Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Entombed-Left Hand Path (Earache)

Entombed’s debut album, Left Hand Path, was released 20 years ago, and it’s still looking and sounding pretty spry. I clearly remember first seeing the cover, with its menacing Dan Seagrave artwork and “Crushing guitars—Mass death!” sticker. My friend Ken had bought the album based on that boast, and I picked it up soon afterwards. It was one of the first metal albums I bought on CD, purchased on the same day as Rush’s Roll the Bones. You can guess which one struck me as the more vital, exciting record.

The songs are good, of course, in that catchy way of early death metal. The Swedes’ style combined a Discharge-ish approach with chunky, nascent DM riffing of Carcass, Autopsy, and Bolt Thrower. Entombed—just teenagers at this point—had a flair for song introductions that drew you in and for placing memorable choruses within the mayhem. Invisible Oranges (who are much more on the ball with the metal anniversary celebrations than I am) makes a case for the opening title track and “But Life Goes On” as the most noteworthy tracks, which I wouldn’t dispute. "Left Hand Path" is epic, framed by a frantic opening and the legendary Phantasm-inspired outro—the only stretch on the album that’s not bent on flaying you alive.

“But Life Goes On” is a much different song. It’s more direct and catchy, descended from thrash titans Slayer and Kreator and rendered in Entombed’s own sounds of death. My pick for an underdog track is “Supposed to Rot,” the shortest song on the album. From start to finish, it’s pure brutality. It doesn’t waste a split second. The opening riff—all 14 seconds of it—is my favourite part of the album.

Aside from the songs, Left Hand Path’s real legend was built on its guitar sound. The combination of Peavey amp and Boss Heavy Metal pedal has passed into metal folklore by now. The guitars are out of control—so much so that they seem to play themselves. Any trace of human gesture, like pick noise or palm muting, is obliterated by the ooze, giving the impression that the riffs are generated by an unseen, supernatural force. When I think of Left Hand Path, that thick paste of frequencies comes immediately to mind. Crushing Guitars—Mass Death!

Left Hand Path isn’t one of those forgotten or underappreciated classics. It’s earned its share of kudos over the decades. It’s been inducted into the Decibel Hall of Fame and 20 years later people are still discovering it. Long may it rest in festering slime.

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