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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Nordic Heavy Metal Bands

The Nordic region is home to some of the best known pop music acts – ABBA, Ace of Base, A-Ha, A*Teens, Aqua, Safri Duo etc. But many may not know that the Nordic countries have a much more thriving heavy metal scene. While Metallica and Megadeth sold out and lost themselves to commercialization, Pantera failed to recover from the murder of its star guitarist, and whiz kids like Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails) were thrown into oblivion by changing tastes, Nordic metal bands have remained true to their mettle and thrived. And in today’s world where even Hoobastank gets cheered by some as metal acts, these Nordic bands, with their usually freely downloadable music, keep providing some freshness to die hard metal fans used to listening to the same old songs of Sepultura, Slayer and Metal Church.

I believe that the Nordic metal act was started by Yngwie Malmsteen (A Swede) with his ground breaking neo-classical guitar playing that inspired countless others. The next band to make big news was Mayhem (Norwegian); Mayhem, especially their lead singer Dead, redefined nastiness. He used to keep smelling a bag containing a long dead crow. When he shot himself after slitting his wrists, his suicide note read, “Excuse all the blood, Cheers”. Apparently fellow band members ate parts of his brain and made garlands out of his skull bones. The bands guitarist was murdered by the bassist. Despite all this, their blasphemic music was a respite for some who were tired of TV airtime occupied by the late pope dressed up in expensive clothes moving around in expensive wheelchairs. In the 90s, Norwegian black metal band Dimmu Borgir gained some popularity with their multi-talented star front-man Shagrath. All this while, Finnish band Stratovarius kept on churning out some of the most melodic metal tunes. Their guitarist Timo Tolkki was probably one of the best guitarists of his time; but the band always lacked a good vocalist. And there is Black Debbath, a Norwegian band that got small time success in the region with their humorous lyrics about life in Norway.

Today, while metal as a genre is recovering from its worst time since 1970s, many Nordic bands are leading the recovery and get reasonable airtime on MTV 2. Swedish melodic band Amon Amarth has a reasonable following with its songs about Norse mythology. Finnish band Children of Bodom has had a few hits in the US. And then there is Lordi, the Finnish pop metal band that won the Eurovision contest this year. Lordi’s music is much simplistic than the black metal giants of the region; but as they say “Everyone loves Lordi”. The band was even covered by the Economist.

Why does the region with one of the most fair and prosperous societies produce such dark music? Is it the weather? How does an English speaking guy know? (From Black Debbath’s “What the previous song was about”)

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