What is it with Sweden? Maybe it's a seasonal thing: the midnight sun followed by endless dark nights of the soul. Whatever the cause, it's clearly a land of musical extremes. How could the same country that brought us the epitome of saccharine pop (ABBA, Roxette, Ace of Base and Britney producer Max Martin) also spawn the blackened death metal of bands like Dissection and Dismember?
Gothenburg-based Graveyard sounds like none of the above. What it does sound like on 2008's self-titled debut is riff-driven British rock, la Black Sabbath, Savoy Brown and the Groundhogs.
"We all listen to old blues and folk music, so it kind of comes from what we listen to," says guitarist-vocalist Jonathan Ramm, whose English is much better than my Swedish. "I mean, there are a lot of good bands coming out from Gothenburg, but you're right that we don't sound as they do. I don't know why."
Not that Graveyard takes the stage strumming "If I Had a Hammer" or "Dust My Broom." Like American power trio Pearls and Brass, Graveyard plays roots music steeped in no-nonsense rock. Songs like "Blue Soul" and "As the Years Pass by, the Hours Bend" recall a less solo-fixated Cream, while "Satan's Finest" is the most melodically pleasing ode to Beelzebub in recent memory.
The four members of Graveyard were born and raised in Vanersborg, which Ramm describes as "a small town about 100 kilometers from Gothenburg. When it was dark and raining and cold outside, we'd stay inside and jam a lot together and make new tunes."
Upon moving to Gothenburg, they reconnected with fellow exiles Division of Laura Lee, whose producer, Don Ahlsterberg, offered to work with them. The resulting album quickly earned rave notices, with Rolling Stone senior editor David Fricke declaring that "if Graveyard had made an early-seventies private-pressing LP that didn't sell squat, they would be record-collector legends."
Ramm, who quit soccer and ice bandy (a kind of outdoor hockey) to devote himself to guitar, recently had a dream come true when his band played at Netherlands' Roadburn Festival on the same bill as a reunited Groundhogs, the British blues-rock band that backed John Lee Hooker.
"They were amazing," says the awe-stricken guitarist. "We actually were sitting in their room when they arrived, and we got to talk to them for a while. They invited us to hang out, but we didn't want to disturb them so we just took off."
Graveyard recently employed a similar strategy during a very different incident in, of all places, a German falafel shop.
"It was late at night after a show, and these four guys came in and just started messing with us," says Ramm, whose mellow demeanor befits a culture that's been at peace since 1814. "They didn't like us because we had long hair. We tried to tell them to just calm down, it's not a big deal, we're just eating some food. But they started throwing yogurt at us and tried to start a fight, so we got out of there.
"I think it's pretty weird, these macho dudes coming up and yelling at us because we're having long hair. Sometimes we get in trouble in Germany. I don't know why."