Scandinavian Metal, meaning metal hailing from Denmark, Sweden, Norway (and sometimes Finland and Iceland), is one of the most well-known of the region’s categories with a rich history and unique sound. Scandinavian metal music has inspired an intense fandom that stretches outside of the north and across the world.
Why do Scandinavians love metal music? It could be that it allows an otherwise reserved people a way to express Big Feelings. The sound certainly stands in stark contrast to the way we perceive the calm and collected Scandinavian culture, and yet it has grown deep and meaningful roots in the region.
Scandinavian metal music may not have the widest fanbase, but it’s likely one of the most passionate you’ll come across, making it a lightning rod of interest even for those who aren’t necessarily into the music. But what if I told you that Scandinavian metal isn’t just for pure metal heads; its charms are actually quite broad.
Most of us avid music listeners have our favorite genres, artists, and songs. If you ever deviate from your favorites, it’s usually because of a friend recommendation. Well, let’s pretend that I’m that friend asking you to check out some music, only this time, we’ll explore it together! Let’s dive in.
The History of Scandinavian Metal Music
Scandinavian metal, also known as extreme metal, first became popular in the Scandinavian underground during the 1980s, from bands first appearing out of Sweden and Norway. Scandinavian metal, particularly black metal, or Viking metal and death metal, drew upon the region’s Norse mythology. Black metal hails from Norway and is identified as frenzied, with haunting keyboard melodies. Sweden forged its Scandinavian metal in a darker, more grim approach to metal called, death metal.
What makes Scandinavian metal music so popular? The rawness of the genre allows its musicians and listeners alike to let go of any angst in the form of primal screams and physical thrashing. Sounds like exactly what you need? Then the list below is for you.
Get to Know Scandinavian Metal
As this music series on Scandinavian music continues, I’ll share a more in-depth look into the history of Swedish and Norwegian metal. If you’re new to the genre, consider this an overview.
I decided to share how I approached my maiden voyage across the ocean of Scandinavian metal on a speed boat (because sailing would take too much time). The metal genre’s intensity makes me feel like having anything less would ruin the experience.
Here’s a list of the best Scandinavian metal bands for your listening pleasure
At the Gates
First up on my journey into the thrashing, Nordic sounds of Scandinavian metal is a metal band out Sweden called, At the Gates. The bands on-again, off-again standing began in 1990, launching their first album, Gardens of Grief. I gave this album a listen, and I have to say that I found myself tapping my feet and bobbing my head to the bass and drums that seem to drive metal music. The self-titled second track ‘At the Gates’ got my attention when the primal vocals sounded off into the first minute of the song as I tried to make out the singer’s lyrics. In 2018, At the Gates released their sixth studio album, To Drink from the Night Itself, with a 2021 album in production.
I listened to one of At the Gates’s most famous songs from the bands 1995 release, “Slaughter of the Soul,” also the title track on the album. After listening to their debut EP and then experiencing this track, I could hear the band’s journey. Still, more importantly, this track has a serious and steady groove from the guitar, bass, and drums that create a perfect storm for the vocalist to rides atop the fast rhythm.
This next band hailing from Norway brings, in my opinion, a dark magical feel to Scandinavian metal, as their style is called black metal. Emperor came together in the ‘90s, releasing its last recording during the early 2000s.
I checked out their song, “I am the Black Wizards” from the bands 1994 album, ‘In the Nightside Eclipse.’ I couldn’t help feeling that as the song traveled through its progressions, I had embarked on a medieval quest. The song rides melancholy riffs and tenor vocals that seemed to be at a higher pitch than other growling voices of metal music, or at least higher than what I expected.
I was quite curious to listen to Meshuggah once I read that polyrhythms creating busy time signatures and jazz scales were elements of this Swedish band’s music core. The first track, “Future Breed Machine,” on the album Destroy Erase Improve, the bands 1995 release, starts with a pulsing sound that couldn’t have warned me of the fast pace time signatures that effortless shifted behind the vocal and lead vocal’s guttural chants. I am not done listening to this band and will soon treat myself to their discography.
Meshuggah is featured in the header image.
Opeth is another Scandinavian metal band that’s Swedish, and rest assured, they will disrupt your unfounded perceptions of metal music. Let’s take their song, “Face of Melinda,” from the 1999 album Still Life. A beautiful guitar melody starts the song introducing vocals that you might recognize in soft rock, leaving the guitar to shred a solo and take the song home. As I searched the band’s discography, I came across the band’s 2019 release, In Cauda Venenum. The band recorded a Swedish and an English version of the album, so pick the one that works for you and enjoy! In short, do yourself a favor and listen to the whole thing, especially if you can appreciate a band’s musical journey from their first to their most recent recording.
Our fifth band, Dissection, is a death metal band from Sweden that started in the late 80s. Though they had a short-lived life as a band, I found the song “Where Dead Angels Lie” from their 2013 Live in Stockholm 2204 release. The vocals are dark with a thick growl. The guitar is sharp and fast, broken up only by musical transitions. The drums and the bass support the speed and intensity of the band’s style.
As Sweden appears to produce a great deal of Scandinavian metal talent, our next band, In Flames, is no different. I first checked out their song “Moodshield” from the band’s 1996 sophomore release, The Jester Race (Black Ash-Inheritance Version). The songs builds from an arpeggiated guitar solo backed by the bass and drums into a growling voice singing a song about what sounds like longing for the moon and losing inspiration.
The final Scandinavian band on my list is from Norway? Dimmu Borgir is a symphonic black metal band. The band’s sound combines string synths playing bright – but not too bright – melodies, with high tempo drums and bass. The vocals are typically guttural. Check out the band’s 1997 album Enthrone Darkness Triumphant (Reloaded) and pick a track and follow the transitions from melodic riffs that give way to metal music’s heaviness.
A New Listening Experience
I hope to have inspired you to check out these Scandinavian metal bands, and to dig deeper into each band when you feel inspired to do so. I may have found new music to work out to or simply enjoy with my morning coffee (although probably not the latter). Either way, I’m happily keeping this playlist! If you’re even more curious about the genre, I encourage you to read through the lyrics of the songs that I listed to bring your listening experience full circle. It may be hard to understand metal lyrics when they’re being screamed into your eardrums, but they’re well worth the exploration; often poetic and deep in way that metal music isn’t always credited for.