Entombed’s “Left Hand Path” Still Buzzsaws Our Heads Clean Off 30 Years Later
Entombed, along with the band’s earlier incarnation as Nihilist, weren’t the lone creators of Swedish death metal, but they were the band that propelled to the top of their country’s underground and blasted open the cellar doors for the world to witness. Their rise has been detailed in numerous interviews and a number of publications, not the least of which include Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore by Albert Mudrian (founder and Editor-in-Chief of Decibel Magazine) and Swedish Death Metal by Daniel Ekeroth.
The shortened version goes something like this: three young lads bonding over music at summer camp (drummer/songwriter/all-around-band-leader Nicke Andersson, guitarist Alex Hellid, and bassist-turned-guitarist Leif "Leffe" Cuzner) eventually form their own hardcore punk-crossover band, Brainwarp. After being introduced to the burgeoning 1980s extreme metal scene and members of the band Morbid (guitarist Ulf "Uffe" Cederlund and vocalist L-G Petrov), they then became Nihilist. Leffe’s time in Nihilist was brief as his family soon moved to Canada, which unfortunately ended his musical pursuits, but before doing so he left an undeniable mark on death metal history with his use of the Boss HM-2 guitar pedal.
Leffe’s cranked-to-ten use of the pedal went toward the creation of the now legendary buzzsaw guitar tone that so many others would soon enough be associated with.
Johnny Hedlund, of future fellow Swedish death metal legends Unleashed, joined Nihilist on bass, though the growing tension brewing between him and Andersson ultimately resulted in the later dissolving Nihilist and almost immediately rebirthing the band as Entombed just to have Hedlund out of the picture. Within Nihilist’s short span from 1987 to 1989, the group cut numerous demos that blazed through the underground tape-trading scene and built enough local cred that they mustered their way onto an opening slot for one of grindcore originators Napalm Death’s Swedish dates.
The show impressed Earache records owner Digby Pearson enough that, within a year, he sent a contract for the band. While the contract was intended for the now deceased Nihilist, Pearson proceeded to grab Entombed, just as long as the ever-talented Andersson was behind the wheel.
In December 1989, Entombed entered Tomas Skogsberg’s Sunlight studios, with a handful of new songs paired with classic Nihilist tracks, and not only helped associate that studio forever with a certain sound but laid down the prototype for Swedish death metal with an album called Left Hand Path.
Andersson at the time was just 17 years old, and the rest of his bandmates were only a couple years older -- such youthful drive by this point had burned itself into metal history. A band of kids worshiping Repulsion and Autopsy created a legacy over a soon-famous trilogy that not only influenced a whole genre within their own nation but reached out far enough to influence years later the metalcore of Boston’s Converge and the grindcore of California's Nails, among plenty others.
Along with my IO peer Tom Campagna, we've enlisted a few notable names from the contemporary metal world to speak about what impact Left Hand Path had on them and how it is still a record worth putting on whenever the words "death metal" are uttered.
-- Joe Aprill
Sweden’s death metal scene was in the process of forming when bands like Morbid, Nirvana 2002, Carnage, and Nihilist took hold and later broke up into subsections: Entombed, Unleashed, and Dismember. While the latter two waited until 1991 to turn out albums like Where No Life Dwells and Like an Everflowing Stream, Entombed jumped into the studio in late 1989 and pushed Left Hand Path out just before the midpoint of 1990.
It pummels from start to finish, not always with the same speed, but the intensity and intent is there; it’s the difference between being bloodied by quick striking fists or the slow lift of a sledgehammer before it's lowered onto your skull. The title track, “Bitter Loss,” and then “Premature Autopsy” have always hit me hardest because their combination of d-beat blasts, punk energy, and rotten guitar tone checking off a lot of boxes, all at the same time.
It's hard to believe that so much has changed over time and how many other Swedish albums followed this beast, but there is more to this album than just being the first for a legendary band and the first big release in the scene. From the screams of anguish that begin the album to the buzzsaw tone that splits your head open upon impact, Left Hand Path takes no prisoners and has left 30 years of destruction in its wake.
Never relenting, always killing.
The first time I heard Entombed's Left Hand Path was in 1997, many years after its initial impact on the scene. I wish I could have had my finger on the pulse of death metal in 1990, but I was ten years old then. I purchased it new on cassette from None of the Above, our now-defunct local underground record store here in Suffolk County, Long Island. Though I often took chances based on cover art, this purchase came at the insistent recommendation of some older friends.
At this point in my death metal education, I was an expert on home-dubbed goregrind demos and guttural, chunky death slams but woefully ignorant to the beauty of old-school Swedish death metal. The first thing I remember is the incredible guitar tone -- not only did it rival the obnoxious crunch of my favorite lo-fi grind bands, but they used it to evoke such a wide range of emotion and atmosphere in addition to the brutality. Besides that, the rest of the production stood out so evenly yet retained a bass heavy rawness to it that magnetized me.
