Mörk Gryning were underdogs from the start. Mysterious, elusive, and not like most Swedish black metal outfits of the day—two types: type A) Marduk clones; type B) Dissection clones—, the duo of Draakh Kimera and Goth Gorgon managed through their deal to No Fashion Records with relative aplomb. Debut album, Tusen år har gått…, may’ve been viewed as Second Tier when it hit import shops and distros in 1995, but there’s charm to Mörk Gryning’s classically-inspired black metal now that time as cruelly passed. Much in the same way Cemetary’s An Evil Shade of Grey unsettled—the riffing; that guitar tone—Mörk Gryning’s distant, cavernous riffs and motifs are disquieting against the backdrop of haunting keyboards and blasting drums. As the group aged—remember Mörk Gryning were in their mid-teens when they hit Unisound Studios to record Tusen år har gått…—particularly through second album Return Fire and its incredible follow-up Maelstrom Chaos, their music became more complex, more involved, but no less dark and fantastical. They took a more mechanical turn on Pieces of Primal Expressionism before calling it quits for good on back-to-form Mörk Gryning in 2005. Here’s to Mörk Gryning! May your nefarious black resound in eternity.
5. “The Sleeping Star”
By 2003, Mörk Gryning were a vastly different band. Not vastly, actually, but noticeably. Black metal itself was in a period of growth (or re-discovery), as it started to become less xenophobic or more inclusive, depending on vantage point. “The Sleeping Star” is part of Mörk Gryning’s new approach. More electronic, still malignant, the lead-off track to Pieces of Primal Expressionism is a sign post of the day, where musicians started to embrace the “other”. The opening gait almost has a GGFH feel to it—OK, maybe Red Harvest—and it’s nothing like we’ve heard in Mörk Gryning’s impressive repertoire. There’s really only one spot—around 2:40—where the melodic side of the band emerges.
4. “Supreme Hatred”
For album number two, Return Fire, the Swedes hit up Sunlight Studios. The result was a dirtier, uglier Mörk Gryning. Though the group’s classical mentality was still intact, the gritty Sunlight Studios production made for a darker, scarier sound. While I personally prefer the debut and Return Fire’s successor—production-wise—the songs, particularly “Supreme Hatred”, upped the hate ante, which, for black metal, was an important factor. In some ways, “Supreme Hatred” mixed Mörk Gryning’s riff savvy with a Motörhead vibe, where Draakh Kimera and Goth Gorgon jammed two chords instead of 10.
Ah, the song’s expeditious, expertly crafted melodic intro riff is so right. And the tempo on “Omringningen” is also perfect for Mörk Gryning’s controlled chaos. But things don’t get real until the 2:00-minute mark. The kings of the awesome mid-way point, the Swedes level the playing field with the riff-drum combo they take right into the sweet solo. The sinister returns, however, right ‘til the end, where corrupt keys play the apocalypse song against Draakh Kimera vocal spells.
2. “Tusen år har gått”
When Tusen år har gått… hit in 1995, Sweden was in a full-on race with their Norwegian brethren for black metal’s crown. The number of bands performing the darkest of arts was uncountable—before Metal Archives, perhaps—while the number of styles ranged between two pillars of sound. “Tusen år har gått…” isn’t too far from either, insofar as there’s recognizable traits throughout, but dig a little deeper and the Swedes were on a different plane. The distant evil of the riffs reminded of an oncoming storm, dark with malice and loud with might. With the song’s mid-section, Mörk Gryning belied their tender teen age.
Few bands closed in on Dissection’s evil grandeur quite like Mörk Gryning. On “Templars”, the Swedes set the bar unbelievably high for black metal. The song’s composition and musicality embrace the genre’s tenets—the opening gallop blast rules—but take black metal to places it’s never been. The whining riffs, the tremolo godliness, and the acoustic mid-section are so far beyond the style before substance thing it’s ridiculous. Add in the virtuoso lead and Mörk Gryning have an unstoppable track on their hands. Oh, and the coda? Unreal! There have been a lot of great Swedish black metal tracks, but few of them hold a demonic candle to “Templars”. Hail!