The Band

The story arc of God Macabre's original run is not a unique one. Promising players find each other, unfortunate circumstances ensue, band breaks up. If there's a metal version of the 'lost my dog' type of tale, that's it. However, these Swedes lucked out by making an early connection that would save them and ensure generations of metalheads would know their name. It just took a decade to pay off.

God Macabre were born Botten På Burken in 1988. Vocalist Per Boder, guitarist Ola Sjölberg, bassist Thomas Johansson, and drummer Niklas Nilsson decided to grind, inspired by the blast of Napalm Death and Carcass. That early influence continued to guide the group, despite them ditching full-time grind for Carnage-esque death metal around 1989. To ring in the change, the four renamed themselves Macabre End. Soon after, they expanded to a quintet by adding Jonas Stålhammer on lead guitar. The core was set. This would be the lineup responsible for the Consumed by Darkness demo cut at Sunlight Studio in 1990.

Remixed for official release in 1991, Consumed by Darkness caught the ear of Relapse. The label was interested in another seven inch, but the band, now dubbed God Macabre to better fit their aesthetic, received an offer from Mangled Beyond Recognition to record an LP. God Macabre picked the full-length, thus creating a pivotal fork in their career path.

At the time , it seemed like the right move. After all, God Macabre were at the height of their power. One more session was booked at Sunlight for mid-December 1991. Then things, as they often do, fell apart. The rhythm section left. (Niklas fulfilled his recording obligations only as a "guest.") By 1992, without a bassist or drummer in sight, God Macabre split. When The Winterlong... belatedly dropped at the end of 1993, there wasn't a group to support it, dooming the album to cult status.

Over the next 10 years, The Winterlong's legend grew, turning the initial pressing into an expensive (and oft-bootlegged) collector's item. Ola eventually gave old courter Relapse a ring regarding a re-release. Relapse said yes. Like that, God Macabre were back on track. Relapse had their band and God Macabre had their label. Ola, Jon, and Per remixed their underground classic, rehauling the mellotron parts in the process. Come 2002, The Winterlong was in print, filled out by Consumed by Darkness as a bonus. An additional repress followed in 2008 and interest in God Macabre steadily increased.

By the time God Macabre reformed for Maryland Deathfest in 2013, the downer tale of a typical break-up had been rewritten. And, here we are in 2014, holding a fully remastered version of The Winterlong plus Consumed by Darkness, one also including God Macabre's first new song since 1991. Took a bit, but that's a pretty awesome post-script, right?

The Release

Of course, there's a reason The Winterlong has seen four official presses at this point: it endures. Granted, it's old school Swede death through and through, comparable to its popular Sunlight cousins. Nevertheless it's also packed with engaging idiosyncrasies that make you wish more groups took on The Winterlong as a template.

For instance, indeed, your eyes did not deceive you: these buzzy riffs are padded by mellotron. It doesn't pop up often, avoiding gimmickry, but it's definitely there. The should've-been-on-Peaceville "Teardrops" and the acoustic "Lamentation" wear the canned-string-sweep the most, though the moody keys don't sound ostentatious or overly ambitious in the other spots. To that end, the remaster helps. It's direct, but actually rather intimate. You feel as though you're in the booth with the band.

That's something of a minor revelation considering the amount God Macabre ferociously grinds. As hinted at previously, vestigial remnants of Botten På Burken stayed intact. Boder's voice is pitched somewhere between Lee Dorian and Karl Willetts. It's a throaty roar instead of a barfed grunt. Niklas also keeps a punky beat and Ola and Jonas write riffs that could've fit From Enslavement to Obliteration. They combine these sections with doom-paced breaks and leads of a certain shade of Swedish melancholy. The end result is Swedish death, only a little left of center, crackling with the inventiveness of pre-codified freshness.

Lastly, if "Life's Verge" is any indication, God Macabre haven't lost it. Actually, it's the opposite. Given a career to mature, Per, Ola, and Jonas return with confidence. You can hear it in Boder's deeper delivery and the absolutely filthy guitar tone. Plus, bassist Björn Larrson and drummer Tobias Gustaffson update the blasts for modern times. Surrounded by clones, God Macabre is still vital. Now that's unique.

So, want this death metal monster? We've got a CD and a t-shirt to give away. Tweet your best Sunlight buzzsaw guitar impression to @invisoranges and we'll pick a winner. Here's ours: BBBBBRRRRBBZBZBZZZZZ.

God Macabre's The Winterlong will be available through Relapse on June 10. Preorder options include CD, LP, iTunes, and Bandcamp.

— Ian Chainey