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There are a number of oddities that have continually haunted the memory of metal since their birth in the musically confused realm of the mid 1990s. Granted, there was some positively amazing music to be found if one knew exactly where to look, but this was a period and time where the music media, which still held a tight stranglehold on things, lost touch with what metal music actually was. Perhaps the most perplexing of the bastardized gems of modernity to continually be heralded by many metal institutions, be they reputable or otherwise, is the 3rd studio offering of Swedish death metal maniacs Entombed, a band that essentially ceased to live up to their name and trade when this thing was put out. It isn't really so much a blanket condemnation of the hybrid "death n' roll" sub-genre per say, though this album basically started the craze, but rather a revelation at how the masses got themselves worked up over something that wasn't really terribly innovative when compared to what was going on at the time.
It must be conceded that much of the hype that followed this album was the making of the label and their rather curious promotion techniques (which included lumping the album together with the famed Marvel Comic character that the album title happens to parallel), but that doesn't really exempt the actual contents of this album. In a nutshell, this sounds dangerously close to the same hypnotic, repetitive groove sound that Pantera was milking a year prior to this, though the atmosphere is a bit messier, the vocal sound is a little less exaggerated and still carries some fragments of the classic death metal sound. However, while stylistically the songs are stripped down and not terribly intricate, they tend to be more aloof and unmemorable rather than downright awkward to the point of being offensive the way a lot of the filler songs on "Vulgar Display Of Power" tended to be. At its worst, this album is basically cruising at half-impulse power, and tries to make up for it with somewhat comical lyrical subjects, while the better stuff on here succeeds at being catchy, but fails to quite become the towering mass of greatness that many have made it out to be.
Much like the devilish subjects fawned over in the vocals, this collection of half-hearted bruisers puts its best foot forward with a song that sounds like a left-over speeder from the band's traditional death metal era with a few groovy melodic bits added on in "Eye Master". While the older rock influences are pretty blatant during the slower sections, this still has some brilliant echoes of the "Seven Churches" and "Reign Of Blood" influences that were found on most of the early 90s death metal classics. Unfortunately, things soon start to deteriorate gradually with "Rotten Soil", which coasts around at mid-tempo and seems to want to kick into overdrive, but just never does. One could liken the rest of this album to a rather unfortunate afterglow after a fit of premature ejaculation, as the measured hybrid of chaos and groove gives way to greater amounts of the latter at the expense of the former.
Nothing that is on here comes off as overtly terrible, but by the time the title song "Wolverine Blues" hits the ears, one can't help but wonder when Dimebag Darrel is going to show up for a guest guitar solo slot. To the band's credit, they keep their guitar solos fairly interesting with a slightly more bluesy air that still possesses the early Slayer influences in a more restrained way, but the riff work just gets more and more formulaic and boring as one song goes to the next. It isn't the slowness of these songs that makes them uninteresting, as there was a beautiful set of inspired pioneering death/doom that was soon to crop up during the same time period, but the middle-of-the-road sameness of it all. "Eye Master" is almost an aberration in what is otherwise a consistent display of restating the same basic idea in 9 slightly different variations.
In a sense, the success of this album is understandable given that it tries to parallel the safeness and formulaic tendencies of popular music while keeping some token dangerous elements from its extreme roots for the sake of uniqueness. The part that is difficult to understand is the continual praise it gets from people who would otherwise mock such attributes in present day deathcore and metalcore bands that continually recycle the same riffs that were old news 10 years prior in the Gothenburg scene. It differs from most of those bands in that it definitely had some innovative elements for its time, but it's just not something that really inspires excitement the way death metal normally should. Sure, everybody gets bored of doing the same thing over and over again, but why inflict your condition on everyone else by creating some new that inspires the same sort of boredom?
The year was 1993 and I was a 15 year old skate kid whose taste in music was predominately hardcore, thrash, and punk. What little death metal I heard frightened me. So when the colossal groove of Wolverine Blues first emanated from my stereo, it was a revelation. This record, along with Chaos A.D., changed my life, opening horizons of heaviness from which I drank deeply. A lot of people pile-up on those '93 transition records forgetting that they were a generational gateway for myself and many others. Thanks to the Earache/Columbia deal, Entombed was now available at my local mall where before the most underground metal band you could find was Slayer.
