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Seriously. My family sort of has an anthem, and that anthem is sort of 'Keep My Grave Open'. I know, right, is my family the Addams family? They're not, even if my dad does like suits and ballroom dancing, but my mum does ask me to play this album on a regular basis. It's because when I bought Sentenced's 'Down', I sung that song all the time, growling under my breath at the breakfast table, "Keep my grave open, open wide / Keep my grave open, I'm longing to die." I was not a depressed teenager, that was just a necessary phase.
I may have stopped that particular habit, but 'Down' is still a pretty great album. Sentenced used to be a pretty decent death metal band and then gradually decelerated into a moody gothic rock band and, in my opinion, their real contribution to music came in the middle of that gradual slide, when they were turning out heavy but not deathly albums like 'Down' and its predecessor 'Amok'. Sentenced have always been a band with a distinctive character, the same kind of unambiguous quality that Paradise Lost exuded throughout their varied styles, and the expressiveness that the free and rocky style of this album allows brings that character to the fore.
In terms of ideas, 'Down' is not really groundbreaking, although it's hard to say it sounds like anyone else specific, but the performances are all great. The vocals and lead guitar shape each song, but there are riffs here that strike with groovy, hard-edged blows, the drums are clear and crisp and whip each song up to a surprisingly potent intensity, while the bass is dense and melodic, sounding like a cold autumn walk on firm gravel. There are unobtrusive keyboards too that give songs setting and image quality, as if they were vignettes rather than music. Basically, everyone is on the same page and it shows. A song like '0132' shouldn't really work, but its quality just boggles the mind. It's purely instrumental and led by Miika Tenkula's inimitable lead guitar, and I'd put it right up there with something like Candlemass' 'Into the Unfathomed Tower' or Iron Maiden's 'Transylvania' as a really kick-ass, unique instrumental.
'0132' is also a strong example of that odd spark that made Sentenced such a thrilling band for a while. It's a joyous song and uninhibited in its emotional explosion, but their aren't any cheery songs on 'Down', only bitter, angry, and melancholic odes to chances missed and things gone wrong. Ville Laihiala is a hulking, gloomy presence with a more versatile voice than his forerunner and he pulls the band into positions they would never have arrived in without him: the romantic gothic metal-cum-NWOBHM of 'Shadegrown', the sinister yet catchy 'Sun Won't Shine', or the slow narrated verses of 'Keep My Grave Open'. There's a new, more moody side to Sentenced that works beautifully on these songs and counterbalances the angrier, faster songs like 'I'll Throw the First Rock' and 'Noose', which is maybe the best song the band ever came up with, with its rampant celebration of defeat. All of these songs have brilliant solos that really ramp up the excitement and make the band sound depressed but certainly not defeated. The balance is well-judged, except on the rather ponderous 'Crumbling Down (Give Up Hope)' and 'Ode to the End', which are by no means bad but lack excitement and point to a path Sentenced would eventually take, away from upbeat metal and towards the middle of the road and, ultimately, a sad demise. 'Down', however, shows a band still fighting and in the form of their lives.
„Down” – the fourth album of Sentenced. The decisive offering not only because of Taneli Jarva left the band. The musical style also changed to the end of time. All death metal influences are gone irrevocably. New vocalist Ville Laihiala stood on the stage. Of course, the only question is: did all the changes mean a good metal music?
Is this new way correct for Sentenced? It’s hard to believe that composers of “Down” have in discography such a release as “Shadows Of The Past” and even “North From Here”. Here one thing I have to declare: Finns didn’t record a weak album before “Down” session. They didn’t record even average stuff. All their metal performances are classic Scandinavian death metal exclusively, however the third release “Amok” has some new ideas. The newest release is the beginning of a new road, where Sentenced found identity which I call ‘atmospheric heavy metal’ just for myself. I wrote about new vocalist. Taneli was charismatic personality yet excellent voice of Sentenced music, but Ville fortunately dispelled fears during the first words of “Noose”. Laihiala’s manner of singing is specific and quite original, although it is a mix of Holmes, Hetfield and own talent mostly (and Finnish vodka I think). No doubt that the presence of this person in the band is like a breath of fresh air in this case.
