Review Summary: Embodying the spirit of old school death metal.In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing a handful of albums from a given year. They may be albums that I feel are overlooked; that are in need of a review; or are just something that I want to write about. This week: 1990.
If you know anything about death metal, you know about Entombed. The Stockholm scene of the early 1990s, as full of great bands as it was, is famous because of the group formerly known as Nihilist. The famous "buzzsaw" guitar tone that every band who recorded at Sunlight Studios seemed to have is courtesy of Entombed. So is the cold atmosphere and abundance of heavy, mid-paced riffing. Although they achieved world fame with the "death 'n' roll" sound they would also pioneer, Entombed's legacy starts with one of the greatest metal debuts ever: Left Hand Path
Lars-Goran Petrov - vocals
Alex Hellid - lead guitar
Uffe Cederlund - guitar, bass
Nicke Andersson - drums, bass
Any discussion of Left Hand Path
should start with its eponymous opening track, which is one of the best metal songs in any genre. The opening scream and subsequent riffs, leading to a bone-crushing groove, set the tone for what the Swedish death metal scene was all about. Heavy, down-tuned guitars, perfectly placed tempo changes and vocals delivered with reckless abandon. It even has a haunting melodic coda (the only one of its kind on this album, and one that might fit better on a closing track) that predicts the sounds of their countrymen in the future Gothenburg scene.
The other nine songs (and the two bonus tracks on most versions of the album) follow a pattern for the most part. Guitars and drums play a speedy intro; Petrov enters, growling something nihilistic but largely unintelligible; tempo switches to mid-pace at the bridge; back to the band at high speed for the outro. It doesn't matter that the songwriting is somewhat predictable (has anybody questioned Death's legacy over that?), because Entombed are among the best at what they do. They are not concerned with mind-blowing technicality. All that matters is making music worth banging your head to.
Although the lyrical philosophy is depressing, Left Hand Path
is just more fun than most death metal albums. It's hard to call oneself a metal fan and not crack a smile when Petrov growls "revel in flesh!" over that song's breakdown. Nicke Andersson's fills are perfect air-drumming fare. The overwhelming sense of groove
on this album is impossible to ignore--something that makes sense when considering that Andersson would go on to front the garage rock band The Hellacopters. Nihilism is a front. These guys just want to make enjoyable music.
Left Hand Path
was the first pure death metal album that I ever listened to, and sometimes I forget about just how great it is. Entombed did not have the technical skill or inventiveness of some of the bands that made true landmark albums in the genre--the ones that transcend death metal and are recommended to all who are interested extreme music--but it is a stark reminder of why I got into this style in the first place: it's fun. I love meaty riffs and busy drums and vocals that are silly to the average music listener. If you do, to, Left Hand Path
is a required listen.