Of the many spectres haunting the world of extreme metal, one particularly overlooked is the ghost of mid-90s melodic blackened death metal. What do I mean by “melodic blackened death metal?” Sure, everyone knows about the Gothenburg scene, where melodic NWOBHM-riffs collided with the dissonance and brutality of old-school death metal. What I’m referring to here is the type of Swedish metal that brought the engrossing darkness of black metal, along with the musical approach that harkened back to European romanticism (not to mention the folk traditions invoked by the 19th-century Geatish Society).
The technique of these bands is similar to the melodic death metal sound of their Swedish brethren, but with the added air of evil that gives it that intoxicating sense of foreboding menace- one more common among their neighbors to the west. Inspired by the resurgence of black metal in places like Bergen and Oslo (not to mention Greece and Poland), many Swedes took it upon themselves to move away from the old-school death metal sound. But while bands like Marduk and Dark Funeral went straight for what we typically consider orthodox black metal, other bands embodied a more melodic spirit. The guitar would not simply create the atmosphere, it would help tell the story.
Most metal listeners know about Dissection and are at least aware of Naglfar. But this tends to be as far as it goes. In the thick fog created by endless genre-mashing, one rarely hears people talk about Sacramentum, Dawn, Unanimated and Vinterland. This is deeply unfortunate, as in many ways, these bands embody all the best things about metal: catchy riffs and great songwriting, effective use of melody to create a narrative structure, vocals soaked in reverb, and all the brutality one needs without resorting to cheesiness or self-parody.
And the style lives on today in great bands like Thulcandra and Stortregn (see a full list here), but for those who are unfamiliar with this style, let's keep our focus on the classic bands. Please let me know if I'm forgetting anyone, as there were some bands who are close to this style, but not exact fits (e.g. Eucharist, Necrophobic).
Yes, I made a Spotify playlist. No, they don’t have Unanimated or Vinterland up there, and they’re missing the best Sacramentum album… curses!