Here’s my ten (actually eleven) favorite Swedish metal albums of 1984…
11. Glory Bells – Century Rendezvous
Lead singer, Glory North, has got to be one of the more unique vocalists I have ever heard. His vocals run roughshod over the proceedings, rarely staying at home or within the ‘pocket’. His thick accent, butchered diction, and unrestrained wails border on absurd at times. But a more genuine vocalist may not be found! This endearing quality is no more evident than on the ballad My Life. The words that come to mind when I hear this autobiographical, soul-destroying vocal performance include ‘ridiculous’, ‘weird’, and ‘insane’, but also ‘gut-wrenching’, ‘inspired’ and ‘amazing’. Most of those adjectives don’t really go together, but listen to My Life (make sure you have the lyrics in front of you), and maybe you’ll agree with my assessment. Now, you may laugh at first, but the human element is undeniable. And shit, if you don’t get goose bumps when the drums kick in and North wails “ten years flew away…” you might want to check your pulse! It’s magic, man. That’s all heart right there. (And that sax solo by Eric Hausler is really nice!) Glory North… man, this guy was one magnificent bastard. May he rest in peace (… in a bath of champagne… ). My score: B+
10. Leviticus – I Shall Conquer!
As we all know, metal is the devil’s music. It’s one of his better inventions. But every once in a while, the other team gave it a go. Here we have one of the earliest offerings of the Christian metal persuasion (and a Swedish one at that). Being one of the founding Christian metal acts had its perks, I suppose — most notably, being able to snatch up a cool Biblical band name before they were all taken. Leviticus was a nice choice. (Lazarus would have been my pick.)
I Shall Conquer! was released in Sweden in 1984 by Talking Music Records. This was actually an English language re-recording of Leviticus’ 1983 Swedish language album Jag Skall Segra! (Stanley & Andrew Music). In 1985, I Shall Conquer! was released in the States via Shadow Records (with a different cover). In 2000, Magdalene Records re-released I Shall Conquer! on CD for what I believe to be the first time in that format.
I’m not a man of religion, but I’ll never let that get in the way of me enjoying some tasty old school metal. I Shall Conquer! is a crusty, shoddily produced effort, delivered bluntly yet mightily, not unlike a Heavy Load or Axewitch offering. Though somewhat cheap sounding and admittedly dated, I can’t help but love I Shall Conquer! for one simple reason… it’s just so damn catchy! Guitarist and song writer Bjorn Stigsson had an uncomplicated approach to penning tunes, usually relying on the well-worn ‘verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus’ template. For the most part, Leviticus didn’t bother with too many extracurricular complications like long instrumental sections or extended lead breaks. In many songs, the verses transition to the choruses virtually without warning, as if cut and pasted into place. But behind the righteous bellow of vocalist Hakan Andersson and the band’s steadfast adherence to melody above all else, Leviticus certainly found their way into my blackened heart, as unholy as it may be. Favorites here include the uplifting Action More Than Words and Striving Forwards. Another highlight is the surprisingly pleasant ballad All Is Calm. As I Shall Conquer! comes to a close with a song called Psalm 23, we are once again reminded to fear no evil, even if strolling through the valley of the shadow of death. Will do, Leviticus. Will do. My score: B+
9. Six Feet Under – Eruption
Six Feet Under reached back in time a bit, and captured a very organic and somewhat archaic hard rock sound. Certainly, Deep Purple comes to mind in terms of influences. There’s plenty of Hammond organ activity, much like ol’ Purple, and it works quite well. Eruption should appeal to fans of the great White Spirit, as well as obscure British NWOBHM bands Xero and Heritage. Like those bands, Six Feet Under had one foot firmly planted in the seventies. The production on this album is top-notch, perfectly suited for the band’s small room sound. Also, vocalist Bjorn Lodin gave an excellent performance. He was truly blessed with a great hard rock voice.
