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Drawing from all veins of its old-school brothers from around the world, Sentenced created a piece of old-school death metal in its glory days that must be listened to. For fans of Dismember, Gorement, Grave, and Death, you just found another holy grail of death metal greatness when discovering Shadows of the Past. It has very few weaknesses to speak of and despite being Finnish, has an edge to it that just screams good ol' Swedish death metal. So if old school is what you seek, you just found the pot at the end of the rainbow.
If you have not gotten your daily dose of evil today, then Shadows of the Past is certainly a recommended listen. It is quite easy to write lyrics that are perverse, as well as use gimmicks to make yourself appear menacing. However, to actually create a mood of evil through the melodies you're playing, is something that is very powerful. The haunting, ominous beginning of "The Truth" opens up with some dissonant a foreboding acoustic parts that will undoubtedly send chills through your veins. The following choir vocals and the electric guitar chords, open up to the surprising and almost frightening screams of Miika Tenkula and the band really starts to groove while Tenkula plays along with a solo similar to those played by Chuck Schuldiner in his later career. The whole song just emits this sinister aura that comes of the album as a whole like steam off a lake. It's almost tangible.
Another aspect here that you can almost feel is how creepily this album sounds like Dismember's Like an Ever Flowing Stream. The chords used by Dismember can be found here, as well as the vice versa. The production here is also freakishly similar in terms of the mixing and the tones chosen for the instruments. The guitars sound exactly the same, and the drum production is nearly identical. This is sound is very characteristic of Swedish death metal groups at the time, as this album, Grave's Into the Grave, and the aforementioned Like An Ever Flowing Stream all sound the same in terms of production. The note and melody choice is all very similar, and Sentenced and these bands are nothing but a drop in the bucket of the groups around at this time doing the exact same thing.
But along with the ability to create an evil atmosphere, what sets this band apart from other European death metal acts at the time is the musical ability of its musicians. At the top of this list is guitarist and monstrous vocalist Miika Tenkula. The man is like a mixed drink of all of the favorable qualities of death metal vocalists and guitarists at the time that this album was released. His solos sound freakishly like Chuck Schuldiner's, and the vocals have a mixture of Schuldiner, Luc Lemay, and even the great John Tardy in terms of power and sheer tenacity. Listen to the choruses of "Under the Suffer," and you'll immediately hear the striking resemblance to Tardy's signature vocal timing with the riffs, that sound like the chorus of Cause of Death-era Obituary.
And as the last somber notes of “Descending Curtain of Death" finally died out, I sat and thought to myself: "That was spectacular," and it truly was. Something about the chords or, maybe it was the vocals that were powerful beyond powerful, or the solos that were quite intense, simply dumbfounded me. I have not heard death metal in a long time that had the same awesome effect on me that Sentenced and their debut, Shadows of the Past did. With the exception of Obituary, and maybe Death, Europe's death metal bands simply had a vibe that their American partners didn't. And Shadows of the Past has a vibe that few bands will be able to obtain.
I'm sure any death metal fan reading this knows about Finland and the country's tendency to unleash filthy, murky death metal of the highest caliber, so I won't ramble on about it and bore you. Sentenced is one such band that took up their axes and then proceeded to drown them in melodic, doomy brilliance and then drop tune the shit out of them. Seriously, these guys must have gone a major Bolt Thrower binge because the amount of grooving and chugging on "Shadows of Past" is ridiculous. The opening track "When the Moment of Death Arrives" starts off the way that you would expect a Finndeath band to sound - with a dark, yet beautiful melody that sets up the tone and then all of a sudden this plodding, behemoth-like riff enters the fray and heads begin to bang. "Rot to Dead" and "Under the Suffer" are a couple more tracks that embrace the "Realm of Chaos" groove and pummeling and they do it incredibly well.
Of course, this is Finnish death metal and "Shadows of Past" isn't just a Bolt Thrower-worship record. There are plenty of melodies strung throughout this album, whether they're used as an atmosphere enhancer like on the intro to "Rotting Ways of Misery," or they're being used to balance out the heaviness with the melodic like on "Disengagement," Sentenced knows how to write some great music that isn't just endless tremolos and blast beats. Another notable trait of the country's style of death metal is the underlying doom influence and just about every song has a moment that is undeniably doomy. The powerchords possess a grim emptiness to them that conjures the feel most of the time, similar to a band like Autopsy, but there are also plenty of riffs that are just straight-up doom ("Disengagement"). But, the major influence for this low-end sound is none other than the heavy-as-fuck bass. The bass creeps along and is always the elephant in the room, so to speak, and its presence is very welcome as far as I'm concerned.
In addition to the Bolt Thrower grooving and the more melodic material, a lot of the other riffs and parts of the music are greatly influenced by the godfathers of death metal, Death. The tremolo sections throughout reek of "Leprosy"-era Death, as they're fast and somewhat evil sounding, but not as heavy as a band like Incantation or as evil as a band like Morbid Angel. The vocals are also very reminiscent of Chuck Schuldiner, but there's also a healthy dose of Brett Hoffmann in there as well. "Shadows of Past" is definitely a great record to have in your collection if you're a fan of Bolt Thrower, Death or Autopsy, as it is a fantastic representative of what Finland had to offer, though Sentenced wasn't the best. It's a shame that these guys would go on to later produce some utter shit, but at least I've still got this album to deteriorate my eardrums to...
"When the Moment of Death Arrives"
"Rot to Dead"
"Suffocated Beginning of Life"
Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine.
