Sweden’s cold, dark nights and stark white landscapes inspire more than popular Nordic-Noir Crime fiction. The heavy-metal music industry in Sweden is gigantic compared to the size of the population. Is this due to head-bangingly energetic music warming the blood in a cold, hostile climate, or is there more at play?
Metal music might be the counterbalance for a quiet gentleness associated with Swedish people. Other factors contributing to so many Metal bands are:
- State supports musicians
- Good music education
- Dark, mystical Nordic mythology gives identity
- Extreme climate
- Archaic string instruments legacy
Sweden is the place where Melodic-Death-Metal (Melodeath) originated. Various other Heavy Metal genres have been flourishing in Sweden since the 1970s. Swedish Metal bands combine brute force, pagan myths, and haunting melodies like nowhere else on earth.
What metal bands are popular in Sweden? Do Swedish bands sing in Swedish or English? What Is distinctive about heavy metal music? Why does Sweden have so many heavy-metal bands? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see Swedish Metal Bands vs Norwegian Black Metal to learn more.
What Metal Bands Are Popular In Sweden?
There is a complex network of popular Swedish Metal Music genres, for example, Death-Metal, Doom-Metal, Extreme-Metal, Progressive-metal, Symphonic-Metal, and Scandinavian Power-Metal. Metal music inspired by Nordic history includes Viking-Metal, Folk-Metal, and Pagan-Metal.
The three genres synonymous with Swedish Metal are Swedish Death Metal, Melodic-Death-Metal, and Viking Metal.
Melodic Death-Metal Started In Stockholm, Sweden
Melodeath (Melodic Death-Metal) originated in Sweden. These bands combine fast double-bass drumming with melodic guitar. Vocal styles intertwine melodic singing with screaming and growling. Examples of Swedish Melodeath bands are:
- At The Gates
- Dark Tranquility
- In Flames
Swedish Death Metal Started In Gothenburg, Sweden
Swedish Death Metal (SDM) started appearing in the late 1980s. This style of music evokes dark misery, chaos, and death in darkly growled lyrics. The sound of SDM was different from Death Metal bands in other countries, as it wove more melodic sounds into Heavy Metal.
The word ‘Goth’ became popular in this era of Gothenburg’s Metal music scene.
One of the pioneering bands was Nihilist, which was hugely influential even though they existed for two years. The four most popular bands of early SDM were Unleashed, Entombed, Grave, and Dismember.
A best-selling list of Swedish Death Metal bands on Bandcamp (link below) includes the following bands:
- Ceremonial Decay
- Grand Cadaver
- In Shadows & Dust
- Sentient Horror
Also see Why Does Sweden Have So Many Lakes? to learn more.
Viking Metal, Where Nordic Myth Meets Heavy Metal Music
Viking-Metal is a genre that embraces Nordic mythology, paganism, and folk elements from the Viking Age. The Scandinavian nations are proud of the bravery and heroism of their Viking ancestors. Viking history, like Metal music, is a hard-core, male-dominated world. Symbols like runes, historical weapons, and warrior-style dress are part of the escapism Viking-Metal offers.
The gods of Nordic mythology like Thor, Magni, and Balder are known for their superhero strength. Giants, wizards, and sorcerers that could play with the forces of nature need a thunderous soundtrack. Sweden’s Metal bands and especially Viking-Metal bands do just that!
Amon Amarth is a Death-Metal band that has many Viking-themed lyrics. Twilight of the Thunder God was their triumphant album released in 2008. Mjolner, Hammer of Thor is a song-video where band members and audience alike look like Viking warriors fresh from the battlefields of another era.
Examples of Viking-Metal bands from Sweden are:
- Grand Magus
Also see Why Does Sweden Have So Many Billionaires? to learn more.
What Is Distinctive About Heavy Metal Music?
Metal is often darkly aggressive, raw, and brutal in the sound and performance. Heavy Metal music creates a reverberating, powerful sound experience that can be felt and heard.
Distorted electrical guitar combines with intense drumming and heavy bass. Vocals are growled, screamed, or spoken in a low, menacing way before a wave of sound erupts.
