Thursday, February 4, 2010

Entombed - Clandestine (1991)

One of the dangers of producing an astoundingly awesome debut album is the amount of expectations you carry into the followup: how do you possibly improve upon perfection, in this case the Left Hand Path? The answer is that you probably can't, so try and write the best songs you can and let the legacy speak for itself. In the case of Entombed, the style and sound on the debut were so fresh in the minds of an emerging genre of metal fans that it would have been foolish to let the reins loose. Clandestine is honestly pretty close in tone to its masterful predecessor, but there are a few minor differences. It's more accessible simply through its predilection towards building monumental grooves that had a massive appeal across the metal boundary (and into the emerging mosh scene, which I call a scene because a great many people were brought into extreme metal because of their attraction to the physical side of the concert experience...blame "Raining Blood").

Clandestine also had a little more of a rock injection, something the band would continue to flesh out for the remainder of their career, but here it is in its infancy, hanging at the very edge of perception, and cycling fresh blood through the band's rotted death metal heart. The guitar tone and oppressive atmosphere of Left Hand Path is retained here, but cleaned up ever so slightly. Lars-Goran Petrov had left the band in 1991 due to some personal problems (he would return), so the band had been trying a few new vocalists. Orvar Säfström of Nirvana 2002 fronted the Crawl EP, and Johnny Dordevic of Carnage was supposedly going to do the vocals here, but it was drummer Nicke Andersson's vocals which made the cut, not a huge surprise, since the man was also responsible for much of the songwriting.

"Living Dead" tears straight from the grave like the titular risen corpse, given a new lease on brains and mayhem, the caustic guitar salvo derived straight from the grinding morass of Left Hand Path. The album's first massive breakdown occurs right at about a minute here, a chunky thrashing rhythm glazed in some samples for effect, and it's not difficult to visualize the violence this kind of riff could cause at a concert. But oh, it is only the first of several. "Sinners Bleed" starts at a rolling tank pace ala Bolt Thrower before the great pause at around 1:00 where the keyboard strike builds sufficient b-horror flick tension and the guitars get to rocking out (the first real trace of the band's groove rock imperative). But perhaps the very best part of this track is the grinding rhythm at around 2:30, thick like a thousand fists beating your door down, as the creatures attached to them seek your blood for sustenance. "Evilyn" kicks directly into another of the album's most memorable moments, a snappy thrash/death rhythm which bounces along, teasing in that 'you can't touch this' manner in which yours truly may have felt about Skeletor's co-conspiratorial concubine in the 80s. The song includes a creepy, repetitious acoustic guitar dowsed in chorus while the rhythm transforms into a morose, mortuary blues. Also, I'd be remiss to not mention the necro-smutty lyrics, which I love.

She's gone down below
but I'm no longer at her side
and I'm drunk with the love
of the dead who is my bride

"Blessed Be" grinds off with a choppy d-beat energy pulsing through its veins, mad splatters of confused leads weave through its depths. A wall of chords at 2:30 announces a tempo change towards a dirge-like doom rhythm smothered in multi-tracked vocals, and then another lead offsets a punk thrust to the climax death riffing. Not my favorite track on the album, but for Clandestine, even the lesser offering like this is pretty damned good. "Stranger Aeons" begins like an otherworldly lurch into darkness, before it becomes the most insane rocking mosh-off festival Entombed have ever written, with a Slayer-like feel to its descending guitar fill, and then another bruising mid-paced chugger rhythm cut through by a very catchy sub-riff. Oh, but wait, at 1:50 it offers yet ANOTHER insane breakdown, and if anyone on the dance floor was left uninjured, well, that status was about to change before the wild leads scathed off into a bog of reeking corpses. It's an undeniably excellent tune, regardless of how many steak headed mosh posses you had to shake off your back in the live setting. "Chaos Breed" is more of a surge of catchy rock rhythms basted in the band's punishing tone, blasted apart by a savage deathgrind cannon, but here the band pulls out yet another big breakdown, this time with a more direct influence from "Raining Blood".

"Crawl" is essentially the same track we heard from the teaser EP, only with the vocals transmitted through Nicke Andersson's testorone choked throat and a brighter, bloodier tone that matches the remainder of the album. It's network of creepy corridor-like rhythms sounds as lurid and inviting today as it did in 1992, and it's no joke why it was chosen as the advance peek at Clandestine's content. To follow this, the fist fighting mosh pattern that initiates "Severed Burns", soon to morph into eerie spikes of doom in the pre-verse, and then the grinding force of the verse itself. Dominant and crushing, but it's also one of my least favorites on this effort, which is saying quite a lot for the album. The final, track "Through the Colonnades", suffers no such distinction; a carefully crafted journey through haunting, clean tones offset by a flowing river of sanguine bass and background fuzz, a mounting horror that eventually caves in to the bands fierce rocking outbursts.

So in terms of following up Left Hand Path, this felt like a crisis inverted. In fact, while I don't find the album quite so flawless in comparison, it does have a more dynamic range created through the big breakdowns and carnal rock infusion. Plus, it would be a lie to say it didn't possess that same, morbid atmosphere that is so rarely found outside of the late 80s/early 90s European death metal scene, and truly, the band's first two albums are a clear demonstration of just how much they were one of its dominant forces. How many bands have come along in the past 20 years to ape the sound of Entombed? Countless fucking numbers. It's so commonplace to bite off Nihilist/Entombed (and a few of their less successful peers like Dismember) that it's almost come full circle...with a lot of hipster grind/d-beat fans thinking their favorite bands of today are somehow original.

Left Hand Path remains the better of these two monstrous offerings to my own ears, but even I have to admit that Clandestine has probably a larger influence on both metal and hardcore music, and those bands who would later join the two. Whether that has been a positive in the long run might be up for debate, but in 1991, this album could only be considered a titan of its time.

Highlights: the many stars you'll discover as this album continues to plant its undead foot in your face. But will you be alive long enough to name them?

Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10]
(beneath these walls of power)

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