The History Of Scandinavian Death Metal Part One

Written by: Aristarchos
Published: 05.04.2013
Since I saw there was an article about the history of death metal that totally excluded the Scandinavian scene and only focused on the North-American scene, I decided to write one myself about the Scandinavian scene. Of course there are also other important European death metal scenes that deserve to be covered, especially the English, but I leave that to someone else to write an article about.

The article became so long so I decided to split it into two parts (and in a way melodic death metal, which the second part will focus on, could be considered a genre on its own). This first part will discuss the early scene with the oldschool death metal bands. I have focused more on the early bands than later, more commercially successful bands, because I think the early scene is more interesting, and I guess that most of you already know how most of the commercially successful bands sound.

I could also say here that the Scandinavian death metal scene is my personal favourite death metal scene, and also in my opinion the form of metal that I think is most consistent in quality, and I will give a lot of recommendations of lesser known albums that I love.

The early scene

The scandinavian extreme metal scene started in 1983 with the band Bathory, who released their eponymous debut album in 1984. Bathory came to define the entire black metal genre, and although they didn't play death metal they would have a huge influence for the early Scandinavian death metal scene, but they have been discussed so much elsewhere, so I don't see a point in going through their entire history here.

Dannish Mercyful Fate is of course another early Scandinavian band that would come to have a huge influence for death metal, but they also weren't death metal, and probably too melodic to even be called extreme metal. For me they are just heavy metal, although they (along with especially Venom) were one of the major links between the melodic and the extreme form of metal. But from Denmark, also another band appeared, that probably could be considered to be the first Scandinavian death metal band: Samhain.

Samhain was formed in 1984. Their music could be described as a mix of death and black metal. They released one demo, The Courier, in 1985. Considering how new the death metal genre was at that time, the demo is a really enjoyable listen. After this demo they changed their name to DesExult, and came to release five more demos in the years 86-88.

Denmark wouldn't play any big role in the further history of death metal. Some early bands formed in 89-91 include Konkhra, Illdisposed and the more technical Iniquity, but the only band that would reach any form of success will be mentioned in the next part.

Norway is a country that is most famous for their black metal scene, and not so famous for their death metal scene, but many of the big black metal bands started as more or less death metal bands.

Mayhem, the most classic of the Norweigian black metal bands, started playing in 1984 (viz, same year as Samhain). They released their first demo in 1986, and an EP, Deathcrush, in 1987. Deathcrush is sometimes labeled as black metal or thrash metal, but personally I think it is essentially a death metal EP, not too far from Death's Scream Bloody Gore, released the same year. Mayhem later involved to a more pure black metal band, and will not be discussed more here.

Other bands, like Darkthrone and Immortal, who both would be hugely influential in the black metal genre, both started as death metal bands, too. Darkthrone was formed in 1986, and on their debut album Soulside Journey from 1991 (which followed after four demos from 88-89), they still played technical death metal, quite different from their later primitive black metal. Immortal was formed in 1990. They released their first EP, simply called Immortal in 1991. Immortal is usually described as death metal, but on their full lengths, they would change towards black metal.

Varg Vikernes, from Burzum, also played with an early death metal band called Old Funeral. Old Funeral was formed in 1988 and also consisted of Abbath and Demonaz from Immortal, but on the band's only EP, Devoured Carcass from 1991, they had already left.

Norway also had other early, more forgotten, death metal bands. Vomit started already in 1983 as a heavy metal band with another name, but changed their name into Vomit in 1985 and started to play death metal. They came to release five demos in 86-87, but never any official record. In 2007 a compilation, Still Rotting, with their early demos was released.

From Norway also Cadaver, formed in 1988, deserves to be mentioned. They released their debut album Hallucinating Anxiety in 1990, and have released four albums in total.

Otherwise, there isn't so much more to say about Norweigian death metal. The only later band that deserves to be mentioned is Zyklon, with Samoth from Emperor, but they weren't formed until 1998, and debuted in 2001. For those of you who are more interested in the Norweigian black metal scene, there is already an article about that.

