Monday, August 4, 2014

Entombed A.D. - Back to the Front (2014)

It's always a shame when a long standing, relatively successful metal band like Entombed begins to unravel. Soon it gets ugly, the fans have all picked their sides, begrudge the future output by the members and fans from the 'opposition', and suddenly it feels like fucking junior high school instead of heavy metal music. Well, I already graduated from such an institution, and have no desire to return in this life, so whether I approve of the actions and/or statements of this or that member/expatriate of a band, it all comes down to the goddamn music. At the end of the day, I decide whether or not I enjoy a record based on the value of the record itself, not the questionable business ethnics, practices, politics, religion, or history of the roster. So Entombed A.D. might not be the 'real' Entombed, it might not be Clandestine II, it might be frowned upon by some of the founding members of the original band and their followers, but I'll tell you what it IS: a good fucking time. Not the best material they've written by a sizable margin, but if you've ever thrown down and enjoyed their death 'n' roll style circa Wolverine Blues, Morning Star, or Inferno, then this really hits the spot.

No, Back to the Front will not do what it's title might imply and thrust the Swedes back into the death metal spotlight, nor will it reel in those who fell out of touch with them after the first two albums, but these four guys had a collective contribution of about 45 years with Entombed, so if anyone's gonna be able to produce a relatively faithful continuity for what the original had been releasing since what I'd consider their 'slump' era (1997-99), it is this quartet. I realize there was a marginal chance we might have been getting something more akin to a successor for Left Hand Path, and perhaps that is where the other founders of the band might head, but this disc represents their strongest songwriting since 2001 and Morning Star, a blend of death, d-beat, punk, crust and thrashing rhythm guitars which affix their simplicity with reliable hooks and concise structure, but retain a lot of the ugliness of L-G Petrov's vocals and the bruising rhythm tone that they basically pioneered. But beyond just being another memorable punch in the gut, this is actually a fairly musical exhibition which is utterly unafraid to take a few chances, like introducing the strings at the intro to "Pandemic Rage", acoustic guitars, etc. Of course, it's the churning, enormous grooves, and evil winding guitar melodies that probably present the closest mirrors to the band's seminal Earache works, but I still feel like the Swedes haven't given up the idea that they can turn over a few new leaves...

Definitely a little more speed/thrash here in tunes like "The Underminer" or "Waiting for Death" that highlight the massive Slayer influence they've always operated under, but there are certainly a few of the morbid, mid-paced hooks that anchored records as widely spaced as Clandestine and Serpent Saints, although the production here is far more in the wheelhouse of the latter, a tidier mutation of their original, crushing guitar tone which plays well against the melodies and brute nihilism of Petrov's delivery, which sounds nearly as convincing to me here as anywhere else in their canon. The bass is as fat as my cholesterol levels, but somehow still manages to get lost just a little when the rhythm guitars are firing up the kiln, while you can really make out the toms, kicks and modest snare smashing in equal measure for a truly fulfilling, overall body to the sound. One of my favorite tunes on the disc, "Eternal Woe" is this slow, gloomy barbaric thrasher with some nice warped bell sounding strikes to the initial verse beats, subtle and clinical muted guitar lines and a chorus that just blows the roof off a cavern despite its lack of a really mind-boring melody or vocal line. "Digitus Medius" throws a devious, catchy melody right off the bat that probably belonged in the Hypocrisy catalog, and I particularly enjoyed how it returned for the chorus in chord form as the single most amazing riff on the whole disc.

Not all the tunes are equally interesting...for example the lead-in 'singles' that I had heard before getting the album, "Bedlam Attack" and "Vulture and the Traitor" have a few bum chord progressions that don't really excite me, but even these have at least an upswing in quality towards the choruses, and really I can't count a 'bad' track anywhere in the 11. Some might derive more than others from what they've released on prior albums, but there definitely seemed to be an enthusiasm about this material, a stripping down to the bare, brute necessities and then dressing them up with a skirt of the atmospherics, variation and even a sliver of the symphonic that they've encountered on their long road. As if after seven years of uncertainty they'd suddenly re-traced that vision which had begun on the second and third discs and decided to keep evolving it into a marginally more accessible strain, without going all mainstream or excessively 'rock' like the shitty Same Difference. It's just a solid, entirely Entombed experience, and whether you find yourself for or against L-G Petrov and these other, later members meting out the spiritual successor to what they were doing on the last record, give it a listen, it's good cruising music for that pickup with shotgun rack, crushing music for an angry soul. It doesn't do either brand a disservice.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

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