When thrash-metal drummer John Meredith watched teenage climate-change activist Greta Thunberg give her fiery “How dare you?” speech at the UN Climate Action Summit on Monday, he agreed with her message. But he also thought her language would make a killer metal song. So he picked up his sticks and created what became the viral YouTube hit “Greta Thunberg sings Swedish Death Metal.”
“When I saw her speech, I was very impressed by her passion and outrage,” says Meredith, who sits behind the kit for the New York City metal trio Suaka, via email. “And the words she chose just evoked the darkness of the metal music I love: Entombed, Gojira, At the Gates, Sepultura.”
He copied the speech into Protools and improvised a performance. He couldn’t get her voice to sound “metal enough” with the effects in the recording program, so he decided to growl along himself. So as he digs his pick into his guitar strings, he makes Thunberg’s words like “I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean” sound like something former Immortal frontman Abbath might vomit up on snow-covered Scandinavian mountaintop.
“I guess I didn’t really have a specific intent other than to turn her brutal words into a metal song,” he says. That said, he hopes people don’t think he’s trying to make fun of her at all with the video. He agrees with her message — “My personal stance is that individuals need to do their part to strive to conserve and preserve our environment,” he says — but he also knows that the video itself is fun.
“Teen angst can be a powerful and important driving force in society, for instance the Arab spring,” he says. “But there is an element of satire and levity regarding the tone and the music. I mean, I have never sung like that before in my life. I think humor and [positive mental attitude] can be at least as powerful as anger and outrage, and there is a place for both.”
Oddly, the video has received the most outcry for calling it Swedish death metal — a subgenre popularized by bands like At the Gates and Dark Tranquillity — that’s known more for its melodic guitar leads and guttural vocals. The only thing Swedish about this video is Thunberg herself. “I’ve seen soooo many comments, saying, ‘This is not Swedish Death Metal,” Meredith says with a “ha-ha.” “It’s probably more ‘black metal’ maybe but the title is also a nod to her country of origin. It’s like that Viking fury can’t be denied. In general, genres are for critics; musicians just make music they like.”
Even though the video took off, the performance won’t be anything he or Suaka would attempt onstage. Meredith grew up in Colorado and now runs a basement studio in Ridgewood, Queens called Mollusk Studio, but his bandmates are both Indonesian — U.S. citizens who have lived here for decades — and their music reflects their Asian roots. The group recently released a new album, Suakatrocity and did an Asian tour. They’re bringing the Indonesian band Burgerkill to the U.S. for their first-ever U.S. tour next month.
But despite Suaka’s success, Meredith realizes he may now have a new side gig. “Even before the video went viral, my friends were suggesting other speeches to do,” he says. “I had so much fun doing this one, I will probably do more.”
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