Category Archives: Metal

Sweden, Home of the Metal Gods

A common refrain in heavy metal music refers to the “gods of heavy metal”, which is probably a sign of the influence of paganism on the genre. I have no idea if the heavy metal gods actually exist, but if they do, I’m pretty sure they live in Sweden. Why, you ask? Let me explain.

If you’re reading this blog, there’s a decent chance you’re a fan of heavy metal. However, if you’re a Swede that’s reading this blog, there’s an excellent chance of you being a metal fan. The Swedes are MASSIVE fans of heavy metal. Just check out this nifty info graphic showing the number of metal bands per 100,000 people in countries around the world:

Metal Band Popularity

Now, technically, Finland has more metal bands per capita than Sweden, and many of them are excellent, but the quality of bands that Sweden has produced is incredible. Bathory helped establish both the black metal and Viking metal genres. Candlemass was instrumental in pioneering doom metal. HammerFall is one of Europe’s most successful power metal bands. Gothenburg, Sweden birthed the incredible genre of melodic death metal, which started with At the Gates, Dark Tranquility, and In Flames, and the country has held a stranglehold on the genre ever since through powerhouses like Amaranthe, Amon Amarth, Arch Enemy, Scar Symmetry, and Soilwork.

People in Sweden are crazy over heavy metal, and they know it. A guy was clinically diagnosed with “heavy metal addiction” and awarded government funded disability benefits to help supplement his job as a dishwasher (during which his employer lets him rock out to Slayer). A popular venture capitalist released a book on Heavy Metal Management, which was the bestselling book in Sweden in December of the year it was released and sold over 10,000 e-books in the first two weeks of January alone!

So why is Sweden so metal crazy? Well, if the fine folks over at Citylab would have you believe that the trend has something to do with the wealth of nations, given that wealthier countries around the world are generally more fond of heavy metal. But, as they themselves admit, correlation does not equal causation. I have an alternative theory.

The gods of heavy metal live there.

Why would they do that? Well, let me put forth a few other seemingly random correlations:

Hallboviken
Gorgeous, no?

–       Sweden is a land of intense natural beauty. Seriously, check the place out. It’s gorgeous. Let me also mention that many old pagan religions emphasize a strong bond with nature, sometimes making it a fundamental point of their religion. Coincidence?

–       As beautiful as it is, Sweden is also unbelievably, bitterly cold, and in the winter months, parts of Sweden are bathed in eternal darkness. Sounds like the stuff of metal songs, does it not?

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, well what about Antarctica? It’s super dark and cold there, and some might call it beautiful.

True, but here’s the kicker: Vikings.

Scandinavia was the ancestral home of these fierce warriors, who believed in paganism, devoted themselves to Thor and Odin, the gods of war and death, and believed strongly in the ideals of battle, kinship, and mysticism. Now, you could say that heavy metal merely is a modern manifestation of many of these same ideals, and that the genre is so popular in Sweden due to the lingering influence of the Vikings on the culture. Or perhaps, the metal gods, those same ones who granted the Vikings their strength and power, are now granting that same boon to heavy metal musicians, who are harnessing said power and converting it into incredible, earth-shattering music.

I mean, honestly, which is more plausible? I rest my case.

Image credit: Featured image by Mazurw (CC-BY-2.5) via Wikimedia Commons. Post images by unknown (CC BY-SA 2.0) and netzanette (CC BY-NC 2.0) via Flickr.

Is it Metal? – “Stone Cold Crazy” by Queen

After another long hiatus (this time caused by too many factors to mention – mostly other writing deadlines that I prioritized over blogging), I feel like I need another short, easy blog post to get myself into a groove. It seems like these ‘Is it Metal?’ posts are perfect for just such a thing.

This week’s challenger? Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy.”

Wikipedia says: It’s not metal.

My take: Sorry, Wikipedia. For once, you’re dead wrong. This is pure, unadulterated metal. This song, released in 1974, preceded the emergence of speed metal (late 70’s) and thrash metal (early 80’s) by several years. It’s cited as a seminal influence in both genres, and was even described by Q Magazine as “thrash metal before the term had been invented yet.”

Don’t believe me? Listen to this Metallica cover of “Stone Cold Crazy” and tell me the original isn’t every bit as fast, intense, and powerful. If Metallica can’t make a song more metal than the original, that’s saying something.

A final note: Queen has to be one of the most versatile, most influential, and most creative bands in the history of modern pop music. They basically created whole genres without trying or even realizing it. Their influence will be with us for decades to come. Hats off to them!

