Friday, January 4, 2013

Entombed - 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.