Get ready for a deafening blast from the past. Today, we will be taking a look at death metal bands that either directly gave birth to more popular ones or included musicians who would become famous for their work with other acts. That’s not to say, however, that some of the groups listed below didn’t have a massive impact and attract many loyal followers. Some of these outfits are even currently active. Be forewarned: We have amply represented Sweden, given the country’s massive global influence on the subgenre. How many of these 11 death metal outfits do you remember?!
The Stockholm-based outfit Nihilist is regarded as the forerunner to Entombed. The group originally began as the project of Nicke Andersson and his summer camp friends Alex Hellid and Leif “Leffe” Cuzner. This trio had already played together in the hardcore crossover project Brainwarp, which also featured Daniel Strachal. (Strachal and Cuzner would go on to found Lobotomy.)
Although they are not always credited as such, Ulf Cederlund and the late legend Lars-Göran Petrov (1972-2021) were also original members of Nihilist. Before the Nihilist era, Nicke worked with this pair in a band called Blasphemy. (For a time, Cederlund and Petrov belonged to the black/death/thrash group Morbid, which the deceased Per Ygnve “Pelle” / “Dead” Ohlin fronted before joining Mayhem. Since Mayhem‘s co-founder Necrobutcher has referred to his band’s style as “death metal” — Euronymous and Pelle pushed the term “black” — we could even add Morbid to our list as the precursor to Ohlin/”golden”-era Mayhem.)
Nihilist played their first show in 1987. In his book Swedish Death Metal (2006), Daniel Ekeroth wrote that Nihilist‘s second demo, Only Shreds Remain, “can be seen as probably the first 100 percent pure Swedish death metal recording.” Cuzner actually created the trademark Swedish DM chainsaw buzz guitar sound on this recording. During the Nihilist period, Cuzner moved to Canada, where he would tragically take his life in 2006.
Johnny Hedlund, who also appears on Only Shreds Remain, joined Nihilist on bass in 1988. To avoid firing him, Nihilist broke up in 1989 and resurfaced as Entombed a few days later. The group’s rebranding was further necessitated by the fact that an Atlanta band contacted them to say that they had already taken the name Nihilist. As a result of his indirect dismissal, Hedlund formed Unleashed, which he still fronts. Andersson, Hellid, and Cederlund are currently with Entombed, though Hellid is the only member who has been constant. Because of issues with Entombed, Petrov split with to co-found Entombed A.D. in 2014.
The Finnish band Abhorrence was founded in 1989. It took the group a while to settle on the name Abhorrence. They first experimented with options like Unholy Fury. Although Abhorrence is sometimes referred to as pre-Amorphis, this label isn’t quite accurate since they were two distinctly different ventures. Amorphis‘ Tomi Koivusaari is an original member of both bands. Similarly, Abhorrence‘s co-founder Jussi Ahlroth formerly played live with Amorphis as did Opeth and ex-Bodom After Midnight‘s Waltteri Väyrynen, who only joined a reunified Abhorrence in 2016.
Tomi Koivusaari had actually played with Jan Rechberger in a thrash band called Violent Solution. When Koivusaari left, he was replaced by Esa Holopainen. When Holopainen and Rechberger decided to start Amorphis in 1990, Koivusaari was recruited as their vocalist and rhythm guitar player. (Koivusaari still acts as Amorphis‘ rhythm guitarist.) Thus, you can hear a cover of Abhorrence‘s “Vulgar Necrolatry” on Amorphis‘ historic debut album, The Karelian Isthmus (1990).
Abhorrence disbanded in 1990. However, the outfit gave three live performances in 2013. Despite the uncertainty regarding Abhorrence‘s future that followed, Abhorrence proved that they truly were back with more gigs in 2017. The same year, Abhorrence released a live album that was recorded in 2013. They soon dropped the EP Megalohydrothalassophobic (2018).
