Brothers, beer and rock ’n’ roll.
The Gothenburg Sound has made their hometown famous for its melodic death metal. But recently the bands have received unexpected competition from elsewhere – beer.
More and more musicians switch their instruments for hops and malt. One may wonder if the famous music city is becoming a beer city.
We meet up with some veterans who have been in this from the beginning. The place is 2112, the pub on Magasinsgatan run by Peter Iwers and Björn Gelotte. Björn is still active as the guitarist of In Flames, but Peter has left after being in the band for almost 20 years. Instead he is now brewing beer together with his former bandmate, drummer Daniel Svensson, who was the first to leave In Flames to start brewing beer. Their brewery is called Odd Island, and those who are familiar with their local Gothenburg humour will soon realise that the name is a pseudo-Anglicism for ”Särö”. With this we have come full circle since the Gothenburg metal sound was created in these parts almost 30 years ago.
BILLDAL – THE METAL POT
The cradle of The Gothenburg Sound is said to be Lindås. There are an unusually large number of prominent people from this area, (so many in fact that this article only mentions but a few).
This is where Tomas Lindberg grew up who in 1988 started the death metal band, Grotesque, which later became At The Gates. Most people will agree that this band, and their legendary album Slaughter of the soul, was the foundation of the melodic death metal wave that would dominate the Gothenburg metal scene for the next 20 years.
Conveniently enough he was flanked by twin brothers Jonas and Anders Björler from Lyckhem, who would later form The Haunted.
Almost all the members of Dark Tranquillity lived close to Tomas on Valebergsvägen: Mikael Stanne, Anders Jivarp, Niklas Sundin, Martin Henriksson and Anders Fridén, (who later became the singer of In Flames).
At the start, Anders was the lead singer of Dark Tranquillity (DT) and Stanne was the guitarist.
In 1993, Stanne became the lead singer of In Flames for a few years, then Anders took his place and Stanne returned to DT. What a mess.
This metal clutter however, did not end there. A few hundred meters away in Skintebo, more of a working class area, two brothers grew up to become bass players in DT and In Flames – Peter and Anders Iwers.
Brothers in and out of metal
Anders Iwers was in an early set up of In Flames and also played with Tiamat for many years. He has recently replaced Daniel Antonsson in DT.
His brother Peter has left In Flames as bass player to become restaurateur with Björn Gelotte and brew beer with Daniel Svensson of Odd Island. Speaking of bass players, it’s Mikael Niklasson (bass player of DT 1999-2008) and his brewery Lycke who developed DT’s new imperial stout: Atoma.
In Gothenburg it’s all connected and everybody knows everybody.
The brats response to punk
In the prosperous districts of southwest Gothenburg, parents were doctors and lawyers, obviously the younger generation demanded a revolt. Heavy metal fit like a glove. It was rough, aggressive, technically challenging and strong enough to stand out among other competing subcultures. The fact that many parents thought of it as Satans music and very unsuitable for their children hardly made things worse. Ironically, the local church served as a place for rehearsals in the early days of some of the bands.
Mikael Stanne: We listened to all the metal we could get our hands on until our ears were bleeding, then we started to play ourselves. We simply distributed the roles among friends – You do the singing, you play the guitar, you’ll play the drums and you play the bass. Then we would practice for up to 11 hours straight. The beauty of metal was that we had a world of our own, our own language and style. Back then all the kids in our neighbourhood took bus No. 783. As soon as they got on you could tell who belonged to our collective.
Punk from abroad
All the beer brewing musicians in Gothenburg are not native however. Nikola Sarcevic, singer, songwriter and bassist(!) of Millencolin, left his hometown of Örebro 19 years ago and now thrives in Gothenburg. Unlike the previously mentioned metal beer, Nikolas’ brewery Microphone, only sells their beer in barrels, but the list of those selling his label is becoming longer at a steady pace. However it was not the beer that drew Nikola to Gothenburg, it was the atmosphere.
Nikola Sarcevic: “I’ve always liked Gothenburg. A major advantage compared to Örebro is that I am pretty anonymous here. My brother moved to here and so did my wife to be, so it wasn’t that difficult. The music scene in Gothenburg is also special; it’s easy to get into the community.
For me it was the skateboard that opened the door into punk rock. Punk was not as technically advanced as metal, but easy and natural to slip into because I was already standing on the skateboard.
