Monday, February 2, 2009

Gothenburg Melodic Death Metal

In the early 1990's a metal scene started to develop in Gothenburg, Sweden. This would later come to be known as melodic death metal. The early years were pretty decent for bands from the city. There was originality to the music. Three bands became synonymous with the scene: At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity, and In Flames. Now however, the scene is viewed with scorn. The three innovators began to soften or simplify their sound and the music was further bastardized and glutted with copycats. Even in the U.S., the metalcore scene of the early 2000's borrowed heavily from Gothenburg. This was a style of metal that I liked very early on. Some of the albums are still favorites of mine, but there is a decrease in quality. Let's look at the three major bands and their early releases followed by their latest:


The first full length album from At the Gates was The Red in the Sky is Ours. This album featured some folk elements, such as the use of a violin. The music was essentially death metal with folk elements and a little extra melody. An essential album for many death metal heads, not just those than want melody.

Slaughter of the Soul was the final album by the band and is often considered the quintessential Gothenburg album. This is the album that has been copied and bastardized over the years. Not a bad album by any means, but the folk elements are completely gone and the music has been simplified to an insane degree. Fast and fun to listen to, but mostly devoid of any real meaning. At the Gates broke up after this album in 1995. The members are still active in groups like The Haunted and Disfear.


Dark Tranquillity's first album Skydancer was similar to At the Gates first album in the heavy atmosphere of the music. Dark Tranquillity's first album is a masterpiece, one of my all time favorite albums. The only thing that would make it better is if Mikael Stanne, their main singer through the years, was the vocalist on this release. The music is haunting and intense.

Dark Tranquillity later began heavy usage of keyboards. The music changed, but remained good. No longer really resembling death metal at all, the keyboards give a strong sense of melody to the rest of the music. The only thing close to resembling death metal is the voice of Stanne. Dark Tranquillity is still a quality band, but the epic feel of the first album is long since gone.

This is the band that is most often associated with both the good and the bad of the Gothenburg scene. Oddly enough, singer Anders Friden was the vocalist on Dark Tranquillity's first album while Mikael Stanne was In Flames's first singer.

The Lunar Strain was In Flames's first album. Once again, there was a heavy folk influence to the music with acoustic guitar interludes and the occasional string section. The rest of the music was typically Iron Maiden-esque riffs sped up and down-tuned with Stanne's death metal growls.

After Friden became the singer, the band released a few more quality albums.

Then came Reroute to Remain. While this album is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine, this was definitely when the band started to turn. There are some nu-metal elements to the music and most of the death metal elements are gone. There would be two more albums in this style.

Which brings us to A Sense of Purpose. I can't get into this album much at all. There are a couple of catchy tracks, but it is painfully obvious that In Flames's top priority is popularity at this point.

Other bands exhibiting the Gothenburg sound include Arch Enemy (mostly known for their female singer Angela Gossow and her strong death growls), Soilwork, and Gardenian. In recent years, there has been a new movement of melodic death bands from Finland such as Insomnium, Omnium Gatherum, and Mors Principium Est. These bands take many cues from the Gothenburg scene but add their own flavors to it.

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