The rules: No Gothenburg melodeath or death n’ roll allowed. Old-school death fuckin’ metal only – nothing after 1994. If you haven’t heard these albums, you need to have a few harsh words with yourself. That is all. Thank you for reading.
Presented in order of release as opposed to any of kind ranking….
Carnage – Dark Recollections (1990)
Dark Recollections, the only album from Swedish death metal pioneers Carnage, arrived fully formed in 1990…..despite the fact that this rag-tag group of individuals had already broken up by the time the album had clawed its way out of the underworld!
This cult classic had a tortuous existence beset by band members habitually jumping ship but the line-up speaks volumes for its overall calibre. Aside from ever-present guitarist Michael Amott (Carcass, Arch Enemy), Carnage also boasted Matti Kärki (Dismember, Therion, General Surgery, Carbonized), Fred Estby (Dismember) and David Blomqvist (Dismember, Entombed) in its ranks, resulting in a Swedish death metal supergroup before the genre had even taken hold.
The Dismember connections were incestuous with “Deranged From Blood”, “Death Evocation”, “Blasphemies Of The Flesh” and “Self Dissection” previously appearing on Dismember demos (circa 1988–1989), and yet such pillaging never once threatened the overall cohesion found on Dark Recollections.
A Swedish death metal milestone.
Entombed – Left Hand Path (1990)
Entombed may have only been in their late teens when they released this seminal work but their youth was no reflection on the game-changing, buzzsaw noise that erupted from their fetid, putrid pool of groove and gore.
Brandishing a guitar-tone that sounded like a chainsaw cutting a swathe through decaying corpses, Entombed initially shouldered the burden of channeling Sweden’s endless pool of creativity and created an instant classic at the very first attempt!
While the influence of anarcho-punk pioneers Discharge can clearly be heard, this was an album that entered the new decade with nothing but nihilism and a new dawn on its mind. D-Beat repetition may have been an inspiration but Entombed were so much more than just mere plagiarists. Each track on Left Hand Path takes on a deathly life of its own, from the thrashing belligerence of “Revel In Flesh“, to the glorious grooves of “When Life Has Ceased” and on to the Satan-summoning “Premature Autopsy” in an exhilarating and enthralling 45 minutes.
The albums piece de resistance though is the eponymous, opening track itself, an epic masterpiece which should be heralded as one of death metal’s most breathtaking songs. It’s not often that a band can harness the entire power of their sound on the opening song of their debut album – Black Sabbath are one of the few to manage it – and “Left Hand Path” is the death metal equivalent of that heavy metal milestone.
Merciless – The Awakening (1990)
If you’re after one of the finest examples of death/thrash imaginable look no further!
Merciless‘s debut, The Awakening, took Kreator‘s ferocity circa Pleasure To Kill and put a raw as fuck Swedish spin on it. In turn, Merciless walked a very fine line between a genre that had peaked (thrash) and a genre that was about to become the dominant force in metal (death). The result was an album that was hugely influential yet failed to break Merciless into the collective consciousness alongside their one-time contemporaries in Entombed, Dismember etc.
At just 27 minutes, The Awakening was a relentless and savage attack of extreme violence.
Merciless by name, merciless by nature.
Also check out: The Treasures Within (1992) and Unbound (1994) for more deathly thrashing goodness!
Carbonized – For The Security (1991)
Grinding Swedish death metal masters, Carbonized may be somewhat of a Swedish secret but those in the know understand that few bands from the Swedish scene were embracing such a progressive, polyrhythmic attitude combined with the most primitive, yet organic, blast beats around!
With all 3 members of Carbonized having intrinsic ties with Therion, it should come as no surprise that with For The Security, boundaries were being unceremoniously broken and a progressive attitude to death metal prevailed!
Technically advanced yet wallowing in urbanised filth, Carbonized were a shrieking, guttural shock wave of influences; with this Swedish version of UK d-beat punk – spliced with grind and formative death metal – proving both revolutionary and unique among Swedish death metal bands of the early 90’s.
Dismember – Like An Everflowing Stream (1991)
Alongside Entombed’s Left Hand Path, Dismember’s Like An Everflowing Stream is one of the most crucial documents of the pioneering Swedish death metal scene.
Often replicated in a fruitless attempt to invoke the same response this primitive beast induced back in 1991, legions of bands are still trying to capture its magic to this very day.
Featuring obligatory down-tuned, ultra-distorted guitar and bass riffs – ably backed by Matti Karki’s feral barks, inhuman gurgles and animalistic roars – Like An Everflowing Stream is the sound of Scandinavian death metal perfected and each and every song on this all-time classic still slays, ably grinding its way into your sub-conscience with each serrated buzzsaw riff.
Also check out: 1993’s Indecent And Obscene is also mandatory!
Entombed – Clandestine (1991)
Following up Left Hand Path was never going to be an easy task but Entombed’s sophomore release was arguably heavier and more polished than their own genre-defining debut. Retaining the crunch and aggression already expected of them, the result was another death metal milestone and one that tuned out to be an absolute riff monster!
With riffing as immensely catchy as it was relentless, Entombed‘s carnal rock fusion indicated that death n’ roll was coming but, at this stage, Clandestine was resolutely death metal in nature. Even the lack of L.G. Petrov’s vocals didn’t dampen Entombed‘s fire, with drummer Nicke Andersson ably filling some very big shoes!
The guitars dominated and with that god-like tone, Entombed’s thrashy/groovy distillation of death metal’s core ingredients offered up a variety of sound that has ensured Clandestine‘s place at the very peak of Swedish death metal’s hierarchy.
As good as Wolverine Blues is we’re dismissing death n’ roll from this list so Entombed‘s admittedly influential album misses out on a place in this list.
Grave – Into The Grave (1991)
Agonisingly aggressive one minute, irresistibly groovy the next, Grave have always been the (relatively) unsung heroes of Swedish death metal’s pioneering generation, despite their initial contributions rivalling the early works of Unleashed, Edge Of Sanity and Cemetary!
As pure as they come – and stunningly effective without being labelled ‘simple – Into The Grave‘s ever-undulating, meaty grooves and guttural growls immediately had an impact, with the sheer commitment in which they were delivered indisputable and, often, unrivalled.
“Deformed” and the title track are the acknowledged classics, ably the supplying the well crafted, blue-collar-esque, foundations on which Swedish death metal was built.
Also check out: You’ll Never See… (1992) and Soulless (1994) offer more of the same but are well worth a spin!
Sorcery – Bloodchilling Tales (1993)
Heavy on atmosphere, the chilling (some might say ‘bloodchiling’) sounds found on Sorcery‘s debut album should have pegged them as serious contenders. Instead, they fell sadly by the wayside but that’s no reason for dismissing them now!
There was nothing generic or ‘formula’ about Sorcery’s distinct death metal, with the band conjuring magic from their classic horror influenced samples and interludes, ultimately creating a ghoulish blast of Hammer Horror death metal in the process.
That’s not to say that the fundamentals weren’t in place – Bloodchiling Tales was produced by the legendary Tomas Skogsberg at Sunlight Studios and that “buzzsaw” guitar tone is obviously ever present – but Sorcery were doing something different, challenging the status quo with rhythmic gutturals that grooved with the riffs, subtly using keyboards to create a heckle-raising atmosphere and delivering variances in tempo which occasionally bordered on death/doom.
Death metal tales to chill the blood….and the soul!