“Darkness fills the life
covers the tired mind
like the darkest damnation
In honor of Miika Tenkula’s recent death, I’m going to make it my goal to review every Sentenced release in chronological order, beginning with their 1991 full length debut album, Shadows of the Past. My writing skills are probably a little rusty as of now, but, let’s just see how this goes….
Let me say something about the guy first; Miika Tenkula. He was the driving force behind Sentenced; wrote the majority of the lyrics and riffs, came up with the song structures, decided every direction that the band would go in prior to every new release, and well, ended up disbanding his creation, putting Sentenced to rest for good in late 2005. But this review isn’t about the end, it’s about the beginning. It’s about four young metal heads from Oulu, Finland, on a journey to create some of the darkest, most sinister music to be printed on vinyl. Of course, the year was 1991, and the Black Metal scene in Norway had just began to flourish. But you know what? Norway was in a little world of its own, metaphorically isolated from the rest of metal community. But, Death Metal on the other hand had been a totally different story…
In the late 80s, it had exploded world wide, pioneered by the likes of Death, Possessed and Bolt Thrower. As a matter of fact, the obvious Death/Bolt Thrower influence within Shadows of the Past has been pointed out quite a few times. People have even thrown in comparisons to old Paradise Lost. I can’t really disagree, although I must stress that this album is NOT in any way a carbon copy of any of the aforementioned groups, nor is it in any way musically groundbreaking and spectacular. What we’ve got here is just the general bases for early 90s Death Metal with a strong emphases on the riff work. Miika and Sami (guitar duo) forge some of the ugliest, heaviest riffs I have ever laid ears on. And I have to say, the riff work plays an important role for the album’s dark and brooding atmosphere. So let’s just say that this is far from brutal Death Metal, as it contains its fair share of doom-esque, slow and uber heavy guitar work. Blast beats (if you wish to call them that) are sprinkled casually through out, carrying on through typical Death Metal numbers like “Rot to Dead” and “Rotting Ways of Misery”. As stated before, this is typical early 90s Death Metal, with a strong Swedish vibe to. Although the band hails from Finland, you would have probably assumed that they were Swedish, just by listening the sound of this record.
Another important aspect of the music is Taneli Jarva’s BASS! Akin to the guitars, the bass is low, down-tuned and quite muddy in its execution, perfect for this brand of Death Metal. It gives it that…sort of “doom” like atmosphere as it rumbles through under the thickness of the riffs. This is most present in the first and best track on the album, “When The Moment of Death Arrives”. After giving this track a listen, you’ve pretty much heard the whole album already. But needless to say, Shadows of the Past is a strong, solid piece of music from beginning to end. Now, Miika’s vocals aren’t anything to wet yourself over. They’re deep, guttural, and perfectly reflect his lyrics that delve into topics such as suffering, death, decay and doom. I’ve heard better, but I’ve also heard much worse, and they are certainly deeper than Chuck Schuldiner’s. This would be his last up front vocal performance with the band. Bassist Taneli Jarva would take up vocal duties for the next few releases.
Despite this album technically being Sentenced’s heaviest release, it is by far from their crowning achievement. But, I’d recommend this album to any fans of Death and Extreme Metal. It’s definitely worth a listen, just don’t expect anything extraordinary.
“Memories of his past life
vividly in his mind
feeling himself alive again
when the Moment of Death arrives”
You basically can’t go wrong with early 90s death metal and this album is one more proof of that. “Shadows of the Past” is Sentenced at their deadliest and heaviest. The material is mostly influenced by two bands: Death ( “Leprosy” – “Spiritual Healing” era) and Paradise Lost (“Lost Paradise” – “Gothic” era). Some slower parts also remind me of Boltthrower. The vocals sound quite a lot like Chuck Schuldiner. Despite being heavily influenced by the aforementioned acts, this album is not any kind of weak clone but stands up very favourably among all the noteworthy old school death metal releases.
Production wise “Shadows of the Past” is the heaviest Sentenced outing for sure. The guitars are thick and down tuned just like you’d expect them to be and the bass provides a proper foundation for the music. The album has been recorded at Tico-Tico studios but still manages to sound different from the tons of other metal albums recorded there.
“When the Moment of Death Arrives” is the first track and after a short mournful keyboard intro the metal stuff kicks in. You immediately notice the obvious Paradise Lost influence in the guitar melody, great! The fast parts of this song make me think of Death. This track shows you exactly what this album is about: a skilled combination of heavy riffs and melodies that really manages to keep one’s attention and has that great old school death metal feel. “Rot to Dead” features a part which sounds very Death influenced when looking at both the guitar riff and drum rhythm, if you’ve heard the two Death albums mentioned in the beginning of this review, you’ll know what I mean. The rest of the album continues in the same manner: heavy Death/Paradise Lost/Boltthrower inspired riffing meets Paradise Lost inspired melodies.
I’m reviewing the re-release of this album, which has the “Journey to Pohjola” promo tape as bonus tracks. Two of its tracks appeared on latter releases, while the instrumental “Mythic Silence (As They Wander in the Mist)” remained exclusive to this tape. This instrumental track is in the “North From Here” vein, melodic and technical, a great listen nonetheless. The version of “Wings” on this promo doesn’t differ much from the version on “North From Here” but some guitar and bass lines are a bit different from the final version. I myself hadn’t heard “Journey to Pohjola” before so I really appreciate it being included here. If you don’t have this yet, make sure to get it and enjoy some truly classic death metal! The inclusion of “Journey to Pohjola” as a bonus makes this re-release a real must.