Now on to the business of a song on Eruption that deserves its own paragraph — an exquisite rock ballad called Candle In The Dark. This song isn’t heavy at all, just a plain old rock song, but I swear on all things unholy that Candle In The Dark could have been a Top 40 hit in the United States! When I first heard Candle In The Dark (track-three on Eruption), I immediately checked my CD’s liner notes to see if Candle In The Dark was a cover. I couldn’t believe it was an original Six Feet Under tune (that is to say, with a song this great, why weren’t Six Feet Under stars?) It turns out that Candle In The Dark was written by Eruption producer Ulf Wahlberg (who also played grand piano on the track). So indeed Candle In The Dark was an original number, though not technically written by Six Feet Under. The simple piano riff that anchors this song is so well-resolved, so familiar, and so perfect. Lodin supplied a tremendous vocal. His warm, rich tone and emotive singing brought the song’s heartbreaking lyrics to life. It makes me want to just wrap myself in a blanket, suck my thumb, and cry!
Finding lost gems like Candle In The Dark on these oldie hard rock/metal albums is kind of a bittersweet feeling for me. Obviously it’s the very essence of what I’m after here with this site (finding great songs lost to the sands of time), but it’s also kind of sad that the musicians that created these works of art never had their much deserved moment in the sun. My score: B+
8. Proud – Fire Breaks The Dawn
…and proud they very well should be! This Swedish band joins ranks with the likes of Wizz and Saigon as Swedes that delivered a single kick-ass album and then disappeared into the heavy metal graveyard. A youthful verve emanates from the band on Fire Breaks The Dawn, as they cut through the frigid Swedish air with swirling guitars and melodic vocals. The closest approximation I can make would be the mighty Overdrive, another Swedish band with spastic ideas and minds of melancholia. Fire Breaks The Dawn was finally pressed to CD by the rogue pirates at Old Metal Records out of Arlington, Virginia. Most likely a bootleg, but at least someone had the presence of mind to resurrect this ol’ beauty (originally released by EMI Records). My favorite track is the exquisite Echoes From The Past. My score: B+
7. Axewitch – Visions Of The Past
Improvements all around for Axewitch (or is it Axe Witch?) on this record. In comparison to its amateurish predecessor The Lord Of Flies (1983), Visions Of The Past delivers the goodies with iron heart and heavy hand. This likeable Swedish band showed a little more songwriting breadth and better execution on Visions Of The Past (Fingerprint Records). Stoking the furnace with their straightforward and heavy riffage, Visions Of The Past sends plumes of black smoke billowing into the air, choking your lungs with sooty goodness. Vocalist Anders Wallentoft displayed a noticeable degree of improvement on this album, as his singing exhibited more emotion and melody than before. The appeal of Visions Of The Past, at least for me, lies in the simple headbang it evokes. As I mentioned in a previous review for this band, Axewitch remind me quite a bit of the ol’ Dutch masters Picture. Eight tracks of coal-fired metal for your ass. The band was blissfully ignorant of the changing metal landscape at the time. My faves include Visions Of The Past, Stand Up, and Give Them Hell. My score: B+
6. Madison – Diamond Mistress
Madison covered a lot of ground on this ten song LP, which includes everything from delicate ballads to driving Euro-metal. The album’s opener, Lay Down Your Arms, bursts through the double doors to announce the band’s arrival — immediately calling to mind Europe’s fiery debut from 1983. (Indeed, those familiar with Europe’s first two albums will definitely notice some similarities here.) Lay Down Your Arms is the album’s best track — a shiny diamond amongst a treasure trove of early Swedish jewels. Elsewhere, smooth vocals, rich melodies, and raging guitars greet the listener at every turn. The metal melts the Swedish ice on barnstorming tracks like Run Boy and Diamond Mistress, while the album’s two emotive ballads Pictures Return and Changes provide a nice change of pace. My score: A-
5. Europe – Wings Of Tomorrow
With their sophomore album, Europe continued on a trajectory that eventually made them as the single biggest hard rock band from Sweden in the ’80s. Their debut from ’83 was a truly exceptional effort. Wings Of Tomorrow continues with more of the same galloping Euro-metal. Though not as consistently great as their debut, Europe once again showed that they were the most polished and arena-ready of all their Swedish contemporaries. In particular, John Norum was a master at fluid, melodic, and somewhat gothic guitar playing, and vocalist Joey Tempest had one of the smoothest voices around. Personal faves are Stormwind, Wasted Time, and Open Your Heart.
