Sunday, March 12, 2023

Sentenced - Shadows of the Past (1991)

Shadows of the Past was not an album I took to immediately, because this was not my first exposure to Sentenced, and in hindsight, it just seemed a lot less unique or interesting than its follow-up. But the funny thing about death metal, and most metal really, if it's written with pure and genuine intentions, it develops a timeless quality about it, and over the years, I've certainly found myself returning to this debut more than I was compelled back in the early 90s. I do not think this was quite as memorable or potent as Slumber of Sullen Eyes, Nespithe, or World Without God, but in its defense, this was earlier than several of those, the death metal genre as a whole was still in its infancy, and there couldn't have been as much compulsion for these early second wave acts to experiment as much as their Floridian or Swedish forebears.

So the Sentenced debut sounds a hell of a lot like Death and Obituary, with a gruff guttural bark that seemed like a more meatier Chuck, but with similar enunciation, and thicker chords that rang out more like the latter, interspersed with the darker tremolo picked patterns of the former. The songs have a very good balance of riffs, some of which take me straight back to Leprosy and Spiritual Healing, but they aren't always immortally catchy as the first time I listened through something like Nespithe. Still, with the thick, competent production values here, and the commitment to old school evil, and the phenomenal cover artwork, Shadows of the Past earns its place in that second string of cult death metal, because it's just one of those efforts that doesn't sound much older today than it did then, and though the influences might be more glaring than a Winter afternoon in Scandinavia, there weren't really that many for them to draw upon at the time.

The drums are great, the churning guitars arguably even better, and Miika Tenkula's vocals were good and gruesome as a hybrid of the two bands I mentioned above. In addition, Taneli Jarva was doing even deeper growls to accompany them, for a cool effect, before he'd take over the microphone on later recordings. The leads are scathing, the atmosphere unabashedly death metal through and through, no chances are taken here but to be honest with you, I'd rather spin this debut over some of the higher profile death metal releases of 1991 like Arise or Blessed Are the Sick, which I always found kind of disappointing in the grander scheme. Sentenced themselves would grow a little wary of this style and shoot for something far more interesting in shorter order, but if you want meat & potatoes death metal from that original era, which holds up 30 years on, this is the total package.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

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