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Easy to appreciate, difficult to love - 73%

robotiq, May 22nd, 2020

"Clandestine" was one of the first death metal albums I got into. It is catchy, accessible, and has iconic Dan Seagrave artwork. Every death metal fan needs to know about this album because it is an important part of the genre's history. Being on Earache, this album was a big reason why many people my age got into death metal (i.e., those who discovered the genre in 1992/1993, shortly after the peak). A fifteen-year-old version of me would've proclaimed "Clandestine" to be the best Entombed album (of the three available). "Left Hand Path" was too much for my untrained ear, "Wolverine Blues" wasn't enough.

However, my appetite for this album has waned over the last 25 years. I soon realised that "Left Hand Path" was the best death metal album ever made, and I learnt to appreciate the expressiveness of "Wolverine Blues" too. "Clandestine" is therefore an in-between record. It lacks the same clarity, focus and natural explosiveness of the debut. It also lacks the deliberately antagonistic attitude of the third album. There are some more obvious problems with it too; the production is too clean, the vocals are lame, the songs wander around too much. Nothing here can match the title track from the debut (of course), but there isn't anything that matches the likes of "Supposed to Rot", "Drowned" or "Revel in Flesh" either.

Let's start with Nicke Andersson's vocals (not done by Johnny Đorđević as was claimed on the inlay). These vocals suck. Nicke’s voice has no power, he sounds restrained at best, constipated at worst. The guy is my favourite death metal musician ever, but he fucked things up when he temporarily fired LG Petrov, one of the best vocalists in the genre. Petrov's inimitable power, charisma and ferocity always gave Entombed the nastiness to balance out their sophisticated compositions. The fact that Petrov's talents appear on Comecon's irrelevant "Megatrends in Brutality" rather than on "Clandestine" is a travesty. Thankfully the two parties settled their differences and Petrov would return to Entombed, but not until after this album was recorded.

This debacle indicates deeper problems. Entombed no longer sounded like a unified force. Nicke and Uffe have told of their dissatisfaction for "Clandestine" in interviews. Such things matter. This album sounds like a bunch of songs played by some guys in a studio somewhere. There is no magic. There is none of the rampant, disgusting urgency of the debut. Nicke cites Atheist as an influence on his song-writing here, and there are similarities with "Piece of Time" (compare "Through the Collonades" with "No Truth", for instance). The thing is, Atheist circa 1990/91 was an invincible force of jaw-dropping musical chemistry (old rehearsal videos prove it, go seek). Entombed, by their own admission, were in disarray when they recorded this. The relatively complex and technical songs on "Clandestine" don't suit such internal disunity. Take "Stranger Aeons" (the single) for example, there are many good riffs, but the overall effect is over-cautious, calculated, preoccupied.

Still, a fractious Entombed still beats most other death metal bands. The majority of the songs on “Clandestine” are strong. "Severe Burns" is the most savage and therefore my personal favourite (it is an old one from the Nihilist days). "Blessed Be" is fast and crusty, with some nice vocal evilness (courtesy of the harmoniser). "Crawl" is perhaps the best known, most complex and far-reaching song on the album (though I prefer the earlier version with Orvar Säfström on vocals). Of course, the musicianship is great throughout the album. Nicke was always a beast on the drums, being a proper musician rather than just an athlete (too many of those in death metal). The soloing is great as well, better than on the debut from a melodic standpoint. Entombed were a clear influence on melodic death metal, though seldom credited.

The album was recorded by Tomas Skogsberg at Studio Sunlight, so you know what to expect from the production. This is the famous sound that Entombed popularised, and therefore resembles many other Scandinavian records from the era. I must say that "Clandestine" sounds surprisingly polished, a little safe and accessible for an old school death metal album. The drums sound amazing, but the guitar tone is nothing like as powerful as it should be. This album does not have the same rawness and texture as other Sunlight albums from 1991 (i.e., "Into the Grave" and "Like an Everflowing Stream”). This production is appealing for the uninitiated (like me, aged fifteen), but sounds tepid once you've run the gauntlet of classic Swedish death metal debuts.

"Clandestine" lacks ferocity, atmosphere, and was created by a band in turmoil. Still, this is Entombed, the greatest death metal band ever to grace the Earth. This was an influential record because Entombed were the undisputed kings of Swedish death metal. Other bands watched, and copied, their every move. “Clandestine” is leagues ahead of most death metal records but will never be a classic. In the end, great death metal bands don't play great death metal for long. The genre is inherently restrictive for the most creative musical minds. Nicke and the rest of the band realised the limitations of what they could achieve with death metal and moved on (testing the water with "Hollowman" and diving in with "Wolverine Blues"). This was the right decision, “Clandestine” is proof.