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Left Hand Path (1990)
 

After the dissolution of Morbid, with Dead leaving for Norway to join Mayhem, L.G. Petrov and Uffe Cederlund formed Nihilist, joined by two more Swedes and some sort of mixed primate. After releasing a few demos, there seemed to be some trouble in the band and it was officially split up, mainly as a way to get rid of Johnny Dordevic, with the remaining members then going on to regroup as Entombed. Their first full-length album was recorded in December 1989, in Sunlight Studio, and released in June 1990. Titled Left Hand Path, this record is probably the most influential Swedish Death Metal album to ever be recorded, setting the stage for countless others to try to follow in the band's footsteps. While so many of them tried to attain the same level of success merely from imitating the guitar tone, they usually fell short when it came to songwriting.

Left Hand Path is often thought of as the best representation of the 'true' Entombed, though if one looks closely at their history it is clear that this was but a passing phase in their career. The Nihilist days showed signs of less-than-brutal influences, with some rather mild riffs and a strong punk influence. Some of this carried over as they wrote and recorded their first full-length, though this is certainly a pure Death Metal album that deserves to be placed alongside the likes of Scream Bloody Gore, Severed Survival, Slowly We Rot and so on. One of the most important things about this record is that Entombed realized that an atmosphere of horror and death was absolutely essential for this style of music. Rather than just being fast and intense and having no real point, there are a variety of tempo changes with slower sections that are designed to add a sense of gloom to everything. The title track is a great example of this, despite the fact that the best part of the song is built around the Phantasm theme. It might seem cheesy to some, but it was pulled off really well and served as a perfect fusion between horror movies and Death Metal. The vocals really suit the music as well, as L.G. almost sounds like some sort of creature that just crawled out of a grave. Unlike so many other vocalists that were just trying to go as deep as they could, adding nothing to the music, this guy really seemed to understand how to use his voice to best compliment the song. This is really clear during the slower parts, as he takes on more of a morbid tone. These sections do well to add a sense of doom and darkness to the album, something that was already being lost on most American Death Metal bands, while also showing these guys to be quite dynamic. Those bands weren't even able to keep up with Entombed in terms of speed either, as most of their fast riffs were bland and interchangeable. On Left Hand Path, the faster moments are truly hellish and chaotic, yet played with precision. The lead solos are well executed and actually help the songs along, rather than being meaningless noise thrown in almost out of obligation. The drumming has almost a rabid quality, at times, going from the punk beats to all-out blast beats when needed. And, of course, the thundering percussion during the slower parts is done just right, with no unnecessary fills or showing off. From the morose riffs of "Left Hand Path" and "Drowned" to the vicious approach of "Revel in Flesh" and "Bitter Loss", this album is all over the place and yet everything is neatly tied together with the skull-splitting percussion and the crushingly heavy guitar riffs, occasionally accompanied by razor sharp melodies that tear you to pieces. The songwriting is solid and memorable, with no weaknesses regarding arrangement or even song placement. Aside from the title track, "But Life Goes On" may be the most memorable song on here, though each one is equally as strong.

Tomas Skogsberg and Sunlight Studios became quite popular after the release of this album and for good reason. It was too bad that so many bands were intent on trying to get a similar sound without putting the same kind of effort into the actual music. Left Hand Path features the debut of the well-known buzzsaw guitar tone that is associated with Swedish Death Metal and it was hardly ever done any better than on Entombed's debut album. The guitars really have a great balance of rawness and polish, being rough enough to really add some emphasis to the frenzied guitar riffs yet not being too abrasive. This works well so that, even when things slow down, the guitars sound just right and add a real sense of doom. The solos are mixed at a good level, standing out above the rest but not so much that they pierce your ears. All in all, this represents the absolute perfect sound for this type of music. It's just clear enough for everything to be heard well, while still retaining kind of a savage feeling.

