Entombed’s Wolverine Blues Turns 20
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“There's two kinds of people in the world,” Mia Wallace, as played by Uma Thurman, explains to John Travolta's Vincent Vega in the director's cut of Pulp Fiction. “There's Beatles people, and Elvis people.”
Tarantino makes a faulty comparison, but I get the notion he's teasing at. In music, there's a tradeoff, sometimes, between attitude and acumen. If I may transfer this idea to a heavy metal context:
There's two kinds of Entombed fans. There's Left Hand Path/Clandestine fans, and there's Wolverine Blues fans. I am a Wolverine Blues fan.
Can you dig it?
Wolverine Blues was released 20 years ago today, at the tail end of arguably the year of classic death metal. This album dropped alongside such stone-cold foxes as Covenant, Focus, and Heartwork. Most of these albums, in their own way, brought death metal closer to a mainstream rock sound, but Wolverine Blues bought the ticket and took the ride with the most aplomb: it kept the infamous Sunlight Studios sound, but re-framed Entombed's approach around groove and verse-chorus-verse song structures. Of course, they called it death 'n roll, and a lot of people probably hated it. The critical consensus is not wholly in camp Wolverine Blues.
In Daniel Ekeroth's (fantastic) book Swedish Death Metal, he positions Entombed — and specifically drummer Nicke Andersson — as the vanguard and mastermind behind Swedish death metal as a whole, and positions the release of Left Hand Path as the entire subgenre's high point. According to Ekeroth, it's all downhill from there, and he's got very few kind words for Wolverine Blues.
With all due respect, fuck that. Yes, Wolverine Blues is not as technical, conceptual, or atmospheric as its two excellent predecessors, and it did kick-start a subgenre of mostly garbage bands. But Wolverine Blues brings swagger, and songwriting, to the table. Even in extreme metal, hooks are important; they make listeners want to keep listening to a record and form a relationship with it. When it comes to hooks, Entombed penned the Pyromania of Swedish death metal albums. Wolverine Blues is easy to relate with.
The best thing about the album is its propensity for using rests and full-stops — the Sunlight Sound is thickest on low power chords, and Entombed liked to slam on such chords in unison after a break. The HM-2 distortion comes right for your face like a big, meaty fist. The first two Entombed records want to creep you out, but Wolverine Blues wants to put you in the dirt. The the chorus of the title track is: “Pound for pound I am the most vicious of all.”
As is sometimes the case with knuckle-dragging albums, the results feel more like hardcore than metal at times. Perhaps that's why several recent hardcore/crust bands, especially the GodCity Studios crowd, reference Wolverine Blues. Full of Hell is even named after one of my favorite songs on the record — one that not only openly references The Rolling Stones, but comes with this immortal lyrical gem: “I've got a heart like a graveyard / They are dying to get in.” Adorable.
Wolverine Blues has enough folklore around it to wax about for days — the infamous version with Wolverine of the X-men on the cover remains a coveted collector's item, for example — but its greatest strength is its straightforwardness. Any sense of pretension Entombed had before was gone on this album.
Unfortunately, the group's songwriting and lineup stability gave way not long after. Entombed is releasing a new album this year, with only one member of the Wolverine Blues lineup remaining, vocalist LG Petrov. I'm not investing myself in it. I don't need a new Entombed album; I will probably not listen to it half as much as Wolverine Blues.
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