Music writers tend towards the obsessive, and I am no exception. I first developed a passionate interest in Scandinavian music during the black/death metal boon of the '90s, and quickly followed it down the rat-hole as far as I could go; poring over thank-you lists and credit lists, looking for whatever tips I could find. That's why I started a music blog on the subject back in 2002, way before there was much of any information available on the bands I wanted to cover, much less of it written in English. It was a 10-year odyssey by the time I threw in the towel, and I covered a wide swath of styles and genres during that time, but I was always drawn towards the darker fringes; it's no wonder that I found myself attracted to the sounds of early-'80s Scandinavian post-punk, goth, and other morose subgenres; especially after I became bored with an increasingly derivative metal scene. It's really amazing, despite the overwhelming glut of new music and the proliferation of music sites, there's still so much great stuff from the past waiting to be rediscovered. My own blog may be retired for the time being, but I'm still digging.
Formed in 1982 by guitarist Petter Brundell after the breakup of Ståålfågel (who are also highly recommended, especially the self-titled debut), this band possesses three of the qualities I admire most: a heavy, lock-step rhythm section, adventurous guitar work, and quality songcraft. Of the many bands on this list, Syster Lycklig are also one of the less widely known/most underappreciated.
Not to be confused with the German synthpop band of the same name, the Swedish Camouflage released three full-length LPs starting with their self-titled debut in 1985, and then evolved into increasingly new-wave/pop territory with each subsequent release. Eventually they changed their name to Tapirerna/The Tapirs in a bid for international success before finally dissolving in the early-'90s. That first album is stellar, though, and well worth checking out even if you can't get behind their later material. Postscript: lead vocalist/songwriter Ola Jörhall sadly passed away in 2012, but his solo album Ensamheten from 2011 is really great and I highly recommended it for anyone into melancholic rock.
Fra Lippo Lippi
Norway's answer to Joy Division/New Order? For the first album, perhaps. Though their debut LP is derided by some as derivative, I'm a big fan of how hopelessly bleak it sounds. Later material tends towards synthpop, and while they were far overshadowed by countrymates A-ha in that department, they still somehow managed to score a big hit single in the Philippines, where they are regarded as superstars. Weirdness. Anyhow, it's also worth noting that founding member/bassist Rune Kristoffersen currently runs Rune Grammofon, one of the world's premiere experimental music labels.
The name translates to "Black Parade" so it should come as no surprise that these Finns play great Killing Joke-inspired deathrock. Despite the fact that Musta Paraati couldn't manage to hold together a steady lineup for very long, they still managed to release two totally solid LPs before finally calling it quits in 1984.
This one might be pushing the boundaries of what people think is acceptable under the banner of "post-punk", but screw it; it's dark and weird and not really all that new-wavey, so I say it fits. Cosmic Overdose released two albums of artsy bad-trip synth-punk via the esteemed Swedish label Silence and then metamorphized into the excellent-but-different synth duo Twice a Man and are still a going concern today.
Another semi-obscure pick from Sweden considering they've never been comped or reissued, but Elegi does have a significant cult following due to their unique sound and predominantly female lineup. They also have a secret weapon: saxophone.
No, not the Swedish thrashers (probably best known for featuring guitarist Michael Wead pre-Mercyful Fate/King Diamond). I must confess that I really don't know much about this Finnish band beyond the basics seeing as how Hexenhaus only released one official 7" back in the day until the folks at Svart and Ektro/Full Contact Records comped their unreleased material for reissue in 2013. It's a killer collection, too. Totally solid from front-to-back, despite some inconsistent/dodgy sound quality. Now if only the liner notes weren't in impenetrable Finnish!
Commando M. Pigg
This band started life in 1980 as Commando Musse Pigg (Commando Mickey Mouse) before wisely switching to an abbreviated version ahead of Disney's potential wrath. Like a lot of the best post-punk, Commando's sound is primarily bass-driven, but they stand out even further due to their tremendous vocalist, Eva Sonesson. Hearing her voice it's not hard to imagine the band heading into a pop/new-wave direction, and that's exactly what they did, eventually dropping the "M. Pigg" and switching to English. They were really good at it, too; though individual mileage may vary. I recommend you start at the beginning of their discography and go as deep as your tastes allow. Apparently they're also back together now and working on new material?
Regarded as one of Denmark's first punk bands, if not THE first to release an actual LP, Sods came on the scene in 1979 with a tense, tightly-wound punk/post-punk sound not too dissimilar from Wire's Pink Flag. Successive releases see them honing their skills, introducing a bit of Gun Club twang and then changing their name to Sort Sol following the release of their sophomore album, Under en Sort Sol. After their next release, Dagger & Guitar, they started going deeper into less-interesting alt-rock territory, but I'd say those first three are undeniable.
The best of the best! Singer/bassist Freddie Wadling is a bonafide Swedish music legend, having also played with KBD cult act Liket Lever and an early incarnation of The Leather Nun, before going on to do Blue For Two (a big deal in Sweden, but not for me) and then ultimately embarking on an acclaimed solo career; even releasing an album of James Bond theme songs (With a License to Kill) in 2011. Cortex's 1983 debut full-length, Spinal Injuries, however, is the pinnacle. Every song is a hit, full of dark hooks and morbid imagery, from the catchy kitsch of "The Freaks" to the anthemic refrains of "Warrior Night" and "Mayhem Troopers".