We all know about Entombed. One of the most important metal bands to have emerged from Sweden, the band defined and developed the “Stockholm” death metal sound by bringing together their hardcore punk influences with new ideas from the US and UK’s fledgling death metal scenes. They’re also responsible for creating, while still under their original Nihilist moniker, a savage guitar tone that contributed to the scene’s unique identity, and popularizing Sunlight Studios as the place to record Swedish death metal. While Carnage’s Dark Recollections emerged around the same time, it was Entombed’s Left Hand Path that really put the scene on the map, receiving near universal praise from critics and fellow musicians alike. We know this – it has been documented in countless interviews, retold in hundreds of magazine articles and even in a few books. So instead of repeating the story for the umpteenth time, I’m going to tell you why I don’t like this album.
Or rather, why I didn’t like this album. When I was first getting into metal in the early 2000s, Left Hand Path was one of those records I found particularly difficult to stomach. Depending on when you place the genesis of death metal, I am approximately as old as the genre; when Earache released Left Hand Path, I was still drinking from cups with plastic lids. Despite appearing on The Alan Parsons Project’s I, Robot as backing singers, my parents’ musical tastes were strictly classical, so I wasn’t exposed to anything heavier than The Beatles until I was thirteen. Naturally, my first forays into metal were at the more melodic and progressive end of the spectrum – Tool, Opeth, In Flames and Katatonia provided my starting point. Hungry for more metal, I soon turned to the murky underworld of internet message boards for recommendations. As a bona fide death metal classic, Left Hand Path was obviously suggested.
Left Hand Path is the complete opposite of melodic and progressive. From the very first riff, Entombed hit you square in the genitals with an explosion of raw aggression and speed. Any hint of a tune is quickly subdued by more hammering riffs and the brutality of that guitar sound. I just wasn’t ready for the relentless lack of melody and incessant one-two pounding of Nicke Andersson’s drums.
My copy of Left Hand Path remained largely neglected in the few years after I first bought it; I preferred contemporary releases with their more polished writing and production. But as death metal has progressed and grown, I have increasingly found myself drawn back to the youthful energy and straightforward aggression of its gnarled roots. Combined with an ever-increasing appreciation for hardcore punk inspired by my unexpected love of Nasum and Refused, I now find that Entombed’s early output is some of my favorite death metal of all.
Consider the opening title track. Let us pause a moment to bask in its magnificent, crusty girth. It neatly captures all the different elements Entombed display over the course of this record in a neat six and a half minutes: frenzied thrash, slow chugging heaviness, and even one of those crazy, widdly licks that Ulf Cederlund and Alex Hellid liked to throw in now and again for variety. It took me a few years to realize that they had pilfered the epic ending riff from the Phantasm horror movies, but what an inspired pilfering it was. It fits perfectly with the album’s horror theme, and provides a moment for Cederlund and Hellid to express themselves with some naively wonderful fretboard histrionics.
The quality rarely dips. Whether it’s the slow crawl that opens “Morbid Devourment,” the pounding D-beats of “When Life Has Ceased” or “Revel in Flesh,” the Death-worshiping “Supposed to Rot,” or the creative 3-note riffs in “Abnormally Deceased,” Entombed showed amazingly creative songwriting considering their ages at the time. “Bitter Loss” even features – very briefly – some melodic vocals along with the evil guitars and surprisingly complex drumming. Despite these stand-out moments, the songs do begin to blend into one: many of the riffs are interchangeable and there’s not a whole lot of diversity. Still, the record remains gripping for its entirety thanks to the incredible energy and a guitar sound heavier than the Andromeda galaxy.
I’m writing this as a small tribute to a seminal record, but the legions of bands who still ape it a quarter of a century from its original release is surely tribute enough. It may not be my personal favorite in this sub-genre1, and it’s arguably not even Entombed’s best (feel free to fight about this in the comments), but it is undeniably the most important Swedish death metal record ever released. It also serves as a reminder to me that sometimes the finer things in life – even if they are seemingly drenched in aural filth – need a little more perseverance to appreciate.