Looking back now and revisiting Left Hand Path all these years later (same tape, plays great!), I have to admit that it holds up. The amazing clarity, the compelling atmosphere, and the morbid brutality of it all still draw me in. Nowadays I understand a bit more of the composition and musicianship, as well as the context of where this album sits in death metal history. I also have watched a whole new generation discover and draw inspiration from it the last few years, and it's not hard to hear why.
Sonny Reinhardt (Necrot and Saviours)
I remember the first time I heard Left Hand Path was in 2002. I had just gotten out of jail in Flagstaff, Arizona with my friend Todd who was the bass player from the band Dystopia and ran Misanthropic records back then. That's another story, but we were on a road trip together when it happened and ended up stuck in Flagstaff at our friends house for a few weeks waiting for our court dates. They decided to take us on this epic drive to some lake in the desert and someone put on Left Hand Path in the van. Immediately, I was like what the fuck is this? I had never heard guitars sound like that or knew about the HM-2 pedal yet. It was raw, fast, and blown-out sounding but had such a unique thing to it. I loved it right away!
Those screams at the beginning of the record sounded like falling into the abyss! Then the riff kicks super hard with a guitar solo in your face right away. It just rages super hard until it gets to that awesome slow guitar break and then the whole song slows down. Then those horror movie keyboards come in at the end just before the slow riff and solo really draw you into another world. I was pretty much instantly hooked.
I still get mega pumped on this album, the production, the song structures, solos, and vocals have all stood the test of time and still sound fresh and original to me. Many have tried to duplicate their sound and style but to me they are one of the ones who did it best from the start!
Dave Adelson (20 Buck Spin)
Left Hand Path is my #1 death metal album of all time. Some of that probably had to do with early exposure at age 15 (1992 for those counting). I was instantly hooked on the "Sunlight Sound," and Left Hand Path is both the beginning and end of that idea in my book. Insane buzzsaw guitar tone, chaotic but impeccably timed and class drumming, and a brilliant over-the-top horrific vocal performance all the way through from L-G Petrov. And, all that before I ever realized the second half of the title track was essentially a tribute to Phantasm. While nowadays versions of the album have the tracks "Premature Autopsy" and "Carnal Leftovers" routinely tacked on, these were not on the original version that I bought and as a consequence, despite being good tracks, make the album feel too long to me. Thankfully I still have that trusty ol’ cassette tape that saw a lot more action than I did at 15.
Full admission: I did not like Entombed the first time I heard them. The reason for that was a stupid one. My introduction came from someone on the Internet praising them in direct contrast to shitting all over Morbid Angel, whom, at that time, I’d say were my favorite death metal band. Such immature posturing likely faded away when I actually finally witnessed Entombed, in their pre-split and litigated trademark condition, for the first and only time at Maryland Deathfest 2010.
That soon enough convinced me to check out their catalog which eventually led me to the hallowed Left Hand Path.
It feels even more so thinking back on my ignorant stance on the band years ago considering how much I enjoy Entombed these days, and albums like the aforementioned debut seem to get better literally with every listen. Once those buzzsaw guitars dig under your skin, no amount of clawing through your flesh will drill them out of your mind. The album has a wonderful horror connection, too, something that always interests me especially when Andersson has mentioned being influenced by Evil Dead II, Hellraiser, and the writing of H.P. Lovecraft.
Of course, the opening title track makes use of reproducing the main theme from the 1979 cult classic Phantasm, which I wrote extensively on in my Metal Movie Madness column, and what a fantastic song it is. With its epic build wrapped in fury, the track shifts to a crushing mid-paced and melodic lead that plays out to the end of the song. The young songwriting chops of Andersson continue to amaze me as riff upon riff flow, but with the kind of punk sensibility that never loses sight of a good hook.
“Supposed to Rot” and “Abnormally Deceased” are two fine examples where the only complaint I can level is they're too short to ever feel fully satisfied from their infectious death drenched grooves. Thank hell for the repeat button.
My dumb opposition to full-fledged fanship came to completion a few years ago during my first visit to Sweden when I dropped by the Stockholm Slaughter festival’s first iteration. I mentioned before that during my trip, I paid my respects at Bathory mastermind Quorthon’s grave, and just before doing that, I walked through the Skogskyrkogården (forest cemetery). It's a very beautiful and striking eternal resting place created to look like a forest while buildings often appeared like ancient Greek temples, but in an open field is a dominating image of a single cross raised high to the sky.
This cross is the one the band used for promo shots, including in the packaging of Left Hand Path. The Atlas Obscura guide even has it included as the “Entombed Cross,” dubbing it “like U2's Joshua Tree for Swedish death metal fans.”
So… of course I had to get a photo in front of it and to not just commemorate my trip to Sweden but to also have as a souvenir that I’d traveled to the land where Entombed gave birth to a new branch of blood drenched and gore-soaked metal madness.
Left Hand Path released June 4th, 1990.
Thanks again to Will (check out his new Reeking Aura project), Sonny (Necrot's new album is out in August), and Dave (20 Buck Spin has no shortage of great new death metal releases). Support Invisible Oranges on Patreon and check out our merch.