Ah, Sweden! Land of the Northern Lights, insanely beautiful people, and delicious meatballs. But wait! – there is more: insanely catchy pop music and powerful metal, two things god forbid should they ever combine. So, what is the deal with Sweden? How is it possible a nation of approximately 10 mil people be the world’s 3rd grossing country on music royalties and exports only behind the US and UK? The answer is quite complicated, but we will simplify things by mentioning 3 key factors: consistency, English proficiency, and institutional support. Consistency means that these musicians and record labels know what the rest of us like since the 60s, speak English almost as good as a native speaker, and they enjoy a stable government which provides approximately 30% of the student population with quality public musical education called “Kommunal Musikskola”.
Ok Panos, you are probably saying right now, “we don’t care about statistics and researches, we want the story about why OUR kind of bands are so great”. So let’s take that awful hypothesis mentioned in the previous paragraph and in fact lets go ahead and combine catchy riffs and choruses with great musicianship and powerful melodies. Now take that wonderful brew and give it to the descendants of Vikings to add the appropriate amount of aggression and power needed to make our blood pump, and you got the amazing Swedish Melodic and Traditional Heavy Metal. There is a reason even Swedish Death Metal bands sounds catchier than a lot of bands of the broad genre…
Origins and Influences
Hard Rock history in Sweden starts when psychedelic rockers November begins to play faster than the rest of the bands. They released 3 albums between 1970 and 1972 in Swedish and managed to gain international popularity when they toured the UK before they disbanded. Around the same time, Neon Rose formed in Stockholm and picked where November left off moving a bit towards to progressive rock in mid 70s. Heavy metal in Sweden will gain form when Heavy Load released their debut album in 1978 titled Full Speed at High Level and became acclimatized with the rest of the European proto metal scene.
Contrary to Great Britain, punk didn’t straight up influence metal music in Sweden. This happened via the UK where the punk sound played a significant role to the formation of NWOBHM, where in turn Swedish bands drew inspiration from and thus subsequently and indirectly impacted the scene. Instead, proto metal bands like Deep Purple, Rainbow and Whitesnake had a great effect to the swedish musicians, especially those of the melodic lot.
What’s in a name? Identifying “F.V.A.S.H.M”
There is an old metal proverb that says: “You can’t have a scene without an acronym”. F.V.A.S.H.M stands for “Första Vågen Av Svensk Heavy Metal” which translates to First Wave of Swedish Heavy Metal. (F.W.O.S.H.M.). The term first appeared in early to mid 80s on various rock and metal magazines, like the “Rocket”, that used to cover new releases of the heavier sound. While NWOBHM tends to associate with a specific sound, Sweden’s First Wave describes a broader group of bands and could be considered a “period” as opposed to a “movement”. Instead, the definition of the sound of the scene is better described when we divide them to two large categories: Classic Heavy and Melodic Heavy Metal.
What qualifies as Melodic or Classic Heavy?
The primer below attempts to segregate the two aforementioned styles based on the following criteria:
- Keyboard role
- Lyrical themes
Classic Heavy Metal has less keyboards and a more aggressive style of riffing. Melodic Heavy Metal on the other hand freely uses keyboards to accent the songs and places more emphasis on catchy choruses. The lyrical content of each of these styles differs a bit and typically reflects the music with the Classic Heavy bands typically singing about death and glory with Melodic Heavy bands usually singing about more easy going topics.
While we absolutely love bands like Candlemass and Bathory, as you have probably guessed, this guide will focus on hard and heavy albums of the “First Wave of Swedish Heavy Metal”. Sweden has thousands of great bands, and there’s a place and time for everything so we will take this opportunity to highlight bands that put out a full album during the 80s.
The second part of the primer will focus on the 7” and EPs of Swedish metal, as well as the EPs that became full albums with the addition of bonus tracks later on.
The third and final part will cover Traditional Heavy Metal during the 90s up to last year’s releases.
- Paragon album – the absolute epitome of the genre gets this spot, along with my humble opinion on what makes it so wonderful and why stands out from the rest of the releases.
- Absolute Essentials – albums that best describe the sound of each category will be featured in this section
- Important Releases – suggested albums that will paint a complete picture of the scene.
- Check Also – under this section you will find albums that impacted the scene less, though they are still quality releases
- Special Mention – here you will find 3 Absolute Essential albums from bands that don’t fit the description directly but are associated with the scene and style none-the-less
All of the Paragon albums and Absolute Essentials can be found in the below playlist. Use this as a tool to help you sample the best of the scene!
Classic Heavy Metal
Drawing power from the NWOBHM movement and enhancing it with melodic and memorable choruses and riffs, here are the absolute essential Swedish Classic Heavy Metal:
Paragon Album: Heavy Load – Stronger Than Evil (1983)
Every once in a while, we as a species, are able to break the chains that were previously holding us to the ground and achieve great things, as Heavy Load did with Stronger than Evil. Unparalleled vocal melodies, complex songwriting, bold riff-mastering, and extreme attention to even the slightest detail, are some of the key elements that make this album possibly and (subjectively) the best of the whole scene. While most bands find a music motif and stick to it until they run out of ideas, Heavy Load managed to sound consistent yet unpredictable with each song. Eddy Malm and the Wahlquist brothers take turns on songwriting and lead vocals, granting each song that extra salt and pepper that so often is missing. While the epic feeling flows throughout the album especially in songs like “The King”, “Singing Swords” and the title track, we also get classics like the catchy “Free” and the memorable “Saturday Night”, just to conclude the epic doomy staccato of “Roar of the North”. With Stronger than Evil you are guaranteed a unique experience for the next 100 times that you will listen to this amazing album.