Wolverine Blues is also a record that has grown on me over time. Back in '93, it was a gateway drug to heavier music. I enjoyed it because it fused musical ideas that were accessible to my 15 year old sensibilities, mainly headbanging grooves and crusty hardcore punk attacks that bordered on death metal without transgressing over. But once I made that crossover myself, the record faded in its appeal and went by the wayside. Going back to it as an adult blew me away. As my tastes have broadened, deepened, and enlivened, I find Entombed to be a reckless force of barbarian indifference -- they clearly don't give a fuck about you and what you think about what they do. They poured themselves completely into every phase of their career, even their worst fuck-ups. When a large percentage of their audience turned their back on them after this record, they accepted it at once and never looked back. I can admire this ethos even more in hindsight because at the time, the diminishing returns of the two post-Wolverine Blues albums clouded my judgment. It took Entombed from Uprising onwards to find their way again but that doesn't mean I begrudge this record for sending them astray. Why? Because it absolutely fuckin' slays!
'Death'n'Roll' is an essentially meaningless term but I can understand where the impulse to label it such came from. There's a kind of rolling thunder swagger to this record, a certain fucked-up heavy blues sound that defies most people's idea of death metal, a form often lacking in any blues feeling at all. When Lars belts out "My hollow eyes are staring down the hole / jesus, satan, hitler bought my soul / It's rotten and sour but it's inside of me / I've got faith in the end / but you just can't see" it goes deep, to that place of pain pushed past the point of reason and Entombed match those words with vile riffs of dark emotional feeling. Alternating between these blues numbers are several hard man booze brawlers, tracks like "Eyemaster" which starts with an infamous Hellraiser sample over lurching riffs that suddenly transform into outright grind. Or the title track, a brief pit monster with one of the sickest, most memorable groove riffs ever written. Nicke Anderrson sticks loose in the groove too. I fuckin' love that! His swing is Bill Ward level primitive but effective. A complete head snapper, the title track won legions like myself weaned on Helmet but looking for something even heavier. Fuck, "Demon" hits that one-two punch of killer riffs and Lars just bellowing his lungs out. This track is insanely catchy. This whole record is basically psycho-addictive and I've become more hooked with age. No disrespect to Clandestine or Left Hand Path but those records don't feature nearly the same level of individuated tracks: fun death metal yes but the ideas blur together. Wolverine Blues is different: ten timeless gems of scintillating headbangable riffage and a raw primal swagger that runs a gauntlet of styles and tones with ease -- the residual after-effect equivalent to several tons of pure cocaine, a straight-up adrenaline shot and one of my favorite musical experiences.
I know I hold a minority opinion on this. And that there is an inherent generational bias in my abiding love for this album. But I truly feel it can appeal to fans of everything from AC/DC to Autopsy and I cannot see how that is a bad thing. Narrow minded opinions and revisionist history don't appeal to me as much as the direct musical connection. And personally speaking, since rediscovering this record a few years back, I've listened to it pretty much non-stop and will forever do so. Utterly timeless, sickeningly vicious, and heavy as hell, Wolverine Blues tips the scale as a great and enduring metal record.
After booting up their career with two massive, timeless death metal albums, it was time for Entombed to try and outperform themselves once again. There is a lot to be said of Wolverine Blues, for it was both a product of valuable inspiration and the 'beginning of the end', as its core aesthetic would be used to produce the band's two slovenly, unappealing full-lengths to follow. It was one of the two biggest albums of the Earache/CBS records partnership (alongside Carcass' Heartwork), and probably brought more new fans into the bands flock than any other single work of their career. On top of this, it is THE most immediately identifiable album when anyone should utter the expression 'death'n'roll'. Other bands like Desultory might have followed suit, but who else than Entombed could carry the crunch of their roots into this genre and not only succeed, but turn a great many heads as the potential death metal could have as a hybridized art?
Let's not even talk about how the product itself was rather a gimmick, with a comic book packed into the booklet that featured everyone's chortling, wise ass, invincible Marvel Comics anti-hero (I personally can't stand Wolverine, but I won't hold it against the album). This was a big release for Entombed, and Earache records, because enough success through CBS could guarantee a major step in extreme metal. And I'm happy to say, it was a success, though through the years my opinion of it has numbed (a few of the tracks don't fully resonate with me). Lars Göran Petrov's return to the band was a positive step, and he has remained ever since. The tones here are also suitably huge to the sound. Though they lack a little of the dark, swelling atmosphere of Left Hand Path or Clandestine, they compensate with a boxier, slamming distortion that suits the amplified rock assertions of the compositions.
Who could forget the rising feedback and Pinhead sample that announce the arrival of "Eyemaster"? I AM THE WAY. Searing grooves into chugs, and then the break ushers in a forceful, unforgettable grind riff...seriously, it's hard to believe no one had come up with that one before, but I definitely can't recall hearing it. As good of an opener as the track is, "Rotten Soil" matches it fist for fist, with a primal thundering rock fury that translates from its verse grooves to the that amazing riff at 1:00, right before the warlike breakdown. The punk rhythms later in the track are likewise phenomenal, and at one point the band clearly has not forgotten the death metal that got them here. "Wolverine Blues" had already been included with the Hollowman EP, but here you get to experience the track as intended with vocals, instead of the samples that covered it. Same choppy, lowdown riffing grit, and the track really subsists off the big blues groove guitar at about the 1:00 mark.