A mysterious intro “The Gate” opens the album and it is not anything new, ninety seconds of guitar passages, but at the first listen I can hear another production. Yes, this is next change: Sentenced moved from Tico-Tico studio to Woodhouse. The guitars are clearer, richer, however I wonder if this kind of realization is better than “Amok” sound? All right, both are good, but I think I prefer more underground face of the band. Back to the music, when intro ends, the first proper song “Noose” appears – and on the beginning guitarists show excellent riffs and following arrangement: the stanza with rather mid tempo, the chorus with mournful melodic tunes and great but short (in my opinion too short!) solo lead by Tenkula, who plays all the bass lines on the album. This description of songwriting refers to the many tracks, and “Noose” isn’t exception here. The second song “Shadegrown” has a slow opening with some acoustic moments, Laihiala singing and crushing guitar lead. Sounds pretty gorgeous. The only disadvantage is totally useless keyboards parts in chorus. These two songs run fast, nonetheless the song called “Bleed” is the main highlight of the album. And I have been always wondering why Finns didn’t name this album by word ‘bleed’ which precisely describes the matter of lyrics… All right, let’s back to the music: “Bleed” is fast, energetic, zesty song with excellent heavy metal chorus. I have to point out on precise communication with music and Laihiala words. The new vocalist (supported here by harsh Vorph vocals) shows his talent as well. Brilliant Tenkula lead once again decorates whole effort, though it lasts only 13 seconds. Then cannonade of rhythm section with raging Ranta behind his drum set, again short guitar solo and this perfect chorus attack my senses. And on the end the words of Laihiala “…to death!”. For sure this is one of the best songs ever written by this band.
I divided this album into three parts for my needs exclusively and after 3:40 of “Bleed” the first part ends. And I have to admit that “Down” showed the best face. Now all things are going to be far worse unfortunately. The second part starts with “Keep My Grave Open” which is mid tempo track, again Vorph supports (and here I ask: why?) and completely needless keyboards. I think it is rather mediocre stuff, but the worst is yet to come. Its name: “Crumbling Down (Give Up Hope)”. Fine beginning of the song doesn’t foreshadow an upcoming disaster: dark, mysterious first sounds with powerful guitar riffs enriched by oriental-like solo. And when the song gets 1:36 it appears: vocals of Birgit Zacher. Here she sings only with no words and repeated it three times. It is awful, horrid and completely does not refer to the album content. With the last seconds good solo lead appears but it is covered by female ‘vocals’. Damn it, good song is ruined, just like me… Yes, I still spend time in the second part and the next track “Sun Won’t Shine” exposes its goods. Unfortunately I find here only very good Tenkula performance. After average four minutes I drown into “Ode To The End”. And to be honest with myself I declare: this is the weakest effort on this album. Musically (guitar/bass parts) it is not bad, but with Laihiala words “…I was dying to be dead…” she enters once again singing four verses… Shameful defeat indeed… This is like a fatal error, in addition I can hear again useless keyboards… I ask: why??? Comparing to the song title, it is a real ode to the end. With no good mark on the end. Fortunately man invented rewind function…
The next one is an instrumental “0132” which is the opening of the third and the last part of “Down”. And as a matter of fact, this is a show of Tenkula uncommon skills. Then, only two tracks but they are much better than the predecessors. And with no female vocals fortunately! “Warrior Of Life (Reaper Redeemer) has excellent guitar lead, pulsating bass and broken drums rhythms (esp. in chorus) as well. Yes, I can breathe again, Sentenced returned! The last “I’ll Throw The First Rock” is a superb thing on the end of the album, it reminds me of “Bleed” a bit because of speed, energy and guitars work. And this crazy solo… This is definitely flawless effort with very interesting finish line.
To sum all the things up: I really liked a new face of Sentenced (style/vocalist) and I think this change was a natural process, but my overall mark could be higher. The female vocals and some keys parts are gross and fatal mistake which destroyed “Down” atmosphere. It will be repeated on the next studio album with the same result. The content of “Down” will be remembered without fail. Songs like “Noose”, “Bleed” or “I’ll Throw The First Rock” are real monoliths in Sentenced discography. Listening to these pearls I forget about the second part immediately and dive into Sentenced world. Unfortunately one of them, Miika Tenkula left the metal stage, but His tunes are immortal.
