Why Does Sweden Have So Many Metal Bands? AVATAR's JOHANNES ECKERSTRÖM Weighs In

May 23, 2024

In a new interview with 105.7 The Point's "The Rizzuto Show", vocalist Johannes Eckerström of Swedish metallers AVATAR was asked why he thinks Sweden has one of the most vibrant metal scenes in the world and one of the highest densities of heavy metal bands per capita. He responded (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "I have a long, serious answer for that. In Sweden, post World War II, there's this kind of — I think it's hard to find an equivalent for what it would be in an American system, but kind of an afterschool program thing that all municipalities opened music schools. It's not part of the school and the school curriculum; it's just a place you can go and get to learn to play an instrument. And that is super subsidized and available to basically everyone. The first year, you get to borrow an instrument for free, and then second year, if you're sticking with it, you will get to buy things very subsidized. And initially, it's just 20 minutes per week with a music teacher, playing 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' on a violin or something, but it keeps growing from there. If you're drawn into it, it goes pretty far with musical education, just as a fun afterschool thing for kids to do, kind of like playing little league or something, but for music. And that is readily and widely available, which means that a lot of Swedish kids get to get a taste for it."

He continued: "Almost everyone in [AVATAR], before knowing each other, because we grew up relatively close to each other — well, in the same town, different parts of it, but went to the same school — so one of us played the clarinet, one the flute, one the trombone in this same little kids orchestras playing horrible renditions of 'Meet The Flintstones', actually. And then you start to get into whatever you get into musically as a teenager, the subcultures, all that, but you kind of already had a head start on doing music together and also automatically befriend people who are equally into music. So through those 'Meet The Flintstones' gang, when you were 10 years old, kind of leads to then in your teens, suddenly people have grown their hair all the way to here and wear METALLICA and IRON MAIDEN shirts and you can form bands. So that's a big part of it."

Johannes went on to say: "Another big part of it, I think, is once a country has had one version of a success story, that country get branded like that. It's a pure case of prejudice. If you can say this is a new metal band from Sweden, you feel some kind of confidence and curiosity about it… So we're kind of used to that. So that's a self-feeding system."

He added: "Do you know what Fagersta is? Do you know who THE HIVES are? They're from Fagersta. And every little Fagersta has their own THE HIVES in Sweden at this point. So you grow up… Representation matters, right? We talk a lot about that, that all kinds of people should be in front of a screen and be seen, and that inspires kids to look like that person to [feel like] 'I can make it too.' And Sweden has been very beneficial for lanky, pasty teenage boys to see, like, 'Hey, they made it,' and, 'That guy's mom works in the post office with my friend's mom, so then we can do this too.' So that's availability. And it's a welfare state, which means there's a safety net for — to have terrible ideas of what you wanna do for a living, fail miserably and find then a different path in life later. So you can afford to fail. So I think all those things combined."

Johannes formed AVATAR in 2001. The band's lineup has remained virtually the same ever since, save for guitarist Tim Öhrström, who entered the fray just over a decade later. AVATAR also includes guitarist Jonas Jarlsby, bassist Henrik Sandelin and drummer John Alfredsson.

AVATAR's latest album, "Dance Devil Dance", came out in February 2023. The LP was recorded in the Swedish wilderness, far away from all the perceived glamor of the big city and modern studios. Jay Ruston (ANTHRAX, MR. BUNGLE, CROBOT, STONE SOUR, AMON AMARTH, URIAH HEEP) returned as producer. He first worked with AVATAR when he mixed "Hail The Apocalypse", a role he reprised on "Feathers & Flesh" before taking the wheel as producer on "Avatar Country" and "Hunter Gatherer".

"Dance Devil Dance" featured a guest appearance by Lzzy Hale of HALESTORM on the song "Violence No Matter What". The record also included the single "The Dirt I'm Buried In", which hit No. 1 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Airplay chart.

Photo credit: Johan Carlén

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