Classic Album Reviews: Left Hand Path
Updated: Apr 13, 2021
Swedish necro-masters, Entombed set the death metal standard with their buzzsaw beaming 1990 release, Left Hand Path. Here is why it's still making eyes roll back in rigor-bracing doomgasms to this day.
You wake up with your hands chained above your head. It’s pitch black and every breath you take is heavy with mildew. Trickling water echoes throughout the large dungeon you must be in. All of a sudden, a blood curdling scream of a not-so-happy camper assaults your ears. Daryll must have accidentally bit into a Mango Habanero Boneless wing, after the Wild Wings of Buffalo waitress mixed up his order again. Out of sheer empathy, warm liquid starts to darken your faded blue jeans that your stepdad Mike makes fun of you for wearing. Of course they are too tight and have holes in places where they wouldn’t naturally form, but they sure do make you look like your cool drug dealer friend down at the 7-11. You are suddenly blinded by flood lights. This stings your eyes almost as much as the Mango Habanero sauce stings Daryll’s unsuspecting mouth. Your only reprieve from the light is a shadowy figure standing in front of it. You hear the hum of metal spinning at speeds fast enough to cut through flesh. The buzz saw is ready. Let us begin.
Entombed is a Stockholm based, Swedish Death metal band that was formed under the name Nihilist by Drummer Nicke Andersson, Guitarist Alex Hellid and Guitarist/Bassist Leif Cuzner in 1987. As Nihilist the band would gain a cult following after picking up bassist, Johnny Hedlund and releasing a string of demos in a short 3 year period. Cuzner would leave the band for prospects in Canada shortly after their last demo, and the band would kick Helund to the curb by disbanding, then reforming as Entombed. Lucky for us Helund would go on to start Unleashed, a band considered to be in the big 4 of Swedish death metal alongside Entombed, Dismember, and Grave.
While There have been allegations made against Unleashed for using what some consider Nazi imagery, these allegations were refuted by Hellund, claiming that Unleashed was “the only Swedish Death Metal band in Sweden that didn't run away half naked and scared shitless when the right wing movement tried to steal our ancient symbols for their purposes back in the early 90s.” After a little digging I ended up on a grotesque White Nationalist, (Nazi), message board where said Nazis came to the conclusion that Unleashed were not “racialist” enough. So I think it’s safe to say that if the Nazis don’t want to claim them, they are probably cool. Also Nazis, Yuck! Anyway Tangent over.
After being signed to the increasingly popular Earache records, Entombed collected their material and drove to Sunlight Studios in Stockholm, with new Guitarist Uffe Ceduerlund, and Vocalist Lars Pietrov. The result was their 1990 release Left Hand Path. The Album was met with Critical acclaim, and provided fierce competition for fellow labelmates, Napalm Death with Harmony Corruption, Carcass with Symphonies of Sickness, and Nocturnus (OooOooh!) with The Key. (Author’s Note: God that Album rules!).
Left Hand Path sports a unique guitar tone that one would say, or everyone says, sounds like a buzz saw. Although former guitarist Lief Cuzner is largely credited with creating this vile and deliciously repugnant cacophony, it would become a large part of the bands signature sound. At the time Left Hand Path was released it was a fresh slice of something new and tasty. It brought sonic ideas to the table that would became a staples in the death metal genre’s main diet. Does it hold up? Let’s find out.
The album starts with that blood curdling scream, a chilling indication of what’s to come.(Poor Dave- er, Daryll) The guitars, sporting Entombed’s signature Nihilist Buzzsaw guitar tone, rip and tear their way in alongside speedy drums, and crusty vocals comparable to Chuck Schuldiner’s early Death screams. The production has a certain energy, and “rawness” to it creating a unique soundscape that would help to define much of the early 90s death metal. The solo’s range from blistering fast Slayer style weedlies and meedlies with just a tad bit more structure, (You all know what I am talking about), to soulful melodies with emotional bends expertly placed for maximum feels. This is most apparent when the song slides into the third act with an exorcist-esk synth part, a cover of the main theme from phantasm, followed by said gorgeous solos. This section is killer! It hits you in all the right places, much like your sexy 4th grade teacher, who is definitely not sexy now, and really never was when you think about it. The track fades out and with that we have ourselves a damn good introduction to a damn fine album.
