Swedish Death Metal vs Norwegian Black Metal: What’s the Difference?


To hardcore metal fans, the differences between Swedish Death metal and Norwegian black metal are glaringly obvious. To those who aren’t as into the metal scene, both can sound just alike – with lots of loud, powerful guitar riffs, screaming vocals, and pounding drums. But what are the differences between the two types of music?

The most apparent difference between the two is that death metal originated in Sweden, while black metal has its roots in Norway. However, the two also sound different, with death metal’s vocals being more “growly.” Death metal also puts more emphasis on sound, whereas black metal values emotion.

This article will explore the most defining characteristics of both Swedish Death Metal and Norwegian Black Metal. It’ll also shed some light on why Scandinavians are so fond of metal in the first place. 

Swedish metal concert
What are the characteristics of Swedish death metal? See below

What Are the Characteristics of Swedish Death Metal?

Death metal became popular in Sweden in the early 1990s, but the first Swedish death metal bands actually formed in the early- to mid-1980s. [1]

Swedish Death Metal is a type of heavy metal that is fast, loud, and intent on “trying to convey violence and murder in musical form.” [2] Both the guitars and drums are played fast, and the vocals are guttural and full of growls. The primary themes of the songs focus on darkness, horror, and death. 

Masterclass describes it as “extreme metal.” [3] Here are some of the main characteristics often found in death metal songs: 

  • Songs featuring gruesome, often violent, lyrics
  • Songs evoking bloody, dark images
  • Guitars tuned to lower registers
  • Distorted, guttural vocals
  • Distorted guitar riffs
  • Overbearing drums that listeners can feel in their chests
  • Occasionally, but not always, contains Satanic themes and elements

At its core, Swedish Death Metal is all about sound. Death metal bands seek to completely engulf listeners in a tsunami of sound that they can feel as well as hear. The bands go for a primal atmosphere where listeners are energized and even frenzied by the music.

Norwegian Black Metal
What are the characteristics of Norwegian black metal? See below

What Are the Characteristics of Norwegian Black Metal?

Norwegian black metal also appeared in the early- to mid-1980s and started picking up more steam in the 1990s. It, too, is an extreme form of metal that’s played fast and loud, and while it shares some characteristics with death metal, there are some differences. 

The most notable characteristics of Norwegian black metal include songs with speedy tempos and “unconventional” structures, a ghostly, otherworldly sound, shrieking instead of growling in the singing, and raw recordings done with lo-fi or analog-like sound quality. [4]

Other common traits of Norwegian black metal music include:

  • Intense drums with a solemn beat (Blast beat drumming)
  • Heavy distortion, particularly with the guitars
  • Lyrics with dark themes
  • Themes of heathenism/paganism
  • Lyrics that rage against the norm
  • Can sometimes, but not always, contain Satanic elements
  • Frequent tremolo picking

Additionally, black metal bands tend to put much more emphasis on evoking emotion from their listeners. Whereas death metal bands are all about putting out as much sound as possible, black metal bands prefer to draw their audiences in with their poignant lyrics and make them relate to what they’re singing about in any particular song.

It’s much more emotional than death metal, although some of the sounds and themes can be pretty similar.

Scandinavian metal
Why do Scandinavians like metal so much? See below

Why Do Scandinavians Like Metal So Much?

First of all, it’s important to note that Scandinavians are just like any other people in that not all of them like the same things. Just as all Americans don’t like apple pie and baseball and all Brazilians don’t like soccer, not all Scandinavians like metal. 

However, it does seem like the Scandinavian countries have a disproportionate number of intense metalheads. Unfortunately, there’s no single answer as to why.

One of the most prevalent theories about why Scandinavians love metal so much is that metal gives them an angry, violent “escape” from their otherwise pretty happy, non-violent life experiences. 

The idea behind this is that people who live in violent, war-torn countries or otherwise sad and disheartening circumstances enjoy happy, upbeat music because it gives them an escape from their less pleasant realities. 

On the other hand, Scandinavians are generally considered to be “happy people.” 

In Forbes’ 2021 list of “Happiest Countries in the World,” Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and even the outlying countries that aren’t technically Scandinavian (Iceland and Finland) are all ranked in the top 10. [5] As such, they don’t need happy, upbeat music to escape. 

If they’re looking for something different to take them away from their lives, they need the opposite: something dark, violent, and disturbing. 

While this is an excellent idea, it’s not the only one scholars have about the prevalence of metal in Scandinavian countries. In his thesis, Rocking the Tritone, history grad student Kirk W. Mishrell posits that Scandinavians love metal so much because it has such a strong cultural significance. [6]

He points to specific lyrics of metal songs and shows how they directly correspond to Scandinavia’s land and culture, particularly Norway. 

Additionally, metal bands, both black and death metal, incorporate a lot of Old Norse beliefs and history into their songs. Some people even refer to certain types of Scandinavian metal as “Viking metal.” 

The following is a list, by no means exhaustive, of metal song names and album titles containing links to Vikings or Norse mythology: (Italics denote album titles; song names are in plain text.)

  • Eric the Red – Týr
  • Baldr Ok Íss – Helrunar
  • Heimdallr – Enslaved
  • Loki – Stork
  • Twilight Of The Thunder God – Amon Amarth
  • Sleipnir – Manowar
  • Rise to Åsgard – Antti Martikainen
  • Valhalla – Pantera

When a genre of music focuses so heavily on a country’s history and the beliefs of its citizens or ancestors, it’s not hard to see why it would become popular. It’s the same reason Christians enjoy gospel music, and people from Alabama give out a shout when “Sweet Home Alabama” comes on the radio.

Conclusion

Swedish Death Metal and Norwegian Black Metal may sound alike to the average listener, but metal fans can easily differentiate between the two metal forms.

References:
[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source
[4] Source
[5] Source
[6] Source

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