As was often the case 30+ years ago, it was a record store that served as a linchpin for what would eventually become one of death metal’s most significant evolutions. Sure, a heap of credit is obviously due to a number of more obvious factors that eventually culminated in the full Swedeath offensive, but it was a record store—in this instance, Heavy Sound Records in Stockholm—that sparked the flame by providing the necessary Sodom, Bathory, Slayer, Possessed, Kreator, Sepultura, et al as motivation, and it also provided the required stomping ground for a pile of Swedish youths just dying to find some sort of creative outlet for wrathful energy and an abundance of free time. It was between those Heavy Sound walls and inside those bins where concepts were hatched and covenants were strengthened and a community was cultivated, and it was also there where the pinnacle of those convergences—demos from the likes of Merciless, Morbid, Treblinka, Nihilist, Entombed, Dismember, Carnage and Grave—eventually came to roost.
True of any small music community, certain bonds were strengthened while others diminished, bands were molded and members jumped from ship-to-ship, shitty equipment was shared, and virtually anything else that equated to “people relying on like-minded people” transpired until the zenith was finally reached: the Big Four comprised of Entombed, Dismember, Grave and Unleashed hit the public eye, and they wanted nothing less than to flatten the bejesus out of anyone who thought Fabulous Disaster was heavy.
Of those four, Dismember was not the first, the most daring or even the heaviest (Into the Grave, fuckers), but they were absolutely the most consistent over their 20-year career, and they were unbeaten by their Swedish peers when it came to delivering one of death metal’s most sacred tenets: fierce brutality.
During primitive years, Entombed rolled over listeners like a runaway boulder, Grave flattened like a divine warhammer, and Unleashed froze listeners in a notably un-Sunlit way, but it was Dismember that jumped from the gate the most raw, hungry to rip throats, and as eeeevil as a Cenobite with a quota to fulfill. In a world where Hell Awaits plummeted you into damnation, Like an Everflowing Stream was the splashdown that plunged souls into molten fire with a tank chained to the ankle. And if you somehow managed to survive that particular dread, follow-up gutters Pieces and Indecent and Obscene were more than willing to finish the job.
Even when Dismember dabbled with experimentation—the bits of death ’n’ roll heard in the mid-90s with the most sudden separation from their core, the fearfully melodic and admittedly piebald Massive Killing Capacity—they still did so with a cruel and vulgar intention. They’ve simply always been “Dismember,” and although one could make the same argument for their colleagues, particularly Grave and Unleashed, no other OG Swedeath crew crushed it with a more gluttonous demand for intensity than The Members Dis. Period. Plus, closing out a career with a three-album run as strong as Where Ironcrosses Grow, The God That Never Was and Dismember after being at it for 15+ years is just…well, all-conquering. That, in a word, fits Dismember to a tee: all-conquering. And today we celebrate some of our very favorite songs from their brilliant career.
If you’d like to know more about Swedish death metal and haven’t already done so, please pick up Daniel Ekeroth’s excellent retrospective, Swedish Death Metal. And Dismember, if you ever happen to come across these words, please come back to us again.
