Dream Evil's The Book Of Heavy Metal: how a death metal producer made trad metal cool again

Dream Evil
(Image credit: Patric Ullaeus/Revolver Film Company AB)

‘METAAAAAAAAAAL!’ Not even three seconds into The Book Of Heavy Metal, the opening song – and title track – of Dream Evil’s third album, the Swedish trad metal revivalists were nailing their colours to the mast in bombastic, overblown and entirely unironic fashion. 

But then, that had been the point of Dream Evil from its inception, guitarist and founder Fredrik Nordström building the band around the glory days of yore, when titans like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were defining the genre, shifting millions of records in the process. In some ways, it was almost ironic. Fredrik had earned his fame helping to shift the goalposts of how metal looked and sounded through his production work with Gothenburg’s legendary melodic death metal scene

Sweden’s answer to Ross Robinson, Fredrik’s work on legendary releases by At The Gates, Dark Tranquillity and In Flames set the tone for vast swathes of modern metal, while his later work with Opeth and Dimmu Borgir helped transform the extreme metal landscape. Needless to say, people weren’t exactly expecting denim and leather super-fandom from his own band. 

“There were definitely people who expected Dream Evil to have that melodic death metal sound, so it was quite the surprise when they got a real heavy metal album instead!” Fredrik chuckles. “I actually discovered heavy metal really late. I was playing in a band with this guy who introduced me to bands like Accept. The first time I heard Balls To The Wall I went bananas, like: ‘Play it again!’” 

Unfortunately, Fredrik’s discovery came right as traditional metal fell on its arse. While he found great success with his production work, there was a sense of terminal optimism to his efforts to get his band, Snakeskin Cowboys, off the ground while the likes of Nirvana and Faith No More ruled the airwaves. Thankfully, his production work also laid the seeds for Dream Evil, a trip to Thessaloniki seeing him cross paths with guitarist extraordinaire Gus G. 

“Gus wanted to move to Sweden and build a music career, but it seems like nobody wanted him back then!” Fredrik says. “He was trying to survive by offering guitar lessons but literally nobody was taking them at the time, which is crazy considering if you went back to the same music stores he was putting those ads in five years later, you could buy his signature guitar.” 

The pair struck up a friendship and agreed to collaborate on a new band. Meanwhile, the ever-turbulent tides of music were shifting as the archetypes of the classic metal sound began to make a comeback. Germans Blind Guardian had released their seminal power metal albums Imaginations From The Other Side (1995) and Nightfall In Middle-Earth (1998), while in the US Iced Earth had shifted more than 60,000 records with 1996’s The Dark Saga and 1998’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. But it was the efforts of Sweden’s homegrown heavy metal heroes Hammerfall that truly set Dream Evil in motion. 

“I was asked to record the first Hammerfall album, [1997’s] Glory To The Brave,” Fredrik recalls. “That’s actually how I met Niklas [Isfeldt, vocals] and Pete [Stålfors, bass]. I felt like if they could start making heavy metal music, I could also do that.” 

With most of the members now in place, the only thing that remained was to fill the vacant drum spot. For that, Fredrik turned to a local legend: former King Diamond/Mercyful Fate drummer Snowy Shaw. 

“Snowy was a hired gun from the beginning,” Fredrik says. “I’ve read his book and he said that when I approached him with these classic style heavy metal songs in the 90s, he thought he was on Candid Camera. He didn’t believe I could work on the death metal stuff and still want to sing these cheesy songs, ha ha! But he’s one of the best drummers on the planet, and a very good friend, so he was a natural fit.”

Dream Evil

(Image credit: Patric Ullaeus/Revolver Film Company AB)

Released in 2002, Dream Evil's debut Dragonslayer was a triumphant, fist-pumping blast of old school heavy metal. Contrary to their label’s fears, the record quickly earned a fanbase of young fans who had missed the boat on metal’s glory years, but yearned for its bombastic sound. 