Fans of Omen, Manowar, and Stormwitch will feel right at home with this one.
Favorite song: Singing Swords – Just notice how fine-tuned each instrument is and what each member is contributing to the song. One of the first EUPM tracks ever written. Simply marvelous.
Did you know: Phil Lynott provided some basslines for “Free” after meeting with the band at Decibel AB Studio through some mutual acquaintances. Bassist Torbjörn Ragnesjö was out of town on vacation, so Lynott after listening the song at the studio, enriched the song with the classic Thin Lizzy bass line.
Gotham City – The Unknown (1984)
Gotham City was formed in 1980 in the northern (even by Swedish standards) city of Umeå. Having released a demo, a single, and an EP in a style similar to the British groups of that time, in 1983 the band parted ways with their singer Ola Ohlsson and hired Anders Zackrisson, a move that proved to be solid gold.
After a 1983 demo, The Unknown was released one year later. It’s evident that the vocalist change allowed for more creative freedom, which in turn helped the band improve both technically and compositionally.
From the anthem worthy “Swords and Chains” to the epic mid-tempo “Battle Blade”. From the New-Wavish “The Beast Will Burn” and “Borderline”, to the easy listening melodic “See How it Flies” and “Going Insane” the band delivers one of the best albums of the era, a true gem is mentioned to this day with every reference to the FWOSHM.
The Unknown is an amazing album of diversities that will please both the fans of NWOBHM and German Proto-Speed metal.
Favorite song: Swords and Chains. Yep, not very surprising but who could argue with the all-star FWOSHM song?
Did you know: Anders Zackrisson joined the death metallers turned EUPM Nocturnal Rites during the 90s for 3 albums.
Rising Force – Marching out (1985)
Once upon a time, there was a guitar wizard. He picked his six-string wand and conjured magic out of nothing, unforgettable melodies, and sing-along choruses. And solos. Solos that will start the argument: what if Paganini and Mozart had an electric guitar? Would they then have played heavy metal? The wizard of our story after studying scroll after scroll for hours in his tower decided to go out on an adventure but first, he needed a party.
He traveled to the jungles across the sea to recruit “the Screaming Viking” and to the Silver Mountain to enlist “The Magnificent Brothers”. Finally, he returned home to reunite with his old companion and all of them together ventured to the world to fight. And they fought and fought, until they eventually fought each other and then the guitar wizard turned into a necromancer. But that’s a story for another time.
Marching Out is Yngwie Malmsteen’s most balanced album. The extensive solos of Rising Force were reduced to substantial levels and the rest of the band have a leeway of showing how amazing musicians they truly are. Rising Force retained their heavy/power shredtastic neo classical style and added a few new elements like epic mid-tempo (“I am a Viking”) as well as a slice of heavy/ speed (“Disciples of Hell”, “Anguish and Fear”). Jeff Scott Soto is on top of his game here, displaying his amazing vocal range and versatility to different styles and tempos. Anders Johansson is giving a bombarding performance behind the drums, while his brother Jens contributed some of the best pieces of keyboards he has ever written, being in absolute sync with Malmsteen’s guitar style. Marcel Jacob’s bass is… discreet. While interesting most of the times, sort of buried in the production of the album, but that’s the price you pay for playing a string instrument in Yngwie’s band.
Favorite song: On the Run Again – Amazing solo by the man himself, high pitched vocals by Soto, one of the heaviest songs on the album.
Did you know: When Malmsteen was forming the band in the late 70s he hired a singer from a band called Rising (not that Rising. Nor that Rising). Shortly after, he fired the vocalist citing “personality differences” but like the name Rising so he thought he should keep it and twist it a bit. His oldest bandmate Marcel Jacob was playing for a band called Force (yes that Force, who will become Europe later) so he combined those two and ..Voila!
Axe Witch – Visions from the Past (1984)
After recording a great EP in 1982, and an awesome debut album the following year, Axe Witch released this amazing album in 1984. While this spot on the essential album list could easily go to the 1983 Lord of Flies, Visions of the Past’s style is a finer specimen of the FWOSHM. The speedy, raw, into-your-face style still exists in this album but coupled with a more melodic approach. No no, Axe Witch hasn’t lost any of the power of the previous releases in favor of melodies, but the band has grown musically and that is evident on each individual member’s performance.
Anders Wallentoft’s vocals have become more expressive, highlighting his singing capabilities. The guitars retain the razor’s edge sharpness, although with more tuneful riffs and memorable solos. It seems that Axe Witch has progressed in the same way the whole movement has progressed, slowly moving away from the NWOBHM harshness to a more refined sound. This is evident in the title track where the imposing riffs interchange with the singing melodies, as well as in the “Hot Lady”. “Give them Hell” and “Born in Hell” though have this sort of “metal vagrancy” of the first album. “Stand Up” is more in the between – “harmonic” style, so probably this is why the band picked this song along with “ Born in Hell” for their 12” single release which was a great commercial success and paved the way for the arrival of the album. But more on that later.