The legendary Gothenburg-based BM/DM outfit Grotesque, which emerged in 1988, featured two of At the Gates original members — guitarist Alf Svensson (now an ex-member) and frontman Tomas “Tompa” Lindberg. Grotesque was actually born out of a band known as Conquest. Once Lindberg came aboard, Conquest changed their name and direction. Grotesque‘s few gigs mostly took place at youth centers. Oddly enough, this brutal act tried to perform at a middle-school dance, but they were sadly shut down. Another strange fact is that Shamaatae, the mastermind of the bizarre yet great black metal project Arckanum (R.I.P.), played on two of Grotesque‘s demos.
Although Grotesque‘s reputation grew after their demise, they still managed to garner respect during their brief lifespan. Mayhem‘s Pelle Ohlin was certainly a supporter. Pelle adored Tompa, with whom he corresponded as a pen pal. When Pelle and Tompa finally met at a New Year’s Eve party thrown by Slayer Mag‘s Metalion, they began cutting themselves together. However, Tompa ended up hiding from the overexcited Mayhem vocalist, who eventually had to be tackled and handcuffed by his buddies. Pelle tried to arrange for Mayhem to perform with Grotesque in his native Sweden. Although Pelle‘s plans never came to fruition, he spoke about three prospective Swedish gigs in Battery #5 (1990), for example. Marduk‘s Morgan Håkansson even procured a butcher’s saw for Pelle to use as a self-harm tool.
Ceremonial Oath, who settled on their final name in 1991, had existed under other appellations — Striker and Desecrator — since 1988. Interestingly, Thomas Lindberg, who was already with At the Gates, appears on Ceremonial Oath‘s sophomore album, Carpet (1995). This Swedish project would break up in 1996. However, they played some reunion shows in 2013 and are technically still active. Anders Fridén, who fronted Dark Tranquility in the early ’90s, told Metal Review:
“In the beginning, In Flames was more like a side project. Me and Jesper [Strömblad] were playing in another band (Ceremonial Oath) together and then he left because he couldn’t do whatever he wanted to do. There were more people in control of the band that disagreed with him, so he formed In Flames with a couple of guys… Jesper asked me to join in 1995.”
Tiamat‘s Anders Iwers is another Ceremonial Oath member who would eventually wind up in Dark Tranquility, though he has since parted with them. You probably also know Ceremonial Oath‘s Oscar Dronjak as the founder of the very non-DM HammerFall. Dronjak invited Strömblad to join him in this endeavor.
Grave is one of the “big four” Swedish death metal acts together with Unleashed, Entombed, and Dismember. Grave eventually became known as such in 1988. Yet, the group’s history dates back even further. The founders met when they were just thirteen years old. They would play under a variety of other banners for a couple of years before dubbing themselves Corpse in 1986. The only difference between Corpse and the first incarnation of Grave is that the former had a fourth musician. Grave‘s original lineup consisted of Jens “Jensa” Paulsson, Jörgen Sandström, and Ola Lindgren. After starting Grave, this trio and another member started the side project Putrefaction. Grave would later make use of material by Putrefaction after the later dissolved. In 2011, Century Media Records issued a split showcasing songs by Corpse, Putrefaction, and Grave under the title Necropsy — The Complete Demo Recordings 1986-1991.
Before Dark Tranquility became known as such in 1991, they had worked under the name Septic Broiler since 1989. The entire roster remained intact during their rebranding — Niklas Sundin, Mikael Stanne, Martin Henriksson, Anders Fridén, and Anders Jivarp. Septic Broiler was founded by Sundin and Stanne, who would go on to become original members of HammerFall (again, very far from DM). Septic Broiler left behind a couple of sick demos — Enfeebled Earth (1990) and a rehearsal tape from December 1990.
Obituary has been making the world a more brutal place since 1988. Before becoming Obituary, this Floridian band called themselves Executioner (1984-1986). They later changed the spelling to Xecutioner (1986-1988) because there was already an Executioner in Boston. Executioner/Xecutioner began with a thrashy two-song demo, Metal Up Your Ass (1985). However, they would morph into a death metal act.