With their next album, The Final Countdown, Europe would become more of a “hair” band, and in so doing they became (much deserved) world-wide stars. But I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t ignore Europe’s first two, pre-fame albums; Europe and Wings Of Tomorrow. My score: A-
4. Overdrive – Swords And Axes
Overdrive! Swords And Axes is one of those sterling jewels of Scandinavian steel. This nine song LP (Planet records) is book-ended by two amazing tracks; Dream Away and Broken Hearted. The former, a riff-tastic barnstormer, the latter, an articulate quasi-ballad. Both carry with them emotional wreckage that borders on soul-crushing. In fact, all of Swords And Axes comes shrouded in a black cloud of broken dreams. All delivered with passion and fury. Guitar tandem Janne Stark and Kjell Jacobsson dished out ferocious riffs and melodic leads. Vocalist Pelle Thuresson sounded a bit teen-aged, but delivered a fine vocal performance. My only quibble with Swords And Axes is that most of the songs run a bit longer than necessary. But when all is said and done, the album lives up to its title; wielding a heavy axe of metal that will split you from tits to taint! My score: A-
3. Wizz – Crazy Games
A true diamond in the rough, Crazy Games was the one and only release by Sweden’s Wizz (Fingerprint Records). I once saw Yngwie Malmsteen (a famous Swede) give a TV interview where he said the Deep Purple was much “bigger” in Sweden than Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath. I am not sure whether or not that was true, but Wizz certainly seem to give credence to Yngwie’s declaration, as one can hear a definitive Deep Purple influence. Of particular note, the keyboard work (by Robert Kee) on Crazy Games reminds one of Jon Lord’s work with Deep Purple (or, for a more obscure reference, Malcolm Pearson’s work with White Spirit). The keyboards definitely add character and texture to the songs.
Crazy Games is composed of eight tracks, and not a stinker among them. Excellent production and a commitment to melody drive these rich, smooth rockers. Swedish metal is synonymous with high quality, and Wizz were no exception, as they reinforced the rule. Faves include the fast ‘n fun opener Smash (with the cool lyric; “take your f*cking fingers from my glass of wine!”), the mighty title track, and the rockin’ Movin’ On. Vocalist George King delivers the goods with a sturdy mid-range, and not too much of an accent. He is not earth-shattering spectacular, and nor are the rest of the players for that matter, but there is something to be said for the power of good, solid songs. My score: A-
2. Gotham City – The Unknown
In 1983, Gotham City released an EP called Black Writs. Unfortunately, that record suffered under the weight of some rather shoddy vocals courtesy of Ola Ohlsson. For The Unknown, Gotham City welcomed a new singer named Anders Zackrisson — and his youthful and tuneful vocals helped propel Gotham City and The Unknown into the pantheon of top-tier Swedish metal. The Unknown starts off with Swords And Chains; a tune with a strong main riff and a fair amount of Thin Lizzy style dual guitar harmonies. See How It Flyes (yes, that’s how they spelled it on the album) may be the most epic number on The Unknown; the lyrics speak of celestial voyage and other space-y stuff. This speedy cut is one of my favorites on the LP. The Beast Will Burn calls to mind Diamond Head’s It’s Electric during the verses before dropping off to a half-time, head banging chorus. Going Insane is probably The Unknown‘s most immediate, catchy track. This is the tune that initially caught my ear when I first started listening to The Unknown. The album’s resident hard rock entry is Ravage In Time. This is a party rocker with a cool bass intro. I should also mention the quasi-epic Learn From Your Leaders; a nice light and shade piece that stretches beyond seven minutes but never overstays its welcome. My score: A
1. 220 Volt – Power Games
Power Games, the second album by this young Swedish group was a marked improvement over their rather shaky debut. This is another notch on the belt for Sweden; a country that lays claim to “the most kick-ass heavy metal bands per capita”. Consider 220 Volt a scrappier, less polished version of debut-era Europe.
Power Games is an album of unpretentious melodic metal. Firefall and Airborne Fighter provide a potent one-two punch to start the album. Lyrically, both songs are war themed. Speaking of war themes, check out the lyrics to Night Without End for a particularly dire apocalyptic vision. Incidentally, Night Without End is my favorite track on the album. What an incredible tune; a true gem! But really all eight tracks are quite good. 220 Volt showed they were adept a writing very accessible music while maintaining a firm footing in the heavy metal realm. The cassette added two additional tracks; Screaming For A Riot and City Lights (never heard ‘em, but would love to). My score: A