SKINFATHER[Indecent And Obscene, 1993]
“Skinfather,” whose riffs art heavenly, hallowed be thy name…
Mostly a blistering Swedeath rager with one part lurching midtempo bulldozer for variety, “Skinfather” is nearly four minutes of absolutely perfect Dismember. Those carving tremolo riffs? You know the ones? The ones that feel like they could peel away your flesh with pinpoint accuracy, awash in that gnarled and biting HM2 goodness… Yeah, they’re here. And then that trick where the whole thing drops into a roiling bridge, a simple cyclical churn that doubles as a god-sized hook out of the aether…? You heard that one? Yeah, it’s here, too, and it’s as effective as all holy hell. And yes, Dismember does all of that whilst being as Dismember-ly as always. Fred Estby thrash-beats like a man possessed, and Matti Karki screams his lungs out in that full-bodied roar from somewhere way deep down inside, not just physically but spiritually, too. Positioned near the opening of Dismember’s second full-length, “Skinfather” knows it has big shoes to fill, and it’s still coming in hot, burning the earth again after the utterly massive opening fire of Everflowing Stream. I’m sure it’s a damned daunting task, following up a genre classic, and with “Skinfather” (and really the whole of Indecent & Obscene), Dismember wasted no time in letting everyone know that they were going to be far more than just one-album wonders. Far beyond decent and obscenely excellent, this one is. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
ON FROZEN FIELDS[Massive Killing Capacity, 1995]
Dismember’s third album Massive Killing Capacity saw the band softening the edges and adding more melody to their approach. The result was what is easily one of my favorite Dismember albums. The third track on their third album, “On Frozen Fields” is an exemplary reason why this album is held in such high regard even by those who swear by the oldest of old-school Swedish death metal. Opening with an energetic riff, the drums burst in aggressively with a kick/snare furiously pushing a frenetic pace. The mid-heavy guitars alternate between thick, chunky chords and single note, rapidly picked riffs highlighted by a brief but impactful solo around the two minute mark. Probably the most marked change in Dismember’s sound from their pristine debut, the vocals show a range of deliveries from shouting to exasperated to a delicate version of the classic death metal delivery. The idea for Massive Killing Capacity was to write an album that Dismember fans would instantly recognize as a Dismember album, but one that would also show the fans that the band could go a step further. The fact they achieved that goal is proved by tracks like “On Frozen Fields”: if you close your eyes and pay attention to the guitar you can hear how connected it is to their absolutely brilliant early work albeit with markedly different production value. [MANNY-O-WAR]
OVERRIDE OF THE OVERTURE[Like An Everflowing Stream, 1991]
Dismember really knows how to start an album. In fact, a greatest hits compilation consisting only of the band’s lead-off tracks would probably blow any other death metal band’s discography—using the same criteria—clear out of the water. But the very first Dismember riffs that were ever given the Buzzsaw treatment were from “Override of the Overture,” and they may still be the crown jewel of all of the band’s achievements. The opening notes are menacing at their nicest and downright maniacal when coupled with the signature production the band would stick with throughout its entire career. The technical proficiency contained within Like An Everflowing Stream‘s first track sets a very high bar for the remainder of the album, and even the song’s grim lyrics still have an underlying sense of morbid self-awareness that doesn’t blaspheme just for the sake of doing so. This song is everything you need to gauge whether you’ll be a fan for life, or someone who will never listen to Dismember again. There’s really no in-between. [KONRAD KANTOR]
UNDER A BLOOD RED SKY[Dismember, 2008]
If there was a Dismember track that best encapsulates the band’s career as a whole, it’s “Under A Blood Red Sky.” It kicks off with a riff that could have been straight out of Like An Everflowing Stream or Indecent And Obscene. The chorus, while delivered with Matti Kärki’s hardcore vocal approach, slips a hooky melody onto the riff that instantly burns its way into the memory on the first listen. Seriously, put this on now, and regardless of how familiar you are with Dismember, this thing’s going to be battering around in your head all day. The trading solos liquidate the eyeballs of anyone in earshot before the band take what would have already been an amazing song and tack on one of the best outros in their entire history. The bass breaks things down before the twin guitar attack is unleashed in full force, really driving home the influence of the NWOBHM era on Dismember’s later material. [RYAN TYSINGER]
DEATHEVOCATION[Like An Everflowing Stream, 1991]
The opening minute or so of “Deathevocation” surely ranks as one of the greasiest, ball-swingingest moments in Swedish death metal history. Although it had previously been recorded and released by Carnage on Dark Recollections in 1990, Dismember’s version is in every way definitive. The greater clarity of Like an Everflowing Stream really clears the way for the hideously scuzzy knife-edge of the guitars to pierce the mix. When the band transitions from that hugely swaggering riff into the classic early Swedish death metal two-step and then back again, it’s clear that each (Dis)member’s skill was already reaching beyond a killer riff followed by another killer riff, and instead to something much harder to attain and easier to take for granted: a unique personality. No matter how you slice it, though, draw a line from Obituary’s Slowly We Rot to “Deathevocation” to the opening riff of Edge of Sanity’s Crimson and into infinity for an infinite truth: ride a disgusting groove and riff forever. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
HATE CAMPAIGN[Hate Campaign, 2000]
I picked a good time to get into Dismember.
When the much-ballyhooed year 2000 rolled around, I was a little over a year into the college radio program, and had been soaking up music like a bloody surgical sponge. The library was lean on Dismember, but they had Death Metal, Massive Killing Capacity, and I’m pretty sure Pieces (also how I heard all of these) was in there somewhere; one of my colleagues would bring in Like an Everflowing Stream and let me bask in it. This was more than enough to turn me into a fan – and just in time for Hate Campaign to drop. It didn’t take long to get hooked, even as people who knew more than I did lamented its shortcomings and not really living up to the name.
