Like most music subgenres, Swedish death metal is fairly homogenous. It’s one of the finest kinds of intragroup similarity though: adequate musicianship, fueled by supremely aggressive guitar tones bolstered by the rest of the band, not overpowered by it. This list is meant to bring that sound in your ears.
It’s actually not an exhaustive or definitive list: fans are going to have their favorite band, who may or may not be represented here. Instead, the list is mostly a revisit to the subgenre’s nascent days, when it emerged to take the extreme metal world by force.
“Revel In Flesh”
Entombed mastered a great uptempo groove early in its career. “Revel In Flesh” seems to pick up where speed and thrash metal had left off. All of Left Hand Path is quintessential Swedish death metal. The guttural, abrasive vocals, buzzsaw guitars, and an irresistible momentum that goes from fast to blast is an equation for success, as you will hear… Entombed helped found and spearhead this wild subgenre.
“Skin Her Alive”
Downtuned, speed/thrash metal uptempo stuff. The guitar buzzsaw is in full effect, as with the Entombed tune. A little bit more aggressive or ambitious than the first tune. So much good music came out during this decade. Nice song title.
“Blinded By Fear”
Classic At The Gates. Same basic uptempo groove. This band brings melodic structure into death metal. The distorted, dissonant spoken sample at the beginning only adds to the punch when the song proper kicks in. Vocals are higher pitched then from the first two tunes. Less buzzsaw-y then most, but still relies on very powerful distortion.
The song has a slower tempo intro. Unleashed at their most… unleashed. Classic backbone of the genre type tune. Guitar wise, the buzzsaw is a little less pronounced then the others so far.
And now for a modern tune. Peter T. was there from Swedish death metal’s beginning; the man knows how to craft a great death metal tune and the first couple minutes of this song are pure gold. After the atmospheric beginning, the thrashy, Exodus-recall riff, bright and menacing bass, and skull-smashing yet relaxed tempo shows it’s still about the hook, even for a niche fringe subgenre like Swedish death metal. A neck breaker of a lick, a fave for sure.
“Into The Grave”
What a way to introduce your band to a wider world then just Sweden. Back in 1990, this was some of the heaviest metal Century Media, or anyone, offered… and 1990 was a great year for metal! The buzzsaw guitar / the “Sunlight Studios Sound”, the creepy guitar synth, the tempo shifts, and the relentless momentum of the downtuned song helped Grave to establish itself as one of Swedish death metal’s forerunners and forefathers.
“Die by the Sword”
No, not the Slayer tune, but close: this is a cover of said, by Necrophobic. A brighter, more trebly (but still buzzsaw) tone for this band, coupled with the more mid tempo groove, will more readily draw a comparison to Teutonic thrash-masters Sodom then Entombed. At first. Give it a listen, if only to relish what happens when you death-up a Slayer tune.
Creepy and slower, like some of Left Hand Path. The analog drums, guttural vocals, and buzzsaw guitars are in full glory. Foundational sound from a lesser known ‘first wave’ band. The tempo varies frequently, which gives an uneasy, underground feel to the music.
Very aggressive guitar tone, coupled with the speed metal uptempo groove, makes for a very enjoyable listen. Vocals are similarly aggressive, full of grit and menace. A little brighter or more trebly then most, with drums more ‘upfront’ in the mix, this thrash-laced song is part of yet another memorable Swedish death metal debut album.
What an amazing record this was for the early 90s – great for both highway driving or waking up to early in the mornings. There’s such a lo-fi, underground mix on this. It was perfect for the car’s wrecked stereo system: half the speakers were blown, so turning it up all the way was still almost inaudible just outside, and nobody cared, because it was still the craziest shit they’d heard. The first real blastbeaty tune on the list. The sound quality is not on par with ‘modern’ bands. (sorry)
British grindcore had stormed the metal world. Carcass and their pathophysiological meanderings were all the rage. The bloodletting by Carcass and their Black Country compatriots did not escape the sharp eyes and ears of the Swedes, who are, to this day, still as good at musical imitation as they are at innovation (Max Martin, anyone?) The second riff is a killer hook, but the band abandons it in favor of grindcore’s hyperspeed fury. Here’s some more lo-fi, blastbeaty goodness for the list.
Melodic verses, a speed metal ‘up’tempo (with glorious abrupt shifts and false endings), and jam-packed with killer hooks: Desultory was snapping necks professionally even on their debut, Into Eternity. You can hear the late 80s thrash in the riffs – death, even Swedish death, was built on a strong foundation. Great tune to listen to nascent Swedish death metal even as factions were going grindcore, other groups were going melodic, and still more stayed with their buzzsaw roots.
“Supposed To Rot”
This is the pre-Entombed band, Nihilist. It’s a great demo version of a song – it’s got that wonderful ‘recorded in a bunker’ aesthetic, and underground, 8 track reel to reel appeal. This mix has booming bass! Vocals sound almost a nod to Bathory, nowhere near the guttural lows found on Left Hand Path. It’s very interesting, and a great glance into the evolution of the genre.
A more relaxed mid-tempo accompanies the ever-present buzzsaw. Pretty defacto early Swedish death metal: downtuned, buzzy, no frills.
“Enter the Eternal Fire”
Melodic, slower / doomier, crisper drums, and ample synth layering hallmark this as a more ‘evolved’ form. It sounds like the band is courting blackmetal territory – the mood evoked is the same as for say, “Freezing Moon”, but with just a little less bloodthirst. As the genre was born, it almost immediately began to morph into a robust beast.
Don’t fear: the craziness is never far out of reach. Expert tension build on the drum intro, aggressive, abrasive, guttural vocals, and a crushing, downtuned, heavy riff hallmark “Soulless”. Grave is one of a few bands who have kept the old-school vibe of their chosen subgenre alive. The band doesn’t have to resort to blastbeats or flash to get it’s point across; the music is well constructed and relatively simple.
Like “Soulless”, this is a tune which is sparser on notes and heavier on momentum and accenting. It’s downtuned, buzzsaw, guttural, and inescapably Swedish. There’s a definite message about ancestors, dead, and heritage in the lyrics – again, the genre decided early that it wasn’t going to stay blood and gore. Guitar wise, the chorus is nicely flashy, with plenty of tremolo picking and just a little bit of wah. It’s a great way to catch someone’s ear and hold on.
“When Life Has Ceased”
Flange distortion on a drum-led intro bleeds into a killer riff, showcasing a band who proved to have a near unstoppable momentum. If you ask someone what Swedish death metal is, invariably Entombed’s going to come up either as the first, or one of the first, names. Left Hand Path is one of those rare albums: it’s a survivor across decades. “When Life Has Ceased” is the most neck-snapping tune on the tape, or for those of you who came to the scene later, or had more money, cd.
“Slaughter of the Soul”
More layered, crisper, faster tempo, less pure buzzsaw-y, and slicker equalled At The Gates creating a bridge between death metal and more “Gothenburg” sounding, melodic Swedish extreme fare. This song is an interesting highlight in an otherwise fairly monolithic subgenre (similar in that respect to other subgenres, like brutal death metal).
And now for another genre-crosser… this one combines the beloved blastbeats of death metal with the unquestionably Swedish innovation and art form, buzzsaw guitar distortion. If you like your music fast – this is a tune to check out for sure.
Showing out the list is Vomitory’s “Bloodstained”, a fairly mid-tempo crusher loaded with the subgenre’s keystones. As many of their contemporaries have done, Vomitory subtly invokes another genre by reference: the dual guitar harmony for the chorus riff has the same evil overtone that Slayer’s Reign In Blood disc was buried to the hilt with.