If you are like me and are in your 30s or older, you probably remember that fleeting moment in the 1990s when industrial music received an unheralded amount of mainstream attention. Nine Inch Nails and Ministry established themselves as household names, Front 242 played the main stage at Lollapalooza, and—seeing as how a rising tide lifts all boats—many second-tier acts rode the coattails on to various degrees of success. Or, perhaps you are like me and also remember industrial both before and after that brief blip in time. Maybe you even kept up with the genre, but I know that my own personal interest waned with the mounting dominance of corny, metallic guitars and the advent of futurepop. I eventually came around, however, and started to get back into it again post-millennium, but for the longest time I was totally uninvested in anything new. Sure, I still went to go see Skinny Puppy and Babyland a few times, but I was never really keyed into "the scene," and it's only much more recently that I feel like I'm even close to being back up to speed on the current scene (to say nothing of everything I've missed). Chalk it up to the burgeoning resurgence of old school sounds that appeal to older folks like me (us?); the increasing quality of genre-focused websites; or even the expanding availability of quality, affordable music gear; but I think that synth and industrial music are enjoying a quiet revival, and I really don't see any reason it can't continue indefinitely.
I'm not making a mixtape like the last time I did a list for this site, but I am sticking with what I know best, and that is Swedish music. There's tons more great stuff out there, and I fully encourage you to go digging, but self-imposed limits are crucial when it comes to staying focused. So with that in mind, here are 10 great contemporary synth/industrial acts from Sweden who have released new music in the past year or so.
Agent Side Grinder
It's impossible for me to pinpoint the exact moment of my rekindled interest in industrial music, but Agent Side Grinder's 2008 self-titled debut played an important part. The band has continued to evolve over the years since then, honing their sound and skills, and I currently count them as one of my absolute favorite bands. They manage to strike the perfect balance between man and machine, backed by exceptional songwriting, and—in this particular case—a tremendous video to match. I only hope I get the chance to see them live someday, because I get the feeling that is where they truly shine. Worth noting: this is the first of four bands I'm mentioning from Progress Productions' stellar stable of artists.
Another formative artist in my personal synth revival, and probably also the most legit "big name" on the list. I was familiar with frontman Nicklas Stenemo's earlier work with pop/rock acts Melody Club and The Mo when Kite's debut EP was released (also 2008), but I wasn't much of a fan, so I don't think I expected too much. However, I was an instant convert when I heard "Ways to Dance," the duo's tremendous lead single, which I think is now safe to proclaim as a modern day classic. The band's latest release, VI (they are all EPs, and yes, they are all numbered sequentially), might not be the best entry point for newcomers, as it's a bit more abstract and less dance-oriented than previous records, but even with that caveat, it's still highly recommended.
There are a lot of great labels out there specializing in obscure synthwave reissues—Dark Entries and Medical Records, for example—but you really need to pay attention when those labels put out something new. Sine City's debut, Such a Fragile Thing We Are, came out this past April via Dödsdans Rekords, a Stockholm-based label who have reissued a lot of great, nearly-forgotten Swedish synth music, and it is a perfect example of a current act taking the sounds of the '80s and revitalizing them for the current day. Depeche Mode would be the most obvious reference point, but I think they have enough of their own thing going on to distinguish themselves—not to mention solid songs, always the most crucial factor.
Classic paranoid/dystopian electro-industrial in the vein of Front Line Assembly, Skinny Puppy, and Sweden's own industrial legends Interlace. They might not be reinventing the wheel by any means, but as I've said before, they excel thanks to great songwriting, solid production, and an absolutely superb attention to detail. Really looking forward to hearing what Interdictor does next, especially as they get more comfortable as a three-piece.
Wulfband is hyper-aggressive to the point of parody, and the boneheaded lyrics yelled in German just take it over the top. Proof positive that if you take every EBM cliché and amplify it, you might end up with something that goes beyond ridiculous and transforms into the spectacular.
I think I read somewhere that Raba-HIFF is an attempt to create synthetic rock 'n' roll, and if that's true, they've failed in the best possible way. I know next to nothing about this band, but I consider FRBFRT STHLM to be a near-perfect EP.
Okay, let's get convoluted: Celldöd is the acid/EBM solo project of Anders Karlsson, who also plays with harsh industrial act Severe Illusion, as well as long-running aggressive EBM duo The Pain Machinery; all of which are associated with Complete Control Productions, who—along with Dödsdans (see Sine City above)—are part of the in-house label group at Kollaps Records in Stockholm. Pretty much the hub of Sweden's alternative/electronic music scene. Got it? All of those aforementioned acts are still active and well worth investigating, Celldöd just happens to have the most recent release at the time of this writing. I also just really like industrial-tinged techno.
You can't talk about Swedish industrial without mentioning renowned label Cold Meat Industry, pioneers of the death industrial and dark ambient genres. While a few of Cold Meat Industry's flagship acts such as Brighter Death Now and Raison d'Être are still kicking around and putting out quality music, the label itself is no more. But that doesn't stop newer acts such as Trepaneringsritualen from walking in their footsteps. Trepaneringsritualen is pure sonic filth: the sound of absolute darkness; cult ritual put into practice and committed to tape. The music alone is powerful, but the live show is something else entirely: a lone, hooded figure drenched in blood and seething with menace. Bonus material: Thomas Ekelund, the man behind Trepaneringsritualen, also runs the label Beläten, which is a great place to start if you want to explore even more dark sounds from the Swedish underground and beyond.
Henric de la Cour
Pretty much the best video ever, and yeah, the music's damn good, too. Oh, and the B-side to this single is a top-notch Venom cover, just in case you weren't already won over. Anyhow, Henric de la Cour has been active in the Swedish music scene for quite some time, first coming to prominence as frontman for the indie band Yvonne in the early-'90s, and then continuing with Strip Music in 2003 (both of which also included Kite's other half, Christian Berg) before finally going solo in 2011. He's also a longtime cystic fibrosis survivor—a condition which has greatly affected his art over the years, and was the main focus of Swedish television's recent documentary about him.
Cheating a little bit with this one. Cardinal Noire is actually from neighboring Finland, not Sweden, but they are far too good to pass over. Like Interdictor above, Cardinal Noire can be filed under the electro-industrial subgenre, but are far less melodic and way more heavy/dense/fucked up.