When most people picture refer to Scandinavian music, it is the cheerful melodies of Abba or the eclectic tune of Bjork. However, the region has contributed a lot more to the world’s music scene in the form of Heavy Metal. A surprisingly large percentage of heavy metal bands hail from the harsh Scandinavian climate. A surge in popularity caused the genre to burst from the Swedish underground scene in the 1980s and it has been influencing popular culture all over the world ever since. There are even casino slots based around heavy metal bands like Twisted Sister and Motorhead!
When you look at the history of some of the countries – Viking raiders, mystical runes, battling Norse gods – it becomes easier to understand why these crashing guitars and guttural screams rouse something within the population. In fact, there’s even a form of heavy metal known as Viking metal which actively incorporates folk melodies and imagery from ancient mythology to evoke a totally unique sound.
The true extent of Scandinavian Metal’s appeal came in 2006 when Finnish heavy metal outfit Lordi won the Eurovision Song Contest with their anthem Hard Rock Hallelujah. They returned to the stage this year to perform during the interval of the Grand Final in Rotterdam, a competition which featured another Finnish heavy metal band Blind Channel, as well as eventual winners, Italian rock band Måneskin.
For all those who were introduced to Scandinavian heavy metal for the first time, here are some of the best bands you need to listen to.
One of the pioneers of the Swedish heavy metal scene and often credited with creating the black metal sound, Bathory were formed in 1983 and continued to be popular through the 1990s. Their early sound was very heavy, but from their fifth album onwards, they switched to Viking Metal, adding a more melodious sound, and bringing onboard aspects of Norse mythology and Swedish history. Many metal fans consider this album, Hammerheart (1990) to be their best.
Bathory were unusual in that they refused to play live shows, much to the dismay of their fans. Their last appearance on stage was in 1985, before many people had even heard of them. From 1996 the band consisted solely of their founding guitarist, Quorthon, who played every instrument on Bathory’s songs. His untimely death in 2004 brought an end to one of the most influential Swedish heavy metal bands.
Formed in Norway in 1993, Dimmu Borgir were heavily influenced by Bathory, Mayhem, and Iron Maiden. Their music combines racing drumbeats and a throbbing base with soaring synths and vocal melodies, all swirling around singer Shagrath’s guttural growls. They are still going strong with the band having announced production has begun on their eleventh studio album. With a career spanning 28 years and still going strong, it’s unsurprising that Dimmu Borgir’s sound has evolved over the years, erring towards a more mainstream sound as their popularity increased. Their line-up has also seen some changes, the latest being the addition of Victor Brandt on bass.
Possibly the most famous Scandinavian heavy metal band due to their Eurovision success, Lordi hail from Finland and have cultivated a unique image over the years. Always performing in full monster make-up and prosthetics, the band are notoriously private about their real identities. It’s a gimmick that works and the band stands apart from every other long-haired, leather-wearing rock band doing the rounds.
While many heavy metal fans might feel that Lordi’s music has become a watered-down version of the genre they love, such is often the price to be paid for success, especially within such a niche style of music.
Another Swedish band, Opeth have been around since 1981 and are still going, making them the longest-running band on our list. They are also one of the most diverse, experimenting with different heavy metal and rock music styles, always searching for another way to make their sound unique. Pairing dirty guitar chords with beautiful lyrics, their influences are as diverse as death metal and classical, with some folk and blues thrown in along the way.
The band’s most recent releases have steered away from heavy metal and taken on a more progressive rock sound, perhaps as a result of the line-up changes that have seen 20 different band members over the years.
Scandinavian heavy metal music may not be the most well-known genre out there, but its fans and followers are some of the most passionate music afficionados in the world. The songs are designed to awaken primal feelings within the listener, with the beats and bass notes tapping into our very soul. It seems a strangely emotional experience to have come from such a cold, stoic area of the world, but maybe it has been so successful because it gives the Scandinavian people the release of passion that they all need.