Swedish metal music is essential to the history of metal music, and has been incredibly influential on the genre worldwide. According to a report conducted by GIS Lounge in 2012, Swedish death metal bands ranked second globally, having the most metal bands per capita, with an average of 37 heavy metal bands per 100,000 residents; that’s just over 3,000 bands nationwide!
For heavy metal enthusiasts and those curious to learn about Scandinavia’s role in the global metal scene, the list below serves as a great starting point for discovering Sweden’s most important metal bands. Let’s explore what sparked the Swedish metal scene, from the Gothenburg sound to Stockholm’s death metal scene, and who’s keeping it going today. The musicians who were part of the early days of Swedish metal frequently dropped out of bands to form new ones, carrying elements from the previous bands they played into several present-day ones.
A technical note: the sound engineers that mix metal music have to meticulously understand the instrumentation, as well as what sounds not to record, otherwise metal would just be brown and white noise fighting in your ears. When you consider the artistry of this engineering, it adds another layer of appreciation to the music.
Here are the Swedish metal bands you need to know about:
The History of Swedish Death Metal
Though Sweden and Norway joined the metal scene after its inception, their influence on the genre is recognized worldwide. The late 1960s saw the birth of metal music in the United Kingdom. The UK hardcore punk scene and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal influenced the start of the metal scene in Sweden during the 90s. One of the first Swedish bands to emerge onto the stage was Bathory, who started thrash metal, a category of metal music characterized by an ultra-fast tempo and a shredding-style of the lead guitar.
The new thrash scene quickly gave way to variations identified by a harsh guitar sound, then later branching into more technical and melodic subgenres. What remains a common thread between the sub-genres is the dark, bleak mood associated with Swedish metal. There are 20 sub-genres in metal music globally.
The best Swedish metal bands play such sub-genres as Swedish extreme metal, death metal, black metal, grindcore, thrash, melodic, or melodeath. Hardcore punk helped kickstart the Swedish metal scene, making Gothenburg a haven for what is now known as the “Gothenburg sound” and Stockholm as the melodic death metal scene.
Stockholm Metal Music
As metal music developed in Sweden, Stockholm’s raw death metal and power metal bands were at the base of the growing scene. A guitar pedal was used, which was vital to shaping the genre and sparking musicians’ transition to Stockholm. The resulting innovation affected metal music not just in Sweden but globally.
Here are a few of those Stockholm-based bands that gave Swedish black metal music its driving force:
The band Entombed had its first run on the underground scene during the late 80s until the early 90s with their original name, Nihilist. After a few demo recordings, the band became Entombed. They were responsible for launching the no-ubiquitous buzzing sound on the guitar.
One of the most notable tracks from Entombed is their “Wolverine Blues (1993);” a must-listen.
Carnage was part of the death metal and grindcore scene in Stockholm along with Entombed. The band split during the early years of the Swedish metal scene to form Dismember.
Dismember was art of the early grindcore and death metal scene. The band made its debut at the end of the 80s.
Nasum debuted in 1992 as a grindcore band playing exceptionally short songs
Shylock, a heavy metal band, changed its name to Kingpin after a year of being together (hopefully due to the word’s antisemitic history) but not before releasing this notable song, “The Chosen One (1984).”
No Security had a short-lived run as a hardcore crust punk band, with their lyrics usually about anarchist visions and disgust with the political landscape. The band formed in the mid-80s and split in the early 90s, producing two albums in that time.
Check out their song, “Kollaps,” from the band’s second and final compilation album, When the Gist Is Sucked From the Fruit of Welfare (1993).
The name Vomitory is a household name for those in the Swedish metal underground scene, especially since the band decided to hold onto their original death metal style when the second wave of Swedish metal, melodeath, emerged. Listen for yourself on the band’s 2011 album “Opus Mortis VIII.”
Avskum began its musical journey first as a hardcore band for a short stint during the early 80s. The band returned during the first metal wave, playing original punk and D-beat music. Here’s a track from Avskum’s hardcore metal days.
Gothenburg Metal Music
In the metal music world, Gothenburg birthed the “Gothenburg sound;” melodic death metal. The metal scene in the USA even paid homage to the Swedish metal scene with its Swedecore (Bleeding Through, Devildriver, Hisma, Trap Them) sound.
If you’re curious about the structured song form, growling vocals, and the “heavy” in heavy metal, then check out these essential Gothenburg bands.
At The Gates
At The Gates, playing melodic death metal, was formed at the start of the 90s, then broke up in 1996. Some of the members of A.T.G went on to form The Haunted. The band comes together occasionally to play reunion tours.
The Haunted was formed in 1996 with several of the members of At The Gates. They cover styles including melodeath, thrash, and groove metal.
Totalt Jävla Mörker
Totalt Jävla Mörker plays a range of metal sub-genres. Here are a couple of tracks that have a punk edge to them.
Many Swedish metal bands came from other cities outside the Gothenburg or Stockholm scene. A.C.T. formed in Malmö, Sweden’s southernmost city bordering Denmark. It is clear that the progressive rock band, who started in the mid-1990s, has its roots in the melodeath “Gothenburg sound.”
The band Opeth is from Stockholm, and while this would be grounds to consider them part of the first wave of Swedish death metal starting in 1989, the band is part of the “Gothenburg sound.” In addition to other metal bands, they are influenced by traditional styles such as jazz and blues, making their sound more of a progressive rock sound.
Their album In Cauda Venenum is included as the header image.
As a founding band of the melodic death metal scene that emerged at the end of the 80s as the “Gothenburg sound,” Dark Tranquility is incredibily influential. Here’s “Phantom Days,” from the band’s 2020 release, Moment.
Arch Enemy puts their own twist classic Swedish death metal with unique melodies and riffs that put them squarely in the Gothenburg canon.
Listen to the full Youtube playlist with the best Swedish metal:
Find out more about the history of Scandinavian metal music. Want more Scandinavian music? Learn about jazz in Denmark!
Header image: In Cauda Venenum by Opeth.
Thank you to Michael Apuli for his assistance in writing this article.