At the Roots of Melodeath: In Flames (Sonisphere Festival, 2011)
Among the great many eccentric and exciting metallic developments of the nineties was the rise of another subgenre: Melodic Death Metal. I consider this style some kind of a more subtle and diversified sister to Death Metal. Melodic Death Metal’s place of birth is the Swedish town Gothenburg (Göteborg), which is why this type of Metal is alternatively called Gothenburg Style (Göteborger Schule). The Swedish city has made Melodic Death Metal popular on the entire globe. Three most famous founding bands originate from this place, namely At the Gates – whose album “Slaughter of the Souls” introduced Melodeath in 1995 – Dark Tranquillity and In Flames. The Brits of Carcass equally helped develop the genre after turning their backs on the Grindcore of their early days.
Melodeath draws on its successor Death Metal’s harsh thrashing and low-pitched growling vocal techniques, yet adds harmonies and grooves which undeniably origin from classical Heavy Metal as well as Thrash Metal. Melodic patterns, incredibly fast riffing, extensive solos and the occasional intrusion of acoustic guitars are accompanied by synthetic sounds, since later on in the course of the 1990s musicians discovered the pleasures of keyboards. Double-bass is an indispensable feature of Melodeath, as is a combination of harsh growling and clean vocals up to falsett tones. Fans’ ears are attacked with blast beats, a drum technique that may simply be described as sudden and violent musical explosions within a drummer’s performance.
When it comes to experimenting with elements of other musical genres, Melodic Death Metal is far more open than many heavy subgenres. Especially fusions with other metallic styles have gained popularity over the past years. Finland’s Children of Bodom are frequently associated with Power Metal, whereas the Swiss Eluveitie incorporate Folk Metal, thereby creating an explosive and highly intriguing mixture. DevilDriver, a band grouped around the charismatic frontman Dez Fafara (who, by the way, does not sport a beard on his chin, but a tribal tattoo instead!) successfully interweave Groove Metal and Melodeath. Fusions with Metalcore are popular, too, as Heaven Shall Burn from Germany and the Canadians Threat Signal loudly demonstrate.
DevilDriver’s Dez Fafara (The Netherlands, 2009)
Further famous names paving Melodeath’s impressive way into the headbangers’ hearts are All That Remains, As I Lay Dying, Amon Amarth, Ensiferum, Kataklysm, Soilwork, Sonic Syndicate, Scar Symmetry and countless others. You might have already noticed that lists of Melodeath bands tend to read like a dramatis personae. There is indeed a strong drive for theatrical exuberance in band names and lyrics, album titles and compositional style. Soft melodies are often abruptly cut off by extreme shredding, and harsh gnarls or excessive screeches take it in turns with high-pitched dramatic vocals. There is a distinct eccentricity to many Melodeath bands.
To me, one of the most eccentric and wonderful outbursts of Melodic Death Metal is created by the Swedes of Scar Symmetry. The band was founded in 2004 around the amazing voice of Christian Älvestam and the mystical lyrics of drummer Henrik Ohlsson. With a pitch ranging from extremely high and clear nearing falsett to enormously low with Death Metal growls, Älvestam has for years been the band’s recognition feature. Again and again, I listen to older Scar Symmetry records with rapt attention and hold my breath, fascinated. The musicians somehow manage to combine tonal violence, harsh breakdowns and barking growls with revelations of clean singing that make the hair in the back of my neck stand.
Älvestam left Scar Symmetry in 2008 and is currently member of around 10 bands and projects – a successful workaholic. In context with his latest solo project “Self 2.0”, Älvestam was reported to have explained: “It’s not exactly a secret that I have a weak spot for more pop-oriented stuff – especially in the vein of the sound of the ’80s. In fact, I have always been listening to softer music, alongside the heavier stuff, which is probably why my own music so often, unintentionally, tends to end up being a mixture of the two.” His urge to pursue softer music might have been a significant force in his breakup with Scar Symmetry. However, the band did not remain devoid of a voice for long: in 2008, Roberth Karlsson and Lars Palmqvist joined the team. The former produces growls and backing clean vocals, whereas Palmqvist sings clean and growls in the background. Fans’ opinions are diverse when it comes to whether or not Älvestam’s leave has changed too much about Scar Symmetry. I consider the two new singers very able musicians. The bands style and song quality has not changed a mite and their combined voices are powerful enough to support the dramatic sound.
I could provide you with more brilliant Scar Symmetry songs than my blog could hold, but I’m afraid I have to decide…
This record from Scar Symmetry’s “Holographic Universe” (2008), sung by Christian Älvestam, always amazes me:
Karlsson and Palmqvist convince with vocal power as well. I love this one, taken from the band’s 2011 album “The Unseen Empire”:
Isn’t that dead melodic…?