Favorite Song: The title track. It acts as a great introduction for the album, explaining to the listener what he is about to experience.
Did you Know: The aforementioned 3-song 12” landed on the no.9 spot of Swedish Rock Single charts, while the album peaked at no.12 of Swedish Hard Rock Charts. As a result, Fingerprint Records, one of the most important record companies of FWOSHM, got offers from the likes of Neat records and Roadrunner for international release, but without informing the band about their arrangement, resulting in a considerable money loss for Axe Witch…
Mindless Sinner – Turn On the Power (1985)
Indeed, go ahead and turn on the power, set volume to 11, and get ready to get blasted through the roof. Mindless Sinner in this album gives you the impression that they have a perfectly calculated plan to get to the top. The vocals are very theatrical and passionate while hitting those high notes with ease, and probably the first thing that makes an impression to the unsuspected first-time listener as Mr. Christer Göransson screams “We go together” in what will probably become the bands best-known song.
The guitars are always in the front row, always spicing things up, adding smart lead pieces here and there, and careful not to overdo it on the solos. Each note is meaningful, each riff there for a reason. But what makes Turn on the Power stand out amongst other very good albums is the atmosphere it has. This is one of the most joyful records ever to exist, it radiates power with every chord and chorus, bound to make everyone jump from their seats. There is a very distinctive 80s feeling to it, as if each song could be used in a teen move about 40 years ago.
Especially suggested for fans of bands like Judas Priest, Tokyo Blade, and Krokus.
Favorite Song: Turn On the Power – I admit it I am a sucker for grandiose vocal performances, and the title track is an amazing opportunity for Christer Göransson to show what an incredible voice he has.
Did you know: Mindless Sinner really had a hard time picking a name. They started as Purple Haze in ‘81, renamed to Genocide in ‘82, then for one gig in ‘83 they changed to Metal Gods (it’s pretty evident to this point how much these guys loves Judas Priest), to finally taking a friend’s suggestion and settling on Mindless Sinners. Then after Turn on the Power, they shortened their name to just “Mindless” before adding “Sinner” once again in 2001.
Heavy Load – Death or Glory (1982)
This diamond of an album that we have here, is the record that put Heavy Load in the European stage, and dare I say, Sweden as well with it. Raw, epic, rough and melodic at the same time, Death or Glory, has a very similar feeling like the British new wave bands with a Swedish twist. The album is not important only for its musical value, but because this is the birthplace of the Swedish metal scene, an album that twill set the bar for every band that followed afterwards.
The first track of the album is probably the most known by Heavy Load,” Heavy Metal Angels (in Metal and Leather)” a song with an amazing progression, very smart use of acoustic guitar and piano, passionate solos, and of course a chorus that is made to be sung until your face turns red. In Death or Glory, you get quality metal in the forms “Might for Right” and “ Bleeding Streets” where Heavy Load use their trademark recipe of powerful riffs, catchy sing-along chorus, epic solo. And then, you have monumental tracks like “ The Guitar is my Sword”. Dense intro with a riff that weighs a thousand tons, and looming epic feeling, with screaming guitar solos and anthemic choruses.
“Take me Away” and “Trespasser” are the more “rousing” songs of the album, while “Something New” is the closest thing to a ballad you will get in a blasting album like this. In “Still there is Time” and “Traveller” the band shows again high levels of songwriting quality which is evident on how the orchestration of backing vocals, solos and guitar licks is composed. And while you think that Heavy Load would have run out of gas, you get some of the most aggressive tracks of the album in the end of Death or Glory, the “Little Lies” and “Daybreak Ecstasy” a song with so many ideas and riffs that other bands would use for a whole album.
So there you go, the absolute cornerstone of Swedish heavy metal, a Classic Heavy Load, full of amazing compositions. If you like bands like Manilla Road, Brocas Helm, and either period of Riot you are gonna love this record.
Did You know: The impact and recognition of Heavy Load were of such a great importance that when the band decided to come out of retirement in 2017, Swedish National Television (SVT) made an announcement on the evening news highlighting their influence in the genre.
Favorite Song: “Τhe Guitar is my Sword”. So powerful, so epic, probably my favorite Heavy Load song.
Proud – Fire Breaks the Dawn (1984)
Some of the best guitar work in the scene with great riffs and wonderful solos, all in all, a solid release.
Yngwie Malmsteen – Trilogy (1986)
The guitar wizard strikes again with a very powerful album. In Trilogy, you can find some of his most famous songs like “Liar”, and “You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget”.
Destiny – Beyond all Senses (1985)
If I was writing a PoV article, this will be in the top 5. Borderline thrash, with many melodic moments. Granted, the vocals have their flaws, the production is not the best in the world, but the compositions totally make up for everything. Check it out!
Silver Mountain – Shakin Brains (1983)
The world-renowned Johansson Brothers team up with the very talented Jonas Hansson on guitars and vocals. The flair is overflowing with this release, even Roadrunner records thought so!
Overdrive – Swords and Axes (1984)
Powerful top shelf unsweetened heavy metal. If you are a fan of Di’ Anno era Maiden (of course you are) don’t think twice and dive in.
Torch – Torch (1983)
The definition of “don’t judge a book by its cover”. An amazingly powerful album, love letter to early 80s Priest, one of the scene’s most important releases.
