I’m not Swedish, but I sure do love me some Swedish metal/hard rock from the mid eighties! There’s just something about Swedish metal that gets me right in the cockles. That’s right, it gets me right smack dab in the ol’ cockles of my shriveled black heart (it’s like a raisin). Yep, Swedish metal from the years 1983-1985 was some of the richest, most melodic traditional metal in the world. So allow me to throw another list in your ugly face, eh? Here’s my personal favorite Swedish metal and hard rock albums from 1983. Maybe you’ll find something worth tracking down. Maybe you’ll spit on your screen in disgust. Whatever the case may be, just remember it’s only one guy’s worthless opinion…
10. Torch – Torch
Torch! Yeah, they’ll torch your tits alright. More sinister than the typical Swedish fare, Torch always reminded me of the searing n’ seething style of German metal from the same time period. Though the Swedish metal of the day had many quality attributes, unleashing a killer groove was not necessarily one of them. But Torch was the exception. Torch knew how to deliver nuts and bolts metal with a muscular backbone behind it. As such, the Torch album should induce a righteous head bang to all you old-school enthusiasts. What Torch didn’t do so well, in my opinion, was write memorable hooks (unlike most of the bands on this list). Nevertheless, if your looking for some acid-dipped metal to blast in your eardrums while you throw down shot after tasty shot, you might want to crank this nasty little biyatch. My score: B-
9. Silver Mountain – Shakin’ Brains
One assumes Silver Mountain took their name from the classic Rainbow tune of the same name. This wouldn’t be surprising given the band’s penchant for neo-classical metal, something that Rainbow’s Ritchie Blackmore famously helped to pioneer. By comparison, Blackmore merely scratched the surface of the classical music/metal fusion while Silver Mountain took the alloy to new levels of speed, complexity, and dexterity on this slab of Swedish hardware. Yngwie Malmsteen has always been credited (and justly so) with breaking boundaries in the neo-classical metal genre with his Rising Force albums, but keep in mind that Sliver Mountain’s Shakin’ Brains pre-dates Yngwies’s Rising Force debut by a year. So how about throwing a little love Silver Mountain’s way, huh? Jonas Hansson took care of both guitar and vocal duties on Shakin’ Brains. As the former, he was a polished technician, unleashing well-composed, note-dense flourishes that were like songs onto themselves. As a singer however, Hansson was only an average performer. Keyboardist Jens Johansson matched Hansson with some wizardry of his own. The flaw of Shakin’ Brains is that almost all the songs are the same speed (fast), and sound quite similar. My score: B-
8. Axewitch – The Lord Of Flies
Axe Witch or Axewitch? I’m not sure. The Lord Of Flies was the second release by Sweden’s Axewitch (their first was the Pray For Metal EP in ’82). It is a record I really want to love, but the abysmal production really urinates on my parade. Beneath the muddy mess is a collection of tunes that call to mind the sizzling chug n’ groove metal of the Dutch band Picture, and the amateur charm of the rocks-for-brains Witchfinder General. For technical dexterity, look elsewhere. One need only listen to the god-awful guitar solo Let The Strings Cry Out for evidence of Axewitch’s lack of world-class chops. But forged-in-fire cuts like Axe Victim and Just Another Lunatic pretty much crush, despite the sloppy mix. The Lord Of Flies is a more-than-adequate collection of no-frills beer swills. Then again, its Swedish, so you already know to expect quality. Shame about the low-budget, demo-quality production of the whole shebang. (The good news is that Axewitch’s next album, Visions Of The Past, was an absolute beast!) My score: B-
7. Mindless Sinner – Master Of Evil