Left Hand Path manages to feed us an nice platter of traditional Death metal, with small healthy portions of speedy punk, and slower groovier riffs. Wash it all down with an ice cold glass of lyrical content and you got yourself an album that old school death metalers revere as the true essence of death metal. Guitarist, Uffe Ceduerlund and Alex Hellid, manage create something truly special in the guitar parts here with their speedy punk inspired, down-tuned rhythm parts, and a unique variety of sultry and speedy leads. Their extra special tetanus infused guitar tone has some advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that it sounds wicked cool and gives the band a unique grimy sound, something other bands of the era would go onto emulate, while the disadvantages are that the low rhythm guitar parts sound a bit muddy, and sort of get lost in the bass’ frequency range, (pushes metal glasses up on sound- snob nose.) More intricate rhythm parts tend to mush together if you are not listening for them. While this is more than likely primarily caused by the buzzsaw tone, I can’t help but think some of it is caused by the mix. The drums on this album are pretty decent. Nicke Andersson manages to enough speed to keep the energy 100%, while going out of his way to make each fill special. Lars Pietrov brings some nice, crusty vocals, that meet the expectations of the time however the cleans are a bit off key and can sound a little goofy, taking you out of the moment.
Where the vocals sometimes falter the lyrics are top notch. A few tracks are typical gore themed death metal tomes, however the majority of the songs use rad mystic themes all centered around the esoteric Left Hand Path, an ideology of occultism centered around the rejection of status quo, hence the name of the album. Subjects include Satanic imagery, black magic, the search of spiritual freedom through anarchism, and the questioning of religious dogma. These ideas translate well to the genre, and the lyrics bring a sophistication to the music, providing a nice contrast to the raw instrumentals.
While most tracks are killer a few managed to kick my ass. The title track of course, with that amazeballs 3rd act, remains one of the high points in the album, and manages to remain stuck in my head too this day. (If you are reading this SEND HELP! I cannot get it out of my head. I think I need to see a doctor or a lobotomist.) Bitter Loss has a wicked intro Perfect for building hype! This classic could be the perfect set opener, either at the bench or an Entombed show! Morbid Devourment has some tasty-ass grooves that one cannot help of headbang to. It brings a King Diamond scowl to my face with how much Heavy it brings to the table! (King Diamond rules and you all know it!) #lookitupifyoudontknow. Abnormally Deceased is one of my favorite tracks lyrically. It’s moldy scrolls on rotting from the inside out provide some intense imagery that sticks with you well after the song ends.
The album ends on a high note with The Truth Beyond, unless you have the special edition with the bonus tracks Carnal leftovers and Premature Autopsy. If you do, good for you. You must be a real cool guy whose stepdad doesn’t make fun of your blue jeans. The Truth Beyond, balancing slower grooves with speedy punk infused riffs, wraps up the album bringing you back to the realm of the Left Hand Path. Further delving into the unholy, Pietrov delivers lyrics with the power of a thousand lost souls screaming out all at once in chaos. “Smell the putrid stench, Of the god-blessed crucifixion, And discover the lies, There is no resurrection, Get your eyes open wide, And discover the lies, See the truth beyond, The shadows of a false paradise!”
Overall Left Hand Path remains an important stepping stone in the evolution of Death Metal. It provided a unique sound that would become a staple in the Death metal scene, competing with the likes of Giants. It’s chunky guitar tones, killer drum fills, and mystic lyrics create something truly worth checking out. If you are a Metal Historian or just a fan of 90’s death metal, this album is a must have. At the very least it is a fun romp into the world of unsettling, the unabashedly unrefined, underworld that is 90’s Death Metal! You don’t need to be a Nazi to love it, but you do need to be a Nazi to hate it.
I give this a score of Boneless Mango Habanero Chicken Wings/10.