(In this guest post, Johan Paulin features an eye-popping list of metal bands, all of whom hail from the same relatively small town in northern Sweden. Tons of music in here, too.)
As most metalheads with more than a fleeting interest in extreme metal know, Sweden has been a forerunner ever since Quorthon struck his first minor chord back in the 80’s. The explanations for how a population the size of Sweden’s could spawn so many good metal bands have varied, and I won’t get into them now, but it’s safe to say that the great band / population ratio is over the top. Still, for all the bands you do know, dozens more toil in more or less obscurity and deserve a better fate. Thus, when Islander called upon us readers to contribute while he took a well-earned vacation full of cloudgazing and Krokodil [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desomorphine], I decided to take the opportunity to champion some of the great bands that originate from my hometown of Umeå, Sweden.
Umeå is located in the northern part of Sweden and has a population of about 120,000 in the whole municipality, making it the 12th largest city in Sweden according to The Font of All Human Knowledge. If that may seem laughable to many of you, you’ll be rolling on the floor when I tell you that the population of London is equal to the population of my whole country! So, fuck demographics and let’s get on with the metal.
No list of Umeå-bands would be complete without mentioning the Godfathers of a horrendous trend and creators of one of the best music videos ever (“New Millennium Cyanide Christ”). I assume that most NCS readers are familiar with Meshuggah, so I’ll just mention that the locals are very proud of the band and at the same time frustrated by how clueless the city council are about the worldwide impact the band has had.
Fun trivia: drummer Tomas Haake’s sister Ulrika is a senior lecturer at the Department of Education at Umeå University.
“New Millenium Cyanide Christ” (Chaosphere, 1998)
“Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion” (Koloss, 2012)
On the other end of the spectrum, and one of the exceptions to the norm at this website, we find Nocturnal Rites. Normally I have a very hard time exposing myself to excessive amounts of perfume, stupidity, and power metal, but Nocturnal Rites manage to avoid the most common pitfalls of the genre, and for that I applaud them.
For a band who have been going since 1990, Nocturnal Rites have never been as prolific or as successful as bands like Edguy or Blind Guardian, but what they have been is consistent in their delivery of super-catchy, well-crafted, fist-pumping songs. With the inclusion of vocal powerhouse Jonny Lindqvist in 2000, the band found the piece missing to their puzzle and have since produced some of the most underrated power metal albums I know of.
The band have not been very active since 2007’s The 8th Sin, with the occasional live gigs here and there, and rumors of a new album have been floating around for several years. Guitarist Chris Rörland has since joined Sabaton, and I would assume that their heavy touring-schedule will keep him away from Nocturnal Rites for the foreseeable future (i.e., he will probably quit or be fired if NR decide they want to start touring more regularly).
Fun trivia: Drummer Owe Lingvall has a video production company called Dreamday Media (formerly Village Road Film) and has directed videos for Meshuggah, Kamelot, and The Rasmus.
“Eyes of the Dead” (Shadowland, 2002)
Avalon (New world messiah, 2004)
Never again (The 8th sin, 2007)
Staying with the old guard, I must mention Naglfar. This black metal band, not to be confused with the German black metallers Nagelfar, celebrated their 20th anniversary last year by releasing Téras, one of the strongest albums of their career. They started out as a primitive melodic black metal band, but with the departure of vocalist Jens Rydén after the blistering Sheol (2003), the band started incorporating more death metal elements with subsequent releases. Bassist Kristoffer Olivius switched to vocals, and with his midrange growling the change in sound made for a lethal cocktail of the nihilism and bee-swarm riffs of black metal coupled with the monolithic weight of death metal.
Personally I hold Naglfar as one of my Top 5 metal bands of all time, with not a weak song to be found on the past four albums (Sheol, Pariah, Harvest, Téras). Below I have included a few of my favourite picks, new and old.
“Devoured by Naglfar” (Sheol, 2003)
“Spoken Words of Venom” (Pariah, 2005)
“Harvest” (Harvest, 2007)
When Fredrik Mannberg isn’t slaying dragons as guitarist for Nocturnal Rites he’s doubling as Mille Petrozza in Guillotine. Never the ones to overstate their presence, the thrashers have only released two albums, Under the Guillotine (1997) and Blood Money (2008). While not reinventing the wheel, square, or even the pentacle, Guillotine are a solid homage to the German thrash scene spearheaded by Kreator, Sodom, and Destruction. In fact, Mannberg, who handles the vocals, sounds so eerily similar to Mille that it has been speculated that they are indeed the same person.