Just when I thought I had them figured out (and possibly pigeonholed), the closing track rumbles in like a tank. Sharlee D’Angelo’s bass intro leads into a rather non-Dismember-esque mid-tempo riff that rides seamlessly over Fred Estby’s thunderous percussion, creating a unique, ominous vibe for this paean to atheism that plays out at over twice the length of any other track on this album. One minute, you’re hypnotized by the groove, and the next, you’ve got whiplash. Some may call it anti-climactic; I call it a wicked, perfectly placed curve ball after ten consecutive heaters. [DAVE PIRTLE]
I WISH YOU HELL[Pieces, 1992]
The People Eater’s limousine is a 26-wheeled vehicle from Mad Max: Fury Road, a delightful film about heavily modified cars, trucks and motorcycles that really enjoy exploding. Human beings also make regular appearances in the film, but they are mostly secondary to the stars of the show: violently exploding vehicles. This is relevant because the Pieces EP is essentially the 11m:11s version of Mad Max: Fury Road, and song number two, “I Wish You Hell,” is the death metal equivalent of changing a tire for a Volvo sedan on the side of the road and suddenly getting hit head-on by The People Eater’s limousine: goodbye quiet times, hello severe death that drags what’s left of your remains under 13 wheels after slowly dribbling down the front grill. Bonus extra credit points for also delivering one of the best album cover concepts (that doesn’t involve Dan Seagrave) of the 90s. [CAPTAIN]
BLEED FOR ME[Like An Everflowing Stream, 1991]
“Bleed for Me,” from Dismember’s unequivocal debut Like An Everflowing Stream, is a lot of things. It’s a death-beating romp of filthy riffs and Fred Estby’s relentless drumming (the snare is the tick-tocking of your remaining lifetime). It’s a gore metal classic that managed to stand out in an era that wasn’t short on gore metal classics. It’s constant blunt thuds to the head. But most of all, it’s one of the best features for Dismember’s irreplaceable vocalist and frontman Matti Kärki. When the song splatters into the chorus, the instruments mostly back off of the busyness and allow Kärki to carry things, and he uses the opportunity to sound about as unhinged as he or any other old Swedeath singer could manage to sound.
“BLEEEED FOR MEEEEEEEEE….
He sounds like he just woke up with a massive hangover and is getting his army pumped up for a hopeless but honor-bound war. It’s a massively charismatic moment that manages to be both terrifying and monstrously fun, and really shows how much power Dismember carried as a full unit when everything lined up. [ZACH DUVALL]
MISANTHROPIC[Death Metal, 1997]
Although the album title surely belies the assertion, by 1997’s ferocious victory lap Death Metal, Dismember had nothing to prove. Yes, Massive Killing Capacity saw Dismember dabble, as did nearly everyone else around the same time, with a sort of death ‘n roll hybrid (with that album’s “Casket Garden” likely the farthest outlier from Dismember’s earlier incarnation), but it did so much more successfully than nearly anyone else. (Wolverine Blues is more iconic, but it’s also barely a death metal record any longer, which is a hard argument to sustain about MKC.) Furthermore, by around ’97, Dismember was basically the only member of Sweden’s freshman death metal class still standing with any great dignity left. “Misanthropic” is an easy standout on Death Metal because of how thoroughly it pummels the listener right from the start, while both incorporating some of the greater melodic touches of the preceding album. The verses are a whiplashed melodic throttling that may as well be making rude gestures as they pass Slaughter of the Soul in the rear-view mirror, and although the changes throughout these three minutes are slight, the sustained intensity of the song still breathes enough so that the listener can step back, marvel at the massive killing capacity of this seemingly simple piece, and still get sucked in deep enough to realize how a track like this almost makes moot the entire metallic d-beat scene that surely looked to it for influence (Wolfbrigade, Martyrdod, Skitsystem, etc.). Go, thou, and get crushed. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