Now back to Sweden, the country that most of this and my next article will be about. The first extreme metal band to follow Bathory from Sweden was Torment. Torment was formed in Stockholm in 1984, but soon changed their name to Mefisto. As Mefisto, they released two demos in 1986. Still it was more black/speed metal than death metal they played, but they would have a big influence for the early Scandinavian death metal scene. Mefisto didn't come to release any more, but a compilation, The Truth, with their early demos was released in 1999.

The next Swedish bands to follow were Scapegoat, Obscurity, and Acid Queen; all three formed in 1985. Acid Queen turned into Sorcery, and was the only band, of these three, that would come to release an album. I will return to them later.

Obscurity was formed in Malmö and released two demos in 86-87 and one demo in 92, but they didn't release any full lengths, and are now quite forgotten, but in 1998 their demos were re-released on a compilation called Damnations Pride. Obscurity is probably the first band from Sweden that really could be called death metal.

Scapegoat, from Stockholm, who changed their name to Morbid in 1986, is more remebered, even if more for their singer Per "Dead" Ohlin, who would leave the band in 1988 to join Mayhem and commit suicide in 1991, than for their music. The band, which also consisted of, among others, Ulf "Uffe" Cederlund on guitars and Lars-Göran "L-G" Petrov on drums, and disbanded later in 1988. Morbid only came to release some demos (in 87-88) before their disformation. The last demo was without "Dead". Morbid's music has been labeled both as thrash, death and black metal, and is often only called extreme metal.

In 1986 there were two new death metal bands formed in Sweden: Merciless and Corpse. Corpse transformed into Grave in 1988, and I will return to them later.

Merciless, from Strängnäs, released their first demo in 1987 and their first album, The Awakening, in 1990. The Awakening is in my opinion mainly a thrash metal album, but it definitely contains an element of death metal, and could perhaps best be compared to bands like French Massacra and German Protector. Influences from Bathory can also be heard on The Awakening. The Awakening was the first Swedish release containing a death metal element, pre-dating Left Hand Path. Personally I think The Awakening is a brilliant album, both compared to thrash metal albums and other death metal albums, and is too often too overlooked in favour for other, more pure deathic, Stockholm bands. Merciless was also the first band to sign on Euronymous record lablel Deathlike Silence. Merciless would release two more albums in the early 90's and one album in 2003.

In 1987, drummer Niklas "Nicke" Andersson and guitarist Alexander "Alex" Hellid would form a band called Nihilist. When Morbid disbanded, Nihilist would also come to consist of Uffe Cederlund on guitar and L-G Petrov on vocals. On bass Johnny Hedlund would come and play. Nihilist would release three demos in 88-89. The lyrics for the band were about death and gore, but Johnny Hedlund preferred lyrics about vikings, something the other members didn't like. Since they didn't have the courage to kick Johnny out of the band, they instead dissolved the band. A month or so later, Johnny saw a handbill of a new death metal band who would play. Since he was curious what band it was, he went to the gig, just to see that it was his old band with a new name, Entombed, and a new bass player.

Entombed released their debut album Left Hand Path in 1990, which is often seen as the most classic of the Stockholm albums (and I agree that it is one of the best, although there are some more albums I love equally). Left Hand Path was produced by Tomas Skogsberg and recorded in Sunlight studio, a studio that most of the early Swedish death metal bands would come to use (Entombed had already been recording demos in Sunlight earlier). Compared to the American death metal bands, Left Hand Path had a sound that took more influence from hardcore, and it was also more melodic. The guitar tone, which has since become imitated by many Stockholm bands, is often referred to as "buzzsaw", and was constructed by combining two different dist boxes.

1987, the same year Nihilist was formed, two other influential death metal bands would form, both whom would develop their own unique sounds. The first was named Blitzkrieg, but changed their name to Therion in 1988. I will return to them later. The other band was Treblinka.