What follows is perhaps my favorite track on the album, the super-grooves of "Demon", which simply crush below the vocals. In one of Petrov's more memorable recordings, his voice taunts off itself like a petrified parishioner trying to warn his townsfolk of some oncoming evil. I admit, when I first heard this song I was about ready to grab a torch and pitchfork and lose my mind, and the series of crushing thrash rhythms that remain are all brilliantly executed, including the leering lead. I don't think 'death'n'roll' gets much better than this one. "Contempt" commences with a vile weaving of melody before a solid hard rock breakdown, and the track moves along at the same relative speed as its predecessor, spinning even more little webs of evil in the melody between verses. "Full of Hell" is perhaps the most rockin' track on the album, with another of those huge, memorable hooks that I was surprised no grunge band had already written.
Speaking of grunge, the next track "Blood Song" is a vile morass of filth which stalks like some hillbilly vampire from True Blood, with a lyrical delivery that borders on both hilarious and frightening, or at the least very convincing. The shift into the thunder-punk is delicious, with some harrowing leads that feel being drunk off vitae and ready to kill. After this, the album actually trails off a little. "Hollowman" certainly isn't a bad song, but as someone who found it one of the weaker tracks on its own EP release, it's not a favorite here, though certainly above the rank of filler for the bluesy bluster of its bridge (about 2:00 in). The rock riff in the verse for "Heavens Die" burns with a lot of soul, and there's another little basic punk rhythm in there over which the guitars launch into a psychotropic lead, but again, just not a favorite. That being said, both of these tracks are superior to the bonus track "Out of Hand", which is included with some versions of the album, and not all memorable.
Wolverine Blues may be the London bridge between the band's creative impetus, expanding senses and the sullen heap of mediocrity they would next produce (To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth) within three years, but it certainly has few flaws of its own, and remains one of the band's better albums today. The influences that poked their heads through the ominous awnings of Clandestine are extracted and given new life to flit about and write themselves into the core songwriting, and the result was far more refreshing than the majority of death metal being produced in 1993. Entombed continued to prove here that they were innovators rather than simply followers. It's just unfortunate that same motivation wound up steering them into such a sinkhole later.
Highlights: Eyemaster, Rotten Soil, Demon, Full of Hell, Blood Song
"No you're not, you're dead!"
Ha ha ha, what an excellent intro to one of my favorite metal songs of all time, "Out of Hand." This whole album is filled with a fun, violent, off-the-cuff but still intentionally brutal tracks that most metalheads should love.
I was one of those people who stuck to early Entombed, as I loved their Swedeath but was very suspicious of the songs I heard from later efforts. Post-"Clandestine" they appeared to have taken a nasty turn, perhaps down a right-hand path, into commercialized and uninspired rock and roll. I just wasn't hearing much of the aggression and individuality that made my head bang to "Supposed to Rot" or "Black Breath."
But on a whim I got this disc just to see at what point they started to suck, and it certainly wasn't here. Almost every track just puts the pedal to the METAL and delivers a solid kick in the face. Someone who doesn't listen to much heavy shit might think this is just regular old death metal, but the drums give it away. The blasting and double bass beatings show up infrequently if at all, replaced by a rock and roll beat.
But have no fear, this is still very meanspirited. "Wolverine Blues" reminds me of an evil AC/DC - a fun undertone behind the asskickery. The guitars still have that Sunlight sound, Petrov is his usual all-over-the-place bellowing self, and the band as a whole are still great songwriters. Almost every track on here is a highlight, the only one I skip is an obnoxious cover track at the end.
This is my first experience with death n roll, and I must say it's a good one. I'll check out "To Ride...," but that may be inching too close to Entombed's shitty years. We shall see. For all death metal fans out there who can appreciate some good old, non-complex ROCK in their music, BUY THIS.
With this album, Entombed made their most solid, unconditionally riff-loaded and groove based recording to date, and thus suffered mewling cries of selling out from the death metal masses that had previously hailed the band. Why? Well, the gothic, melodic, but also quite arch and regal towers of riff and construct the band had previously performed are largely gone. What replaces them is more Autopsy than At The Gates, that is to say, rougher and dirtier rather than composed and tuneful. The plus is that the cuts ROCK, employing a locked in rhythm that death metal (and extreme metal in general) rarely makes a viable musical tool.
