Heavy Metal Odyssey III – Swedish Progressive and Melodic Death Metal

The first two installments in these Heavy Metal blogs concerned my preconceptions of this musical genre and how its resurgence in popularity randomly popped into my musical world.

(Other blog entries here…)

Now the Odyssey takes a more determined path as I specifically seek out and investigate different types of Heavy Metal music.

Before that, lets talk about ‘Accessibility’.

About half the Metal albums I own I haven’t liked when I bought them. Truthfully, I hated the first Machine Head album I purchased. After about three play throughs I had dismissed it as a poor choice and waste of money. (I would later, slowly, become accustomed to it)

Death Growling is an immediate turn off. It’s noisy, aggressive and even if you get used to it, no one else around you will like it. And that’s just the singing! The music can be just as loud, chaotic, droning and repetitive. It can be a lot to adapt to, especially if the song is well over 10 minutes.

Beginning my investigative journey into different sub-genres, I was wary about spending $30 on an album I wouldn’t enjoy (I still am!). With the help of internet reviews and a youtube full of video clips, I finally settled on a nice safe sub-genre that would be easy to get into….

Swedish Melodic Death Metal!

No, that’s not an incorrect link… It’s actually Gothenburg, Sweden. This city is notable for number of things. For instance, seven of the Swedish Chef of the Year Awards have been won by Gothenburgers.

It’s also known for being the home of Melodic Death Metal, sometimes known as Gothenburg Metal. Heading away from the popular American Metal, this was the first sub-Genre I ventured into.

Wait a sec… wasn’t the goal Accessibility?

Death Metal is a fairly intimidating phrase. Death. Metal. This genre is the originator of the Death Growl. Bands such as Cannibal Corpse (you can look it up if you want) focus on gory themes and brutal sounds.

The key difference is the melody. The Melodic Death Metal retains the growling and morbid songs (if generally less gruesome), but picks up the catchy melodic guitars of bands like Iron Maiden and other NWOBHM bands. Between the growling and thundering drums there are catchy, hum-able melodies. The high pitched guitar solos appealed to me immediately and it quickly gave me faith that I was onto a good thing  with my Odyssey.

The big band for me here is Arch Enemy. Featuring a unique Death Growling female singer in Angela Gossow  and two brothers on Lead and Rhythm guitar. In a Spinal Tap-ian eventuallity, they are actually huge in Japan. Their Live DVD/CD Tyrants of the Rising Sun is simultaneously a fantastic watch and excellent ‘Best Of’ their current material.

In researching for this blog, I noticed that there is a Non-Swedish Melodic Death Metal band in Be’Lakor who are actually Australian. Having only bought their first album moments ago, I’ll now listen to them while I move on to the next section.

That other Swedish Metal Band.

One surprise in my Odyssey came with a band that played 10+ minute songs, growled, used Doom Metal techniques and through in bizarre clean folky sections. The surprise for me was a number of people I would never have suspected to like modern metal, already knew who they were.

The band is Opeth and they are currently one of the most respected Heavy Metal bands with both traditional fans and also fans of 70s and progressive rock music.

Despite the death growling, I would without a doubt recommend either Blackwater Park or Ghost Reveries to any adventurous music fan.

NEXT TIME!!!

From this point there are two options. The first is to continue in the vein of Opeth and delve deeper into the long complex consturctions of Progressive Metal/Rock.

Instead we will look at the genre that inspires the twin guitar solos of Arch Enemy and one of the most recogniseable names in Metal … Iron Maiden and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. To the early eighties we go!!!

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Heavy Metal Odyssey II – The New Wave of American Heavy Metal

Somewhere in the middle of the Noughties I noticed something was wrong. My main source of all things musical was this guy:

Triple J had introduced  me to the broad umbrella that was Alternative Music. Unfortunately for me, by 2005 Alternative Music was dead. Bits of it had gone mainstream. Bands had gotten older and terrible or had faded away or simply fallen out of the spotlight. Triple J itself became a shadow of its former self with some really pitiful choices for hosts, especially after Adam Spencer and Wil Anderson left.

I won’t go so far as to say the music is all terrible. Certainly I find ‘Indie music’ to be too trendy and ironic for its own good. Either way, only a few bands on that radio station (such as Muse) appealed to me. I honestly felt music had nothing to offer me any more.

And then I bought a plastic guitar…

The video game series Guitar Hero (specifically GHII) reminded the world of a few important things:

  1. Holding a guitar is cool
  2. A lot of guitar music is really good
  3. Not only is it good music, it’s actually really hard to do (even when you are just pressing coloured buttons)

That last point really appealed to me. Through obviously covered in PS2-era video game graphics, I was able to appreciate the technical aspect of making music.

So this was where I was at in the middle of the Noughties… Dissatisfied with the radio as a way of introducing music to my world, and having a glimpse of different (more headbanging) world out there.

