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Plot: small-town girl discovers the sordid underbelly of Stockholm

Scandinavian exploitation starlet Christina Lindberg was born in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1950 and originally studied for archeologist before venturing into the world of modeling and later cinema. During high school Lindberg started modeling, first in swimsuit for newspapers and later in nude pictorials with Mayfair, Lui and Playboy. Lindberg was a Penthouse Pet in 1970. In 1973 she released her photo book This Is Christina Lindberg by her photographer and soon-to-be husband Bo Sehlberg. Sehlberg refused to let her work with other photographers and forced Lindberg out of exploitation cinema. For much of the 1970s Gothenburg-born starlet Christina Lindberg was the subject of a number of mostly impoverished exploitation films awash with full frontal nudity and simulated sex. Together with Janet Ågren, and the lesser known Leena Skoog, Christina Lindberg was one of the more recognizable faces in the European exploitation industry.

Maid in Sweden, the most innocuous of Lindberg’s early oeuvre, professes to be a coming-of-age story and a journey of sexual awakening for a naive smalltown girl in the big city. Co-produced by Cannon from a screenplay by Ronnie Friedland and George T. Norris it is exploitation masquerading as a legitimate drama. Screenwriter Friedland had served as a second unit director on Joseph Sarno’s The Seduction Of Inga (1968), which goes in part to explain the many similarities between this and the source material. Norris would later pen the screenplay to the Robert Ginty vigilante actioner The Exterminator 2 (1984). Maid In Sweden leans closer to French erotic cinema of the day than to the mesmerizing surreal Czech fairytale Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) from Jaromil Jires. In the movie Lindberg does exude the same kind of cherubic charm as genre starlets Gloria Guida, Tina Romero, Susan Hemingway, or Jaroslava Schallerová.

The plot, or what little is supposed to pass for it, concerns itself with milkmaid Inga (Christina Lindberg, as Kristina Lindberg) who lives in a sleepy farming hamlet in Sweden. One day she receives a letter from her emancipated libertine sister Greta (Monika Ekman) inviting her to spent a weekend in Stockholm. The visit starts out innocently enough, but soon Inga’s beauty, and her tendency to disrobe at the drop of a hat, has her involved in a number of compromising situations. Perceptive viewers will have surely noticed that Inga and Greta were both characters in Joe Sarno’s The Seduction Of Inga, that starred softcore scorcher Marie Liljedahl - who starred in a number of sexploitation movies from 1966 to 1970 from directors as Hubert Frank, Torgny Wickman and the inevitable Jesús Franco - and which Maid in Sweden pilfers in terms of plot. Maid in Sweden is both episodic and formulaic with Lindberg’s often naked form as the only selling point for what is otherwise a trite and banal exercise in low-budget filmmaking. Lindberg’s later Anita Swedish Nymphet (1973) had better production values than this little number.

Instead of embracing its exploitation undercurrent Maid in Sweden actually tries to pass itself off as a coming-of-age story and a tale of sexual awakening. Something which the French Don’t Deliver Us From Evil (1971) and the Italian Monika (1974) did far better. Unlike Monika  and Honeybun (1988) a decade and a half later, Maid in Sweden does not hide its more dubious aspects behind a veneer of comedy and slapstick. Once Inga sees the bewildering effects that her considerable physical assets have on those around her, specifically men, she remains gridlocked in her conviction that everybody has her best interest at heart. When seemingly everybody around her then continues to take advantage of her smalltown naiveté it completely negates whatever little dramatic effect is supposedly generated as Inga learns nothing from her experience in the big city. When she returns home after the weekend nothing substantial has changed, neither has she (or anybody else) undergone any mentionworthy growth, or arc, as a character.

None of the plot is particularly believable. Greta’s douche canoe boyfriend Carsten (Krister Ekman) first opines that Inga is too much of a goodie two-shoes and lines her up with the abominable delinquent-in-waiting Björn (Leif Naeslund). After a tedious date montage the contemptible Björn, true to form as an acquaintance of the equally rephrensible Carsten, attempts to rape an oblivious Inga. Later, seeking trust and solace in a relative, Inga is raped a second time by her own sister in the prequisite bout of sapphic seduction. Far more damning is that twice does Maid in Sweden brush said behavior off as acceptable social etiquette. Adding an extra ick factor is that the Greta and Carsten coupling, who are the subject of one or two simulated sex scenes, are played by sibling actors. After taking a steamy shower, shot in slow motion for maximum effect, Inga then returns to boink the despicable Björn a second time in what can only be construed as Stockholm syndrome. Returning in silentio noctis to the apartment Carsten comes onto Inga, something she is – for reasons both unfathomable and unexplained – all too eager to reciprocate. Greta catches the two in flagrante delicto and, against all logic and reason, throws Inga (and not the far more deserving Carsten) into the streets.

The entire raison d'être of Maid in Sweden is to showcase Lindberg’s luscious hourglass figure as often and early as possible. It’s hard to fathom that the voluptuous, uninhibited, and then-twenty-one year old Lindberg never ended up working in productions from continental European directors as Jean Rollin, Jesús Franco, Joe D’Amato, or Tinto Brass. Brass especially would have shot Lindberg - whose figure is similar to that of Debora Caprioglio - in loving detail. At least the writers/producers behind Maid in Sweden were smart enough to realize that the minimal plot is merely a preamble to have Lindberg disrobing, or engaging in assorted lewd activities, with regular interval. Whether it is her changing clothes in a train compartment, imagening getting sexually assaulted, taking a soapy bath, or simulating intercourse. Maid in Sweden is exploitative to a fault and this movie would have fallen into obscurity if it weren’t for the frequently disrobing of its top-heavy star. In fact it frequently borders on a Scandinavian equivalent to an Armando Bó directed down-market Isabel Sarli exploitation flick. None of it is particularly pretty to look at, but nobody's here for the art anyway...