Treblinka, consisting of the frontman Johan Edlund, released two demos and one EP in late 80's. In 1989 they recorded their first album Sumerian Cry, but before its release in 1990 the band changed their name to Tiamat. As Treblinka, they're often described as a black metal band, but with Tiamat they started moving towards a more death metal sound, but although they also recorded in Sunlight studios, they didn't sound like the other Stockholm bands. Tiamat is so much darker than the other bands, and some of the doom element they later would later adapt, is already heard here, but it isn't yet death doom. What also differentiated Tiamat from the other Stockholm death metal bands was that they had satanic lyrics instead of singing about gore. Already on Sumerian Cry I personally think that Tiamat showed what a great band they are, and Sumerian Cry is still perhaps my favourite release with the band. Tiamat released one more death metal album, The Astral Sleep in 1991, before moving towards a more doomy, and later towards a more pure gothic metal sound (a sound which with they would receive big success). The Astral Sleep takes their sound closer to what they later would evolve to, infusing beautiful atmospheres, accoustic passages and also a psychedelic element, although it is often still regarded as mainly a death metal album. Personally I don't think this album is nearly as interesting as either its predecessor or its followers. Perhaps their 1992 album Clouds also still could be counted as death metal, but more death doom.

In 1988 three new great death metal bands would form in Stockholm: Nirvana, Carnage and Dismember. Nirvana, who changed their name to Nirvana 2002 when another band from Seattle with the same name rose to fame, would sadly only release some demos and a split CD in 1990, before they split in 1992. Nirvana 2002 is in my opinion one of the most overlooked early death metal bands, and one of the best from the Stockholm scene. The only reason this band isn't more well-known is probably because they never released a full length. Their early recordings have later been re-released on the compilation Recordings 89-91.

Carnage is another of my favourite Swedish death metal bands that is sometimes overlooked. They would only come to release one full length album, Dark Recollections, in 1990. They split when the guitarist Michael Amott joined English Carcass.

Three of the members of Carnage were also/would become members of Dismember. Dismember is, after Entombed, the best known of the Stockholm bands. They would release their debut album Like An Ever Flowing Stream in 1991, which is also often considered their best (something I agree with). Compared to Left Hand Path, Like An Ever Flowing Stream is more melodic, especially the track "In Death's Sleep". Like An Ever Flowing Stream is also known for the song "Skin Her Alive", by which they were taken to court in England, because the title was seen as too obscene. Dismember successfully won that case. Dismember has, since the debut, continued producing death metal albums, although they later changed their sound towards an even more melodic direction. My personal favourite of their later albums is the 2004 album Where Ironcrosses Grow.

In 1991 several other death metal bands would release their debut albums: Therion, Carbonized, Unleashed, Grave, Sorcery and Edge Of Sanity. I have also seen Tribulation (not to be confused with the more recent Swedish death/thrash band with the same), formed in 1986, being labeled as death metal, but they are usually labeled more as crossover thrash.

Grave comes from Visby on the island Gotland, which is why they initially developed quite independently from the Stockholm bands; but because they recorded in Sunlight studios and had relatively similar sound, they have often become associated with the Stockholm scene. One of their early vocalists, Jörgen Sandström, also went to Entombed in 1996. Grave's debut album Into The Grave is their most classic one. After one more album in the same style, they changed their sound towards a more experimental/industrial sound on their third album, Soulless, something they continued with on the next album, too. They have later returned to their more traditional death metal roots.

Therion and Carbonized both consisted of Christofer Johnson on vocals, and were both very odd death metal bands. Carbonized was a quite progressive/avant-garde death metal band that didn't really sound like any other of the Stockholm bands and would release three albums. Their first album has been described as psychedelic grindcore, their second jazz-metal and their third avant-garde metal. At that time all three members of Carbonized were also playing with Therion.

Therion is in my opinion the more interesting out of these two bands. Already on their debut Of Darkness, Therion mixed in influences from many directions, for example heavy metal and classical music, although the classical influences are nowhere near to as significantly as what they would be in the future. Christofer Johnson often mentions Celtic Frost as the band's biggest influence. Therion's second album, Beyond Sanctorum, released the next year, is quite similar to the debut, but with further explorations of influences from different directions. Their third album, Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas from 1993, is where they really started to change their sound, and you could here the beginning to what they would turn into. The classical influences were taken so far that the album often is referred to as avant-garde metal. Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas also had a big dose of doom. Later Therion transformed more and more to a pure symphonic metal band, leaving all death metal influences.