Image credit: Featured image by Thomas Steffan (CC BY-SA 2.5), via Wikimedia Commons.

The 10 Best Melodic Death Metal Songs

I’m a huge fan of melodic death metal. Don’t ask me why, but it’s always appealed to me ever since I first heard In Flames’ Colony back at the tail end of the 90’s. So what better way to celebrate my love of the genre than to compile a list of the ten best melodic death metal songs of all time?

First of all, all the usual caveats to these sorts of lists apply, namely:

–       I can only judge those songs that I have heard,

–       I get to decide what qualifies as melodic death metal, and

–       These are my opinions, nothing more.

I also decided that I would only feature one song per band. If I were to be of the opinion that the top 10 best songs in the genre were all from In Flames or Children of Bodom (which I’m not), the list would be rather boring. Better to feature each artist’s (arguably) best work.

Also, given that I’m only presenting the top ten, there’s some notable bands that got left out of my list, including but not limited to Amon Amarth, At the Gates, and Solution .45.

Now, the list:

#10 – Arch Enemy – Stigmata

I’m not a fan of Arch Enemy. Their music was always a touch heavier and more aggressive than most of the other melodic death metal bands, and Angela Gossow’s voice just grates on me. They’re just not for me. That said, however, the instrumental track “Stigmata” is a classic melodeth tune. Short, sweet, with a primary focus on the trademark melodic death metal wailing guitars.

#9 – Dark Tranquility – The Sun Fired Blanks

Dark Tranquility is one of the three godfathers of melodic death metal and the only band of the three to have released nothing but true melodeth music since their inception. While they are legendary in the genre, I’ve always found that their music just didn’t have quite the same impact as that of other latecomers. Like many other bands on this list, they’ve incorporated progressive elements into their music over the years, but it never really fully worked. Take 1999’s Projector which blends melodeth and goth rock, two very disparate musical genres. The album as a whole is just odd, but it does feature arguably their best song in “The Sun Fired Blanks”.

#8 – Blood Stain Child – Sirius VI

Believe it or not, not all of the best melodic death metal bands come out of Europe, just 90+ percent of them. Blood Stain Child is a Japanese outfit that blends melodic death metal with electronica and J-pop. I guarantee you have never heard anything quite like them. They are awesome, however.

#7 – Raintime – Apeiron

Italian band Raintime fuses melodic death metal with power metal in spectacular fashion. They’re not particularly well-known, but they should be. “Apeiron”, off of their 2007 album Flies & Lies, melds the best elements of both genres and is a fun sonic blast from start to finish.

6 – Disarmonia Mundi – Celestial Furnace

Another Italian Band, Disarmonia Mundi is basically comprised of two dudes, Ettore Rigotti and Claudio Ravinale, one of whom (Rigotti) pretty much plays all the instruments in the entire band. They then got renowned death metal vocalist Björn “Speed” Strid (of Soilwork) to do some singing for them, and the result was a truly masterful album.

5 – Amaranthe – Invincible

A choice that is sure to draw ire. Amaranthe is a strange beast, a mixture of melodic death metal, power metal, and pop. Some people hate them, some people love them. I’m in the latter camp, as evidenced by my inclusion of their song “Invincible” as my number five pick. In my opinion, their most recent album, The Nexus, is among the most entertaining metal releases of all time.

4 – In Flames – Embody the Invisible

I’ve talked about In Flames before. They are without a doubt my favorite melodic death metal band of all time. Virtually any of their songs from their album Colony, or roughly half of the songs from Clayman and Whoracle could have made this list. And so, it’s a little surprising that my favorite song of theirs, “Embody the Invisible”, only came in at number four on my list. I think that just speaks to the quality of choices one through three.

3 – Children of Bodom – Follow the Reaper

Children of Bodom is another band that just seems to produce unbelievably awesome, earth-shattering melodic death metal by the fistful (although they don’t strictly consider themselves to play melodeth music at all). Their 2000 album Follow the Reaper is one of the best in the genre, and the title track from said album leads the charge.

2 – Soilwork – Needlefeast

Ahh, Soilwork. I don’t consider their body of work to be as consistently amazing as some of the other bands on this list, but boy, when they’re on, they are ON. I strongly considered including “The Living Infinite I” and “II” from their most recent double album (titled The Living Infinite – go buy it, now!), but ultimately, Needlefeast won out. I can’t praise this song highly enough. Just strap in and enjoy the ride.

