Article: Swedish Death Metal Origins with Erik Gustafson
Swedish Death Metal Origins with Erik Gustafson
First and foremost, thank you for your time in chatting with Loudstakk. How has 2023 been treating you thus far?
Hey Ron! Thanks for reaching out. 2023’s been pretty great. We were out on the road in the states for a month-long national tour with my wife’s band Eva X and that went very well. There are MANY things that can go wrong on a big tour, and we had super great luck!
You've recently made the move to Vancouver, and it seems you've been quite occupied with videos and music. How's life treating you in the Pacific Northwest?
This is still something that I think about a few times a week with wonder. Like WOW I'm a Canadian these days! It’s absolutely gorgeous here in Vancouver, and can’t thank my wife Gaby enough for not only coming into my life, but making me a Canadian hehe.
You hail from Texas, and during your late teens, your family made a move to Sweden back in the late 80s. How did you feel about that transition at the time?
That was such a trip! I’d just gotten out of middle school, and my Mom re-married a Swedish dude who was working in the States at the same computer company she was at. And they basically said one day “Well, we’re moving to Sweden!” And I initially felt that this was gonna ruin my life. But i was so wrong lol. It was an amazing experience that enriched my life on so many levels.
Were you already acquainted with Sweden or its music scene before your move, or was it an entirely new experience when you arrived? Scandinavians are often seen as reserved until you get to know them; how was your experience getting to know people? Did your shared passion for metal help break the ice?
Wow, so yeah I knew nothing about Sweden other than like ABBA, Bjorn Borg and the Swedish Chef etc so that was totally new. Luckily we did make a trip to visit before we moved ant met family etc.
And yeah, Music helped a lot, as well as being an American was apparently super interesting to the Swedes! I had zero problems meeting people cus they all wanted to try out their English they’d learned from TV and music!
Now, your arrival coincided with an intriguing period because what we now recognize as 'The Old School Swedish Death Metal' was just beginning to take shape. Did you sense something unique in the air right away?
I was actually a Punk kid at the time, but I had already dipped toes into Metal prior back in Texas. While listening to the standard Skate Punk fare, I also like Celtic Frost, Metallica, Slayer etc.
But at the High School in Stockholm, I met the only 3 other misfit weirdos there, and they took me in, and under their wings and showed me the ways of death metal. These 3 misfits at the Skärholmen highschool in the burbs of Stockholm were none other than Nicke Anderrson, (founder of Entombed, Hellacopters, and now in Lucifer with his wife) Kenny Håkansson (Hellacopters) and Fred Estby (Founder of Dismember, and also one-time member of Carnage)
So, after hanging with them, the mohawk slowly got grown out in favor of long hair \m/
Dismember Promo Shot 1988
I understand you're currently working on a book about this era, but I'm curious about the scene as a whole. What was it like back then? For instance, were there 17-year-old guys securing international record deals
Thanks for reminding me about the book! Its been a long time in the process and still very early in the process. The working title is “Kartan” which means “The Map”; because in the main/ middle area of T-Centralen, between the subway and commuter trains, was a big map, by some stairs sort of in a corner, where all the Death Metal kids (and band members) from all over Sweden were known to meet at. It was a heady time. Swedish Death Metal was blowing up right before our eyes, just like Seattle Grunge would several years later.
There are numerous theories about the origin of the classic HM2 Buzzsaw tone. What's your perspective on this?
So, in hanging with the then-named band Nihilist, who would later become Entombed, I became fast friends with Leif “Leffe” Cuzner, who was a Canadian. So that was comforting to have someone to speak English properly with. He left Nihilist after a demo or so, as his family moved back to Canada. It is my opinion the HM-2 was actually his, and the settings were probably an accident, mixed with experimentation with Sunlight Studios mastermind Tomas Skogsberg. But as they say, the rest is history!
If there's one common factor among all the bands from that era, it has to be the engineer Tomas Skogsberg. Can you tell us about your experiences working with him? Were there any unique techniques or wizardry behind those albums?
YES! As I was just saying, he’s an amazing engineer and producer. What I think his biggest asset, was that he didn’t come from the metal scene at all. He appeared what these days we’d consider an indie rocker, or even hipster; he wore one of those black newsboy caps like Izzy Stradlin wore, and was into Punk. He was very open minded and that curiosity helped him see beyond what was considered “Metal” and thus helped create something bigger. For example, a standard Metal dude producer of the time would have been older and done things safer. It was an absolute pleasure recording with him multiple times while i was in the band Therion.
After your time with Dismember, you collaborated with Therion and went on tour. Do you have any memorable stories or experiences from that period?
Dismember! Love those dudes. I was honored to have been in the very first lineup of that band. I even helped write 2-3 songs “Defective Decay’ and another one based on the movie “Prince of Darkness”. I helped with riffs and lyrics in these songs, and song arrangement. sadly never received any credit for them. But I don’t think I got to actually play on the demos before I was let go from the band. But all was well! I shortly got hired into Therion, and got to record their epic first EP “Time Shall Tell”, and debut album “...Of Darkness” with them. It was a great experience!
We did a lot of travelling around Sweden, Finland and I think one show in Norway.
My favorite memory was playing at the renown venue and also rehearsal studio Lepakko in Helsinki, Finland. That was a trip! We took the ferry overnight to Finland, and upon arrival we saw kids with our patches on their battle vests at a fast food place and that was mind-blowing. The show was packed in a very large venue and it was truly a “we have arrived” moment. This show is up on Youtube somewhere. It was insane!
Erik with Therion in Lepakko, Helsinki (FIN)
In the early to mid-'90s, you returned to the US. When you look back, are you surprised by the success that some bands from that scene achieved, or did you feel that their success was inevitable?
It took me a while to sort of register that these bands became as massive as they did. When it came time for my family to move back, the record deal Therion had with Deaf Records (and imprint of Peaceville Records) had soured. While they did pay for most of the recording with an advance, they never ended up paying the band anything after, from what i was told, and apparently the label folded and sold off all the stuff to another company. Upon arrival back in the States, I remember seeing the album marketed under a totally different no-name label, and the dressing looked fucked up haha.
Many bands are celebrating their 30th or 40th anniversaries. If you received a call inviting you to participate, would you attend?
I would absolutely love to be part of an “Original Lineup” show, be it Therion or Dismember. That won’t happen with Dismember however, as Richard “Metalli/MetallRumpa” Cabeza is very clearly known as the original bass player from the albums. Great dude, and even though I was sad about being let go, there were never any hard feelings as I knew him from The Kartan gatherings. But yes! In short, in a heartbeat!
For younger musicians who are just starting out with music, what would be the most valuable piece of advice from that era that you'd like to share with the Gen Z'ers and future generations?
The biggest tip I’d give anyone starting out in music is to keep going, and know your music is gonna SUCK for a bit. And that’s because you prob have good taste, so keep COMPLETING projects and songs etc until it doesn't suck anymore! Because that part is where most give up. Never stop learning. \m/
Erik these days is a producer and artist mainly focusing on Goth/Industrial music and Dark Electronic Pop, with his own project Adoration Destroyed, as well as guitar and touring duties with wife Gaby Gustafson’s band Eva X, as well as UK legacy Industrial band Grendel