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A different flavor of Swedish brutality - 82%

iamntbatman, June 7th, 2010

Many people associate the "Gothenburg Sound" with frilly, flowers-in-the-hair melodeath and complain that the scene is utterly lacking (with a few notable exceptions, of course) in the aggression and brutality on display in the earlier Stockholm scene. The thing is, that accusation is only partially true. While the Stockholm bands were quite adept at combining punkish aggression with a strong sense of melody (Dismember, anyone?) the Gothenburgers instead segregated the disparate elements into two distinct styles of music that, oddly enough, often shared members: the well-known Gothenburg melodic death metal and the hyper-aggressive Gothenburg crust scene. The latter took influence not only from Sweden's healthy d-beat hardcore punk scene but also those earlier Stockholm bands (who were influenced by d-beat to a large degree themselves). The resulting mix is something of a more thuggish, punky take on early Swedeath and is exemplified by bands like Wolfpack and Skitsystem. One of the earliest of these bands was Oral, which featured future At the Gates axeman Alf Svensson. The band released a series of demos in the latter half of the 80's, but would reunite after Alf left At the Gates to record this mini-album, which features re-recordings of some of their demo material.

Slagen I Blod blazes by in nine tracks and sixteen and a half minutes, but boy is this a furious quarter hour. Unlike some of the better known Swecrust acts, Oral don't use the "chainsaw" tone typical of the Stockholm scene that was adopted by many of the Gothenburg crusties. That said, the relentless riffing is thrashy and, especially when things slow down, quite Autopsy-ish. The majority of the time, the guitars operate with a menacing punk sort of vocabulary (there are a few leads but no solos except for a few notes on "Grymheten" that could count as one) but the execution owes quite a debt to Hellhammer (and maybe Kreator for the tremolo bits). The throaty bass tone is quite distinct from the guitars and contributes significantly to the punkish feel of the EP. The slow, menacing riff about 2/3 through "Kvasiorkor" is one of my favorites on the release and is perfectly sandwiched between the the light-speed hardcore chords that make up the backbone of the album's riffery. The drumming is furious, thrashy d-beat mayhem and the "fills" are usually snare-only affairs that, like the bass work, places yet more emphasis on the fact that this music is built on a foundation of hardcore punk.

The awesome scream that kicks off "Oh Jord..." is sort of misleading, as Uno uses a Tom Warrior-ish raspy shout (albeit much faster) for most of the vocal delivery on this release. Not that's a bad thing (far from it, really), but later Swedish crust bands would take the harshness of the vocals to the next level, which I feel suits the relentless energy of this style even better. There are some crazed multi-tracked harsh vocals on closer "Psykopat" that serve as something of an omen of things to come for the genre.

The production is just on the "thin" side of excellent. Unfortunately, one of the weakest elements on display here is the songwriting. Songs are kept short, ranging from about one and a half to two and a half minutes, but even under those circumstances two or three riffs at these speeds can start to wear out their welcome. Fortunately, the brevity of the songs means that something new starts just as you start to notice that the band could really stand to switch to a different riff. This EP has a lot of value in that it showcases the embryonic stages of a style that would be more fully developed down the road (some of these songs date from '87-'88). However, even in this early form, it's clear that the Gothenburg scene had a lot to offer and still has a lot to offer fans of Swedish hardcore and crust, fans of Stockholm death metal who are yearning for more of that hardcore aggression and fans of Gothenburg melodeath who're interested in seeing the ugly side of the people behind their favorite bands.