album 'Seven Churches'. That record, albeit American, seemed to have far lasting effects on the Swedish youth. Soon youngsters started practicing Bathory songs and embracing early Swedish efforts from the likes of Candlemass, Mefisto, Obscurity and Morbid. Middle chapters really soak in the nostalgia and concentrates on the blooming late 80s scene and its eventual peak in 1991. Assisting the storytelling is numerous quotes from the guys who were there and on the front lines. Past and present members of Merciless, Morbid, Unleashed, Entombed, Nihilist, Dismember, Carnage, Grave, At the Gates, In Flames and countless others present quotes and stories of what that time frame was really like. The labels Nuclear Blast, Osmose, Century Media, Peaceville, Earache, No Fashion, Black Mark and more are also examined and how their rosters helped shape the scene. If rock and roll was born in the famed Sun Studio then Swedish Death can certainly call Sunlight Studios home. Plenty of emphasis is spent on the studio, the sound and its producer Tomas Skogsberg.
Later chapters look at the eventual rise of black metal and its effect on death metal's ultimate demise in the mid to late 90s. The Gothenburg melo-death scene is fully analyzed and how bands like At the Gates, Eucharist and In Flames spawned a sub-genre of their own. The last chapters close out the scene and looks at the retro movement of the 00s and how acts like Spawn of Possession, Bloodbath and Vermin are attempting to continue on the basic elementary approach of 80s and 90s death metal.
As if a 300-page history lesson isn't enough to warrant the $25 price tag, then the book's climactic finale is certainly worth the price of admission alone. It's nearly 150-pages is an A-Z of Swedish death metal acts including author reviews, discographies and a brief bio. The bonus section at the end is an A-Z of fanzines that helped circulate the sound in the 80s and 90s. Eye candy? It comes in droves. As if icing on the cake, the book has loads of album covers, band photos, prominent locations and gig flyers.
The end result is a book that I will cherish as long as I live. It's in my top 5 of all books I own (fiction, non-fiction or otherwise) and a manual that I will consistently rely on over the course of collecting, reviewing, and writing. I'm not the only one. My copy is the fourth printing to date from 2015. It's provoked band reunion shows, re-formations, and an industry celebration each January.
On the battle-soaked frosty tundra of extreme metal, "Swedish Death Metal" is the mandatory grail of mead. Or at the very least a coffee table book to hold your beer while you thumb your iPhone.
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