Even in extreme metal, the irresistible charm of some vintage rock 'n' roll is too tempting to resist, at least for some. For so many, it's revisiting their personal roots as a musician, and playing the music that inspired them from their earliest days. Here, we dug up the 9 Best Rock Bands Started by Death Metal Musicians.
It should come as no shock that this list is mostly dominated by Swedish musicians. Even when looking back at the earliest albums from pioneers such as Entombed, Dismember and Grave, there was always a sense of rock, either in the riffing or the overall songwriting. The death 'n' roll style was developed by these same bands, too. Hey, a good hook is a good hook, even within the confines of extreme music.
There's also a thriving rock scene in Sweden where glam has never really gone out of style — a trait that remains the envy of less savvy rock fashion cultures elsewhere 'round the world.... or at least this writer sees it that way.
It wasn't all Swedes flipping the switch from death metal to red-lined rock, as you'll see below.
The HellacoptersFormed by: Nick Andersson (Entombed)
Sweden has always appreciated honest rock ’n’ roll — even their death metal bands still showed obvious ’70s influences amid their maelstrom of buzzsaw distortion. Entombed drummer Nick Andersson gets his rocks off as the singer and guitarist in The Hellacopters and is quite a handy multi-instrumentalist in the studio, too.
Formed in 1994 and split up in 2008, this group dished out seven tomes of post-punk garage rock glory. Despite reuniting in 2016, no new material has surfaced, but at least they’re still together.
Spiritual BeggarsFormed by: Michael Amott (Arch Enemy, ex-Carcass, Carnage)
If Michael Amott puts as much effort into naming his guitar tones as Carcass did into naming their leads and solos, anything used to describe his tone in Spiritual Beggars less brash than “Tectonic Thunderfuck” is a disappointment.
Before joining Carcass, he was in Swedish death metal group Carnage, too, and found time to form Spiritual Beggars in 1992, pre-dating the founding of Arch Enemy. Got all that? Wah-heavy guitar, stick-breaking drumming and chunky bass playing are the engine to this stoner powerhouse.
Amott's Arch Enemy bandmate Sharlee D'Angelo joined in 2005.
Jess and The Ancient OnesFormed by: Antti Boman (Demilich)
Though he’s no longer in the band, Antti Boman made the switch from playing some of the mind-altering death metal on Demilich’s one-off 1993 album Nespithe to channeling dark, psych-rock energy on guitar with Jess and the Ancient Ones. Boman is especially noted for the belching vocal style he discharged over those sinewy riffs in Demilich. At least he got to open for King Diamond before his exit, which left singer Jess down one Ancient One.
The Night Flight OrchestraFormed by: Björn Strid (Soilwork) + Sharlee D'Angelo (Arch Enemy)
Sweden, we get it — ABBA are a big deal for you. There’s no hate here at all, especially when dance-pop and Duran Duran fuel an obsession with AOR. That’s the story for The Night Flight Orchestra, or at least that’s how we like to tell it.
Soilwork’s Björn Strid and Arch Enemy’s Sharlee D’Angelo started the band in 2007 and holy Hell are we grateful to have a few albums to showcase those buttery pipes Strid has dazzled us with for so long in tandem with his snarling screams. The Night Flight Orchestra make us want to get up and dance… it’s just too bad us metalheads don’t really have a clue how.
GhostFormed by: Tobias Forge (Repugnant)
Are Ghost a metal band or a rock band? The answer is... well... both. They never really commit to one or the other and that’s what brings us back to those halcyon days where it didn’t matter if a band was rock or metal — heavy was heavy, ya know? Before Ghost erupted in the 2010s, visionary Tobias Forge was ripping it up with death metal fiends Repugnant. Their lone album, 2006’s Epitome of Darkness, is steeped in horror-driven elements, so there’s some dots to connect regarding Forge’s trajectory.
Me and That ManFormed by: Nergal (Behemoth)
If One Direction and Imagine Dragons can be called rock bands, then Nergal's dark folk/blues sidepiece band Me and That Man definitely fits the bill for what we're looking for here. Listen, rock is a loose thing these days — almost as loose as Nergal's wrist as he goes a'strummin' on a pair of albums that conjure funereal atmospheres countered by jig-oriented injections of campfire folk music.
FirebirdFormed by: Bill Steer (Carcass)
The hard-driving, blues-riding Firebird comes courtesy of Carcass slice n’ dice riffmonger Bill Steer. With pin straight hair like that, you’re destined to play some licks worthy of a pair of acid-washed bell-bottoms, even if you never wear the damn things. Steer founded the band in 1999, three years after Carcass split up, leaning into rock-oriented realms on Swansong. Firebird hung it up in 2011 with six albums to their name.
UnicornFormed by: Dan Swanö (Edge of Sanity, ex-Bloodbath)
With two Edge of Sanity albums out and another on the way, Dan Swano had already proved he was an ambitious songwriter, evidenced by his death metal group’s labyrinthine songs and some theatrical eccentricities. Unicorn, a full-blown love letter to the sincerest of ‘70s prog rock heroes, had no reservations about drifting quite far from the concept of heaviness. The 1993 debut Ever Since is a beautiful piece of music, just be prepared for lots of major keys, lovey-dovey guitar melodies and don’t forget to dim the lights and get a couple candles going you big lug.
Opeth (late career)Formed by: Mikael Åkerfeldt (kind of)
Okay, maybe this is cheating. What’s certain, though, is that this is our list, so we’re putting Opeth in here regardless of what you think. Mikael Åkerfeldt was actually invited to join the group by founder David Isberg, and his arrival prompted the exit of the rest of the lineup. Eventually, Akerfeldt was the last man standing and Opeth became his.
Later on, he was in and out (ultimately out) of death metal supergroup Bloodbath. The last growls Akerfeldt committed to an album came in 2008 with both Bloodbath and Opeth.
The stylistic reboot came on 2011’s Heritage where Opeth introduced themselves as a prog rock group, leaving their death metal ways behind. That counts, right? Maybe we just want to celebrate this underrated part of the Opeth catalog...