If you made a three-way Venn Diagram of the filthiest, heaviest, and thickest guitar tones in metal history, the sound used on Dismember’s Pieces EP would be a perfect circle. Even Tomas Skogsberg himself was likely surprised when he heard the racket emerging from Robert Sennebäck’s guitar amps; it was like the Boss HM-2 pedal itself had become self-aware and attempted overload suicide due to its overuse in Sunlight Studios. And while the whole EP absolutely kills, the way the title track absolutely thud-barfs itself into brutal existence makes it a particular highlight. Plus the barely decipherable trem riffs that sound on the verge of dissolving into the guitar tone; plus the machine guns and Matti’s growl; plus the insane, why-bother-to-control-the-chaos leads; plus the banshee pinch harmonics. The whole track was an exercise about stuffing as much rage, heft, madness, brutality, vitriol, and unabashed devilish joy into every damn second. “Pieces” is the perfect death metal romp: barely three minutes long but totally exhausting. In other words, they should have called this “Corner Pieces” because it’s the chewiest bit of the batch. [ZACH DUVALL]
REBORN IN BLASPHEMY[Indecent And Obscene, 1993]
“Reborn in Blasphemy” is a compositional mess. Riffs are thrown together seemingly without reason; themes are abandoned almost as soon as they are established; the tempo is all over the place; and yet, in a testament to Dismember’s musical mojo, somehow, it all works. The track’s doomy intro could almost be a Candlemass riff, then things pick up to a gallop and you think the tune is off to the races. Whoa, there, big fella: Not so fast. The next riff, perhaps foreshadowing the death n’ roll fad a bit, is groovy, and, dare I say, a little funky. Funky is unusual descriptor for death metal, I know, but that HM-2 tone is rotten to the core, and the band is hitting “the one” hard, just like James Brown likes, and Fred Estby is dishing out some tasty beats. It’s not Funkadelic by any means, but it ain’t bad for some white boys from Sweden. Finally, for about two minutes in the middle of the song, Dismember gives you “standard” death metal, but then they go off the rails again. In the final two minutes of “Reborn in Blasphemy,” you get a mellow interlude with a clean guitar figure, a slow groove that builds to a perfect, dual-guitar melodic climax, and then devolves into a maze of melodic torment, a quick solo, one more hit of the chorus, and a finish like a car crash.
Grave was heavier, and Entombed was, for better or worse, more stylistically adventurous, but Dismember was always the most sophisticated and tuneful of Stockholm’s big three. Only Dismember could make a clusterfuck of a track like “Reborn in Blasphemy” into a classic. [JEREMY MORSE]
PHANTOMS (OF THE OATH)[The God That Never Was, 2006]
While Dismember’s earlier catalog is fairly straightforward, the melodic tendencies that crept their way into the band’s sound on later records is undeniable. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Phantoms (Of The Oath).” Even the song’s title bears the overwhelming Iron Maiden influence. The track itself is chock full of twin guitar attacks and galloping rhythms with all the chunky production one would expect from Dismember. Not only does this really highlight the song against the rest of the album, but against the rest of the band’s discography, as well. Sure, it’s an instrumental, but the guitar work and melodies speak for themselves, soaring high above the fields of death around it. The sense of triumph gives the feeling of conquering death rather than succumbing to it and fully reveals a side of the band that is usually presented in a much more subtle way in their other works. [RYAN TYSINGER]
OF FIRE[Death Metal, 1997]
When your album is called Death Metal, you’d better back that up with some… well, with some death metal, dammit. And it had better be good death metal. (Truthfully, it really should be damned great death metal.) Thankfully, if there’s any band that’s capable of providing just that, it’s everyone’s favorite Swedeath enterprise, the true kings of the Stockholm scene, our intrepid heroes in Dismember. The album-opening “Of Fire” sets the Death Metal mood perfectly, with the buzzsaw tones of Sunlight-soaked guitars, those biting thrashy riffs offset by sweet sweet sweet Maiden-y melodic leads, and yet another absolutely rip-roaring performance by Estby on the drums. “Of Fire” is vintage Dismember: No frills, no surprises — just big riffs, Karki’s throat-rending bellow, endless energy, and yet another swinging midsection designed to wipe the floor with anyone not already caught up in the neck-wrecking spirit of the beast. By this point in their career, and belying their succint little album title, Dismember had moved past the straight-ahead “death metal” for something approaching not quite melodeath (not the Gothenburg side of things, at least), but rather, “melodic death metal” in the best possible sense — that sense being this: death metal that happens to balance brutality with just enough dashes of melody to grab the ears… right before punching holes in them. In just under four minutes, “Of Fire” shows unequivocally that Death Metal is both bigger than and certainly worthy of its simple moniker. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]