Sorcery from Sandviken was, as I mentioned earlier, formed already in 1985 as Acid Queen, and was therefore one of the first pure death metal bands in Sweden. Despite this, they are rarely mentioned when talking about the Swedish death metal scene, which I personally think is enormously sad considering how brilliant this band was. Actually, two of the members had already been playing together since 1984 in a band called Curse. Curse didn't record anything, so I don't have any knowledge what music they played. Acid Queen changed their name to Sorcery in 1986, with the arrival of two new members. As Sorcery, they released their first demo in 1987, an EP, Rivers Of The Dead, in 1990 and their only full length, Bloodchilling Tales, in 1991. Compared to the Stockholm bands Sorcery is darker and more atmospheric, but they, like most of the other early death metal bands, also recorded in Sunlight studios, and similarities to Entombed could easily be heard. Sorcery is in my opinion the most overlooked Swedish death metal band, and I would even go so far to say that Bloodchilling Tales is my favourite Swedish death metal album from 90-91, and one of my favourite death metal albums ever.

Edge Of Sanity was formed in 1989 in Finspång and debuted in 1991 with Nothing But Death Remains. With their first four albums they turned to a more melodic direction for every album. My personal favourite album by them is 1993's The Spectral Sorrow. Most people would, though, say that their 1996 album Crimson is their best. It consists of only one 40 minute song. After another album the members couldn't decide about musical direction, which led to them parting ways. The vocalist, Dan Swanö, left the band, but the remaining members released one more album, which was not very successful. In 2003, Dan Swanö himself released a new album with the band name, but without the other members. Crimson 2, as it was titled, was a sequal to Crimson, and also only consisted of one long song.

Dan Swanö has also been a member of the death metal band Infestdead, avant-garde death metal band Pan.Thy.Monium, avant-garde black metal band Diabolical Masquerade and, in the 2000's, the retro death metal band Bloodbath. He has also his own studio Unisound, where he has produced several bands.

When Nihilist disbanded, Johnny Hedlund would instead form the band Unleashed, where he could have his viking lyrics. Unleashed released their debut Where No Life Dwells in 1991, and are still producing death metal albums. Like Dismember, they have lately gone towards a more melodic direction. Compared to Entombed, Dismember and Grave, Unleashed is the band with the most influences from doom metal.

In 1991 Entombed also released their follow-up to Left Hand Path, Clandestine. It was more complex than the debut, and they have described it as almost jazzy. Atheist was a big influence for the album. Before this album singer L-G Petrov was fired, because the band's leader Nicke Andersson thought L-G was hitting on Nicke's girlfriend. Although they hired another singer, it was Nicke himself who sang on this album. After this album they changed their sound towards what is often described as death'n'roll on their 1993 album Wolverine Blues. After one more album Nicke Andersson left the band for his other project, the garage rock band Hellacopters (by which he would gain big success), but Entombed continued producing albums. In 2001 Entombed would work with the Royal Swedish Ballet for a show called Unreal Estate. Nicke Andersson would also return to death metal in the 2000's with his new band Death Breath, which was more of an attempt to sound like American death metal, rather than Stockholm death metal.

The Stockholm death metal scene was, of course, the biggest in Scandinavia with many bands. Bands from the Stockholm area and surroundings that would release their debut albums 92-93 include Centinex, Epitaph, Afflicted (who was more technical than other Stockholm bands), Desultory (often described as death/thrash), Unanimated, Necrophobic (both latter two are often labeled as death/black metal) and Katatonia. The last band was originally a death/black/doom band. Their second album Brave Murder Day is the album that is closest to death metal but more death doom metal. Later they would change their sound towards gothic metal. Two of the members of Katatonia would also form the death doom band October Tide.

Hypocrisy, from Ludvika, is fronted by one of the biggest producers in the metal world, Peter Tägtgren. Hypocrisy was formed in 1990 as Seditious. They debuted in 1992 with Penetralia. My personal favourite album by them is their eponymous 1999 album. Peter Tägtgren also has his electronic side project Pain, which has gained big mainstream success in Sweden, even succeeding to have two single hits in top 20 on Swedish single chart. Peter Tägtgren has also sang on Bloodbath's second album.

