Authors: Ika Johannesson & Jon Jefferson Klingberg
Title:Blood, Fire, Death-The Swedish Metal Story
Publishers: Feral House
Reviewed: Feb 2019
The good folks at Feral House have always had a good reputation of bringing cult, underground, avante-garde and interesting topic matters to print. For our purposes, one of their most recent Metal-related publications is the book, BLOOD, FIRE, DEATH-THE SWEDISH METAL STORY.
The book itself is an oversized paper back with an eye-catching cover and runs over 330 pages. It was originally printed in Swedish in 2011 and has now been translated into English by Ovar Safstrom, yes, that Ovar Safstrom of Entombed fame. The authors, who are Swedish media veterans, Johannesson and Klingberg have also updated much of the material. There are lots of cool, rare photos on glossy plates in the middle of the book and a few pictures of flyers and memorabilia as well.
The book is structured is such a way that you could, in theory, just read anyone of the 15 chapters in any sequence. Chapters include genre based topics, like Death Metal, Black Metal, Power Metal but also broader topics within the Swedish metal scene, like suicide, politics, and gender. Thankfully, the authors do not get preachy and do not reveal a political bias either way, it is merely observational of the attitudes, actions and behaviours and even crimes of some of the members of various bands. There are very interesting chapters on the development of the Swedish Metal industry and media over time with some interesting comparisons to neighbouring Finland. There are even a few band-specific chapters about Entombed, Dissection and Watain. Some of the text is pretty graphic especially when they discuss the bands and individuals who engage in self-harm as performance art and blood-play as a sexual preference in their private lives. The authors are wise enough to stop just short of sensationalizing the topics which some could deem…troubling.
In terms of criticism, and I have very few, but BLOOD, FIRE, DEATH is certainly focused on the extreme Metal genres. The authors do pay a bit of lip-service to the most massive Swedish Hard Rock and Metal artists, Europe, Yngwie Malmsteen and so on, but by and large it is the heavier genres that get the attention. You could probably have reached that conclusion that based on the picture on the front cover and the Bathory inspired book title!
The authors touch on some Power Metal, Hammerfall and Sabaton, but they is not much focus on Prog or Doom or bands like Opeth or Everygrey or even some of the bigger names in the more melodic arena, bands like Treat, Poodles and that whole Work Of Art, Talisman, Eclipse, W.E.T subscene. There is also pretty massive Christian Metal scene in Sweden dating back 30+ years, which could have got at least an honourable mention, or even a whole chapter exploring Leviticus, Jerusalem, Narnia, Reinxeed, Golden Resurrection, Heed, Audiovision and that whole giant pack.
However, I don’t want to grumble about, ‘They didn’t include band X’, because the authors state very clearly in the introduction that this is not intended to be the most comprehensive guide to Swedish Metal. That book has yet to be written and with over 4500 Swedish Metal bands, in at least a dozens genres, I don’t think anyone could write a comprehensive book. They decided to focus on the heavier genres and that is perfectly acceptable! If I did have one criticism, or could see a part that was lacking, is that there was very little about Dan Swano and his 50 bands and wide-spread production work. Maybe they tried to interview him (I’m sure they did) but it just didn’t happen but he is one the biggest names in the history of Swedish Metal and he got very little attention.
To me this is a bit of an entry-level look at Swedish Metal. Perhaps that is not the correct term, I don’t mean to sound negative but there area few clues that this book is geared maybe towards people who are less knowledgeable and curious about Swedish Metal, as well as die-hard fans. For example there is a glossary of Metal terms in the back, which is helpful, but any Metalhead already knows this. There are just certain things that are brought up in the text that are really basic information. Many of the stories are well known in Metal circles, but what I liked is they really went into depth with some of the secondary or periphery members of the scene, parents, ex-girlfriends of famous musicians, industry people. I felt sorry for the authors who seem to have to wait for an enormous amount of time to be granted an interview with some of the more misanthropic members of the extreme scene, only to have their interviews vetted. This book took years to write and the authors seem very patient!
To me, there are now the three great books on Swedish Metal. Janne Stark’s THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SWEDISH HARD ROCK AND HEAVY METAL Volumes I & II (2003), which as the title suggests is a big list of technical data. Secondly, Daniel Ekeroth’s fine tome, SWEDISH DEATH METAL (2006), which is really very focused on one small segment of Swedish Metal. Lastly, BLOOD FIRE DEATH bridges the gap between the two aforementioned works almost perfectly. It is more varied and all-encompassing than SWEDISH DEATH METAL and more interesting to read then just the Starks reference guide. For the record, I’ve reviewed all of these books on this site if you are interested. BLOOD FIRE DEATH, stands as the most accessible of the three. If I was to recommend these to casual fans and listeners I’d start with BLOOD, FIRE DEATH as the gateway book to the broader world of Swedish Metal.
BLOOD FIRE, DEATH, is a fantastic work. It is a great overview of one of the world’s most Metal nations, in terms of productivity, influence, credibility and the enduring legacy that Swedish performers and bands have brought to the world stage.