But I can understand, even if I really don’t agree, with why death metal purists hate this album. They did not get what they expected when Entombed embraced this new, odd and unfamiliar “death and roll” style, and born again fans of a musical style as generally shunned as death metal is, usually get very twitchy when their expectations are fuddled around with. But the truth is that Entombed realized that their set path was leading them towards a stylistic dead end, and changed their style accordingly. While many, many death metal bands went artistically bankrupt around this time, Entombed had enough vision to appropriate some new genetic materials to elongate their life span.
So who’s smarter, then? The band that adapts and reconfigures, or the one that dies screaming Luddite curses as their own head sinks under the tar of time?
As I mentioned earlier the groove and the new sense of rocking tempos is the key thing that sent shivers up my spine here. And when those parts lock in, Entombed reveal themselves as masters of melding death metal grit and venom with swaggering pulse. The title cut alone reveals not only a very palpable sense of compact but deft riff writing, but hammers those riffs home with clever tempo changes and a vicious lyric that somewhat casts off the poetry of albums past in favor of more real-world concerns. “Hollowman,” which is altogether doomier also makes great use of this configuration, whilst “Heavens Die” is just prime Entombed all over, whether viewed from the old or new perspective. And what a shock, producer Tomas Skogsberg, who usually seems to recoil in horror from low frequencies actually turns up the bass here, which helps to round out the Entombed sound in ways not previously heard.
Another curious note regarding this album’s general position of scorn among the death metal fundamentalists: Earache records had signed into a distribution deal with Columbia records at this point, and without consulting the band, it was assumed that the album’s title invoked the Marvel comics character of the same name. It did not, but the character was nevertheless licensed for use in the media that promoted the album, without the band’s approval or involvement. This mass-media faux pas was all the underground needed to lock arms and march in self-righteous protest against the band and their newfound capitalist pals.
The real story in the history of Entombed is how the path this album set them on would be anything but steady or artistically consistent. A wonderfully executed album on it’s own, Wolverine Blues perhaps posed as many questions for the band as answers.
This, for my money, was the last great album Entombed released before they slid into a morass of garage punk wannabe nonsense. This is still recognizably METAL, through and through. That trademark grating guitar roar still will annihilate your face with its uber-heavy sandpaper edges and L.G. Petrov's triumphant return to the band was no joke, as he bellows his way through this album with conviction. Yes, they tuned up to C# instead of down to B as per usual, yes, no blast beats...but it still is METAL as FUCK.
Tomas Skogsberg outdid himself on this album with his exceptional production, as it is crisp and clear and still very full, very dense. Their punk influence was still coexisting with the metal, and they slowed it down to deadly effect on several songs--most notably "Demon" and "Full of Hell", two of my fave tunes on this album--and damn, it works and works well. And L.G. is da man to express the barbed and angry lyrical sentiments present, lyrics condemning humanity's idiocy, expressing interestingly abstract occult themes here and there, roaring away with spit flying all over the mic. The cast-iron-piped bellow he lets out in the beginning of "Demon" is especially convincing!
Nicke Andersson was always a good, precise drummer before he became Nicky Royale and jumped on the garage punk bandwagon, and Lars Rosenburg's bass growls away underneath that nightmarish guitar assault like a caged tiger. You can actually hear him well in the mix, and he does not disappoint with his rock-solid performance. Check out "Blood Song" for a good example of his gritty tone in the breakdown in the middle.
Standouts...hoo boy, too many good tunes on this one! "Eyemaster" shreds you awake right away with its furious slabs of riffing, "Contempt" expresses just that for humanity ("Humanity is the biggest cancer ever to be seen!"), "Demon" starts slow and builds into a powerhouse of riffdom with its frenzied soloing at the end, "Full of Hell" settles into more of a slow grungey groove thang but not in the cheesey funk sense--I'd call it more deliberate than anything else, and the title track is just plain menacing, featuring the lowest-tuned guitars on the album (back to B)--that opening riff makes me want to start busting heads! "Blood Song" is the only thing close to a duffer, as the lyrics are pretty silly, but the music makes up for that with its sinister verse riffing and its powerful bridge, solo section, and breakdown.
This was a breakthrough for Entombed, as it showed a deepening of their musicianship and a growth not seen in a band as young as they were at this time ten years ago. And screw all the naysayers who insist that they sold out after "Left Hand Path"--I wouldn't say they sold out after this one, but they weakened and diluted their approach to an unpalatable level for my taste. Too much time listening to punk and such instead of just cranking out the metal, I think. Whatever the case, this is a most worthy CD, most worthy of adding to the collection.