Cemetary was formed in Borås in 1989, and is one of my personal favourite death metal bands. They would later shift towards gothic metal, but their first three albums are often considered as death metal, and both their first two albums are among my favourite death metal albums. An Evil Shade Of Grey was released in 1992 and is one of the most depressive death metal albums released in Sweden. It is sometimes described as bordering both doom and black metal, although it is mainly a death metal album. It contains some really interesting accoustic passages. On their next release, Godless Beauty, they started changing towards a more Paradise Lost-influenced sound with inclusion of more keyboards and more melodies, but still very depressive, an evoultion they would continue on.

Other early Swedish death metal bands formed in 88-91 (I save the Gothenburg bands for the next part) include Evocation (from Borås), Seance (from Linköping), God Macabre and Vomitory (both from Karlstad), Interment (from Avesta), Gorement (from Nyköping), Entrails (from Växjö), and the more brutal Deranged (from Hjärup). Some of the bands wouldn't release albums until much later.

Now over to the early Finnish scene. The Finnish scene started, as far as I know it, with the band Disgrace. Disgrace was formed in 1987 and released their first demo in 1989, an EP in 1991 and their debut album, Grey Misery, in 1992. After this album they changed their sound to punk, and are still active.

The first Finnish death metal bands that would make official releases were Xysma, Funebre and Abhorrence. The first two of them were formed in 1988, and the latter in 1989, all three of them EP-debuted in 1990. Except for a split a year later, that EP would be the only release for Abhorrence, Funebre would only release one full length, Children Of The Scorn, in 1991, but Xysma would continue. Xysma released two EP's in 1990. At that time, they were still a grindcore band, but on their first two full lengths, the first one, Yeas, released in 1991, they played death'n'roll. They then changed their sound towards a softer non-death metal sound.

In 1988, also the bands Phlegethon, and Convulse were formed. Phlegethon only came to release an EP, Fresco Lungs, in 1991. Convulse, on the other hand, would release two full lengths. The first one, World Without God, was released in 1991. This is my personal favourite Finnish death metal album and one of my favourite death metal albums at all, with its mid tempo and cold dark atmosphere. As I understood it, it is a very popular album in Finland, but the rest of the world needs to discover this gem, too. On their second album, Reflections, released in 1994, Convulse changed their sound more towards death'n'roll.

I will save the two biggest Finnish death metal bands for the next part, but there are two other early finnish bands worth mentioning: Demigod and Demilich. Demigod has released three albums, but it is their first album, Slumber Of Sullen Eyes, released in 1992, that is their classic one. Just like with Convulse' World Without God, this is a very atmospheric death metal album, and also highly recommended. Demilich, on the other hand, played a more technical form of death metal, and only came to release one album, Nespithe in 1993.

Other early Finnish death metal bands include Purtenance, Adramelech, Vomiturition and Archgoat.

Now over to Iceland, from where I only know one early band, but that is also one of my personal favourite death metal bands: Sororicide. Sororicide was formed in 1990 and released their only full length, The Entity, in 1991. This is a brilliant album, and one of my absolute favourite death metal albums ever. It has a very cold dark atmosphere, and a very slow tempo for a death metal band, why it is sometimes labeled as doom death metal, but more often labeled as only death metal, because it is more of a slow form of death metal than doom death metal. Sororicide also came to release two splits.

In the next part I will mainly cover the melodic death metal scene, the early Gothenburg bands leading to it, and some other later bands that don't really fit in any of the parts...

Guest article disclaimer:
This is a guest article, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.