Chris Barnes, Bob Rusay, and Paul Mazurkiewicz collaborated with other musicians in a thrash/death outfit called Tirant Sin. This Buffalo-based group took their name in 1986, but they actually got their start as Satan’s Angels in 1985. The bandmates were still in high school at the time. Barnes provided vocals for Tirant Sin‘s last tape, Mutant Supremacy (1988). By contrast, Rusay and Mazurkiewicz appear on all three of Tirant Sin‘s demos. Barnes eventually left Tirant Sin and joined the short-lived Leviathan. Thankfully, Barnes would reunite with Rusay and Mazurkiewicz to found Cannibal Corpse with Alex Webster and Jack Owen in 1988.
Immolation was founded in Yonkers after the death of Rigor Mortis in 1988. Immolation currently boasts ex-Rigor Mortis‘ Robert Vigna. Ex-Rigor Mortis‘ Tom Wilkinson played in Immolation for 13 years. Rigor Mortis also included the late Dave Wilkinson, who appears on drums on four tracks that can be found on Immolation‘s compilation album, Stepping on Angels… Before Dawn (1995).
This choice is bound to cause a few groans. For most of their history, the now goth metal/rock group Tiamat has been quite far from what one would call death metal. Nevertheless, the fact remains that this innovative band helped pioneer Swedish DM. The BM/DM Treblinka was simply Tiamat before changing their name. Treblinka‘s roster was identical to Tiamat‘s original lineup — Johan Edlund, Anders Holmberg, Stefan Lagergren, and Jörgen Thullberg. Treblinka was formed in 1987 by Edlund, who had done session work in Holmberg and Lagergren‘s project River’s Edge.
Tiamat‘s unique death/doom/symphonic black metal debut, Sumerian Cry (1990), was actually recorded when the outfit still went by Treblinka. Sumerian Cry was the first full-length album recorded at Sunlight Studios. (Many people falsely believe this to have been Entombed‘s Left Hand Path , which was released slightly earlier.) The album features re-recorded Treblinka songs. The intro, “Sumerian Cry (Part 1),” borrows from Treblinka‘s “Crawling in Vomit.” Although Sumerian Cry was a very important contribution to the metal world, it did not sell as it should have.
Although Carnage, originally known as Global Carnage, became a death metal act, they started out playing grindcore. Carnage was established in 1988 by Arch Enemy‘s future creator, Michael Amott, after he quit the punk project Disaccord. The group was also founded by Johan Liiva, whom Amott would recruit for the position of Arch Enemy‘s original vocalist in 1995. One of the most important facts about Carnage is that their roster featured talent from Dismember, which was also formed in 1988. The latter band temporarily folded after drummer Fred Estby joined Carnage and David Blomqvist became Entombed‘s bassist. Blomqvist would soon leave Entombed for Carnage.
Carnage‘s lone studio album, Dark Recollections (1990), was the third full-length release to be recorded at Sunlight Studios. This historically significant offering contains some Dismember material. Similarly, Dismember would later cover “Death Evocation” from Death Recollections. Although a Carnage live album that was recorded in 1989 dropped in 1991, the group wouldn’t survive 1990. After Carcass nabbed Michael Amott, most of Carnage‘s other musicians reformed Dismember — Estby, Blomqvist, and already ex-Therion‘s Matti Kärki. Carange‘s Johnny Đorđević moved to the Entombed camp in 1991. Michael Nicklasson, who only briefly played with Carnage in 1988, would eventually join Dark Tranquility.
(On a related note, the group Carbonized [1988-1995], is worth mentioning. Although Carbonized did not necessarily come “before” other bands, their lineup featured musicians who became famous for their work with groups that would outlive them. Their members would join, split their time with-, and/or defected to bands like Entombed and Therion [again, no longer DM]. Christofer Johnsson, for example, simultaneously fronted Carbonized and Therion, though he belonged to the latter band first. Like Matti Kärki, who left Carbonized for Carnage, Richard Cabeza was a member of Carbonized who would end up with Dismember. Because so many musicians jumped ship, Carbonized eventually crumbled in 1995. We must mention that Carbonized‘s style became more progressive as time went on.)