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First impressions, as they say, can mean everything. Along with a few other of my personal favorites, I remember very clearly the first time I heard this masterpiece of a record. That descending scream, the unceremonious arrival of that solid, bass-heavy sound, and that wild thrashing riff... I heard eighteen seconds of "Left Hand Path" before I took off my headphones and purchased the album. You see, it didn't matter to me that I knew absolutely nothing about the band. It didn't matter that I had no idea about the remaining 40+ minutes of music on the CD. The only thing that mattered was that the minuscule sample I had heard very clearly communicated to me that this record was no joke and that I was in for one hell of a ride. What I discovered, to my immense joy, was that what lay beyond that brief introduction was nothing but death metal among the highest quality ever written, and nothing but EXACTLY what I wanted to hear around every twist and turn. The phrase is used far too often these days, but this album really did blow my mind. In fact, it still does.
I could probably write a five-page review about the opening track alone, but that's not my purpose here. It is important, though, for me to stress its significance. The title track is a legitimate contender for the award of best death metal song ever written. Mixed with audio samples from the horror flick 'Phantasm', the song is a roller coaster of riffs, styles, and emotions. The skill with which it is delivered cannot be understated. Entombed displays a level of mastery of their craft that seems inhuman for them to have achieved by the time this record was released. And of course, it only keeps on going from there.
Left Hand Path is characterized by its bass-heavy sound and warm production, a sound that was vastly different from those sported by the New York and Florida crews of the day and one that would become the trademark of Sunlight Studio. Whereas many of death metal's early offerings had thin production with clamoring drums, shrill guitars, and completely absent bass, the mix you'll hear on this album is full and balanced. It's a pleasant sound. Perhaps that's odd for such unpleasant music, but I think there's untold value in clarity. The other vital trait of this music is its close relationship with thrash metal. The thrash influence is strong and undeniable here, with one foot boldly plunged into death metal's pool without any fear of how cold it was back then, and the other slowly starting to emerge from the stale water of thrash metal's swimming hole.
Every song has some kind of hook, some kind of little twist in the sound that gets the listener's attention. Although the album can wear you out because of its sheer force, it doesn't get boring. If you're a veteran of the genre, you'll hear various riffs throughout the album that dozens if not hundreds of bands have ripped off in one way or another. In that way, and perhaps a few others, Left Hand Path paved the way for death metal to expand, setting many of the genre's conventions and helping to build a bridge that spanned the gap between the land of thrash and the land of death (I'm not suggesting that's what the cover depicts, but it's still an effective metaphor).
Standing out from much of the death metal of the early 90's, before technicality became standard in the genre, many of the songs featured here have wild patterns of ascending and descending riffs, abrupt transitions, and a general tendency to not dwell in one place for too long. Sure, those things are shared by most death metal to one degree or another, but it's often done just for the sake of sounding crazy. Here, it's done with purpose. Everything on the record is done with purpose. For twenty-two years this album has stood up to all scrutiny it has ever faced. Not even one thing is out of place. It is flawless. Period. Buy it, cherish it, worship it - and the next time you come to a fork in the road, you know which path to take.