Master Of Evil was a four-track EP released by a Swedish label called Fingerprint Records (also home to Axewitch, Mercy, Wizz, and Gotham City). Of note, the original EP pressing actually had an embarrassing mistake on it. As you can see on the left, the band’s name was actually misspelled as Mindless Sinners on the cover. No matter, the spirited metal that lurks beneath makes up for the epic fail of the cover. Similar to Axewitch (above) and maybe Gotham City, Mindless Sinner gave us stout riffs and quality hooks with an endearing devotion so pure in its metalness that you’ve just gotta smile. I mean, if you don’t like the cut of Mindless Sinner’s jib, you might want to tender your resignation to Satan himself, because Old Scratch doesn’t need you on his team anymore. By the way, the sound quality on Master Of Evil ain’t so great (the singer sounds like he’s across the street), but what the hell do you expect? They couldn’t even spell the band’s name right on the cover, so don’t think you’re getting Sgt. f*cking Pepper here, okay? My score: B
6. 220 Volt – 220 Volt
This is the eponymous debut by 220 Volt, a young Swedish band that went on to release a pair of great albums in ’84 (Power Games) and ’85 (Mind Over Muscle). This debut, however, is a bit shaky. That being said, the guitar work absolutely smokes! Not necessarily the solos as much, but the riff work blazes a fiery path to the gods in Valhalla. Pour a tall one for Thomas Drevin and Mats Karlsson! Talk about a pair of lethal pick hands! As for the vocalist Peter Hermansson, he was a little bit behind the curve. Not bad, but not outstanding. Chalk it up to being young and inexperienced. As for the individual tracks, the clear highlights for me are No Return and Lonely Nights, while the low light has to be Nightwinds, which features some incredibly annoying, ear-molesting vocals from a guest female performer. My score: B
5. Heavy Load – Stronger Than Evil
Heavy Load! There was no band quite like these Nordic sword wielders! From the frozen tundra of Sweden they roared forth. Heavy Load had a unique sound all their own. I have yet to hear the “Heavy Load sound” duplicated by any other metal band. Their calling card? Rich, old-fashioned melodies (almost like oldies rock and roll) sung over coal-fired metallic riffs and barbarian drums.
Heavy Load released their first album in 1978, making them Sweden’s first real metal band. The brothers Wahlquist (Ragne on guitar and Styrbjörn on drums) were the core of Heavy Load. Pocket ace Eddie Malm was a significant force in the band as well, playing guitar and sharing vocal duties with the Wahlquists.
The fiercely independent Wahlquist brothers formed their own record label, Thunderload Records. It was on this label that Heavy Load released Stronger Than Evil. It was to be the band’s last full-length LP.
Stronger Than Evil is a bit more benevolent than the incredible album that preceded it, Death Or Glory (1982), though it is still very much armor-plated and glory bound. Saturday Night and Free are downright jubilant, with memorable refrains that soar like Valkyries on their journey back to Odin’s great hall. These two tracks are my personal faves. I will say this, a few tracks languish a bit, and that may be because of a bit of “been there, done that” syndrome on my part, since I had already devoured Death Or Glory (1982) and Metal Conquest (1981) before I finally heard Stronger Than Evil. Nevertheless, an album (and a band) worthy of full investigation! My score: B
4. Biscaya – Biscaya
From top to bottom, Biscaya was a truly talented and adventurous band. All five members got a chance to show off their finely honed skills on the album. Biscaya begins with its heaviest cut first, Howl In The Sky. This is a speedy track with an intense keyboard/guitar solo. Had Biscaya chosen to stay with this type of a progressive metal alloy throughout the album, we may have had a metal classic on our hands! Track two also brings with it a touch of the heavy. The excellent Fools sounds like it could have easily been on Silver Mountain’s Universe album (released two years later!). This is a high caliber slab of neo-classical, keyboard infused metal. After the first two cuts, things start getting a bit weird. Track three, Summerlove, is a rather sleepy ballad, and track four is an infectious, poppy rocker called Weekend. I actually really love this tune! Next up is an instrumental orchestral score titled Biscaya – a very curious choice indeed (I usually skip this one). Singing In Harmony follows, another happy, up-beat pop-rock tune. On the surface, Singing In Harmony may seem a bit silly, but repeated listens reveal it to be quite a complex construct. I don’t love the song (in fact, I usually skip it also), but again, full marks to Biscaya for their daring nature. Sunrise is next, a nice mid-paced rock tune with plenty of those now-familiar keyboard accoutrements. Walls is a strong ballad (better than Summerlove) and Divine Layer Of Warmth is an acoustic instrumental. The album closes with Rockin’ Vehicles, a quick footed hard rocker with the cool lyric “don’t let the bastards get you!”. (Don’t worry Biscaya, I won’t!) I guess Biscaya were just kind of in their own world on this album. Quirky? Yes. Skilled? Absolutely. A good album? After a few listens… yeah, I think so. My score: B+
