Daniel Ekeroth's Swedish Death Metal (Bazillion Points, 2008) is that rare book that I love, but won't recommend to everyone. It is a specialist book, covering Swedish death metal from the late '80s until about 1993. Laymen should start with Ian Christe's Sound of the Beast, a history of heavy metal. Then they should move on to Albert Mudrian's Choosing Death, a history of death metal. Then they should dive into Swedish Death Metal.

It is a book by a metalhead for metalheads. Daniel Ekeroth is a bassist whose resume includes Dellamorte, Tyrant, and Insision. (Ironically, the latter's death metal has a technical, American style.) He is an experienced writer, having written two books about cinema, Violent Italy and Swedish Exploitation Cinema. His English is flawless, and his style is wry. Unlike other nonfiction authors, Ekeroth does not try to be objective. He dishes candidly on the quality (and lack thereof) of bands, and is highly opinionated.

Yet the reader will learn a lot. Ekeroth traces the evolution of Swedish hardcore punk into death metal with exacting detail. He names bands, band members, demos, and songs on demos. One gets the image of Ekeroth writing amid towering stacks of cassettes. The minutiae are endearingly nerdy. Ekeroth's authorial presence prevents the book from becoming a thicket of insider references. This is most evident in a 120-page postscript that alphabetically lists Swedish death metal bands, complete with discographies. Garry Sharpe-Young's A-Z series of metal subgenre books has a similar approach, but is stultifyingly boring. Ekeroth spices up his listings with trenchant assessments like "Well-played and tight, but oh-so-boring — like a Z-grade version of Children of Bodom." When sorting through thousands of bands, such filters are most welcome.

Original print edition

Two aspects of the book stand out. The first is visual. Logos, flyers, and demo covers fill the pages. Before Photoshop, such visuals were handmade. It is a joy to see all kinds of such artwork, from crude to fluent. Swedish death metal had not only a sound, but also a look. Black metal followed with its own aesthetics — and then the wasteland of 21st century graphic design. Computers can spoil everything. Ekeroth hammers that point home in a 20-page postcript documenting Swedish death metal 'zines. Most of us will never get to read these rarities. But Ekeroth brings us into their worlds, reminding us that metal is about spirit first. Overproduction ruins print as much as it does sound.

The other takeaway is a sense of Sweden's geography. As Ekeroth notes repeatedly, many metal bands were formed out of boredom, in frigid villages with too many umlauts in their names. Kids with cheap gear and nth-generation tape dubs traded from other countries — they played metal almost out of necessity. Such pure intentions have virtually disappeared in this age of MySpace. Instead of having the most "friends" or profile views, bands measured themselves by brutality. Kudos to Ekeroth for cutting through glitz and nostalgia to get at the essence of death metal.

- Cosmo Lee

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