Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Long Hundred 019/100: Close Up Magazine # 19: Dolores Records Compilation

...in which I was provided a musical map of Sweden.

[This is part of a series of posts dedicated to 100 albums I feel lucky to have heard. The full list and a more detailed explanation of the series can be found here.]

Dolores Records began its life as a record store in Gothenberg, Sweden, and quickly became a destination for metalheads and scenesters in the area. Among them: A zine writer and underground music nerd named Tomas Lindberg.

from Daniel Ekeroth's Swedish Death Metal

Eventually, the record store became a record label, and began signing some of its local talent. When Dolores Records partnered with the Swedish metal magazine Close-Up is when it started making its way to my world.

A high school friend was a Swede, and Gothenberg native. That he was a punk who hated all things metal was besides the point; he had access to things like free promotional samplers that were given out at record stores in his hometown. Record stores like Dolores; samplers like the one included with Close Up #19.

I dubbed the comp to a cassette during my lunch period (as was my habit at the time). The fact that I didn't recognize any of the bands listed was part of its appeal; it had barely been 2 years since the "thanks" list in Entombed's Clandestine album made me dizzy with its compendium of esoteric band names ("Filthy Christians"? "Nirvana 2002"??). I was determined to uncover as many of them as I humanly could.

In that sense, the Close Up sampler was a treasure trove, but only once you get past the first 11 songs. Tracks by Starmarket and Randy offer a who's who of "Who, now?" and show that Sweden was just as prone to the punk, ska, and brit pop trends that were taking hold in the rest of the world.

Twelve tracks in is where things became interesting. The second section of the comp features bands from Distortion Records (Dolores' sub-label that focused on Swedish hardcore (already legendary by the mid-Nineties) and you couldn't ask for a better introduction to the style. This was my first exposure to crust punk, "discore" and d-beat, and having no frame of reference, I could only compare it to early Napalm Death. [I wasn't entirely wrong.]

Like scenes in small cities around the world, there was a fair amount of cross-pollination between the hardcore and metal scenes in Gothenberg - as result, "GBGHC" was notably heavier and more death metal-influenced than any other hardcore scene. The two songs from Skitsystem are a perfect example: That their extremely raw sound shared a number of similarities with early death metal and grindcore wasn't unrelated to the fact that the band's line-up included Tomas Lindberg and Adrian Erlandsson from At The Gates.

Lindberg would later take over the vocal slot for Disfear as well. Their name alone lets you know that Disfear were 100% old school Discharge worship, with d-beats galore and lyrics depicting the horrors of war. In their future incarnation with Lindberg on vocals, Disfear signed to Relapse and embraced garage rock (not entirely dissimilar to what Entombed did on Holllowman - a connection underscored when Entombed's Uffe Cederlund joined Disfear for their last album). But their first album on Distortion will always be important to me, as it was my introduction to "discore" - and though it was a few more years before I heard the originators of the style, I had plenty of Disfear (not to mention Disgust, Dischange, and Disassociate) to keep my boombox busy.

The comp was also my first exposure to Wolfpack. Though the band would go on to much wider acclaim as Wolfbrigade, it was their first album that pioneered the extremely heavy crust style that they called "Lycanthro Punk". With their apocalyptic themes, bleak melodies and unabashed metal influence, Wolfpack were pioneers of dark crust.

Mob 47 were one of the originators of Swedish hardcore (which the band described as "mangel"). In truth, they didn't make as much of an impression on me as the other bands on the comp, but I would come to appreciate the band's importance when I saw them in 2010 (and much more so in 2015 when I interviewed them).

The band that I enjoyed the most on this compilation was Driller Killer, who were formed by members of the seminal Swedish hardcore band Anti-Cimex. For some reason I have a habit of gravitating towards bands of relatively minor importance; but it's easy to see why they stood out to me at the time: Between the guttural vocals, their horror movie name and their passing similarity to Motörhead, they were an easy hardcore band for a hesher to latch on to. Though wouldn't go on to be as successful or influential as some of Distortion's other bands, my love for Driller Killer was shared by at least four other people: Malaysian thrashers Atomicdeath, who covered "From Out of Nowhere".