Syron Vanes – Bringer of Evil (1984)
Syron Vanes first full-length album, feels so NWOBHM as if it was taken straight from an English pub. British pioneer label Ebony records must have thought so as well
Heavy Load – Full Speed at High level (1978)
I tried really hard not to turn this primer to a Heavy Load worshiping mantra. Maybe I should… Take a look at this pre “heavy metal boom” track from, ‘78!
220 Volt – 220 Volt (1983)
Quite different than their follow up albums, strongly influences from the NWOBHM, definitely check it out.
Keen Hue – Ogre King (1986)
Ok seriously listen to this album right now. This is amazing top shelf stuff. Keen Hue is one of those bands that will make you wonder “ Damn, how come they didn’t make it”? My personal opinion is that this album is one of the top 10 releases of the scene.
Axe Witch – Lord of Flies (1983)
Last but certainly not least, Lord of Flies was one of the speediest releases of FWOSHM up until 1983, for many fans of the band their strongest album overall.
Mercy- Mercy (1984)
Mostly famous for being Messiah Marcolin’s first band, Mercy’s debut album offers decent heavy metal, though be sure to check their 2nd album if you are looking to listen Messiah’s doomish vibratos.
Trouble – Warrior (1985)
NWOBHM and Thin Lizzy influences in an all and all decent album, maybe a little short on the lyrics side, but musically worth your time.
Frozen Eyes – Frozen Eyes (1988)
Interesting, different, on the speedy side with an unusual arrangement. One of the most baffling releases of the scene, I tend to have a different opinion each time I listen to the album. Matthias IA Eklundh, of post Mercyful Fate fame, puts a progressive metal album unlike anything you might have checked upon.
Yngwie Malmsteen – Rising Force (1984)
Shred metal before it was cool (if it was ever cool) by the man himself. Mostly instrumental, would be a featured album if we were doing a guitar hero primer, but since there are only 2 songs that feature JSS on lyrics, I consider it to be for a specific audience.
Overdrive – Metal Attack (1983)
I was torn whether to list this or Swords and Axes should be listed as an essential album because both are so damn good. This album is a little rougher and unpolished on the edge, but it’s up there with the rest.
Saigon – One Must Die (1985)
Mid-tempo classic heavy metal, very enjoyable when singer Anders Ahlkynd doesn’t try to hit high notes. Has a dose of US Power Metal bleakness at times, check it out!
Burn – Burn (1983)
“Dirty” Heavy Metal tunes in the lines of Motorhead, Savage, Tank with the occasional twin guitar leads, or the boogie AC/DC style.
Melodic Heavy Metal
Distinctly more songful when compared to their heavier counterparts, the albums below blend the ‘70s hard rock with a glamish attitude and the heaviness of NWOBHM. Check the Absolute Melodic Swedish albums:
Paragon Album: Universe – Universe (1985)
Welcome to the bright side, you made it out alive from the traditional heavy metal part of the primer. What lays before you, is the absolute epitome of melodic heavy metal that has ever been produced in Sweden, the fabled self-titled debut of Universe.
Let’s start with the basics, why this album and not something else. The answer is “absolute balance”. There isn’t a sane person in the world who will say, “oh, this is glam/AOR/soft/pop” or whatever derogative tag we use to describe an album that sounds different.There is just the right amount of synthesizers and keyboards to make this album easy listening and polished but not overly so. The sound is somewhere between Rainbow’s Down to Earth and Q5’s Steel the Light.
Certainly, there are tracks like “Stories from the Old Days” and “Weekend Warrior” which are heavier than others, while still retaining the melodic fundamentals that are laid in the opening track “ Rollin on” which represents the album’s motif better. The vocals are the focal point of the production, and Kjell Wallén perfectly delivers with his wide vocal range, without falling to the trap of the era and trying to push for the higher notes for no apparent reason. I will squeeze a trivia at the point just to define the sound a bit more: Lead guitarist Michael Kling used to play in a band called WC with Europe’s John Norum, and the bassist Hasse Hagman use to play with Joey Tempest, so one can understand the similarities. (more on that subject later) . I will not lie to you, there are songs like “Woman” and “Burning Machine” that will not cause a headbanging tsunami, but still, they are not shallow or easy listening.
One of the key figures of the album is, of course, the producer Anders Helmerson a name that we will cross paths again in a few rows. But don’t rush to jump to conclusions, the guy was the only person outside of heavy load who did the engineering in Stronger than Evil (Thus becoming the absolute connection between both of this articles prime examples).
Favorite Song: “Rollin on” just for the fact that is the best example of the subgenre (or is it sub-sub genre?)
Did you know: Isn’t the 3 trivias we already gave you enough for one album? No? Ok Did you know that when singer Kjell Wallén left the band, he was replaced by Janne Åström who later became a voice actor and a successful folk-rock singer?
Crystal Pride – Crystal Pride (1985)
Let’s put out our metal marmite. Put a heavy dose of the sleazy Accept of Balls to the Walls. Add your 70’s hard rock mixture (Purple, Zeppelin, early Priest). Then season the mix with that spicy, gutsy feeling you get when you listen to Chastain’s Leather Leone. Now take the broth, move it to Sweden and leave it outside of the most infamous discoteque of the town. Crystal Pride surely take a huge leap towards the more melodic side of metal music, when you compare their self titled album to their monumental Silverhawk EP (more on that on part 2 of that primer).
