In what could be regarded as a test case by the music industry, magistrates at Great Yarmouth in Norfolk ruled that the lyrics in songs by the Swedish band Dismember were not obscene.
Customs officers at Great Yarmouth, making a routine check for drugs last October, had seized a consignment of 800 copies of Dismember's latest album, Like an Ever Flowing Stream. Titles of tracks include 'Bleed For Me' and 'Skin Her Alive', which deals with brutal murder and dismemberment.
Stephen Harvey QC, for the Customs and Excise, told the court: 'The lyrics are hideous, frightful, and repulsive to the senses. They are liable to inspire a sense of violence in the listener.' The band's distribution company in England, Plastic Head Music Distribution Ltd, from Oxfordshire, challenged the seizure.
The court listened to the 40- minute compact disc in its entirety. Counsel for Plastic Head, Andrew Nicol QC, admitted that many of the lyrics were unintelligible. But among the lines which could be heard were: 'I slaughtered the whore / Skin her alive / I did it for the thrill / I had never dreamed it was nice to kill.'
Mr Nicol said that the song had been written by the band's lead singer, Matti Karki, 19, following the murder of a woman in a flat below his own in Stockholm.
'He wanted to put himself in the mind of a man who did that awful crime and somehow express something about those thoughts through the lyrics,' Mr Nicol said. 'It was not his intention to inspire people to do anything similar.' He also added that devotees of Death Metal took little notice of the lyrics.
The court was told that Dismember were a part of the burgeoning Death Metal scene, whose top band was probably the American outfit Slayer, who have sold 3 million records world-wide. It was alleged that Dismember were, if anything, at the softer edge of the genre, which includes bands like Entombed, Massacre, Cancer, Decomposed, Obituary, and Carcass (who record for the British label, Earache Records).
Mr Nicol said that the Dismember album had already been played on Radio One by the DJs John Peel and Tommy Vance, and had been featured on the MTV cable music channel. It had sold 2,500 copies in England and more than 20,000 world-wide.
The music writer David Toop told the court that Death Metal had its origins in Heavy Metal which could be traced back to the late Sixties and the emergence of the rock band Black Sabbath.
Mr Toop likened the lyrical content and mood of Death Metal to a Greek or Jacobean tragedy and compared its intensity to the music of Stravinsky.
After the case, Karki, Dismember's lead signer, said: 'This is a victory for freedom of speech. The lyrics were purely fiction and there was no reason to ban us.'
Decomposed and Dismember were scheduled to appear last night at the London club Happy Jax. The magistrates awarded pounds 7,500 costs to the defence.
A Customs and Excise spokesman said after the hearing: 'We are now considering if an appeal is appropriate. It's a worry for us that this sort of music can now be heard by teenagers in Britain.'