Left Hand Path
is worth every bit of praise that it has received over the years and is an essential album for anyone into Swedish Death Metal. Despite the hundreds of bands that tried, no one ever quite captured this same kind of sound and feeling. This goes along with the debut albums from Carnage and Dismember as the best to ever come out of this scene. If you don't yet own this, that is an oversight that you should correct with haste. This L.P. is from the days when Death Metal was still meant to invoke a sense of dread and horror, keeping in mind that a dark atmosphere of death was the most important thing. The music is played with passion and this is something that can be heard from the first listen. Unlike the work of many that followed them, there is no filler here. Everything from the flesh-tearing guitar riffs to the pounding drums and the corpse-like vocals comes together, perfectly, to create one of the true classics in Death Metal history.
 
(4 Jan. 2013)

 
 

Released in November 1991, Clandestine is the sophomore effort from the former masters of Swedish Death Metal themselves, Entombed. Unfortunately, they held that title for but a short time, despite the massive influence of Left Hand Path. The reason being that their long-awaited follow-up turned out to be a pile of filth and a major disappointment.

There are several reasons why Clandestine fails to even hold a candle to its predecessor. First and foremost, the loss of L.G. left the vocal position in the incapable hands of Nicke Andersson. His voice is absolutely horrible and amateurish, ruining even the very best moments of this record. They could have picked out any random guy from a crowd and probably gotten a better voice. This is supposed to be Death Metal, and Nicke's pathetic hardcore shouting has no place here. Beyond this, the production is far too clear when compared to Left Hand Path. The sound is too open and the drums and vocals are both far too high in the mix. At some points, one has to wonder if it was indeed Tomas Skogsberg producing the album, or if Bob Rock took over those duties. The guitar tone is not as rough and powerful as it could have been, either. The constant use of samples within the songs is also annoying and reeks of modern stupidity.

As for the actual songwriting, there are some fairly decent riffs throughout the album, but most of the songs are pure trash. With a more appropriate production job and a more competent vocalist, this still would have been a disappointing record, very much below the standards set by Left Hand Path. Entombed clearly wanted to go against the grain in an effort to separate themselves from the many other bands in the scene that had used their first L.P. as a template for their own albums. The problem is that, instead of simply making better Death Metal, they opted to infuse the album with impure, lame influences. There is far too much groove and annoying breakdowns on here. Songs like "Living Dead", "Chaos Breed", "Severe Burns" and "Through the Collonades" are the only fairly passable songs on here and, again, they still suffer from the poor sound and the atrocious vocals.

Clandestine is not what one would have expected to come from such an influential band, especially right on the heels of an undisputed classic like Left Hand Path. Entombed is a sad example of a band really dropping the ball. Perhaps they really didn't have it in them to write another masterpiece of Swedish Death Metal, but it appears far more likely that their artistic choices were based on trying to be different rather than fulfilling their potential. As for this record, avoid it. Outside of the Nihilist material and their first album, this band is useless. If you want to hear the true successor to Left Hand Path, simply listen to Like an Ever Flowing Stream from Dismember. It absolutely murders the rubbish found on this pathetic album.
 
(8 Feb. 2016)

 
Wolverine Blues (1993)
 

Entombed's third full-length, Wolverine Blues, is often looked at as the beginning of the end for this once-mighty Swedish Death Metal unit. It is on this record that they abandoned the pure Death Metal style, in favor of some Death/Rock sound. Oddly enough, this might have been necessary for them to remain relevant. While I disliked the production and the vocals, Clandestine was decent enough; however, it was a far cry from Left Hand Path. Perhaps, the band didn't have enough creativity to produce more albums that were in-line with their debut. There's another matter to consider: think of the sheer number of bands that had appeared, since the release of the first Entombed record. Several bands were in Stockholm, playing the same style that Entombed made famous and recording at the same studio, in an effort to achieve the same buzzsaw guitar sound. As with many artists who are mimicked to death, Entombed may have sought to distance themselves from the crowd.