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Aristarchos - 05.04.2013 at 14:53  
I realized I forgot two of the earliest Swedish death metal bands: Filthy Christians and Satanic Slaughter, both formed in 1985. Filthy Christians was a thrash/death/grindcore band who released one album Mean in 1990, and their first demo in 1988. Satanic Slaughter was a black/death/thrash band who didn't release any album until 1995, but released a demo in 1988.
Marcel Hubregtse - 05.04.2013 at 14:57  
Finalnd is not really part of Scandinavia
Marcel Hubregtse - 05.04.2013 at 15:00  
Oh and please stop using the word scene incorrectly.
There was no big Scandinavian scene or even a Swedish scene, there was however a Stockholm scene and a Gothenburg scene.
Susan - 06.04.2013 at 20:07  
I was reading this and started to think "I wonder if Iceland has any bands included here" and then a sentence later got to your paragraph about Iceland I'll definitely check our Sororicide and a few other early bands mentioned here that are new to me.
Bad English - 07.04.2013 at 03:24  
Where are bands from Farea since viking made raids there and they speek in old lanuadge

Good article, I enjoy to read this one,.realy great to read this one.

BTW in next part I hope you will mention north 3 good class melo death metal bands from Luleå
I hope you know whitch ones I mean.
Aristarchos - 08.04.2013 at 18:27  
Written by Marcel Hubregtse on 05.04.2013 at 15:00

Oh and please stop using the word scene incorrectly.
There was no big Scandinavian scene or even a Swedish scene, there was however a Stockholm scene and a Gothenburg scene.

Do you have a suggestion of a better word to use?
Aristarchos - 08.04.2013 at 18:32  
Written by Marcel Hubregtse on 05.04.2013 at 14:57

Finalnd is not really part of Scandinavia

Yes, I should probably have used the word Nordic instead. There are so many great death metal bands from Finland, or at least Convulse, Demigod, Amorphis and Sentenced, that I wanted to include them too. And Finland and Sweden have a long common history.
Aristarchos - 08.04.2013 at 18:37  
Written by Bad English on 07.04.2013 at 03:24

Where are bands from Farea since viking made raids there and they speek in old lanuadge

Good article, I enjoy to read this one,.realy great to read this one.

BTW in next part I hope you will mention north 3 good class melo death metal bands from Luleå
I hope you know whitch ones I mean.

I actually don't know any band from Faroe, I can't know every band out there. I searched here on MS, and the only band I found was melodeath Synarchy.

I have already written the second part, and it is found here:
Aristarchos - 08.04.2013 at 18:39  
Written by Marcel Hubregtse on 05.04.2013 at 14:57

Finalnd is not really part of Scandinavia

In that case I don't think Iceland counts as Scandinavia either.
Marcel Hubregtse - 08.04.2013 at 18:44  
True also not actually part of Scandinavia. Just as much as FInland, plus Sororicide have been totally non-influential
Aristarchos - 09.04.2013 at 14:16  
Written by Susan on 06.04.2013 at 20:07

I was reading this and started to think "I wonder if Iceland has any bands included here" and then a sentence later got to your paragraph about Iceland I'll definitely check our Sororicide and a few other early bands mentioned here that are new to me.

I become so glad when people check out new bands after reading my articles, that's what makes it worth to write these articles, besides the fact that I always find new bands myself to check out during my researches.
Gaylord Fagballs - 09.04.2013 at 20:31  
You forgot to mention the amazing death metal band from norway called molested. check them out
Aristarchos - 16.04.2013 at 17:49  
Written by Marcel Hubregtse on 08.04.2013 at 18:44

True also not actually part of Scandinavia. Just as much as FInland, plus Sororicide have been totally non-influential

I agree they have been totally non-influential, but still too great to not mention.
Aristarchos - 16.04.2013 at 17:50  
Written by Gaylord Fagballs on 09.04.2013 at 20:31

You forgot to mention the amazing death metal band from norway called molested. check them out

I don't know them, but will definitely check them out.
NocturnalStalker - 30.06.2013 at 19:28  
Thanks for the article. I'll be sure to check out some more obscure bands (because I already know all the essential bands). Good job!
Aristarchos - 06.11.2013 at 18:09  
Written by Gaylord Fagballs on 09.04.2013 at 20:31

You forgot to mention the amazing death metal band from norway called molested. check them out

I have checked out Molested, and I loved them, quite unique dm. Thanks for the recommendation!
Aristarchos - 25.12.2013 at 20:38  
I found some more early Finnish bands: Rippikoulu, Necropsy, Mordicus and Corporal Punishment.
Aristarchos - 07.01.2014 at 16:59  
Especially Rippikoulu is recommended of them.

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