It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the once-mighty Dark Funeral, Sweden’s self-proclaimed Ineffable Kings of Darkness, with the Bröberg repertoire increasingly having been one of diminishing returns. “Vobiscum Satanas” and “Diabolis Interium” both were efficient for what they were but from “Attera Totus Sanctus” onward Dark Funeral increasingly started to adopt death metal production values and techniques. “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is the completion of the regression that commenced with 2005’s “Attera Totus Sanctus” and reached its apex on the self-parody that was “Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus”. Is age is finally catching up with King Antichrist, Mikael Svanberg – or, more likely, was post-David Parland Dark Funeral just never all that strong in its songwriting to begin with? Dark Funeral has finally put the proverbial noose around its collective neck, and “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is where its lifeless, dilapidated form hangs from.

“Where Shadows Forever Reign” - the not exactly highly anticipated follow-up to the entirely risible “Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus”, a record that was no less than 7 years in the making - has long-running Swedish black metal formation Dark Funeral reaching the point of obvious redundancy and artistic vacuity and thus banks itself entirely on visual/linguistic cues to earlier, better recordings; and self-referential nostalgia. This is not the much pined after return to relevance with material worthy of the “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” legacy, “Where Shadows Forever Reign” continues the co-opting of death metal stylings and production techniques into what is otherwise remarkably unremarkable barely-there Norsecore that second-tiers Setherial perfected to greater degree many years prior. It’s high-time for Svanberg to consider a songwriting partnership as “Where Shadows Forever Reign” isn’t solely in the grip of the pangs of nostalgia, it’s entire raison d'être seems to hinge on making people forget the dreadful Masse Bröberg era of the band.

Like Suffocation’s “Blood Oath” before it “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is considerably slower compared to prior outings. Instead of starting off with a blisteringly fast cut ‘Unchain My Soul’ opens with ominous narration, and takes its time getting started. As such it’s a harbinger of things to come as Dark Funeral, now two decades and half into its existence, is exhausted. The chiming funeral bell on ‘As I Ascend’ greatly enhances the atmosphere, but it merely functions as a bridge towards the single ‘Temple Of Ahriman’. For the first time in history Dark Funeral pairs two slow songs in immediate succession, neither of which are particularly foreboding. “Where Shadows Forever Reign” does sound like Dark Funeral, especially on the last three Bröberg fronted efforts, but none of it is particularly inspired or inspiring. New frontman Andreas Vingbäck sounds far closer to original singer Paul Mäkitalo with his selection of serpentine rasps, slashing shrieks, and ominous ululations, than to rightly maligned former Hypocrisy frontman Magnus Bröberg. Andreas Fröberg (who has since defected) is another in a long line of completely inconsequential and interchangeable bass guitarists - especially with Svanberg handling the instrument in the studio - that nobody pays attention to. ‘Unchain My Soul’, ‘As One We Shall Conquer’ and ‘Nail Them to the Cross’ were co-written with drummer Nils Fjellström (who has since defected), but it isn’t nearly enough to shake off the rust of a decade plus of self-imposed creative stasis.

You’d be hardpressed to recognize any of this as Dark Funeral, especially the drastically lowered pace and the heavy-handed attempt at mimicking Dissection-like epic songwriting, complete with Iron Maiden-inspired leads and archetypical Swedish melodic accents. In light of a 7 year hiatus (and another overhaul of half the line-up) what could we possibly expect? A return to the golden days of “The Secrets Of the Black Arts”, the one Dark Funeral record that Svanberg had practically no involvement in? No. It’s nothing short of a miracle that Dark Funeral is still around to begin with, and their adamant refusal to go quietly into the night almost resembles Maryland’s Dying Fetus. Not everything about “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is terrible. Yet it is terrible enough to merit that most on “Where Shadows Forever Reign” either doesn’t resemble the Dark Funeral we’ve all come to love/hate, or either is a nostalgic callback to the brighter, fiercer, more agile days of “The Secrets Of the Black Arts”. Making a long overdue return is the instantly classic blue Necrolord canvas and the old title font. It’s faint praise indeed but at least “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is better on the visual front than “Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus”, which isn’t much of a recommendation in and of itself.

At this point there’s no other way of saying what everybody the least bit perceptive already knew years ago. Dark Funeral is a spent creative force, and “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is testament to its redundancy. “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is a solid enough death metal album - one that doesn’t warrant frequent revisiting - but not one you’d want to see adorned with the iconic Dark Funeral coat of arms. Not that this particular evolution is the least bit surprising or unexpected. It was over a decade coming, and now Armageddon has finally come. More than anything “Where Shadows Forever Reign” has the look of a last-minute act of restoration, a desperate attempt to invoke the spirit of the glorious past. This Temple Of Ahriman has been in disrepair for longer than was probably healthy, and “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is unable to escape the looming shadow of the superior songwriting skills of the late David Parland. It’s high time for the Black Winged Horde, these Demons Of Five, to refamiliarize themselves with what made them famous to begin with. In 2016 Dark Funeral is as declawed, docile, and unnecessary as modern day Dimmu Borgir. The real question is: when will the metal scene finally refuse to put up with mediocre swill like this? No more!