“Hammerfall opened the doors,” Fredrik admits. “When I saw them playing the last shows of Glory To The Brave they’d got about 600 people in this tiny room, and more or less nobody was over 20 years old. When we played our own shows, it was still the same – for those kids, bands like Dream Evil and Hammerfall were their first proper heavy metal band.” 

A little over 12 months on from recording their debut, Dream Evil already had a follow-up on the shelves. Titled Evilized, it broke into the Top 100 in the Swedish and Japanese charts, cementing the sense that there was something special starting to build around the group. This made it all themore critical that their third album should build even bigger. And, as with their formation, it was working with Hammerfall that ended up inspiring the next evolutionary step of Dream Evil’s career. 

“The idea for The Book Of Heavy Metal actually came while I was recording with Hammerfall,” Fredrik explains. “I was doing the guitar solos with Stefan [Elmgren] and was like, ‘We should put harmonies on the guitars here and here.’ And he was like, ‘No, that’ll sound too much like Helloween.’ So I put my foot down: ‘No, that’s in the book of heavy metal!’ It became a running joke – I’d ask Snowy to do a drum fill and he’d ask why: ‘Well, it’s in the book of heavy metal!’” 

Not ones to waste a killer title when they find one, Dream Evil decided that The Book Of Heavy Metal shouldn’t just be the title of their next album, but a mission statement for what they wanted to achieve. 

“We tried to make the whole record feel like a real contribution to heavy metal history,” Fredrik says. “I spent 10 weeks on that album; we’d be recording until we literally ran out of material, writing so much we’d even be doing it in the toilet. But if you’re gonna call your album The Book Of Heavy Metal, it has to be good to live up to its name.” 

The writing for The Book Of Heavy Metal ended up being so productive the band wrote 64 songs. In keeping with metal’s ‘power to the people’ ethos, they brought in a ‘heavy metal jury’ to pick the 12 best songs for the final release, gathering non-musician metal fans they had met, ranging from electricians to bankers and teachers. 

“We wanted the input of the people who’d actually buy the album,” Fredrik explains. “We had a few boxes of beer, bottles of Jack Daniel’s and basically said, ‘Have fun.’ Then got them to pick their favourites.” 

While both the band and the heavy metal jury were effusive in their excitement about the album’s title track – The Book Of Heavy Metal (March Of The Metallians) to give its full title – again the band faced opposition from the label when it came to choosing a lead single. 

“Century Media said it was too metal to release as a single!” Fredrik reveals. “So I got back in touch and said, ‘I strongly recommend, as a music producer, that you take this song and release it.’” 

Released on July 13, 2004, The Book Of Heavy Metal this time broke the top 50 in the Swedish and Japanese album charts, and the band were invited out on tour with NWOBHM legends Saxon. Unfortunately, they didn’t get much chance to enjoy their spoils. 

“You could tell things were really taking off for Dream Evil, but everybody quit!” Fredrik says. “Gus left when he realised Dream Evil were never going to be a full touring band. With Snowy, we got into a silly fight over bullshit.” 

Though Fredrik was later able to coax Niklas and Peter back into the ranks with assurances the band wouldn’t be on tour eight months of the year (“That’s what the label had wanted,” Fredrik admits), the founding line-up of Dream Evil was fractured.

Even so, The Book Of Heavy Metal remains a definitive statement from the band, its unstoppable march, histrionic shrieks and virtuosic leads ensuring it couldn’t be more classically metal if it’d been spawned from the loins of Rob Halford. 

But although the song is one of Dream Evil’s biggest, it doesn’t quite take the top spot on streaming platforms – its 15 million streams on Spotify lag behind The Chosen Ones, which has had more than 27 million listens. 

“It’s funny, actually… The reason Chosen Ones is so high is because people kept using it when uploading their own videos of World Of Warcraft, and using Chosen Ones as the soundtrack on YouTube,” Fredrik says delightedly. 

“But we have done so many interviews where somebody says, ‘If an alien came down from outer space and wanted to know what heavy metal is, what would you show them?’ And my answer is still – and always will be – The Book Of Heavy Metal.”

Metal Hammer line break

Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.