But as a seventeen year old, my primary interest was still in the Gothenberg death metal scene. Prior to becoming synonymous with melodic death metal, the city was a smorgasbord of death, thrash and black metal bands: Grotesque, Liers In Wait, The Crown (then known as Crown Of Thorns), Ceremonial Oath (featuring members of In Flames and Dark Tranquility), and Sacrilege; and Dolores Records (through its Black Sun imprint) had the inside track on all of them.

I've written about Sacrilege and Grotesque at length in previous installments of The Long Hundred; suffice to say, the brief introduction provided by this sampler is what led me to seek out their albums.

Arguably, the band who went on to have the most success was The Crown; but their material as Crown Of Thorns was only vaguely reminiscent of the rock-infused "turbo metal" that made them so popular during their Metal Blade years. Though it would take three albums for them to grow into their distinctive style (and it was thanks to the pinch-hitting vocal contributions of Tomas Lindberg that caused their popularity to really soar), their first album remains one of the best examples of no-frills black/death/thrash.

Ceremonial Oath were early proponents of "The Gothenberg Sound" who combined Maiden-esque guitar harmonics with coarse Teutonic thrash vocals (courtesy of In Flames vocalist Anders Friden, in one of his first credited performances). That "The New Wave of Swedish Death Metal" (as Terrorizer dubbed it) followed a musical template laid out by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal is made explicit by Ceremonial Oath's faithful cover of "Hallowed Be Thy Name".

Liers In Wait were another stand-out for me. At the time, they seemed to represent a level up in extremity - which, in retrospect, was mostly due to their shitty production, but they were a prototype of the hyperblasting death/thrash style that proliferated at the turn of the millennium (thanks to bands like Krisiun and Vader). For all the frothing devotion that Grotesque has inspired over the years, it seems strange that Liers In Wait, Necrolord's first post-Grotesque project, continues to be overlooked. When Century Media re-issued the first At The Gates EP with Grotesque's In The Embrace of Evil tacked on, it was a laudable attempt to expose Grotesque to a wider audience - but pairing the two Necrolord projects would have been more appropriate. Of course, what the world wanted at the time was another Slaughter of the Soul, and Liers In Wait - who somehow managed to be both technical and sloppy - were far from the next big thing in melodic metal. The band never recorded more than one EP and a Slayer cover (which closes out  this Dolores Records sampler), but their limited material is waiting to be rediscovered and re-appraised by the savvy and the discerning.

Of course, if anyone was responsible for the proliferation of melodic death metal, it was Black Sun. Thanks to the success of At The Gates (whose debut EP Gardens of Grief was one of Dolores Records' first releases), the world was hungry for more of the same. Bands like Dark Tranquility and In Flames may have been snapped up by larger labels, but Black Sun gave hometown scrubs like Impious, Ebony Tears, and Nifelheim exposure as the bubble grew. Of course, that same bubble eventually burst, and most of those bands broke up when they realized they were never going to be the next In Flames.

Black Sun, along with Wrong Again Records, was eventually taken over by Century Media, ostensibly to corner the market on melodic Swedish death metal (the popularity of which skyrocketed by the 2000's). Dolores merged with two other Swedish indie labels, before ultimately being absorbed by Warner Music Sweden.

From the safety of hindsight, it's easy to look back on the Gothenberg phenomenon as another small scene with too many bands and only a few notable acts. But in the mid-Nineties, it felt as fresh and exciting as any other musical movement. And if wave after wave of At The Gates clones robbed the music of that freshness, I'm glad that I got to experience it firsthand with this compilation, which provided me a roadmap for the next several years as I delved deeper underground.


Grotesque -
In The Embrace of Evil