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Chances are the title of this review will sound a tad exaggerated. ‘Left Hand Path’, a record so disgustingly rough and raw it sounds like death metal gone through a disastrous abortion – a pinnacle in extreme music’s history? A record not washed in the progressive and technically-inclined wells of many other forms of death metal but in punkish bursts of noise that provided the genre with its foundations – a piece of recorded art with genuine depth and relevance and influence? Surely not?
Yes, very much so. ‘Left Hand Path,’ in fact, is possibly one of the greatest and most important death metal albums ever yet laid down.
Having captivated and influenced an innumerable myriad of bands with its unpretentious and fearsomely direct driving power, the record has become legendary in death metal circles for its flawlessly powerful coupling of stripped down grime and an innate ability to conjure atmosphere on a whim, absorb the listener in its nightmarish world, and send them howling down The Left Hand Path with loathsome creatures out of hell clawing at them on all sides. Few are able to achieve that transcendent state whereby they send a listener headfirst into a world summoned to the imagination by music – that Entombed achieved it with music of such an uncomplicated nature has to be heard to be truly understood.
The album, as mentioned, largely owes more to the likes of Discharge and their basic-to-a-fault ilk that sowed the early seeds of the extreme metal scene – while the speed and naked aggression of their death metal compatriots across the open sea is present, Entombed jettisoned the more high-minded tendencies that Morbid Angel and Death were openly indulging in. An attitude that did them great credit in the grander scheme of things, as this album draws it’s great strength and influence from being so very drastically apart from ‘Altars Of Madness’ or ‘Leprosy’, in its indulgence in a far more primal violence.
What first hits about the album is that infamous guitar sound. Now a staple of many a death metal band from Sweden and beyond, here it is at the moment of birth, a demon-possessed chainsaw grinding out gruesomely distorted chord progressions at a fantastic pace, persisting it’s single minded goal of mutilation. What sets this apart from the slimy sounds already exhibited by Repulsion and Napalm Death is that the production here is extraordinarily professional, clear as a bell but never polished, free of clutter but never absent of that feral edge. As players the band are exceptional considering their youth at the time – guitarists Alex Hellid and Uffe Cederlund turn out superb riffs and blistering solos left, right, and centre, backed up solidly by Nicke Andersson’s exceptional and extremely powerful drumming, with everything topped off with L.G. Petrov’s uniquely gravelly death metal roar.
In songwriting terms, it is unwise to think of Entombed as punks plucking the same note over and over. Every song takes on a life of its own, from the thrashing brutality of ‘Revel In Flesh’ and ‘But Life Goes One’, through the deathly groove of ‘When Life Has Ceased’ and the doomy atmospherics of ‘Bitter Loss’, right up to the grinding assault of ‘Supposed To Rot.’ The album, as mentioned, captivates the listener totally, because with each song it seems to be showing the listener some new horrendous sight on the route of The Left Hand Path – which brings us straight to the eponymous, opening track itself. Sweet Satan below, doctoral dissertations should be written about this six minute masterpiece, a song truly deserving an accolade as one of the greatest heavy metal songs of all time.
Setting the tone for the whole record with that agonised scream, it smashes the listener across the face with slamming chords and crashing cymbals, rips the breath away with an astounding solo courtesy of Mr. Hellid, descends into scintillating brutality, seques into a creeping, doom-inspired mid-section, then melds seamlessly into a stunningly ethereal closing passage, touching upon haunting melodies and a grandiose, magnificent final solo, sealing the song’s legend as a work of epic, genuinely inspired musical genius.
Without doubt one of the most important, respected, influential and downright amazing albums you will ever come across in the entirety of the death metal genre, ‘Left Hand Path’ is an astounding experience to listen to. Fully deserving of all the plaudits bestowed upon it, it is Entombed’s definitive masterwork, and all faithful warriors of the metal cause would do well to walk it’s dark track to see what hellish wonders are in store for them.