The themes explored in Heavy Metal music include Fire, Doom, Dominion, War, Slaughter, Apocalypse, Gods, Demons, Battles, Slavery, Religion, Destruction, and Desolation.
Olga T. Conzáles wrote a very insightful thesis on the complexities, roots, and evolution of Viking-Metal music.
Do Swedish Bands Sing In Swedish Or English?
The popularity of Sweden’s Metal music in the USA and UK can be ascribed to these bands singing mainly in English. Band names and song titles are often taken from Old Nordic words, mythology, and history.
The band Manegarm takes its name from the wolf Managarmr in Norwegian mythology. Manegarm, like most Metal bands in Nordic countries, sings in English.
Reasons Why Sweden Have So Many Heavy-Metal Bands
Scandinavia (Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland) has an abundance of Metal bands with many fans in their own countries and worldwide. Nordic countries are fortunate in having State support for performing artists.
In Sweden, all primary school children receive in-depth musical education. Music is seen as a more viable career choice than in some countries.
Education and State support don’t necessarily lead to Heavy Metal musicians, but encouraging people to follow their musical dreams is part of the answer. In the 1990s, Sweden’s government subsidized those musicians who proved to be part of a band. This era saw an astronomic boom in Metal bands like Opeth, HammerFall, Katatonia, Axenstar, and Amon Amarth.
Swedish musicians have access to an extensive music publishing industry. The turnover of new music published are higher than in most other countries. Record distributors actively export music to the USA, where Scandinavian music has a considerable following. This does not lead to Metal music, but the advantages of being a musician in Sweden also benefit the Metal music industry.
The harmonic structures in this genre can be rather complex. One theory on why Metal music, especially Progressive-Metal, is so prevalent in Sweden is that people with a high average IQ like to explore complex music.
Archaic Scandinavian string instruments like the cello, bagpipes and the nyckelharpa have a raw, sonic, ethereal sound. This might be an unconscious influence when the low-key, electric guitar screeches with pain and passion in Metal Music. The Folk-Metal band Utmarken combines the hurdy-gurdy with drums and electric guitars.
The weather outdoors in Sweden is bleak and dark for most of the year. The darkness outside is transformed into dark music that celebrates the toughness of those that can survive here. Playing high-energy music indoors that pulsates with brute force is one way of harnessing the harshness of reality into art.
Also see Do Swedes Avoid Conflict? to learn more.
Heavy-Metal Music and the Swedish Psyche
The national character of Swedish people can be described with the word ‘lagom.’ The meaning can be translated to ‘just the right amount’ or ‘around the team.’ This harks back to the time of Vikings, where everyone took just the sip of mead from the communal horn that was their due.
The code of conduct in Sweden tends towards quietness, cautiousness, and being accomplished with no need to boast about it.
The ethos of ‘lagom’ is visible in the Swedish attitude towards career, finance, home décor, and family relations. Perhaps Heavy-metal’s passionate, unapologetic noise is the rebel’s way of finding release and freedom from an ethos of restraint.
How Many Metal Bands Are There In Sweden?
When the number of Heavy-Metal bands is measured against the number of people in a country, the Nordic countries win. Finland takes first place with 53.2 Metal bands per hundred thousand residents. Sweden is in second place with 37.14 Metal bands per hundred thousand residents. This adds up to 3,000 Metal bands in Sweden.
- USA and UK both have 5.4 Metal bands per 100,000 residents.
- Germany has 10 Metal bands per 100,000 residents.
- Canada has 7.3 Metal bands per 100,000 residents.
- Norway has 26.9 Metal bands per 100,000 residents.
Dark heavy music is a fitting response to life in an icy, dark country with a history of rugged heroes that survived and flourished despite the odds. Metal bands from Sweden have made their Nordic roots part of a music style that combines Viking romanticism and pagan mystery with raw energy, dark lyrics, and theatrical performances. This is a compelling combination.
Also see Why Do Swedish Bands Sing In English? to learn more.