Now, where was Heavy Metal at in the middle of the Noughties?

The 90s had been a bit rough on Heavy Metal. Metallica had hit the mainstream, but then proceeded to squander all its goodwill with a series of mediocre albums and poor decisions (Napster, anyone?). Meanwhile, Metal (as it has always has done) kept splitting into a myriad of sub-genre’s. Industrial Metal had some success, but by the turn of the millennium it was Nu-Metal that was by far the most popular. We’ll visit this genre in a later part of the Odyssey, but with the most well-known band being Limp Bizkit (and their album Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavoured Water), Metal had become a bit embarrassing.

The new wave…

The New Wave of American Heavy Metal takes it’s name from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that happened in the early 80s. This latest ‘wave’ is not really a fad or youth craze. Instead it is the maturing of a number of genres that had bubbled along for the last decade or so. The aggressiveness that had always been a part of the American scene remained, but incorporated many of the more melodic and progressive guitar work seen in Europe and earlier sub-genres (Power Metal, Progressive Metal).

In truth, the resurgent metal scene is bigger than anyone one genre. Bands from across the spectrum have recently stepped into the limelight.

Shut up and talk about some albums already!

The big two are undoubted Mastodon and Lamb of God.

Mastodon went stratospheric with the Moby Dick inspired album Leviathan.

That was followed with the equally well received Blood Mountain. Continuing to evolve from Sludge Metal into more progressive terrain, they remain a highly respected band. There latest album Crack the Skye has been one of my most highly recommended to non-Metal fans

Lamb of God are more of a traditional metal band. Operating somewhere in the Groove / Thrash Metal space, they are less interesting and more extremely good at what they do. Specifically band member Chris Adler has given me a whole new respect for drumming.

Another notable band is Machine Head. Putting out a number of albums in the 90s, Machine head suddenly shocked the metal community with a fantastic release called The Blackening*. With eight-to-ten minute songs and technical solos, it  embraced a good deal of what made Metallica great back in the 80s. Plus, how could I not buy this album cover?

* I will freely admit that Heavy Metal albums have names that readily induce self parody.

And so with three random events…

  • A purchase of Mastodon Blood Mountain in JB HiFi after giving up on Triple J
  • A random purchase of Machine Head The Blackening at a truck stop on the way home from Sydney (cause the iPod battery was dying)
  • A purchase of Lamb of God Sacrament after liking the track Laid To Rest on Guitar Hero II

…. and before I knew it I was on my Heavy Metal Odyssey!

NEXT TIME!

We head to the land of ABBA, Ace of Base, Europe (band) and Roxette with some Swedish Melodic Death Metal and also a bit of Swedish Progressive Doom Folk Metal!

[Other Odyssey Entries]

Heavy Metal Odyssey I – Heavy Metal in the mainstream

Examine for the following image for a moment…

It’s a well dressed skeleton in cahoots with the US Military, probably discussing a nefarious plan concerning the extraterrestrial in the cryo-status tube. For some reason he is also holding a glowing pyramid and has stainless steel sunglasses bolted to his head.

In 1995, this is what I thought Heavy Metal was. Scary* looking album covers that would probably melt my brain if I actually listened to it.

* Ok, so that one isn’t that scary. However Sepultura album covers such as Arise and Chaos AD did freak me out.

Musically, I knew of Metallica. They were obviously the most Metal band there could be, with the word ‘Metal’ taking up such a large portion of the band name. Their most popular album was so Metal it was called the same thing as the band.

Is my impression of Heavy Metal in the mainstream accurate?

It’s not too far off. Metallica’s eponymous album Metallica (aka the Black Album) is very well known with songs like Enter Sandman, The Unforgiven and Nothing Else Matters being big hits in the mainstream. It’s also one of the highest selling Heavy Metal albums ever.

Perhaps even the highest selling. Some other extremely high selling ‘metal’ albums are…

… but it’s debatable whether many people consider them to be Metal bands (Hard Rock is the term that jumps to mind).


So with my brain in the mainstream world, I knew what most people knew about the genre**. It was basically a bunch of long haired kids banging their heads to equally long haired musicians playing very load music.

** I was acquainted with some sub-genres such as Hair Metal (one of my first CDs was Bon Jovi New Jersey) and Industrial Metal (Nine Inch Nails Broken). I never considered I was listening to Heavy Metal so I’ll ignore them for the time being.


This is the mind space where I’d like to start my Odyssey. I’ve been slowly navigating the genre’s of the Heavy Metal Genealogy. And now I’m going to see if I can document some of my journey. Hope some of you enjoy reading about it.

NEXT TIME!

The slow demise of a particular Australian alternative radio station and a video game series with plastic instruments convince me to try something a bit different as we discover The New Wave of American Heavy Metal!

[Other Odyssey Entries]