“Executioner” (Under the Guillotine, 1997)
“Insane Oppression” (Blood Money, 2008)
“Blood Money” (Blood Money, 2008)
I mentioned earlier that I’m not a big fan of power metal, but another exception to that rule is Persuader from Tavelsjö, a small village outside of Umeå. The first thing that will strike you is just how influenced they are by Blind Guardian; musically and vocally they’ve taken Hansi Kürsch & Co.’s life work and run with it. Persuader manage to avoid being straight copycats by infusing the Tales From Middle-Earth with a good amount of thrash riffs, giving them a grittier edge and more balls than usually associated with power metal.
Just like many other local bands, Persuader take their goddamn time between albums. The Fiction Maze, the follow-up to When Eden Burns (2006), is scheduled to be released next year on Inner Wound Records, and it will be interesting to hear how the band will sound, considering that 8 years is a very long time.
“The Hunter” (The Hunter, 2000)
“Judas Immortal” (When Eden Burns, 2006)
Shifting into murkier territory, we find self-proclaimed doomcore quartet Moloken (Swedish for gloomy, depressed), and as the name suggests, this is dark, oppressive, and brooding. The band are based around the dual vocal attack of brothers bassist Nicklas Bäckström and guitarist Kristoffer Bäckström, with a big emphasis on shimmering guitar figures weaving in and out of crust-laden basslines and dissonant guitar riffs. The band themselves cite such disparate influences as Darkthrone, Skitsystem, and Breach, and in a way it makes sense, even if there are no direct correlations that can be drawn.
Out of all the bands in Umeå that have emerged since I moved here 13 years ago I think Moloken are the most interesting and fresh, and I dearly hope more people will discover them. As of now they have their whole discography (one EP and two full-lengths) available for free download at their website:
“We All Face the Dark Alone” (We All Face the Dark Alone, 2008)
“Molten Pantheon” (Our Astral Circle, 2009)
“The Titan Above Us” (Rural, 2011)
This now-defunct band of misfits released one album, Through Hell and Muddy Waters, in 2012 before disbanding, which is a great shame for I haven’t quite heard anyone else sounding like them. Imagine Rob Zombie’s easily palatable brand of groovy metal coupled with a clear country vibe, underscored with banjos and slideguitar, and topped off with the raspy cursings of a guy who usually sings in Scumkill, a Down-influenced sludge band. Schizophrenic? Not really. Just imagine riding down a dirt road in a top-down Cadillac, chugging cheap beer, and holding on to your cowboy hat for dear life. That’s when you should listen to Hellbound.
The band never got around to releasing a physical album, but the whole album is available on Spotify.
Hellbound – Through Hell and Muddy Waters on Spotify
“Level of Shit”
When talking about old and new bands it is hard not to label Festering Remains as the newest band, simply because they’re so young. Singer Tim and guitarist Erik are both 16 and their first demo was released when they both clocked in at the ripe age of 15.
Naturally, there’s been a bit of a buzz about Festering Remains, not only because of the age of the band members, but also because technical death metal isn’t the most common genre in Umeå. When I saw the band live they ripped off a cover of Suffocation’s “Infecting the Crypts” that I think many musicians in their twenties wouldn’t dream of tackling. But beyond all the hype it’s obvious that the band have some serious songwriting skills. While still rough around the edges, the EP Stabbed Beyond All Recognition is as infectious as it is technically proficient.
photo by Henrik Olofsson
Another genre I’m not very impressed with is metalcore. Normally I just find that the majority of bands churn out sub-standard riffs, punctuated by pointless breakdowns. So color me surprised when I found myself to be digging System Annihilated, without hesitation or muttered curses. The band released their debut album Furor on Discouraged Records earlier this year, and it’s an absolute scorcher, melding the accessibility of metalcore with the droning, pensive notes Meshuggah are known for, resulting in the surprise of the year for me as well as one of the Top 10 albums of 2013.
“What We Created”
There are loads more bands, but I’m way too tired to write at length about them, so I’ll just provide you with a list and a somewhat accurate genre-tag so you can check them out if you’d like.
Hate Ammo (thrash/groove metal)
Daemonicus (death metal)
Zonaria (melodic death metal)
Crowdburn (groove metal)
Ancient Wisdom (atmospheric black metal)
Flagellant (black metal)
Bewitched (black ‘n’ roll)
Ghamorean (black metal)
Desolation State Riot (post-hardcore )
“Personally I hold Naglfar as one of my Top 5 metal bands of all time”
I can safely say I don’t blame you for this.