The band’s spearhead, Susanne Christensen is here and despite the fact that she is singing more melodic songs, she finds the way to maintain her emphatic singing style. The guitar riffs still have the first word and coupled with the occasional keyboards create a very true ‘80s atmosphere. The rhythm section,however players simpler in this release, hence the criticism of creating a “softer” album.
There are some “uneven songs” but nothing skippable or something that could be classified as a filler, though there are some albums that they stand the test of time because of their overall feeling and compositions, instead of relying on a couple of hit songs, and Crystal Prιdes album is of the latter kind.
Favorite Song: While “Knocked Out” While it’s not the heaviest song on the album, it’s absolutely the catchiest.
Did you know: Metal tabloid – Susanne Christensen is married to the Torch Guitarist Chris J. First, and when the band made a short comeback in the ‘90s they recorded a demo together.
Madison – Diamond Mistress (1984)
While not appropriate to start an introduction to a band by mentioning another, it’s very hard to describe what Diamond Mistress is about without mentioning Europe’s influence. While it is debatable how “metal” the first 2 albums of Joy Tempest’s gang are, what is out of question is how much influential they were to a great lot of Swedish metal bands, and Madison could be their best students, their biggest rivals (I’m purposely ignoring Treat here), or their heavier alter egos.
What we have here is an excellent melodic metal (no questions there) album which is full of great and mind -invading choruses and melodies. Two of the biggest hits of the album, “Lay Down Your Arms” and the ballad “Changes” were composed under the band’s previous incarnation – “Regent”, and are solid examples of the Swedish style. Songs like “Sneaker”, and ‘Don’t Look Αround” are on the heavier side of the album, and draw influence from Maiden and Priest, especially on guitars. And this is what sets Madison apart from the other more melodic bands- the utilization of an a la Thin Lizzy or Judas Priest dual guitar harmonies, resulting in a more heavy sound. Then you have songs like “Squeeler” which offer a totally different approach, with a mid-tempo and an almost “proggy” song progression. Diamond Mistress is an album of great composition value, with songs that could easily compete with your favorite underground anthems or, at the same time you glam guilty pleasures, while maintaining this very rare balance.
Favorite Song: Lay Down Your Arms. Just listen to that intro, how it inclines that something great is just around the corner. And oh boy…
Did you know: Since we will not be covering Regent in Pt2, you are getting 2 trivias for the price of 1! The singer of Regent was Peter Nordin, who then became the bassist for Meshuggah through most of the 90s. Meanwhile, the singer who replaced Mr. Nordin, Göran Edman was the singer of Yngwie Malmsteen’s Eclipse and Fire & Ice albums.
Spellbound – Breaking the Spell (1984)
When we are talking about the melodic heavy metal scene of Sweden, we often mention this very distinctive melodious sound which is the common denominator of all the albums presented above. Usually, this is combined with either the 70’s British or American hard rock, but what if the numerator was the glam US scene?
Enter Spellbound’ s amazing Breaking the Spell, from the sunset strip of Upsalla. The album comes in a time where Mötley Crüe and Twisted Sister have released their debut albums a couple of years ago and Shout at the Devil has already smashed the charts across the sea. So Spellbound naturally draws influence from those bands but there is no direct link musically, just the fact that the group sounds distinctively American.
Breaking the Spell came out in 1984 and made a considerable ruckus with magazines like Kerrang! praising the album, and even going to the point labeling them as the biggest Scandinavian bands ever (which of course is an overstatement, because of Mercyful Fate’s existence, but gives you some perspective of the impact that the band made)
Once again we meet Mr. Anders Helmerson on the production where he does amazing stuff to make the album sound palatable and heavy at the same time.“Lovetaker”, “Burning Love” and “Loud ‘N Dirty” are some of the perfect examples of the balanced production, but to be honest the songs are so well written that any production in the world would do them justice. Those three songs along with “Crack the Sky” and “ Rock the Nation” are perhaps the best moments of Breaking the Spell with “Crack the Sky” being one of the heaviest songs of the album, while Rock the Nation sounds like the best heavy metal song Slade would write.
Favorite Track: Rock the Nation, the song stands out from the rest for its grandiose opening, and then turns into an 80’s coming of age soundtrack. Glorious.
Did you know: The band won in a competition held by Sonet records, (which is the largest label in Scandinavia even to this day) resulting in a record deal and global distribution. According to the band, the album was so successful that it even took Sonet by surprise, resulting in numerous hindrances in the promotion. It is worth mentioning though that the band started to fall apart when they failed to renew the deal with Sonet after the release of their second album…
Lynx – Caught in the Trap (1985)
We metal fans, love the past. We love the stories of the band that should have “made it”, back when the time was right. Every time we discover an obscure gem, we evangelize the greatness of it to our friends and acquaintances. And it makes sense, after all, we are not the mass, – the mainstream – so it’s only natural to root for the underdog. So this is my evangelization, my attempt to give a little justice to Caught in the Trap by Lynx, a gem that few people had the privilege to encounter its shine.