1 – Scar Symmetry – Ghost Prototype I – Measurement of Thought

The number one honor, however, goes to Scar Symmetry, featuring possibly the most versatile vocalist in the genre, Christian Älvestam. This song is pure joy to listen to from start to finish.

Well, hopefully you enjoyed the list. If you want easy access to all the songs in one place, check out the YouTube playlist of these songs that I put together.

As always, feel free to argue my choices in the comments.

Image credit: Featured image by soaronski (CC BY-NC 2.0), via Flickr.

Is it Metal? – “American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad

First off, my apologies to any and all readers for the long hiatus. My wife and I recently had a new addition to the family, and those of you who are parents surely know that babies are massive time vortices, sucking in any and all free moments from your sleep-deprived, zombie-like clutches. As a matter of fact, I’m surprised babies haven’t been the subject of more testing by experimental physicists, as they surely bend the laws of time and space in their near vicinity. Besides the time thing, their gravitational pull is also far higher than it has any right to be, as my leaden, baby-lugging arms can attest to.

Anyway, I figured the best way to get back into the active blogosphere was to ease myself in slowly, and what better way to do so than with a short ‘Is it Metal?’ post. This week, I’m featuring Grand Funk Railroad’s 1973 hit “We’re an American Band.”

Wikipedia says: It’s not metal.

My take: This one is pretty clear-cut. The song is heavy and certainly loud, but it’s not metal. From lead singer (at least on this track) Don Brewer’s gruff, bravado-infused voice to the prominent funky bass to the thematic elements, this song is full on American hard rock from the start and dang good hard rock at that.

However, that hasn’t stopped heavy metal artists such as Poison and Rob Zombie from tackling the song in cover form. I’ve included some links for your perusal, but honestly, I wouldn’t bother listening to them if I were you. The covers are poor at best. Grand Funk Railroad’s gruff, hearty original  is hard to beat, but beyond that, the song as a whole just doesn’t lend itself very well to a metal version.

One note to end on: I’ll try to start a more regular posting schedule again, but quantity will probably not reach pre-baby levels anytime soon. Still, you should expect more than one post every other month from here on out.

Image credits: Featured image by Ben Schumin (SchuminWeb) (CC BY-SA 2.0), via Flickr.

Awesome Tracks – Amaranthe – 1.000.000 Lightyears

Amaranthe is a band I stumbled across recently. Having released their first album just two years ago, they’re a relatively new group who has developed an incredibly unique sound, a sort of heavily pop-infused mixture of melodic death metal and power metal.

If that sounds strange, well, it is, but it’s also incredibly awesome, although others disagree with me vehemently. Their slick, tailored sound has earned Amaranthe quite a bit of ire from certain corners of the metal fanatics’ kingdom, but you know my philosophy about metal haters: they need to get a life, enjoy the things they like, and stop hating the things they don’t.

So where does the name Amaranthe come from? Well apparently ‘amaranthe’ comes from the Greek ‘amarantha’ meaning unfading, and amaranth (with no ‘e’) is a type of flowering plant that produces a seed that is high in protein and is a staple in some parts of South America. The band, however, apparently chose the name Amaranthe as it had a ‘mysterious’ ring to it – that, and they had to abandon their initial choice of Avalanche due to copyright issues.

Anyway, on to this week’s song: “1.000.000 Lightyears”. (Yes, that means one million. Amaranthe is Swedish, and it’s common in most parts of Europe to use a period rather than a comma as the delimiter). There’s no official music video for the song, but the band did release a fun video of themselves performing the song in Japan mixed with footage of their trip there. As always, I’ve added my own running commentary after the video.

0:24 – The first singer is Jake E, the band’s clean male vocalist.

0:27 – That’s the band’s clean female vocalist, Elize Ryd.

0:30 – And finally, the band’s harsh vocalist, Andreas Solveström.

0:39 – Keep an eye on the bassist’s facial expressions throughout. Here, he shows off his crazy face.

0:44 – Bassist (in the middle) is not amused.

0:46 – Now he’s sporting the ‘dude bro’ face.

1:16 – Note the fan sporting the most metal of all personal accessories: the leopard print man purse.

2:29 – The guitarist, Olof Mörck, is a very underrated soloist, IMO.

2:52 – Take note: the only acceptable piece of clothing for a heavy metal fan is a black T-shirt.

3:00 – Wait – there’s an interloper. A girl in a school uniform! How did she get in?

Well, that’s it for today. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Image credit: Featured image by Cecil (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.