Every metalhead has a subgenre that serves him or her as the audio equivalent of comfort food. For some, it’s raw, primitive black metal in the tradition of Hellhammer or early Darkthrone; for others, it’s thrash á la early Metallica and all their Bay Area peers; for still others, it’s the slow, crawling roar of doom. For me, Swedish death metal provides the simple, meat-and-potatoes pleasure no other subgenre (though there are many I like) can match.
The sound pioneered in Stockholm in the late 1980s and early 1990s is instantly recognizable: grinding guitars like buzzsaws chopping pavement, a fuzzed-out and detuned bass pulled from crust punk (Discharge et al.), and loose drumming that sounds like the kit is on the brink of collapse, and hoarse, raw-throated vocals. The kings of this sound are Entombed; their debut CD, 1990’s Left Hand Path (as well as their earlier demos, under the name Nihilist) set the template, but there were (and are) dozens of bands playing it. Dismember, Grave, Unleashed and more others than I care to name all plowed this raucous sonic furrow throughout the ’90s. Some did fairly well for themselves—Dismember, Unleashed and Entombed have never stopped recording and touring, while Grave took a few years off, only to return rejuvenated and welcomed with open arms by fans. Others never made it past the borders of their homeland, if they even managed to make an album at all. These days, there are second- and third-generation SDM soundalike bands; some are fun side projects like Bloodbath (an all-star act featuring members of Opeth and Katatonia) and Death Breath (members of Entombed, Cathedral, and the first-wave SDM band Nirvana 2002), but maybe the most egregious is Fatalist, a bunch of Californians who ape Entombed so shamelessly they even use the same font for their logo.
Interment are a Swedish band; Into the Crypts of Blasphemy, their debut album, was just released in August, but they’re veterans. The group first came together in 1988, and they recorded three demos between 1991 and 1994, all of which were anthologized on the CD Where Death Will Increase, which came out back in February. It seems like several of the members (guitarist/vocalist Johan Jansson, bassist Martin Schulman and drummer Kennet Englund) spent a few of the intervening years in another band, Centinex, which broke up in 2006. Now they’ve decided to make their big move with their first band.
Interment don’t try anything revolutionary on this record. Their sound fits comfortably into the mold set by Entombed, Grave, Dismember, Unleashed and all their late ’80s peers. Samples of movie dialogue kick off one or two songs, but otherwise it’s all head-down, hair-spinning Swedish death metal…exactly the way I like to hear it.
Only two songs from the three demos—”Morbid Death” and “Where Death Will Increase”—appear on Into the Crypts of Blasphemy, and the versions are completely different. On the band’s first demo, “Morbid Death” was taken at a gallop (following a doomy intro), original drummer Sonny Svedlund (who only played on this demo; Englund was in the band by 1992) whipping the musicians forward at punk-rock speed. The album version is looser, and feels slightly slower. Englund has more swing to his playing, and he turns it into a rock ‘n’ roll song. “Where Death Will Increase” is even faster; on the band’s 1992 demo, Englund is playing blast beats straight from the Napalm Death catalog. But again, by 2010, he’s learned to swing, and his rhythm’s closer to the D-beat groove of Discharge and all the bands that followed in their wake.
Throughout the various demos and the album, Jansson and lead guitarist John Forsberg keep it simple. The guitar solos are strings of sustained single notes, not flurries of fleet fingerwork, and the clean tone cuts through the otherwise distorted, grinding sound. Jansson’s vocals are guttural and hoarse, but somehow wet, like he’s coughing out the words through a throat full of blood. His delivery’s not totally comprehensible, but if you read along with the lyrics, easy enough to follow—Swedish death metal differs from the more blasting US version in that respect. Even when the lyrics are dumb horror-movie/serial-killer stuff (and song titles like “Night of the Undead,” “Sacrificial Torment” and “Torn from the Grave” pretty much tell the story), they’re attempting to communicate, not just using the vocals as another instrument the way more “extreme” bands do.
Back in 2008, Bazillion Points Books put out Swedish Death Metal, an exhaustive guide to the 1980s and 1990s scene by Daniel Ekeroth (the bassist for Insision, a band that also included Interment’s Johan Jansson and Kennet Englund). Basically every band, big and small, was included; the list of demos and other releases in the back is exhaustive (I use that term seriously—just paging through the list can make you want to lie down for a nap). I’m sure Interment are mentioned in there, but I don’t remember what was said about them—with no official releases, they were probably little more than a footnote. Now that they’re finally trying for their moment, it behooves fans of the genre to give them a listen.