Such albums need something to stand out from the rest of the releases… Maybe that’s the reason that these albums didn’t become more popular, after all the capabilities of press and label are limited to their understanding. Lynx stands out because of its serious -to the point- way of creating songs. They don’t fall into the trap of meaningless solos, and mellow extensive ballads, instead they tap into the essence of Deep Purple and Zeppelin and create a rougher amalgamation than their fellow countrymen. The keyboards play a key part but I think that keyboardist Mats Hermansson has studied Jon Lord extensively, since the keyboard’s sound and role is quite similar to the early albums of Purple. Lyrically the band appears more mature and deep than a lot of melodic heavy who seem outline the same topics.
The second thing that Lynx brings to the table is a NWOBHM attitude and aggression, mainly manifested through Mats Ferretti’s vocals and Per Larson’s guitar, but don’t expect Tank or Savage speedy riffs. Instead what you get is the elegance of Tygers of Pan-Tang, Grand Prix and White Spirit.
The third thing that separates Caught in the Trap from the average Swedish band of the time, is that none of the songs sounds similar. It’s like the members of the band are taking turns on who will be featured on each song, thus resulting in a creative metal extravaganza.
Favorite Track: Nothing In Return – It’s like the band steps on the gas on this one, great riff, great solo great vocal melody.
Did You Know: In the 2015 reissue of the Caught in the Trap there are 3 previously unreleased tracks, but according to Mats Ferreti and Per Larson, they sat together after 30 years to write new music, which the band hopes to release in the future.
Important Melodic Heavy Releases
Europe – Europe (1983)
Here we are… the blond elephant in the room. Despite it’s debatable whether this is heavy metal or not, what is undeniable is the influence they had in probably every single band of the subgenre. If you want my opinion on the subject, Europe’s first 2 albums are a great blend of Hard Rock and AOR, but I find that they lack “headbangability”. The heavier songs are borderline heavy metal, but that’s not the majority of the albums. Listen to the song below and tell me, how much of this you hear in the previous “certified metal albums?”
Europe – Wings of Tomorrow (1984)
The same motif as above, Wings of Tomorrow came one year later, a little more polished, moving away from the heavier side. The album focuses more on vocals, while the guitar while masterfully played, is featured like the guitars in glam bands, the “now it’s time to solo approach”. Still, quality music and the song above is the heaviest moment of the album.
Steelwings – Steelwings (1989)
This is what the melodic Swedish heavy sounds like. Powerful and melodic with the right amount of keyboards and catchiness, the Steelwings album is a great example of what separates the US hard n’ heavy with Swedish Melodic heavy.
N.J.B – Heroes (1988)
Top shelf release by the Night Jamming Band, who composed melodic heavy with radio air time on the back of their minds. Imagine a combination of Rush, Europe, and possibly a bit of early Riot.
PS. For maximum awesomeness check the 7” version of Run Away.
Glory Bell’s Band – Dressed in Black (1982)
Early Judas Priest meets Led Zeppelin meets Thin Lizzy with a Swedish melodic twist. One of the better releases of the scene, check the band’s second album “Century Rendezvous” as well.
Biscaya- Biscaya (1983)
Oh boy, that’s a tough one. Let’s start from the begging, whatever Biscaya is, is good, the same way Ashbury is good. What they play is not “new” by 1983 standards, but the musicianship and the songwriting are good enough to put to shame half the bands in the then known metal world. I hear King Crimson, Deep Purple even Doors and Genesis and a lot of 70s film score, played in a significantly more aggressive level. Biscaya is definitely suggested, a lost Swedish gem.
Dizziness – On the Rocks (1986)
Instead of buying the locally produced melodic staff, Dizziness decided to import melodic heavy from the US and then process it locally. An above average album for fans of the genre, that it was bound to remain buried if it wasn’t for No Remorse Records, which released the album in 2013.
Norden Light – Shadows from the Wilderness (1987)
Christer Mentzer, the second singer of Silver Mountain made this Europe-y melodic heavy project with despite its short life, made a name for itself, and even found its way to Dario Argento’s Opera OST. The album has some great songs and if you enjoyed Europe’s first 2 albums, you are gonna love this one.
Motherlode- The Sanctuary (1986)
Sweden produced probably the highest quality “white metal” albums during the 80s, and Motherload’s The Sanctuary is one of the greatest examples. The vocals of Sonny Larsson are out of this world, his performance is one of the most memorable of all the acts of the time.the guitar is providing riff after riff, solo after solo, a product derived form depth of the musical knowledge of Tom Nilsson. Some might find the lyrics a bit “preachery” but the music is sublime. The closest band is probably a lite-bass version of Rush.
ATC – Cut In Ice (1984)
ATC play an interesting mix of mid-tempo 70s Judas Priest and AOR infused with the power of the British and Swedish metal scene. What the band is most famous though it that this is the first appearance of rhythm guitarist Mats “Mappe” Björkman (Candlemass) and Tommy Denander (probably the embodiment of whole Sweden’s AOR).
Lazy – Creature (1984)
A bit US glam, a bit of British proto heavy/ hard rock and capable guitars. Lazy seemed to have the rock personas and the skills to make it, but didn’t quite get there.
Shere Khan – Quite Enough For Love (1985)
Great album for the fans of Kiss, Whitesnake, and (of course) Europe. A little trivia, Daniel Borch was voted best vocalist in a competition held by Rock-SM radio, which eventually led him to sign an illustrious contract with Elektra records.
