Completely Vulgar: An Introduction To Finnish Death Metal

Known by many for having punishing low end, strange rhythms, and off-kilter melodies, the Finnish death metal scene has been revered for years as one of the best around in the early ’90s, and a fair amount of bands since then have incorporated its “signature” sound into their own. While not all of the bands from Finland in that time period ever actually sounded particularly similar or in-line with what people think of, there was a lot of amazing stuff out there, and this post will attempt to serve as an introduction to that scene.

Some starting notes: despite the fact that I did say that there wasn’t necessarily a particular Finnish death metal sound, when people think of that scene, they tend to think of what I described in the first paragraph, so that is what I’ll be drawing comparisons to when I reference a band as having “the Finnish sound.” Additionally, I will be mentioning a lot of scene incest, as many members of these bands jumped around to many others within the scene; while this isn’t particularly useful information for a primer, I enjoy that sort of trivia greatly, so it will be included here where I deem it relevant. Finally, I want to say that while I mostly focused on albums and EPs, almost all of these bands have good demos that are well worth getting, and most of them won’t be specifically mentioned here; that doesn’t mean that they’re not recommended, and you should hit all of them.

I’m making an effort to post to official streams of as many of these as possible- in particular, bandcamp and Soundcloud pages. In cases where there is nothing, well, time to turn to discogs, YouTube, and Spotify!

First-tier essentials: These are the bands to hit if you’ve never listened to Finnish death metal. These aren’t necessarily my favorites (though many are), but they’re the most popular and influential albums from that scene. No particular order.

Abhorrence: One of the most influential bands ever to only exist for a single calendar year, Abhorrence released only two official releases before breaking up, with a split coming the year after. Their sound was a major kickstarter for the Finnish scene, and several of the earliest bands (including most notably Amorphis and Adramelech) covered songs from Abhorrence’s 1990 self-titled EP and from their demo from the same year. Putrid, primitive, and with a horrifying atmosphere to rival any band on the planet, Abhorrence mixed relatively straightforward but devastating massive rhythmic assaults with the terrifying melodies and doom-laden passages that would come to define the Finnish death metal sound to many people. Recently reformed and put out a stellar live album from a performance in 2013 this year. After breaking up, members would go on to form and join bands such as Amorphis and Impaled Nazarene. Abhorrence is a personal favorite of mine in the scene, and a big influence as a fan of death metal and as a musician. Recommended listening: Completely Vulgar (Compilation)
Bandcamp

Sentenced: Even before moving away from death metal, Sentenced leaned more towards death metal’s thrash roots and towards melodicism than many of their counterparts, with equal parts of the clotting atmosphere of Abhorrence or Funebre to the similarities in composition to be drawn to Dismember or Death. While they had already abandoned the signature sound of the Finnish scene by their second album, their debut and the demos before it are amazing. They’re among the most famous of the Finnish death metal bands, along with Amorphis, though they shifted from death metal to melodic death metal and further afield over the years following their debut. The bass player and backing vocalist from their first album briefly provided the same roles for Impaled Nazarene as well- though he was only with them for a few years, he was on all of the best Impaled Nazarene material. Recommended listening: Shadows of the Past

Amorphis: Originally an unrefined and vicious extension of primitive death metal along the lines of rhythm guitarist/vocalist Tomi Koivusaari’s previous band, Abhorrence, Amorphis rejected simple brutality and slowed to a crawl on their first full length, The Karelian Isthmus, featuring some of the foremost death/doom of the early ’90s, Finnish or otherwise; sophisticated and massive, the album stands as their last release that would qualify for this primer aside from an EP that was original supposed to be released before the album ever came out (as a split with Incantation, though that never materialized). Art from their debut stands out as one of the few Miran Kim pieces featured on a death metal cover that wasn’t an Incantation album. Later material would become increasingly progressive and almost immediately removed from death metal. Much of the band played together in a thrash band before forming Amorphis. Recommended listening: The Karelian Isthmus, Privilege of Evil
Bandcamp

Convulse: One of the earliest Finnish bands to put out a full length. World Without God stands out as a codifier of the Finnish sound; bass heavy and with alternating heavy riffs and melodies, it’s everything that the majority of the scene tried to be, and before almost everyone else to boot. The album is much more straightforward than what some of Convulse’s contemporaries were attempting but no less the killer for it; while it’s not one that I’d rank among my favorites from the Finnish scene, it’s absolutely essential and still a fantastic listening experience. Recommended listening: World Without God
Bandcamp

