Mining for Black Metal Gold Part 4: Swedish Classics

In previous editions of this series, I’ve tried to highlight contemporary black metal bands from around the world who have gone under-recognized and deserve wider attention. But what about all the older bands that got left behind over the years? Sure, a lot of forgotten bands deserve to stay that way. But there are also those flashes of dark and maniacal brilliance that don’t make it onto “100 Best” and “Essential Albums” lists.

Therefore, for this episode of Mining for Black Metal Gold, let’s explore some bands and albums that deserve to emerge from the shadows of infinite obscurity and into the sunless dawn! That’s right, we’re talking about Sweden!

I choose Sweden because there’s so many fantastic bands to choose from. The country has, of course, yielded a vast harvest of well-known extreme metal bands, many of whom have albums in their catalog that deserve more recognition (I could dedicate entire articles each to Skydancer, Lunar Strain and Dance of December Souls). Across the breadth of Swedish black, death and doom metal bands, there’s a consistent sense of cold fury and aggression mixed with melodic grandeur. Its black metal legacy mostly predates and then follows on after that of it’s Norwegian counterpart, with many acts achieving success in the mid-to-late 90s and after.

When most people talk about Swedish black metal, they primarily focus on Bathory, Dissection, Marduk, Dark Funeral and Watain, and then stop there. Some genre devotees may also know about blue-cover melodic bands like Vinterland and Sacramentum, wild misanthropes like Craft and Armagedda, and the straightforward ferocity of The Black, Arckanum and Blodsrit. But then there are still a handful of bands that don’t come up, despite creating albums that could easily stand alongside (and in some cases, above) the output of the bands named above.

You’ll hear some common themes in the albums below: great use of melody, memorable arrangements, and it’s worth noting that half of these were produced by Hypocrisy’s Peter Tägtgren…the guy really gets around!

Happy digging!

Setherial- Nord

Year: 1996

Imagine a band so talented that they can make a 12-minute song you wished was even longer. Ok, then have them do it again on the same album with a 14-minute song. The influence of Nightside-era Emperor cannot be denied here, but Setherial does way more than simply ape the sound of their Norwegian neighbors. There’s a lot of great riffs, twists and turns to discover and re-discover on Nord‘s 6 songs, like at the 5:54 mark in the song below. I know the band may be sick of hearing that Nord is their best album, but it’s hard to set any of their later material against it. Much of their post-Nord work resides in the same territory as Dark Funeral’s The Secrets of the Black Arts. And that’s fine, but I need to be in a real blast-beating mood to get into Hell Eternal or Lords of the Nightrealm. But I could listen to Nord every day. You probably should too.

Svartsyn- …His Majesty

Year: 2000

Svartsyn is one of those bands seemingly stalked by business conflicts, production foul-ups and unexpected health issues. The project’s main man, Ornias, even went back to 1998’s The True Legend and re-recorded several parts for its 2012 re-release (it needed it, trust me). But his crowning achievement remains …His Majesty, one which the band crafted with a purposefully raw approach. In a 2017 interview, Ornias says the band “rehearsed the material for a full year before we began recording it in late 1999. Aiming for a filthier production this time around, we built a soundproof isolation box for the guitar amp in our rehearsal place and used a portable studio.” Striving for filth certainly paid off here, especially on “I’m Cleopatra’s Killer.” I’m also a big fan of Bloodline, though Ornias thinks it’s Svartsyn’s worst record. Oh well.

Ophthalamia- Dominion

Year: 1998

Some of you might be familiar with this band, as it once housed members of acts like Abruptum, War and Dissection. They also contributed a cover of Mayhem’s “Deathcrush” to Nordic Metal – A Tribute to Euronymous, one of the best black metal compilations ever assembled. If you like fictional world-building in your metal (Blashyrkh, anyone?), go and dive into the land of Ophthalamia. Tony Särkkä (aka “It,” RIP 1972-2017) even created a mythology and language to go with this lyrical concept. Although I’ve seen praise for the band’s first two albums, I think their most cohesive and put-together masterwork remains Dominion. The use of guitar harmonies gives the music so much life, along with the rousing drum beats and excellent vocals, all wrapped up in a nice package by the balanced production work of Peter Tägtgren and Mikael Hedlund.

Thy Primordial- Where Only the Seasons Mark the Paths of Time

Year: 1997

Some bands can capture an entire species of emotions using only a few chords arranged in the right order. Thy Primordial’s first album makes an immediate impression on the listener with that absolutely blistering guitar tone. But the band also had a great talent for applying that tone to a musical narrative that reaches deep into the recesses of your soul, leaving it covered in ice, snow and darkness. Like on Nord, there’s a very clear early Emperor influence here, especially on Isidor’s vocals. But again, the band takes that sound and let’s it explore far and wide.

Siebenbürgen- Loreia

Year: 1997

This is probably the most unorthodox entry on this list. Loreia has a very melodic sound that contains echoes of classic heavy metal and even the use of clean chanting/operatic vocals from Lovisa Hallstedt. These vocals can take you out of the experience for a moment, but if you give the record a chance in its entirety, it works. Aside from this bold choice, the album boasts a lot of great riffs, and a pretty sweet drum sound as well. The song below, “Morgataria” is undeniably catchy and shows the band at it’s best. Siebenbürgen would go on to create another solid album with Grimjaur (which probably has one of the sickest album covers ever) before traversing more mainstream gothic metal territory on later released before breaking up in 2009.

Naglfar- Vittra

Year: 1995

Alright, now for the big one. Naglfar is a reasonably well-known band, as many readers must have at least heard their more death-metal leaning albums like Sheol and Pariah. But seriously, the band’s debut album is an unrecognized masterpiece. I don’t care the clicky-sounding kick drums, it’s fine! The riffs and flourishes on “Enslave the Astral Fortress” are pure melodic black metal ecstasy! The screams on “Sunless Dawn” are pure FIRE!!! And if you don’t find yourself air-drumming to “As Twilight Gave Birth to the Night,” I’m not sure I have anything else to say to you! Seriously, if you dig albums like Far Away From the Sun, The Somberlain, Ancient God of Evil and Welcome My Last Chapter, you need to hear this album.