Redstorm – No Exeption of a Victim of Crime (1989)
Steve S. Redstorm writes the music, plays the guitar and the bass and sings in this part shred – part medic heavy release. All in all solid release, although I feel that a different singer would elevate this release a lot.
Syron Vanes – Revenge (1986)
Syron Vanes’ second album got a bit softer, with a greater emphasis on melodic choruses, and a groovier rhythm section. Revenge is an edgy melodic release, along with the lines of Faithful Breath, melodic Accept and, dare I say, Thor? A very good album overall:
Jerusalem – Dancing on the Head of the Serpent (1987)
After 5 album releaser of Christian themed AOR, Jerusalem released their heaviest album up to that point, which was received with a lot of praise. Frontman/ composer Ulf Christiansson is on the top of his game delivering both musically and lyrically in this 70’s hard rock/ melodic heavy with gospel-influenced choruses release.
Spellbound – Rockin’ Reckless – 1985
Significantly lighter than Breaking The Spell, Rockin’ Reckless is a bit too much glam, while not bad if you like that kind of stuff.
Harmonic Albums (aka “those in between”)
And then you have the “in between” releases, the albums that are equally melodic as they are heavy, that could fall in either of the above categories. We are going to call those albums “harmonic” for the sake of brevity.
Paragon Album: 220 Volt – Power Games (1984)
Clearly improved lyrically and musically compared to their debut album one year earlier, 220 Volt put out one of the best albums in Swedish Metal history. The amazing guitar duo of Mr. Mats Karlsson and Mr. Thomas Drevin is still here, tighter than ever but that was hardly a thing that needed any improvement since the debut. It seems that the band didn’t become complacent since they got a major label to sign them and address the little things that could elevate them to world class standards.
The first issue they addressed was writing vocal melodies that fit the eccentric tone of Jocke Landholm, and the result is one of the key elements of success. The second issue is musical identity. The band has moved away from the British Influence, and turned inland for inspiration, resulting to something that later generations (and said primers) will identify as melodic heavy metal. Finally and most difficult change: adding keyboards that work. This is the cause of failure of so many albums for the last 50 years, adding too many keyboards. Power Games utilizes keyboards in a way that they are never in the forefront, but they create a “melodic blanket” that perfectly encompasses the songs.
Power Games is one of these albums of great contrasts, that make the final result somehow work. This, of course, is easier when you have a charismatic singer like Jocke Lundholm, with his harsh yet versatile singing style who can completely transform a song. Take a look in the case of “Carrie on” for example, which starts as slow a ballad can be, his gutsy vocals give the song a layer of power. Similarly, “Don’t Go” in the hands of any other band, or any other singer will just be a glam whinny song, but here we are dealing with a quite muscular and vigorous performance.
“Child or Beast” has to be one of the most adventurous takes of the band. An interesting quasi-double harmonic scale riff which makes the song sound otherworldly, a style the band will revisit in the future.
“Mistreated Eyes”,“ Firefall” “Over the Top” are straight – no bullshit – melodic heavy metal of the highest quality, an obligatory mention whenever someone discusses the genre. They are the highlights of this album, written as such and programmed for success, and every member of the band delivers. Best solos of the album, best rhythm section best everything.
220 Volt is at the top of their game, a top band at its peak, rejoice.
Favorite track: Tough decision, but since you insist I’ll pick “Over the Top” because it’s the most multilayered song of the album, everything is in sync here.
Did you know: a trivia and a teaser for part two of this primer: The debut release of 220 Volt is a great 7” Prisoner of war”/”Sauron released in 1982 with 500 copies printed. One copy found its way into the hands of a radio producer in the US who played the record enough times for someone from CBS/Sony to listen to it and contacted the band offering them a contract.
Important Harmonic Releases
220 Volt – Mind Over Muscle (1985)
Exploring different styles of music writing, 220 Volt Delivers yet again a wonderful album. In this release you get either more melodic or more heavy songs.
Wizz – Crazy Games (1984)
Wizz plays a very Interesting and original uptempo melodic heavy. The role of the keyboards is similar to the role it plays in 90’s EUPM. Vocal and guitar driven melodies, with an airtight rhythm section. For fans of Picture, 220 Volt, and The Rods.
Sadwings – Lonely Hero (1985)
Sadwings is one of the hardest bands to categorize. Most of their instrumental compositions are heavy enough to put them into the heavy section, while the way the band utilizes keyboards and vocal melodies on the other hand is straight melodic metal. All in all one of the best releases of the genre.
Leviticus – Jag Skall Segr / I Shall Conquer (1983-1984)
White Harmonic Heavy Metal in Swedish. You can save tags by checking the English version that was released one year later. A very high-quality release, that precedes Stryper, and musically is influenced by the NWOBHM.
There are some bands that are related to FWOSHM but for various reasons they cannot be featured above, however since they made a contribution to the scene they deserve a spot of their own in this primer. OZ are Finns who moved to Sweden, Hiroshima are mostly Finnish and considering the disclaimer on the reissue of their album we classify them as such. Finally, E.F. Band, are 100% Swedish, but they are considered part of the NWOBHM since the extensively toured the UK and they are part of the legendary Metal for Muthas compilation.