Demigod: Skull crushing riffs with one of the heaviest rhythm sections from the scene, some of the best moments of gorgeous melody, and a mystical atmosphere that leaves most of their countrymen in the dust. Syncopated rhythms, sections of noxious crawling horror, faster melodic sections and trem lines, and some wonderfully soaring leads over the heavy rhythms that were laid down by the guitarists not playing any. Slumber of Sullen Eyes is truly a lesson in imparting grace into death metal, and is my personal favorite full length release to come from the amazing Finnish death metal scene, as well as my favorite album to ever be released featuring three guitarists. The drummer from Slumber of Sullen Eyes would later join Adramelech, recording some great material with them. Recommended listening: Slumber of Sullen Eyes
Bandcamp

Depravity: Wretched, twisted, vile. Ripping solos, strange melody, infectious leads, and a wonderful spacey atmosphere. Depravity lived for far too short of a time, but in that time managed to put out some of the most interesting songs from the scene; the unusual and ethereal production on their material (likely as not a product of inexperience and a low budget rather than anything intentional) suits their catchy riffing and melodies extraordinarily well. In an interesting sidenote, half of the band went on to form various crappy folk metal and power metal bands years after Depravity initially dissolved. Recommended listening: Silence of the Centuries (Compilation)

Demilich: One of the most absolutely bizarre bands to come from the Finnish death metal scene, Demilich remained an obscure favorite of only the most devout, hardcore death metal fans for many years until the internet caused a fortunate wave of interest in the band. Far ahead of their time, Demilich was wonky and technical, with a completely unique vocalist you’ll have to hear for yourself to believe. Currently reformed (though not for the first time- some of their best material was from a brief reformation in the mid-’00s) and playing gigs around the world, and doing it fantastically at that- I was fortunate enough to see them at California Deathfest last year and they killed it. Recommended listening: 20th Adversary of Emptiness (Compilation)
Bandcamp

Second tier classic bands: Not as objectively important as the previously listed bands, but still all great. Some personal favorites here, and a good few bands broken up too soon. No particular order. This one is rooted in a mixture of personal preferences (which obscure bands do I include?) as well as with importance.

Adramelech: While Adramelech didn’t put out a full length until 1996, they were active from 1991 and put out two demos and an absolutely stellar EP by 1992. More technically proficient at times than most other early Finnish bands and with that same bent for the weird without ever forgetting that death metal is fundamentally an exercise in punishment and not one in showing off. They remain one of the more popular bands from that scene aside from ones that later strayed from death metal.
Recommended listening: The Spring of Recovery, Psychostasia
Bandcamp

Cartilage: Strange mournful atmosphere, deranged and odd rhythms, and extreme variances in tempo make for one of my favorite bands from the Finnish death metal scene. Didn’t do much other than a couple of demos and a split, unfortunately, but that split is one of the best in death metal history entirely on the strength of Cartilage’s side of it. Recommended listening: The Fragile Concept of Affection (expanded edition) Bandcamp

Funebre: Another of the very earliest death metal bands to come out of Finland. Started off very straightforward and had started moving towards death metal insanity of a less straightforward variety with their debut before breaking up shortly thereafter. Recommended listening: Children of the Scorn
Bandcamp

Phlegethon: Extremely long winded death metal often leaning towards mystical thrash, with bizzarre rhythms constantly battling with inventive leads that keep any of their material from ever getting dull. Though they broke up and formed multiple times, they never managed to put out an album. Several members from Phlegethon would later go on to play in Hooded Menace. Recommended listening: Drifting in the Crypt (compilation)

Mordicus: With a much more prominent bass and more melody than many of their counterparts, Mordicus stands out among most of the rest of the bands on this list as sounding less immediately in line with their peers; some fans call them Swedish death metal from Finland, and that’s not entirely far off. Recommended listening: Dances From Left

Agonized: Heavy, mid-paced, and rotting. Pummeling with the standard Finnish low end. Recommended listening: Gods…
Bandcamp

Rippikoulu: Some of the heaviest death/doom to ever be made, and a massive personal favorite of mine. Terrifyingly crushing, Rippikoulu is a wave of molten lava sweeping over you, monstrous and trudging. Recommended listening: Musta seremonia
Bandcamp

Disgrace: Groovy and nasty, Disgrace sounded more like Carcass than Abhorrence or Adramelech. Absolutely disgusting and incredibly fun stuff. Before passing away, the vocalist/guitarist featured on their early recordings left Disgrace and joined the legendary Xysma. Recommended listening: Debts of God, Grey Misery