“I'll drink the booze to depress myself
then I take the rope and express myself
I'll leave this world without shedding a tear
without hope, without fear”
First off, let me just point out that there really aren’t any labels for this. It’s not gothic rock or gothic metal as their much later releases are often labeled as, yet, it is a departure from the harsher sounds of their early days. But it’s not the label or genre of this album (or any albm for that matter) that’s important, it’s its effect on the listener. But if I really must describe this record, I’d label it as nothing other than “heavy rock” or "suicide rock", solely based on the lyrical content and the dark, brooding atmosphere. Down is a loosely woven conceptual album based around grieving, loss, death, frustration, hopelessness etc, all done on a level of high attitude despite the the fact that the singer sounds as if he's about to cut his veins or blow his brains out at any moment.
Stylistically, Down is a traditional hard rock/heavy metal album that’s oozing in melancholy. The bass and guitars are down tuned to a rumble, while still maintaining a clean sound that's not too overbearing. It’s still somewhat easy to see at this point how they have evolved from an early Death Metal outfit, now playing a more sophisticated style. After all, it is Ville Laihiala’s first performance with the band as lead vocalist, and there's no way in hell that he can be compared to Taneli Jarva, as they both present masterful, yet completely different styles. Ville’s vocals are heavy-hearted and gloomy, emulating feelings of despair and misery. The guitars, on the other hand, are razor sharp and heavy, carrying on the weight of the subject matter in a doom-esque manner, often times border lining on the genre without stepping both feet into its territory.
Tracks like “Shadegrown”, “Keep My Grave Open” and “Ode To The End” move at a slow, sorrowful pace, immersing the listener into the depths of sorrow. “Crumbling Down (Give Up Hope)” and “Ode To The End” also incorporporate a few clean sung female passages that are quite effective, taking us back to the Amok days. The remaining tracks are all mid to fast paced metal numbers. There are two fan favorites on here, “Noose” and “Bleed”. The former contains a virtuous main riff that’s undeniably catchy and serves as a great opener for the album, and the latter consists of harsh, death metal-type backing vocals that blend well with the song’s aggression on a whole.
Although Down is an album where every track flows smoothly like a thick river of blood, each and every song has its own identity and its own specialty. I can’t go without mentioning “Sun Won’t Shine” and “Warrior of Life (Reaper Redeemer)” for their ambiguous choruses and solid riff work. The last song, “I’ll Throw The First Rock”, sounds like something that could have easily fit on their Amok album with its speed metal-ish approach and general melodic arrangements. However, it does leave you desiring for more, as the album seems to finish just a little too early. But hey, the year was 1996. Can’t really complain.
Despite the sad and depressed nature of this record, this is an album for any mood or occasion. And just as with Amok, or any other of their releaes, there is not another record out there that even comes close to sounding like it. It is uniqueness, quality, diversity, creativity and atmosphere all blended into pure perfection. This is the ultimate Sentenced album! A MUST HEAR!
“Don't hold your sight - I know there's no heaven
...I believe we all have our personal Hell
and don't be scared, take death with open arms
and you'll feel so warm and peaceful…”
It's sad to see how music is treated in commerce and capitalism, how many people, bosses of labels try to press out the last drop of money out of a long gone band by releasing re-re-issues of material that was just fine the way it originally was. Of course this affects the dirty old-school slabs the most, who are supposed to sound the way they did when they came out. Auto-suggesting themes for other reviews, I'll leave that to other, even older releases. Right now it's time for a little retrospection on "Sentenced" or more specifically their 1996 "Down" release.
After being around quite a while swimming in a sea of many different approaches to modern day heavy metal, Sentenced have begun to stride onto a course that would stabilize their place in a metal subgenre, appealing to a wider listenership. Gone are the harsh and tough influenced as they inevitably change vocalists (due to the fact that Sentenced was becoming to soft for bassist Taneli Jarva) to Ville Laihiala, who at this point at least, has a bit of manliness in his voice. He will soon lose this trait in later releases, at the latest, on their 2002 release.
