Country profile: Sweden

Impact travels ashore to Sweden to uncover some of its very different yet thriving music trends. We take a whistle-stop tour of the legendary death metal culture over there, and get the low-down on the developing underground hip-hop scene that’s on the brink of international success.

For those of you unacquainted with the genre, Swedish death metal is synonymous with melodic death metal and is also referred to as ‘the Gothenburg Sound’, since the three founders of the genre hail from Gothenburg itself. Dark Tranquility, At The Gates and In Flames, each still active to this day, are sometimes referred to as ‘The Three Kings’ for their dominance in the genre’s formation and indeed in that of melodic death metal itself. More recently the style has spread throughout Scandinavia, giving rise to the mighty Children of Bodom, as well as up-and-coming stars Mors Principium Est and Norther.

The Gothenburg Sound emerged in ‘92 and ‘93, 10 years after the birth of traditional death metal, which was pioneered by Death, Morbid Angel and Possessed. It distinguishes itself from traditional and extreme forms of death metal through its slightly more accessible and comprehensible screamed vocals as opposed to the grunted style of the former, but the most characteristic feature is the use of melodic guitar hooks, riffs and solos inspired by thrash and heavy metal bands such as Metallica and Iron Maiden respectively. The genre often employs melodic and atmospheric keyboards to create a more diverse and epic sound.

Thematically Swedish death metal breaks away from its father genre in that lyrical content touches on political and social concerns, and often also includes Scandinavian folklore. Traditional death metal on the other hand is usually associated with gore and horror, conveyed through both lyrics and cover art (most infamously Cannibal Corpse), which are largely dismissed by Swedish death metal.

Bands currently dominating the scene include Amon Amarth, Arch Enemy, Dark Tranquillity, In Flames, The Haunted, Scar Symmetry and Soilwork. Some to look out for in the near future include Hypocrisy and Sonic Syndicate. Masters of the genre, Arch Enemy from Halmstad in Sweden, place a high emphasis on the thrash side of the genre – flying the flag for female vocalists, they’re fronted by Angela Gossow.

The future of Swedish death metal seems promising with more and more bands beginning to merge the genre with other styles such as technical death metal, metalcore and doom metal, and with the ever increasing geographical expansion, Impact readers should keep a wary eye on the horizon, for The Vikings are coming!

Matthew Lambert and Ryan Neal

Sweden’s hip-hop is equally innovative to other genres to come out of the country, though as of yet, less renowned internationally. Hip-hop burst onto the mainstream scene with Stockholm local Petter’s debut in 1998. What followed was a recognizable trend of second-rate imitation; all record labels signed their own rapper, resulting in a significant drop in quality. It’s the independent artists who have survived since the old days that have fared the best; Looptroop Rockers with their David vs Goliath imprint, or Timbuktu under JuJu Records.

Recent independent artists like Adam Tensta under RMH (Respect My Hustle) have witnessed their hard work pay off in the form of international acclaim from Perez Hilton and studio sessions with American promised-boy Wale. The international release of It’s a Tensta Thing, with its dance friendly house and electric influences, is one of the main events this year.

The best live experience and most consistent music to come out of the scene are the antics of Timbuktu and his following. His sixth and latest album En high-five och en falafel (Yes, A High-Five and a Falafel) launched another trademark tour with seven-to-ten men following Damn!, Scandinavia’s funkiest funk band. Timbuk’s steady follower Chords is equally talented but less celebrated. His Things We Do for Things of last year is arguably the best Swedish hip-hop album of this decade, an eclectic mix of soul, reggae, and boom-bap rap. Honorable mentions of late include always splendidly produced Looptroop Rockers’ Good Things, and Afasi & Filthy’s Fläcken (The Stain), the latter a hybrid of Southern American crunk and lyrics about the angst of inhabiting a harmless Western nation.

As in the rest of Europe, Swedish hip-hop does not necessarily praise or follow orthodox forms. Maskinen (The Machine) is a good example, whose first single Alla som inte dansar är våldtäcktsmän (Anyone Not Dancing is a Rapist) warranted not only a police report, but an international hit on the electronic scene. I’ve heard it played in Montreal, and the group has gigged in New York. The a la mode ‘80s influenced, cinematic sound is found with Stockholm rappers Lorentz & M. Sakarias, whose debut Vi mot världen (Us Against the World) is due to drop very soon.

What started in my walkman eleven years ago as something esoteric and unknown is now branching out into more genres than ever before, and beginning to get the international acclaim it is due. I’m excited.

Sven Carlsson


Leave a Reply