Purtenance: Rotting, crushing death metal that shows a lot of what the Finnish scene was the best known for. Heavy bass presence, crushing trem lines, ripping fast sections and slow, doom laden ones; off kilter rhythms occasionally flirt with weird melodies, but for the most part this is one of the more straight forward bands from the scene as well as one of the first bands to be a part of it. After their dissolution in 1992, Purtenance’s former lead guitarist went on to briefly play with Convulse. Recommended listening: Crown Waits the Immortal, Member of Immortal Damnation
Bandcamp

Xysma: Increasingly weird goregrind. Started off with their earliest demo material as completely straight-played death/goregrind and with each release spiraled out of control. Wacky and insane, Xysma encapsulated a lot of the general attitude of a certain type of weird Finnish death metal band without really sounding like any of them, and strayed away from extreme metal as a band as the rest of the scene was starting to come together. Recommended listening: everything before and including the debut album

Belial: Black/death notable not only for its quality but for having three members that were either a part of Impaled Nazarene or would soon be a part of Impaled Nazarene as of the recording of their debut. Regularly sliding from blasting fast changes to groovy, mid-paced, and repetitive, Belial felt as often like a heavy metal band playing at death metal as an actual extreme metal band, and it’s absolutely wonderful. Recommended listening: Never Again, Wisdom of Darkness

Mythos: Shared a member with Belial. Mythos is a bit more black metal leaning than Belial, but is related enough and killer enough to be worth mentioning. Catchy and full of big trem riffs, Pain Amplifier is a testament to its name. Recommended listening: Pain Amplifier

Interment: Cool and strange lead-heavy grooving death metal featuring a founding member from Funebre. One of my favorite bands from the scene to never release an album. Recommended listening: Life Here After (compilation)
Bandcamp

Wings: Though they didn’t endure long as a band (and even less time as a death metal one, abandoning the genre after their first EP to mixed success), Wings made incredibly catchy and driving death metal that strung together fairly disparate passages of high-paced and entertaining material along with sections of atmospheric and miserable ones, and the frequent tempo changes linked together only by the barest of transitions feels almost bipolar in the best of ways. Keyboards, sudden spoken word parts, and a desire to throw everything you know about death metal under the bus make you really wish that they had done more. Notably, two founding members started Wings from the ashes of Cartilage, who Wings sound very much like, and one of said members would go on to play in a string of extremely popular bands (some better than others). Recommended listening: Thorns On Thy Oaken Throne

Anguish:: One of the earlier Finnish death metal bands to experiment with the standard death metal mold, Anguish were massive and hateful with some interesting ideas and twists on the genre ranging from the innovative, such as their idea of overlaying clean acoustic guitars over harsh death metal, to the merely odd, with a lot of stilted rhythms that sound years ahead of their time. Some sections speed up to be almostly absurdly faster than their slowest parts, and Anguish never let up on their fans for a second, whether playing slow or fast- everything is heavy, everything is powerful, and everything is great. Absolute travesty that they broke up after their first EP. Recommended listening: Ground Absorbs

Carrying the torch- the most important newer bands: This section of bands from after the early/mid-’90s is a mixture of some of the more popular names in modern Finnish death metal as well as some of my own less-popular favorites.

Slugathor: The shortest possible description of Slugathor is that they were Finland’s Bolt Thrower. Punishing staccato rhythms and fast melodic leads interplay, with most of the material being mid-paced and groovy variations on chugging or galloping low end riffs. Melodies range from Dismember to Demigod to Bolt Thrower, and fantastic drumming interplays well with the heavy rhythm section. One of the absolute best and most missed Finnish bands of the ‘00s, though their legacy lives on in the many projects of their former members. Recommended listening: Unleashing the Slugathron, Circle of Death, Echoes From Beneath
Bandcamp

Vorum: Hailing from the Åland Islands, Vorum rely on a mixture of heavy Swedish and Finnish influences to crush, tremelo, and doom their listeners to death. Heavy syncopated rhythms, dissonant trem lines, big basswork, and an absolutely vicious vocalist make Vorum a great listening experience. Their vocalist/guitarist also currently plays bass for the savage Swedish giants Degial. Recommended listening: Grim Death Awaits, Poisoned Void
Bandcamp

Stench of Decay: Often fast, always aggressive, and riddled with cool melodies and harmonies, Stench of Decay is a driving beast that doesn’t do much new but delivers a depressingly sparse discography of incredibly catchy and memorable callbacks to Finland circa 1992. Deep and powerful vocals sink over heavy rhythms and leads, and a wide variety of songwriting keeps everything moving forward smoothly. Recommended listening: Stench of Decay (compilation)

