By Natalie Zed
Currently set to celebrate its Canadian premiere at the NXNE festival in Toronto, Så Jävla Metal is a documentary about the evolution of heavy metal music in Sweden. The film traces the beginnings of heavy metal through hard rock, beginning with bands like Europe, and continuing to trace the development of the sound as the music became heavier. It contrasts the way that Swedish metal grew up in tandem with metal in North America and other places in Europe, specifically in Norway, where the violence of black metal is contrasted again Swedish death metal. Writer and director Yason Hillborg found the time to talk to Hellbound about the documentary, his vision for it and his experiences making it.
What first inspired you to make this documentary?
I was asked to do a compilation DVD of old Swedish Heavy Metal clips, and it grew out of that.
What was is about the story of Swedish heavy metal that you felt was untold?
Everything, basically. Metal has always been marginalized in Sweden, and the story has never been told in such an extensive way. Sweden has spawned some of the best metal in the world and the artists’ stories deserves to be told. How did Yngwie Malmsteen get discovered? How did Bathory actually begin? Those kinds of questions inspired me to do the documentary.
How does Swedish heavy metal differ from the heavy metal written and composed by artists who come from any other culture?
It depends on what country you compare it with. If you are from the United States you damn well better be on top of your game or you are dead. It’s more of a life and death issue if you come from a country like America where there isn’t such a strong safety net as there is here. You either make it or you starve, which is a terrible thing of course, but as a result you will try really hard to get as good as you possibly can, and eventually you will be good.
Swedish musicians have a good reputation around the world and there are quite a few decent players from Sweden, but a lot of the time I don’t think they peak in the same way as Americans do, or someone like Neil Peart. Alot think, “Yeah I can rehearse, but I need to do my day job first.” This is of course a generalization.
On a musical level, it is extremely difficult to say what is typically Swedish, but if you look ay Swedish Death Metal, you see it relies more on groove or attitude than its American counterpart, which is often extremely technical. But then you have a band like Meshuggah from Sweden – not that they belong under the tag Swedish Death Metal, but they are of course very advanced rhythmically. It’s hard to generalize.
You spent a great deal of time looking at the origins of heavy metal in Sweden. What is the heavy metal scene in Sweden like at the present moment?
It depends on what you mean by the term “heavy metal,” but if we are talking about metal in general it seems to be doing well. There has been a new wave of NWOBHM-style bands coming out of Sweden; Swedish Death Metal has had a resurgence; and overall there are a lot of Swedish Metal bands, both young and old, active in the scene.
There seems to be more of a blur in Sweden between hard rock and heavy metal, whereas in many other countries (North America included) they are very sharply defined and different. Do you think that Swedish metal is more connected to its hard rock origins?
No, not more than metal from other countries. But Sweden is a tiny country and the link between the most extreme band and the most accessible and commercial band might be closer than what you’d expect. For example, the “doom metal” band Candlemass has had session musicians from both the Death Metal band Entombed and the classic hair band Europe. On a musical level Entombed, for instance, had a lot more rock n’ roll attitude than, say, Morbid Angel, but I do not think that that is because they are a Swedish band as much as what members comprised that band were interested in creating. From my perspective, living in Sweden and Europe, I had the opinion that there was a much closer connection between punk and hard core and metal in the US than there was in Sweden or Europe in the eighties.
What was the most exciting/engaging interview you conducted during the course of shooting this documentary?
Doing the interview with Yngwie Malmsteen was of course exciting, and getting that interview is a story on its own. Meeting Lars Ulrich was cool, since Metallica were my teenage heroes, but on a whole it’s been a privilege and a thrill meeting musicians from all the bands I’ve met.
Were there any discoveries that particularly shocked you?
No, I can’t say there were – I already knew the subject all to well for there to be many surprises. That is, of course, not the answer you wanted, but I don’t know what could have been shocking. Oh, wait, come to think of it, probably the nut-case woman in the part about moral panic over hard rock in the eighties in Sweden who actually believed that plants die if exposed to heavy metal. That’s pretty shocking!
(Note: This was by far and away the most shocking and ridiculous part of the documentary in my opinion as well. ^NZ)
Why did you choose to spend so much time on the band Europe? Why do you feel their story was so important to this documentary?
To be quite honest, I think that there is a tad too much of Europe in the film. The thing is, though, their career spans the most important and formative years of metal: the 70s, 80s and early 90s. They are also one of the biggest bands to come out of Sweden. Not every band has number one hit in 25 countries at the same time. Their story is the basic story of a struggling young band, but the the difference is they hit the big time. They got to live the rock n’ roll lifestyle, both dream and nightmare.
What ever happened to Europe’s crooked manager who robbed them of their money? Was there ever any resolution there?
No, I do not think that there was. Whilst making the film I saw an interview with him from 1999. He was then still in the music business, promoting some boy band or something that no one has ever heard of. He was sitting in his Manhattan office with his feet on his desk saying he sleeps damn good at night.
What genre of metal do you favour?
I favour any music that is good, metal or other. When I say “good music,” I mean music that is made with honest intent, music with soul that gets to you. Hence I am not a fan of overproduced, commercial, “Let’s-make-a-hit” music. I was part of the Swedish Death Metal scene when it first exploded, so I have some affinity for that scene.
From what perspective do you come to heavy metal, from that of a fan deep in the culture or as a curious outsider?
I am a fan of music in general and of metal in particular. I’ve also been playing music most of my life. I’d like to think that I have some outside perspective on the metal scene, since I was detached from it for many years, playing other styles of music. I am a fan of some Swedish bands, but, hey, Led Zeppelin, Sabbath and Slayer aren’t in the slightest Swedish bands and I love them.
What is the metal live concert experience like in your eyes?
It all depends on who’s playing. While talking about performing drunk, Tom Araya of Slayer said, in an interview from the late 80s or early 90s, “You don’t want to be a drunk on stage. You want to be a maniac on stage.” That is metal.
Så Jävla Metal: The History of Swedish Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, premieres on Friday, June 15th at 3pm at the Toronto Underground Cinema (186 Spadina Avenue).