Thursday, February 4, 2010

Entombed - Wolverine Blues (1993)

After booting up their career with two massive, timeless death metal albums, it was time for Entombed to try and outperform themselves once again. There is a lot to be said of Wolverine Blues, for it was both a product of valuable inspiration and the 'beginning of the end', as its core aesthetic would be used to produce the band's two slovenly, unappealing full-lengths to follow. It was one of the two biggest albums of the Earache/CBS records partnership (alongside Carcass' Heartwork), and probably brought more new fans into the bands flock than any other single work of their career. On top of this, it is THE most immediately identifiable album when anyone should utter the expression 'death'n'roll'. Other bands like Desultory might have followed suit, but who else than Entombed could carry the crunch of their roots into this genre and not only succeed, but turn a great many heads as the potential death metal could have as a hybridized art?

Let's not even talk about how the product itself was rather a gimmick, with a comic book packed into the booklet that featured everyone's chortling, wise ass, invincible Marvel Comics anti-hero (I personally can't stand Wolverine, but I won't hold it against the album). This was a big release for Entombed, and Earache records, because enough success through CBS could guarantee a major step in extreme metal. And I'm happy to say, it was a success, though through the years my opinion of it has numbed (a few of the tracks don't fully resonate with me). Lars Göran Petrov's return to the band was a positive step, and he has remained ever since. The tones here are also suitably huge to the sound. Though they lack a little of the dark, swelling atmosphere of Left Hand Path or Clandestine, they compensate with a boxier, slamming distortion that suits the amplified rock assertions of the compositions.

Who could forget the rising feedback and Pinhead sample that announce the arrival of "Eyemaster"? I AM THE WAY. Searing grooves into chugs, and then the break ushers in a forceful, unforgettable grind riff...seriously, it's hard to believe no one had come up with that one before, but I definitely can't recall hearing it. As good of an opener as the track is, "Rotten Soil" matches it fist for fist, with a primal thundering rock fury that translates from its verse grooves to the that amazing riff at 1:00, right before the warlike breakdown. The punk rhythms later in the track are likewise phenomenal, and at one point the band clearly has not forgotten the death metal that got them here. "Wolverine Blues" had already been included with the Hollowman EP, but here you get to experience the track as intended with vocals, instead of the samples that covered it. Same choppy, lowdown riffing grit, and the track really subsists off the big blues groove guitar at about the 1:00 mark.

I'm a misanthropical breed
insatiable in my need to feed

What follows is perhaps my favorite track on the album, the super-grooves of "Demon", which simply crush below the vocals. In one of Petrov's more memorable recordings, his voice taunts off itself like a petrified parishioner trying to warn his townsfolk of some oncoming evil. I admit, when I first heard this song I was about ready to grab a torch and pitchfork and lose my mind, and the series of crushing thrash rhythms that remain are all brilliantly executed, including the leering lead. I don't think 'death'n'roll' gets much better than this one. "Contempt" commences with a vile weaving of melody before a solid hard rock breakdown, and the track moves along at the same relative speed as its predecessor, spinning even more little webs of evil in the melody between verses. "Full of Hell" is perhaps the most rockin' track on the album, with another of those huge, memorable hooks that I was surprised no grunge band had already written.

Speaking of grunge, the next track "Blood Song" is a vile morass of filth which stalks like some hillbilly vampire from True Blood, with a lyrical delivery that borders on both hilarious and frightening, or at the least very convincing. The shift into the thunder-punk is delicious, with some harrowing leads that feel being drunk off vitae and ready to kill. After this, the album actually trails off a little. "Hollowman" certainly isn't a bad song, but as someone who found it one of the weaker tracks on its own EP release, it's not a favorite here, though certainly above the rank of filler for the bluesy bluster of its bridge (about 2:00 in). The rock riff in the verse for "Heavens Die" burns with a lot of soul, and there's another little basic punk rhythm in there over which the guitars launch into a psychotropic lead, but again, just not a favorite. That being said, both of these tracks are superior to the bonus track "Out of Hand", which is included with some versions of the album, and not all memorable.

Wolverine Blues may be the London bridge between the band's creative impetus, expanding senses and the sullen heap of mediocrity they would next produce (To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth) within three years, but it certainly has few flaws of its own, and remains one of the band's better albums today. The influences that poked their heads through the ominous awnings of Clandestine are extracted and given new life to flit about and write themselves into the core songwriting, and the result was far more refreshing than the majority of death metal being produced in 1993. Entombed continued to prove here that they were innovators rather than simply followers. It's just unfortunate that same motivation wound up steering them into such a sinkhole later.

Highlights: Eyemaster, Rotten Soil, Demon, Full of Hell, Blood Song

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]
(emotionally disqualified)

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