3. Overdrive – Metal Attack
Metal Attack (Planet Records) was a a power-packed metal banquet from the mighty Overdrive. The molten metal lava poured into the ten cuts on Metal Attack sets off a cloud of hot smoke that will singe your nostrils and choke your lungs. I’m really impressed with the fiery guitar duo of Janne Stark and Kjell Jacobsson, as well as the pulverizing drumming of Kenth Ericsson. And vocalist Pelle Thuresson gives an engaging, unrestrained performance that really exemplifies the band’s youthful fervor. Metal Attack was the precursor to Overdrive’s woefully overlooked masterpiece Swords And Axes (1984). And while that album trumps this one, you really can’t go wrong with either record. Be warned, both may bring you to the brink of suicide with their suffocating sense of despair, but DAMN if they don’t rock hard! Overdrive epitomized all the best attributes of Swedish metal — most notably a genuine charm that just oozes from the speakers. Moment of zen: Time Will Tell. My score: B+
2. Six Feet Under – Six Feet Under
Six Feet Under is the dark horse of this list. Though not very well-known, this Swedish album deserves its place in the limelight! Six Feet Under were kicking it old school on their debut (Europa Film Records) with a hard rock style that bucked trends and harkened back to the seventies. Six Feet Under had a warm and rich sound to comfort your soul like a warm blanket while simultaneously crushing your nuts with a sledgehammer. With Peter Ostling’s Hammond organ swirling around, and Thomas Larsonn’s high-octane guitar work tossing off sparks, every song is a tasty rock snack for your salivating suck hole. The vocals of Björn Lodin only adds more creamy icing to the sumptuous layer cake. Helluva voice on that guy! The sum total being an album of very high-caliber, both in terms of grin-inducing melody and adrenaline-pumping rockitude. Faves here include Is It A Go? and Make Me Stay. Seek it out. Soak it in. My score: A-
1. Europe – Europe
If you are only a casual metal/hard rock fan then it’s likely that Europe is the only band on this list that you’ve ever heard of. The sad truth is, despite all the great bands I’ve compiled on this list, only Europe ever made the big time. It was Europe’s 1986 album The Final Countdown that launched them into the stratosphere. Few realized at the time that Europe already had two albums under their belt. This was especially true in the United States where the Europe album was not even properly released until after The Final Countdown made them international stars.
Originally called Force, the band landed a deal with Hot Records after famously winning a Swedish talent contest. A name change to Europe ensued, and the eponymous debut LP arrived in 1983. In typical Swedish style, the album contained intensely melodic hard rock/metal with gothic overtones. Far from the “hair” metal feel of The Final Countdown, Europe depicted a glam-free foursome with a knack for galloping rhythms and heavy guitars.
One of the things that really impresses me about the Europe LP is just how refreshingly different it is from the fashionable heavy metal of the day. It’s as if the NWOBHM never happened. While most metal of the era could be traced back to Maiden, Priest, Zep, or Sabbath — Europe seemed to be blissfully insulated from outside influences. Instead, the resulting masterpiece was a unique take on the genre, with a crystalline delivery and a nod to the Norse gods above. Smooth, effortless vocals by Joey Tempest flowed perfectly with the tasteful and tuneful axe work of John Norum. Favorites include In The Future To Come, Farewell and Children Of This Time. Yet, the absolute highlight for me would be the incredible Seven Doors Hotel, a song that retells the plot of the 1981 horror film The Beyond. Essential! My score: A+