Oz – Fire in The Brain (1983)
If you are looking into non-stop bombarding metal, look no further. The Finns managed to completely turn the table since their debut, Heavy Metal Heroes (although it’s definitely not that bad as people might tell you), and created possibly the ultimate speed metal album ever produced in Sweden. Despite the fact that most people consider them a Swedish Band the band consists of 100% Finns, who joined the FWOSHM, because of their record company Tyfon Grammofon AB (Quorthon’s family business) and also because of the lack of any substantial metal scene in their home country. They joined the an
Every single song is full of “violent” -the word that press used in ‘83 – riffs although the band does not sacrifice the melodies and songwriting to the headbanging altar. Oz has listened to their fair share of NWOBHM and their sound could be described somewhere between the likes of Savage, Raven, and Tank. But I consider the songs in Fire in the Brains to be slightly on the more melodic side than the aforementioned bands. But then again, you have songs here like “Black Candles” which has a darker Black Sabbath/ Mercyful Fate touch, or like “Megalomaniac” which sounds like a Judas Priest’s lost track.
Ape de Martini sings very intelligently in the album, and having realized that he doesn’t possess the largest vocal range in Metal, he has uses his harsher tone to match the forcefulness of the guitars. Fire in the brains is the perfect album if you enjoy speedy -no bullshit- NWOBHM and speed German bands like Atlain and Brainfever.
Favorite track: “Fire in the Brain”. From the awkward announcement on the first couple of seconds to the quirky chorus to the abrupt conclusion, this song is made with the sole purpose to be imprinted on your brain to drive you insane.
Did you know: Since the trivia of “oh did you know that’s Quorthon’s hand on the cover”, almost exceed the album’s fame, I have a another good one for ya: the band was increasingly turning to the dark side with the follow up album Ill Omen and the EP Turn the Cross Upside Down. When they received their first check of royalties for the EP, the amount was exactly 666 Swedish Krona, something that spooked the band to the extent of progressively toning the satanic image down in the following albums.
Check also by OZ: III Warning, Turn the Cross Upside Down
Hiroshima – Taste of Death (1984)
Having an incredible 7” under their belt, Hiroshima went to release their full-length album one year later. Taste of Death would probably fall under the harmonic style releases because there are equally hard rock/ melodic tracks as well as New-Wavish heavier tracks.
Truth be told the band really shines with the heavier tracks like “Down on My Knees”, “Midnight Fighter” and “Soldier of the World” that are composed in the style of British Steel era Priest, and Breaker era Accept while their more melodic songs like “Rock and Roll Priest” and“Dreamworld” sound closer to the US hard rock scene with some Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake influences here and there.
The band’s guitar duo, the brothers Varonen are quite versatile and stand out whether a song is in mid-tempo, fast-paced or a ballad, and the only Swedish member, the late singer Tony Hedin, delivers accordingly, without exaggerations. On drums, we find Mr. Raimo “The Quick” Pikanen, who used to play in Alwari Tuohitorvi, one of the biggest Finnish hard rock/ glam bands of the ‘70s. Another interesting fact is that Albert Järvinen, (non Fins might possibly be heard of him from his collaboration with Lemmy Kilmister), provides a very beautiful solo by the end of “Dreamworld”.
The only issue with this album is that it seems that the band was going through a transition from a heavier to a more hard rockish style, which is true for a lot of the bands in Sweden during the period between 1983-1985. Unfortunately, Taste of Death will be the only album release from the band.
Favorite Track: “Soldier of the World”. Seriously if I was making a top 10 tracks from the scene, this will be in the top spots. The song is a flawless anti-war metal anthem, with wonderful lead parts and amazing chorus. Personally I prefer the 7” slightly different version but still, this song is reason enough to buy the album, quality top shelf stuff.
Did you know: Since I mentioned the 7” a couple of times here is a good one: The self-released single Soldier of the World is considered to be one of the rarest 7” of the scene, selling for a couple of hundred USD/Euro, provided there is one on the market available. What is even more interesting is that there seems to be a misprint brown version of the 7” of immeasurable value.
E.F. Band – Last laugh Is On You (1981)
While most neighboring bands tried to relocate to Sweden during the FWOSHM, E.F. Band tried their best to move out of their home country a couple of years before the beginning the scene to be a part of the greatest metal musical movement, the NWOBHM. The band toured the UK extensively and managed to be a part of probably the best-known metal compilation, Metal For Muthas, which featured bands like Iron Maiden, Angel Witch, and Samson.
Their first album The Last Laugh Is On You is a decent way for the band to introduce themselves, although musically doesn’t resemble the typical Swedish sound. Instead, it is a mixture of 70’s hard rock of Budgie and Thin Lizzy along with a bit of Black Sabbath’s more bluesy songs.
There is a variety of compositions, the “title track”, “Love is for Heroes” and “We’re Back” fall into that proto-metal/ hard rock category, while like ‘Kids” sound more like what Satan would write as a softer song in their albums. “Hard Liquor and Women” is of the finest compositions of the album, with a more American approach and “Fight for your Life” follows the same path.
Favorite track: Hard Liquer and Women is a very enjoyable song with a chorus that can stay in your mind enough to make you listen to this song again and again.
Check Also by The EF Band: Deep Cut, One Night Stand
Did you know: Like a lot of NWOBHM bands, EF suffered from constant line up changes that caused instability both musically and fundamentally. After a series of changes, the last person who left before the EF decided to disband, was the guitarist Anders Allhage who will then become famous under the name “Andy la Rocque” (King Diamond)