I became aware of this album in an odd way, back in early 1994. Without the permission of the band, Earache Records made some deal with Marvel Comics to use the Wolverine character for the cover of the album, as well as advertisements. Being an avid reader of the Wolverine series, I took notice of this band that had his likeness on their album cover. The same was, probably, true of many other teenagers in the states, at least. Unfortunately for me, my first taste of Entombed came from a penpal of mine that included some tracks from this album on a mix tape that she'd made for me. To this day, those are among the few that I can even still listen to, having long since discovered the more vital of Entombed's works.

"Eyemaster" kind of explodes, possessing a lot of energy and speed. There are some decent riffs that wouldn't have been out of place on an earlier Entombed release, alongside some more relaxed riffs. Worth noting is that this album marked the return of L.G. Petrov, whose absence from Clandestine ruined that album for me. All in all, this is one of the more listenable songs on the album.

Already by the time "Rotten Soil" hits, I find myself checking to see when the album will be over. It's not without any merit, but the best riffs are fleeting, seeming to flow through with the swiftness of storm winds. This is the type of non-serious music that might be okay to keep one awake, when driving late at night and fighting exhaustion, but it's probably of more interest to a 13-year old that is just discovering the band, rather than anyone more fully acquainted with Entombed.

"Wolverine Blues" is another one of the songs that were featured on my tape, so it remains on of the more easily digested numbers. It has some sort of groove going on, but it seems to work. The song is intense and brief, which works in its favor. Regardless of the difference between this and the earlier stuff, it retains a strong metal feeling and is a decent headbanging tune.

As the album continues, I feel boredom coming over me. "Demon" is hardly worth mentioning, being over-simplified and not really worthy of much mention. "Contempt" has some nice riffs, in the first few seconds, but then goes into this kind of slow-paced groove nonsense that does nothing for me. The earlier riff returns, keeping me interested enough to try to stomach the rest. As the song progresses, there's some half-decent stuff. The lead solo isn't bad, either. This is the type of song that takes some time (and patience) to grow on you.

"Full of Hell" almost displays some small blues influence in the opening riff. Sadly, the vocals suffer from some sort of terrible approach. This is fairly lethargic and boring. So, we move on to "Blood Song", which starts out with a kind of sloppy execution of what could have been a decent riff. Already it's not as bad as the previous song, though it does feature L.G. doing some more experimenting with the vocals. The lyrics have a vampiric theme, so this would explain and actually justify what he's done here. Again, this is one of those songs that can grow on you, if you're just casually listening. The solo is adequate enough, as well.

Now, back to another song from this historical mix tape, "Hollowman". I think I'd totally hate this, if it weren't for the fact that I first heard it during a time when I was a little more open-minded. It's kind of difficult to describe. It is, definitely, dominated by a rock feeling. Actually, I'd compare it to Motorhead, in a way. It's not that serious; it just attempts to create something that rocks and that can be easily accessible, I'm guessing. There's an ominous riff, near the middle, but this passes. Either way, this is one of the better songs on the album, as far as I'm concerned.

"Heavens Die" sounds quite unfamiliar, as I rarely make it this far in the album before turning it off and moving on to something else. It features more mid-paced thrash riffs, giving some unholy groove to the Swedish Death Metal guitar sound. This isn't a great song, but it's certainly near the top of the list, compared to the others on this album.

The final song is "Out of Hand", which is only consistent in its ability to bore me to tears. Logic dictates that a band wants to begin and end an album with their strongest songs, so as to make a good first and last impression, even if the rest of the record is filled with half-developed ideas. However, Entombed leaves us on a sour note.

Wolverine Blues is half-passable, at best. Some songs can be enjoyable, if you're in the right mood, while some others are awful, no matter what. This is not essential, by any means, but it's not completely bereft of good ideas. I wouldn't recommend that anyone go buy this, unless it's in the $1 bin.
 
(2 Aug. 2009)

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