Anyone who’s read metal reviews for a while knows the two major intro paragraph fallbacks for popular and/or established metal bands. The first is to call them “the AC/DC of [subgenre]” and conveniently using a tautology to describe the sound, i.e. Cannibal Corpse sounds like Cannibal Corpse. The second is invoking the shadow of the band’s crowning achievement and asking rhetorically if the new record will beat it. Entombed A.D. isn’t established enough to be an AC/DC band, and Entombed simpliciter changed their sound more than once. Plus, there’s no agreement on a single crowning achievement—Left Hand Path, Clandestine, and dark horse candidate Wolverine Blues vie for that spot. With no fallbacks at my disposal, I’ll just fall forward into Bowels of Earth.
Entombed A.D. in 2019 sounds like the Entombed of Morning Star and Serpent Saints, and the arguments about Bowels of Earth will inevitably center around whether the songs are better than their predecessors in the same vein as it has for the last two A.D. records. This largely comes down to personal taste, as the riffs are doing the same thing they’ve been doing for a while now: trying to pummel and groove enough to get stuck in your bobbing head. Retained from Entombed are the melodies that echo classic horror: “Left Hand Path” has the Phantasm theme at the end, and the intro to Back to the Front’s “Kill to Live” reminds of John Carpenter’s compositional work. Everything is as it should be here, and it’s wise for Entombed A.D. to stay the course. They clearly like their niche, and present here as always is the spark of a band that, no matter one’s opinion of them, is still unique in their own little ways.
I’ll admit that I was a little surprised when “Torment Remains” opened the record with something eerily close to Dismember’s legendary “Override of the Overture” and just ran with it. The song’s got real energy, and the band sounds tight and, more importantly, enthused. The title track starts on an eerie piano piece, once again doing the horror theme aesthetic. That Entombed A.D. can play directly to expectations yet still make a good, fun record is a testament to the durability and enjoyability of their sound. “Bourbon Nightmare” has a great 80s horror styled title, and the use of what sounds almost like slide guitar sells the Southern theme well but doesn’t hijack the song. Like sending Jason to space in Jason X, the killer remains the same, and the environment serves as the backdrop for their usual killing. It doesn’t change them, they just use it to brief, interesting, and memorable effect—to keep with the Jason X theme, the track is a real liquid nitrogen face-smash.
Bowels of Earth doesn’t have any pitfalls, outright bad tracks, or misfires. Like both Dead Dawn and Back to the Front, it’s got a bunch of good songs with a few that elevate themselves beyond that. After two records, you know what you’re getting into here; the chance to hear more of it done equally well as, yet slightly different than, Back to the Front is the essence and appeal of Bowels of Earth. I prefer Back to the Front, but that may be because I’ve listened to it more. I like both a little better than Dead Dawn, but as said above, this ultimately comes down entirely to personal preference. The takeaway here is that Entombed A.D. are sticking firmly in their lane and doing so skillfully. To demand the band to do “something new” is to miss the point; Entombed A.D. exist to fill their little niche, and if you don’t enjoy the niche you don’t enjoy the band.
The best word to describe Bowels of Earth is good. During the chorus of “Hell Is My Home,” LG leads a call-and-response where the “response” is backing vocals shouting the song’s title. By the second chorus, I found myself growling along with the backing vocals—like I knew the song despite it being the first time I’d heard it. The whole record is like this, feeling familiar and welcoming; this is happy death metal for happy people, inspiring an enjoyable comfort that manages to excite through familiarity. Familiar doesn’t mean boring, and good doesn’t mean that Bowels of Earth ought to be overlooked in favor of critic-bait. Instead, Bowels of Earth should be approached with the expectation of good, honest, catchy, fun death metal—part of every balanced musical diet.