82. Entombed, ‘Left Hand Path’ (1990)

CW: Some of the albums on this list are overtly Satanic. As a nonbeliever, I’ve been pretty comfortable enjoying sacred music of many traditions; Mozart’s Requiem, Beethoven’s 9th, and of course, Handel’s Messiah. I like a good chant now and again, and find the Islamic call to prayer as well as Jewish traditional hymns (which use similar modes) haunting and beautiful. While I don’t find Satanism itself interesting or compelling, there’s a lot of music that I dig that definitely is intended to honor the adversary. In the spirit of ecumenicism, I don’t question the theological motives of the authors of such music any more than I question Bach’s.

In my review of Darkrthone’s ‘Transylvanian Hunger’, I presented early Trve Kvlt Norwegian Black Metal (TKNBM), as a rebellion against Swedish Death Metal’s focus on technical prowess. TKBM was therefore a rebellion against excellence, and resulted in the exaltation of some pretty tedious albums. The next album stands in stark contrast to ‘Transilvanian Hunger’* among extreme metal records.

One of the features of the Stockholm death metal sound is a guitar tone called “buzzsaw”. This was achieved with one of the most controversial effects pedals of all time, the Boss HM2 Heavy Metal™. I had this pedal, and I’d like to say a few things about it.

  1. It was Black \m/
  2. It was dirt cheap.
  3. There was only one way that it sounded good.

The Heavy Metal™ pedal produced a pretty tinny sounding distortion, unless you took all four knobs and turned them to 11. This produced a distortion so rattling that it hurt your joints. The sound just decays like the lingering smell of death*.* How appropriate for the debut album by a band called Entombed.

For want of a better word, the sound of this album is subterranean. Vocalist L.G. Petrov’s guttural echo croaks from some stony underground lair. The mix of the rhythm guitar/bass/kick is definitely earthy, though not enough to prevent the vocals/lead/kit from punching through like tombstones. The riffs are both agile and mind-crushingly heavy.

More than any other album I’ve reviewed yet, how you listen (like, your technology or whatever) is important. The first time, I listened using a good pair of earbuds. Headbanging ensued. The second time was on my car stereo, which is just whatever standard set up they put in Hyundais 10 years ago. The woofer was just not sufficient to catch the bottom end on this album, and it left me underwhelmed. I had to go back to the ear buds.

This is one of the first bands to feature heavily downed-tuned guitars, and they are as bottom-rich as the seats in coach. The bass on “Drowned” is waterlogged, staring up menacingly through black water. Jaques Cousteau couldn’t get that low***. The album also makes sparing use of non-traditional elements like flange on the opening drum salvo of  “When Life has Ceased”, gongs on “The Truth Beyond”, and a spooky chime melody on the star of the album, “Left Hand Path”. Those chimes sound like something right out of an 80s horror flick…because they almost are. This is a sample from 1979’s Phantasm by John Cascarelli, a movie that I loved as a small misanthrope.

I don’t know. It was little, brown and low to the ground.

I often think to myself, “What metal songs are quintessential?” I think this to myself, because no one I know is interested in my dumb musings. “Left Hand Path” is a strong candidate. It is heavy, includes both infarction fast and dirge-like riffs, features several solos of varying tunefulness, changes abruptly, and has lots of dynamic range. Its a howler and a masterpiece.

This is a great album and Varg still sucks.

Varg and his blade.

*Fenriz seems like a nice enough guy, but I hate this album.
**Listen to the final chord of “Supposed to Rot”. You can hear this chord literally decomposing.
***ODB is my muse.

3 thoughts on “82. Entombed, ‘Left Hand Path’ (1990)

  1. Interesting remark about the satanism, some bands started very satanic, like Sepultura and later became more spiritual (Max Calavera in Soulfly). I remember a song from Morbid Visions called Antichrist, which they continue playing but changed the name to Anticop.

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    1. I think a lot of young bands are looking to blast expectations by choosing some controversial/hated imagery or lyrics. Then they wise up. The early punk movement in the UK incorporated Nazi symbols and imagery without actually being interested in supporting Nazi causes (Siouxie Sioux, Sid Vicious, IIRC). I think they found it embarrasing in retrospect.

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