How does one create a new genre? Experimenting with different styles will definitely be one aspect. But I believe having an influential scene around you is also a bonus. Gothenburg, Sweden, had such a scene in the early nineties. The second largest city in Sweden can call itself the birthplace of melodic death metal (or short melodeath). A subgenre of death metal that started incorporating more melody in its sound through clean vocal passages, acoustic guitars and later even keyboards. You can argue about influences of other genres endlessly so I would like to focus on the three bands that are generally considered as the founders of the genres. In the meanwhile I try to throw in some fun facts to make clear how connected all the bands in this scene were. If you want to know the roots of melodic death metal and some other good melodeath bands, keep reading.
At The Gates
Playing under the name of At The Gates since 1990, the band had already released three albums before releasing their most popular album Slaughter of The Soul in 1995. After several years of experimenting with their sound this album was considered something new in the scene. In comparison with the next two bands, At The Gates had the most raw sound, having only bursts of melodic deathmetal throughout the album. The slow acoustic songs ‘Into The Dead Sky’ and ‘The Flames Of The End’ clearly showed the band’s softer side. Unfortunately the band called it quits one year after the release of their masterpiece.
Fun facts: Drummer Adrian Erlandsson’s little brother, Daniel Erlandsson, became quite the famous drummer himself for another iconic melodic deathmetal band, namely Arch Enemy. Daniel also recorded drums for In Flames’ second release, the Subterranean EP (1995).
In Flames was also founded in 1990 as a side-project by Jesper Strömblad, because he wanted to create music with a more melodic touch than his current band Ceremonial Oath. Jesper is quite a multi-instrumentalist since he played bass in the death metal outfit Ceremonial Oath, guitar and keyboard in In Flames and drums in the power metal band Hammerfall. The debut album, Lunar Strain (1994), was recorded with Mikael Stanne on vocals. It’s since The Jester Race (1996) that Anders Friden took on the full-time vocals of In Flames after singing for Ceremonial Oath and Dark Tranquillity. The Jester Race is considered as another landmark album for melodic deathmetal due to the introduction of dual guitar leads and acoustic sections.
Fun facts: Peter Iwers, the current bassist, is the little brother of Anders Iwers, the former guitar player of Ceremonial Oath. Niklas Sundin (guitar player for Dark Tranquillity) wrote the lyrics of the earlier albums in cooperation with Anders Friden who was still working on his English. Mikael Stanne designed the logo of Ceremonial Oath.
Founded in 1989 by Niklas Sundin and Mikael Stanne, Dark Tranquillity can call himself the oldest of the three bands. The vocals on their debut album, Skydancer, were done by – guess who? – Anders Friden. When he left to take Mikaels place at In Flames’ microphone, Mikael switched from rhythm guitar to full time vocalist of Dark Tranquillity. Also for this band it was the second full length album, The Gallery (1995), which is considered a landmark album in the history of melodic deathmetal. Most innovating for the deathmetal genre at this time were the female guest vocals of Eva-Marie Larsson on the songs The Gallery, Lethe and … of Melancholy Burning.
Fun fact: Niklas Sundin designed almost all the album covers of Dark Tranquillity as well as some of In Flames’ and many other melodic deathmetal bands (e.g. Arch Enemy, Arise [Sweden], Callenish Circle [The Netherlands], Detonation [The Netherlands], Dimension Zero [Sweden], Eternal Tears of Sorrow [FIN], Fragments of Unbecoming [Germany], Nightrage [Sweden /Greece]).
The genre expands further too other countries (see bottom of post for more suggestions) and combinations with other genres. Most surprising fusions possibly being the Swiss Eluveitie’s celtic folk metal or the Japanese ‘trance metal’ outfit Blood Stain Child. Nowadays, In Flames holds the scepter as most popular of the three bands but this is accompanied by a great evolution in their sound. The vibe and sound of the early recordings is often hard to find and original founder Jesper Strömblad has left the band in 2010 due to problems with his alcohol addiction. While some people have abandoned them long ago, others remain loyal till the end (‘In Flames we trust!’). Dark Tranquillity remained more loyal to their original sound but kept experimenting over the different albums with sometimes less, sometimes more clean vocals and piano passages. In 2008 At The Gates suddenly returned to blow away a new generation of metalheads. Last year we were treated with a new album At War With Reality. A return to greatness after 19 (!) years. Unlike the other founders of the genre they have not compromised much in terms of raw brutality and therefore still sound the closest to the original Gothenburg sound. What an amazing time it must have been to witness the rise of an entire genre in the city of Gothenburg in those early years of the nineties!
Final side note: when talking about the iconic melodic deathmetal albums you cannot ignore Carcass’ Heartwork (1993). Recorded in Liverpool, UK, in 1993 this album was far removed from Gothenburg. Carcass is one of those few bands who can say they were pioneers in two genres. While their earlier work focused on grindcore, they made a switch to melodeath on Heartwork. What could have influenced this simultaneous evolution in the UK? I blame their former Swedish lead guitar player Michael Amott. Yes, one of the founders of Arch Enemy. So, although we often talk about the Gothenburg sound and the local scene, a lot of credit goes out to Carcass and Amott’s influence on the genre as a whole. Younger metalheads were made aware of this with a reunion tour in 2008. This was the same year as At The Gates’ reunion shows across the European festivals. Goddamnit, that was a great summer! And even without Michael Amott, who left in 2012 to focus on Arch Enemy, Walker and Steer confirm their lawful presence in the scene with the release of the sublime Surgical Steel in 2013, 17 (!) years after their latest release Swansong (1996).
At The Gates, In Flames and Dark Tranquillity (& Carcass) influenced a whole boost of melodic deathmetal bands. The focus long remained in Scandinavia with the most popular bands being other Swedish bands such as Arch Enemy, Scar Symmetry, and Soilwork* and Finnish bands such as Children of Bodom, Kalmah, Norther, Mors Principium Est, and Before The Dawn. In case you want some more underground melodeath from the rest of the world check out these bands:
- Pathogen [Australia]
- Thine Eyes Bleed [Canada; with Slayer’s Tom Araya’s little brother on bass]
- Frosty Eve [China]
- Remembrance of Pain [Columbia]
- Mercenary [Denmark]
- Archaios [Dominican Republic]
- Fractal Gates [France] (song featuring Sotiris of Septicflesh!)
- Inactive Messiah [Greece]
- Lunarsea [Italy]
- Shadow [Japan]
- Nothnegal [The Maldive Islands]
- Euphorean [New-Zealand]
- The Morphean [Austria]
- Archeon [Poland]
- Scartown [Russia]
- Darkness By Oath [Spain]
- Coram Deo [Ukraine]
- Pyrocist [United Arab Emirates]
- Imperitia [Belarus]
- Oathean [South Korea]
That should keep you busy for a while!!
*Last fun fact (seriously I’m stopping after this one): while the theme of Soilwork’s Rejection Role is red and it features In Flames’ band members dissing the Soilwork crew, In Flames’ music video for Trigger is mainly bluish featuring the gang of Soilwork annoying In Flames band members.