ASSOCIATE EDITOR KORY GROW: TRUE NORWEGIAN DEATH METAL
There are a few countries have become well known, if not fetishized, for specific types of extreme metal. England has doom metal and grindcore, the U.S. and Sweden have distinct kinds of death metal and, of course, Norway has black metal. But as the world focuses on the black and white—or in this case just the black—it’s easy to overlook some of Norway’s pretty cool death-metal accomplishments. Although the country blazed into prominence (literally) in the early ’90s, when bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone, and Burzum reignited music fans’ interest in black metal—and although their neighbor to the east, Sweden, has gotten far more credit for death metal—the country of corpse paint and fjords already had a sturdy foundation in great death metal. With that, I hope to draw some attention to some grievously overlooked, and unfortunately many out-of-print, “True Norwegian Death Metal” albums (ranked in order of quality). Enjoy these however you can.
1) Molested, Blod Draum (Effigy, 1995)
Between the violin, didgeridoo-type sounds, and mouth harp(!), Blod Drom is as intriguing as it is terrifying. Even when they stayed traditional, Bergen’s Molested created some of the best, most forward-thinking death metal of any country during the ’90s, bolstered by the relentless riffs and bilious growls of Borknagar frontman Øystein G. Brun and some breakneck, off-time blast beats by sometime Gorgoroth drummer Erlend “Sersjant” Erichsen. Utterly essential. (Ars Magna Recordings is planning a re-release of all of Molested’s albums this year, click here for more info.)
2) Obliteration, Perpetual Decay (Tyrant Syndicate, 2007)
Influenced by U.S. death-metal bands, the members of Kolbotn’s Obliteration were too young to experience death metal’s original masters in their prime, firsthand. It just happened that some members of the band got to know Apollyon, of Cadaver and Aura Noir fame, who turned them on to Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse. Their debut, Perpetual Decay, so far stands as one of the best death-metal records I’ve heard all decade.
3) Darkthrone, Soulside Journey (Peaceville, 1991)
It’s too easy to dismiss Darkthrone’s early death-metal output, if only because they so vehemently dismissed it when they became a black-metal band on the following year’s A Blaze in the Northern Sky. The Kolbotn-based band’s members originally played in another death-metal band called Black Death (their Trash Core is nothing to write home about), but somewhere along the way the group discovered Stockholm, Sweden’s Nihilist and picked up on its melodic, technical aspects, which they claim for their own on Soulside Journey. Listening to it now, you’d swear they really were Swedish.
4) Cadaver, …In Pains (Earache, 1992)
Featuring two members who would go on to playing in any number of Norway’s influential black-metal bands (Immortal, Gorgoroth, Satyricon, Ulver, etc.), the Råde/Fredrikstad-based Cadaver played the sort of death metal those bands were protesting: unsentimental rhythm-heavy blasts of buzz-saw guitar and rattling drums. This works in the group’s favor on their second LP, …In Pains, mostly because of the way bassist-vocalist Apollyon’s snarls lead the rhythmic assault.
5) Mayhem, Deathcrush (Posercorpse, 1987)
Like Darkthrone, Oslo-based Mayhem began as a death-metal band—and a good one at that. Although the music on Deathcrush is nowhere near as revolutionary as what would come out on their 1994 black-metal studio debut, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, it’s still a venomous (pun intended) tribute to the underground death metal that was coming of age worldwide around the time. The current lineup—with only one original Deathcrush member (bassist Necrobutcher)—still resurrects cuts from this record live.
6) Fester, Winter of Sin (No Fashion, 1992)
Vocalist-guitarists Bjørn “Tiger” Mathisen and Rolf Tommy Simonsen could be poster children for proper throat care, their voices are so raw and blood-curdling throughout Winter of Sin. The Askim-based quartet released only two albums (1994’s Silence is as good as this, though a little monotonous) and defined the fast-paced, crunchy sound Aura Noir would capture in later albums. Bassist Jørgen Skjolden tragically died of an overdose in 2000 preventing any reunions. R.I.P.
7) Algol, Entering the Woods of Enchantment (Effigy, 1996)
The sole full-length from the Varteig/Sarpsborg quartet (once known as Buttocks!) is an odd, if not intriguing record. The final release from Effigy Records (Molested’s label), Entering the Woods of Enchantment reflects the 1996’s disparate metal zeitgeists perfectly: Vocalist-guitarist Thomas Andresen’s growls in a way that would make Carcass frontman Jeff Walker cry plagiarism (this was after Heartwork, after all), the riffs owe a debt to Stockholm death-metal groups like Entombed, and the drums are most akin to their native country’s black metal. Algol sounds as hypnotizing as they do bloodthirsty.
Thou Shalt Suffer, Open the Mysteries of Your Creation 7-inch (Distorted Harmony, 1991)
Consisting of only two songs, Open the Mysteries of Your Creation presents a through-the-looking-glass death-metal version of Norwegian black metallers Emperor’s two chief songwriters, Ihsahn and Samoth (performing as Ygg and Samot, respectively, here). Ihsahn has maintained it was his solo outlet (which is why he kept the TSS name when he released some symphonic music years later), but the chunky riffs and horror-movie keyboards—similar to Entombed’s Phantasm rip on Left Hand Path—reveal a greater collective consciousness of the death-metal scene at the time.
9) Blood Red Throne, Affiliated With the Suffering (Hammerheart, 2003)
More mechanical and precise than the Kristiansand quintet’s 2001 debut, Monument of Death, Blood Red Throne’s album takes its cues from U.S. death-metal groups like Obituary, whom they cover here, and Cannibal Corpse (dig the gory cover art). Rigid riffs and guttural grunts are the band’s currency on the album, even though some copies quizzically contain a cover of M.O.D.’s “Hate Tank.”
10) Myrkskog, Superior Massacre (Candlelight, 2002)
Centered around Zyklon guitarist Thor “Destructhor” Myhren, who has also played in Florida death metallers Morbid Angel and Norwegian corpse-paint commandos 1349, Myrkskog features a rhythm section that is looser, the guitar solos that are more melodic, and songs that are more chaotic than anything his other band has created. Zyklon, who is incidentally another death-metal band featuring Emperor guitarist Samoth, may be the more obvious choice for a list like this, but there’s a freedom and originality to Myrkskog’s music that doesn’t exist in Myhren’s other work, which rarely sounds this dark.