What I love is the diversity and breadth of talent. Great stuff. Persuader also shred hard.
Damn. Umea’s got it good. Meanwhile in San Diego, we have more than ten times the general population, but only a tiny fraction of the amount of metal bands (not to mention that a considerable portion of SD metal bands are absolute crap).
We have lots of GED-core/construction worker-core/”hard rock” bands and of course a ridiculous amount of metalcore bands. I just read both of your posts about local bands though and found a couple I had never heard of. It’s possible there are a lot of really kickass bands around here but let’s get real, no one’s going to book anything like that at the Shakedown or whatever other bars. All the dedicated venues (read: not dive bars) are either pay-to-play bullshit or just crappy in general. The Che is a lot of fun to play but booking is a nightmare if you’re not a part of their inner circle.
Every scene has it’s standouts (see: Cattle Decapitation), but yes, we have far too many bad metalcore bands.
I actually do know a couple people in the Che’s inner circle (I think), if you want to go there more often. I haven’t been there yet (Power Trip sold out before I had a chance to figure out my schedule), but I’ve heard nothing but great things about it.
It’s definitely a cool spot, actually my uncle painted the mural on it too. How do I get in contact with you?
Here’s my fb page:
I’ll talk to my friend and see what I can do. I would give you my email but that would probably be useless.
I believe a little band by the name of Cult of Luna also hails from Umea (and so does Khoma).
In deed they do, but I intentionally left them out for the sake of brevity (which I obviously failed at). But both bands rule Hard. Another fun trivia: Khoma lead singer Jan Jämte earned his doctorate degree in political science last week, defending his thesis about the Swedish anti-racist movement, past and present. In the audience was Kristoffer Olivius, whose wife works in the same department. 🙂
Bastards getting their doctorates! I can’t get mine off the ground!
What subject are you in Andy? I’m working on my PhD in psychology, focusing on the possible evolutionary basis of music.
I had my suspicions this site was a hive of over-educated headbangers. I am working on my PhD as well. Epidemiology.
My suspicion is that we do indeed have a higher percentage of such people in the audience than most metal sites, but more broadly I think people in our little community are just smarter and wiser, whether they have degrees or not. 🙂
That is consistent with my observations.
This is confirming a long held suspicion of mine, too. I’m busily completing a Masters of Library Science, before starting graduate work in history.
Also psychology. Trying to get one off the ground dealing with vicarious video-based interaction.
I’m not really sure I know what that means. Shoot me an email and we can discuss further, Islander got my contacts.
Evolutionary basis of music? Damn, that shit sounds interesting. I’ve just done mine in diabetes research. Maybe we’re all just gluttons for punishment? 😉
I’ve been working for decades on my post-grad degree in Daydreaming. No degree is ever awarded because everyone is always thinking about something else.
I can vouch for the reason given for not including Cult of Luna. They actually appeared in Johan’s first draft. 🙂
Wow, we have 2 metal bands here in Boise, about 6 times the size of Umea. And neither of them has released new material in the last 5 years. And both kinda suck.
I probably shouldn’t have done it, but I laughed out loud at this comment. Bravo!
There are more bands from that Swedish town then there are in the entire state of Kansas.
Manilla Road is from Kansas, so you don’t really need anything else.
There’s a hell of a lot if inbreeding in bands here. As you might have seen, two of the members of Persuader also play in Guillotine. The fourth member of Guillotine also plays with Mannberg in NR. And to top it off, the drummer of both bands are also the touring drummer for Naglfar.
The guitarist of Hellbound used to play in NR, his brother are the guitarist for Persuader, and Hellbounds bassist also plays in Moloken.
Like I said, inbreeding.:-)
Naglfar and Festering Remains are both extra awesome
I obviously need more Naglfar in life, good stuff!
Also, I have a soft spot for some Zombie-esque driving beats with hillbilly overtones, so I’ll probably check out some more Hellbound. There’s nothing like banjo in metal 🙂
I also see what you mean about System Annihilated. It’s one of those things with a genre saturated by newcomers that most of the time when I hit ‘play’ on a track like that it seems like I’ve heard it all before. Maybe it’s that they’ve gone in more of a math metal direction, but there’s just something extra in there that makes it interesting.