Hooded Menace: Originally started off as a death/doom take on the classic Candlemass songs- big riffs, big melodies, big vocals, all through the lens of a morbid lust for death and horror. Though the earlier material was a fairly straightforward take on that sound (albeit a fucking crushing one), in the last couple of years Hooded Menace has started incorporating a lot of the strangeness and long-form heavy melodies that some of the scene in Finland has been known for, trading plodding five minute crushers for ten minute epics. Incredible band, and a fairly prolific one, with four full lengths and a slew of splits and EPs since their formation in 2007, including a new split already out this year and another one coming soon! Recommended listening: Everything.
Bandcamp

Claws: One of the many projects that Lasse Pyykkö has been involved in, and one of the few that he has embarked in entirely alone. Claws shares far more in common with Crematory than the classic sounds of the Finnish death metal scene, though Pyykkö didn’t entirely forsake the melodic style of the Demigod and their ilk. Recommended listening: Absorbed in the Nethervoid, The Funeral Barge
Bandcamp

Ascended: Ranging between slow, atmospheric, and chunky to blasting aggression, Ascended has a lot of great dissonant leads and layered guitarwork. Shares a member with Stench of Decay- Tommi, the vocalist, is SoD’s bassist. Definitely one of the more interesting and unique modern Finnish death metal bands, with a very personal take on the famous classic sound without feeling like a total clone of any particular band. It’s a real shame that they haven’t put anything out in years. Recommended listening: The Art Of Necromancy, Temple of Dark Offerings
Soundcloud

Newer bands, second-tier: These bands are all killer and are some of my favorite running Finnish death metal bands, but are either not as popular or I just don’t like them quite as much as the first tier. A few inclusions are there as much because they put out an album this year that’s killer as because of any longer term listening preferences.

Desecresy: Post-Slugathor. Absolutely killer and atmospheric doom-laden death metal that’s been pumping out albums fairly regularly since forming in 2009. Angular, eerie, and extremely consistent, Desecresy is oddly looked over by many people despite the quality of their music and the strong history of their bandmates. Though they were originally formed as a two piece, longtime vocalist Jarno Nurmi (Nowen, Serpent Ascending, ex-Slugathor) left the band in February and it is now the solo project of Tommi Grönqvist. Recommended listening: Everything
Bandcamp

Krypts: Propelled into the public eye by their first album, released in 2013 on Dark Descent Records, Krypts is one of the better-known current Finnish death metal bands, featuring a crushing low end, a fondness for doom, gloom, and thick production, and a cheerful simplicity that shows that they’re more than happy to destroy with reverb and atmosphere instead of with the fast leads of some similar groups. While they’re far from my favorite modern Finnish band (which isn’t at all knocking on them!), Krypts knows their audience, plays to it well, and make for a fun listen whenever you’re in the mood. A couple of years ago, Jukka Aho from Gorephilia joined in on guitars. Recommended listening: Krypts, Unending Degradation, Remnants of Expansion
Bandcamp

Lantern: Strange, atmospheric, and with a lot of subtle layering and melodies, Lantern is one of the more compelling and ambitious of the recent Finnish death metal bands. They have a talent for lengthy and complex composition, a fantastic and multitalented drummer, and a willingness to sometimes completely abandon strange atmospheric sections to have periods of crushing death metal that sets them aside from many of their peers as a unique and captivating entity to be watched. Their new album is a fine addition to the Finnish tradition and to Dark Descent’s catalog. Recommended listening: Below, II: Morphosis
Bandcamp

Gorephilia: Another Dark Descent band with a great new record this year, Gorephilia have evolved to eschew many of the trappings of Europe entirely to focus on powerful long-form Morbid Angel descended riffs, sounding like a primordial cousin to Sadistic Intent with only a few of the influences from Demigod or Abhorrence and proving once over that regional scenes, for all of the similarities that can pop up due to shared influences, are not an end-all to nailing down a band’s sound. Their first record was a bit more of a hodgepodge of Swedish, Finnish, and other influences, evoking Incantation, Demigod, and others more evenly. Recommended listening: Embodiment of Death, Severed Monolith
Bandcamp

Skeletal: Melodic, thrashing, and focused on relentless tremelo picked rhythms as much as on the chunkier ones that Finnish death metal tends to be better known for, Skeletal’s new album is a breakneck exercise in making death metal that’s extremely melodic without making melodeath. Short but fantastic solos pop up regularly and barked vocals work great with the tight instrumentation. Often more akin to early At The Gates or Pestilence than to anything historically associated with their countrymen. Recommended listening: Dreadful Life
Bandcamp

As an end note, I’m well aware that this is missing a ton of stuff. It’s only meant to be a primer, filtered through my own personal biases and taste, and thus is missing hundreds of bands that could fit, even only counting the unmentioned side projects of many of the bands featured in this brief introduction to Finnish death metal.

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