The civic in Örebro was an important gathering place during my childhood. They used to let people in for free when bands played their encore. That would give you a taste of it, and you could say that you had seen your idols even though you could not afford to see the whole concert.”
From beer to brewery
The metal bands from Gothenburg and their musical upbringing did not differ much from the punk rockers in Örebro. Though for them it was the club “Valvet” that was the place to be. Large quantities of beer were consumed on the stairs leading up to the legendary venue, and the solidarity was as important as the bands that were playing.
Mikael Stanne: “I think I speak for everyone when I say that we consumed loads of beer, most of it really boring. Throughout our childhood the beer was awful, same boring, thin lager wherever you looked. To tour the world was an eye-opener. We noticed that there was really good beer everywhere. The US has an incredible supply of excellent craft beer in places. The off-licenses in Canada also have an amazing selection.”
The other reality
To travel around the world and play for fans continent by continent sounds like a dream for most. The lifestyle has a downside however and to reconcile the rock-star life with a “civilian” life gets harder the older you get. Commitments have an ability to multiply and there is more than one widow of rock who has let out a sigh of relief when the old man has broken up with the band. The fact that many touring musicians return to their old jobs when they are at home is not unusual and it’s not always about the income, but rather to have routines and something to do during the day.
Mikael Stanne: “It sounds crazy, but when you’re on your way to play for a full house in South America for example, there are loads of things going through your head; long flight, jet lag, not seeing your family for weeks etc.
When you finally get there though, all that goes out the window. Then it´s pure magic every time.
When I’m at home I work as a personal assistant, it’s a wonderful contrast to touring. A meaningful job that also gives me a lot of freedom to play music.”
Changing the bass for the brewery
For Peter Iwers the desire to do something else finally became the most important thing, and in his case it was a very personal decision.
Peter Iwers: “It wasn’t easy to quit. My family have always been incredibly supportive of all my decisions. I thought about it for a long time and asked myself what I really want in life. I had spent 20 years with my band, and enjoyed every minute of it.
I’ll always play and write music, even if have to mentally focus on something else for now.
As I was already in the business, with me and Björn Gelotte starting 2112, the step to start a brewery was not very big. Our selection obviously included Odd Island and our own light beer that can also be found in some grocery stores.
Our beer can also be ordered at Systembolaget throughout the country.
It’s actually not that big of a difference between the roles in a restaurant or in a band. Bartenders are singers, waiting staff are guitarists and the rhythm section can be found in the kitchen.
Perfect breeding ground for beer and rock.
Gothenburg’s, or rather Sweden’s, success with beer and music is no coincidence. A small, trend-sensitive country not too burdened by traditions, can afford to be inspired and borrow influences from all over the world. This combined with a high standard of living, a sense of quality and technical expertise, means that the conditions are perfect for both a unique sound and beer. The great advantage of the beer however is that it’s not as genre-bound as music. You can afford to sprawl in to different styles.
Nikola Sarcevic: “Every beer you make is like a song. You find your musical style in the brewing process, but you always want to write the perfect song.”
Put to the test
Do our rocking beer makers know what’s in the glass? Do they know what they brew? We let them to try five different rock related bottles to get answers.
Camerons – Motörhead Röad Crew APA
Easy to drink, quite thin, with a little summer feeling. The gang all agree that it does not contain a very high alcohol content. Stanne thinks that it has some German character. Peter quickly nails that it’s a Motörhead beer after being given a clue.
Nils Oscar – Slayer Red Ale
Appreciative nods from everyone around the table. They observe that it’s a red ale and that it’s very good. They do however need some help nailing that it’s the Red Slayer ale from Brands For Fans.
Odd Island – Citrauvin APA
Happy faces all around the table. Everyone sips and hums and agree that with this much citrus character it must be Citrauvin.
Microphone brewery – Leadsinger Syndrome IPA (picture missing)
Unfiltered in the glass. Obvious grape character with a slightly peppery aftertaste. Straight away Peter asks Nikola “Is this yours? Is it Leadsinger?”
Stanne is sold on it and wants another glass.
Lycke Dark Tranquility – Atoma Imperial Stout
A real no-brainer. Everyone knows what it is just by looking at the pitch-black glass. Atoma is extra everything and Stanne says they’ve used 10 types of malt and four different varieties of American hop. “Damn good” is the overall review.
TEXT: FREDRIK OLSSON. PICTURE: FREDRIK STRÖMBERG
TRANSLATION: ANNIKA EKBERG