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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.