They started doing it completely right, inducing emotion into their music without any compromises, without any weak lyrics or catchy pop-like melodies or choruses. On this record they have managed to capture a great bit of authentic grief and depression, not the whiny kind, but the melancholic type, in which there is a great difference. The atmosphere is great, the guitar tune is slightly buzzy, but sharp and underlined with decent basslines they sound devastating. As time and profit progresses, so does equipment, but one can always overdo it. Good instruments and/or production do not make good artists and this record is the best example on how to make killer heavy metal music, without being spoilt with all that fancy stuff. We have a great guitar tune for both great riffing and great melodic currents throughout the album. Combine that with a good chunk of sorrow and doom and you get a great classic record from the mid nineties. Great is also the inclusion of choral passages and some female chanting here and there, which fits in marvelously. The one thing that future releases lack is the pure energy you can feel when listening to this record. There is always a spark of longing and striving in each song, completely unimportant if it's depressing or not, it's there (with the exception of the short instrumental 0132, which is surprisingly rather... mellow).
The lyrics didn't suck, the music sounded more focused and less apathetic and the overall production is rather raw, so why didn't it progress like this? You will have to ask this question to yourself.
"I'll throw the First Rock
I'll throw the first one
You'll crumble to the ground
As I throw the rock that brings you"
That energy, almost half a decade later, becomes:
"Cross my heart and hope to die
May my end come tonight
I’ll depart from this life
May death again us unite"
Final words: Always eat your vegetables.
There are so many credits for Sentenced. They were one of the pioneer bands that introduced Finnish metal scene to this world. They were once the finest Finnish death metal band. They had made a classic melodic death metal album Amok in 1995. After those incredible honors, their original vocalist Taneli Jarva decided to leave the band for personal reason. A new vocalist Ville Laihiala joined the Finns, and he had revolutionized Sentenced's music since then. His depressive voice fits new Sentenced sound perfectly. In 1996, Sentenced released their 4th debut album: Down. This album soon became the definitive Sentenced album, and one of the best metal albums Finnish have ever made.
This album has everything Sentenced's music should have. It has dramatic intro: The Gate. Sentenced use keyboard to create strange voices, which seems come out from your dream. The Gate. sounds weird, but it has an invisible power that takes you to another world, a fantastic beginning. Down. has traditional heavy metal masterpieces such as Noose, Bleed, and l Throw The First Rock. These songs really rock you on. They have great riffs, amazing solos, fast pace drumming and unique vocals. All of three songs are true metal classics. I like Bleed and l Throw The First Rock a lot, Bleed has the best riffs on this album, l Throw Your First Rock has the best Guitar melodies, both of them are great example of old sentenced sound.
Besides the old material, Sentenced also create something new in “Down? Songs like Shadegrown, Keep My Grave Open, Crumbling Down (Give Up Hope), and Ode to the End introduce their new music style to everybody: the combination of depressive anger and sad melancholy. Shadegrown is a very dark song. Crumbling Down (Give Up Hope) and Ode to the End are depressive and painful. Keep My Grave Open shows what Melancholy should sound like. With these songs, new Sentenced were born, they were born to tell us the bitterness of life, to teach us how to finish ourselves. You'd better stay away from them when you are in the bad mood.
Down still have three incredible songs: Sun Won't Shine, 0132 and Warrior of Life (Reaper Redeemer). Sun Won't Shine is another classic song made by Sentenced, It has the best chorus in the album. It prove that Sentenced have the ability to write catchy metal music. 0132 is an instrumental, two guitarists Miika Tenkula and Sami Lopakka play perfect harmonies in this song. 0132 can also be considered as the intro of Warrior of Life. Warrior of Life is perhaps the most special song on the album. It combines symphonic keyboard line, death metal guitar riffs,depressive melodies and catchy chorus. One can only listen these kind of songs in “Down? There is no other album has such music like this.
Lyrically speaking, Down is definitely not the album that parents will welcome. It's full of despair, pessimism, and discouragement. It always shows the lust of suicide. But to consider it as art, Down is a perfect model of depressive/dark/doom/gothic metal, it has powerful beginning and strong finish, there is no weak song in it. Maybe some people can't understand why does Down so influential, but if you went back to 1996, the days that lots of great Finnish metal bands and classic gothic/doom/dark/depressive metal albums don't exist, you might figure out why. Down is not only the beginning of the new era of Sentenced's career, but also a turning point of Finnish metal music. This album is an unquestionable metal classic, an essential.