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MYSH: Entombed - Left Hand Path (1990)

1990 | Death Metal

✩✩✩✩ | 4.5/5


  1. Left Hand Path

  2. Drowned

  3. Revel in Flesh

  4. When Life Has Ceased

  5. Supposed to Rot

  6. But Life Goes On

  7. Bitter Loss

  8. Morbid Devourment

  9. Abnormally Deceased

  10. The Truth Beyond

  11. Carnal Leftovers

  12. Premature Autopsy

Left Hand Path was my first* death metal record. My first listen was late at night, maybe 12:30, and I'd just finished Crowbar's 1993 self-titled album. I was browsing Wikipedia reading through metal articles, and I saw Entombed mentioned for their "buzz-saw" guitar tone. "'Buzz-saw'", I thought, "the hell does that mean?".

As with most people who had begun diving into metal's more extreme corners, my only points of reference were half-remembered blasts of noise and abrasion from previous exposure. Well that and Beavis and Butthead. But I was eager to expand my taste. At the time it felt like reassuring my preconceived notion of "I don't like that stuff.", my parents never held "head-banger music" in high regard. If that was my goal I utterly failed, and my mistake was starting with Left Hand Path. I won't lie and pretend that the first time I heard this record I was instantly up-higgidy with death growls and blast-beats; extreme metal takes time and effort (and interest) to appreciate for most, myself included. But for someone entering this realm from a stoner-doom background, if I had wanted an alienating album I should have kept looking.

Entombed are famous for popularizing the Swedish strain of Old School Death Metal (OSDM). Entombed, Dismember, Unleashed, Cemetary, and many others differentiated themselves from the Floridian scene's rawness, brutality, and frequent technicality by injecting melody and proto-Death-Doom into their sound. Among the earliest in this scene, Left Hand Path interpolates sections of momentous heft and surprisingly catchy riffs into the sound of OSDM. Much like Autopsy, Entombed will switch a riff around at a moments notice, slowing to a glacial pace and grinding out cavernous and dry riffs, as on "Morbid Devourment".

"Left Hand Path" contains the most overly doomy moment on the album, and it is one of favourite death metal songs because of it. The already terrific slab of curdling and dripping DM fades to a 2 minute keyboard-and-guitar doom riff. It is surging and pulsing, like the heartbeat of hell itself. The song's main riffs are also truly exceptional, the slower riffs in the middle are like auditory cudgels, they sort of tenderize the song before the outro and solo kick in. Others like "Revel in Flesh" are keen on, well, reveling in that nasty guitar tone and vocal style present on "Left Hand Path"s start. This is where the compulsory discussion of Entombed's guitar tone fits in. As already said, Entombed utilized a high-gain guitar tone less thick and more gritty than Death or Morbid Angel. Often compared to the sound of a buzz-saw, this is best shown on "The Truth Beyond". This song has just enough moments where the riff is allowed to ring out dissonantly to show that even when no notes are being played, it sounds almost like tremolo picking.

"Bitter Loss" and "Revel in Flesh" have melodious and surprisingly groovy riffs, with unique vocal approaches. Vocal variation is actually a running thread in the album with Lars-Göran Petrov breaking up his blood curdling gutturals with a variety of sounds. From "Bitter Loss"s almost hype-man vocals in the middle, to the vocal manipulation at the end of "Carnal Leftovers", to the unbelievably deep growls of "Premature Autopsy" (though those last two are technically bonus tracks). Petrov's best work on the album is probably his howls at the tail-end of "Drowned", they're piercing and unlike anything else on the album. Alex Hellid's solos are frequently a bit abnormal, adopting a loose style without a lot of melodic intent, with some notable exceptions ("Left Hand Path"). They often serve as bridges, cutting through doom-y sections and launching the songs into further d-beats and grimy riffs.

Left Hand Path is surely among the most influential death metal albums ever put to tape. Not just for leading the Swedish charge of OSDM, nor just for its unique guitar tone and brutal vocals. Left Hand Path (along with Like an Ever Flowing Stream by Dismember) was the critical influence on the Gothenburg sound that would spawn Melodic Death Metal, before Carcass could do it themselves in 1993 on Heartwork. At the Gates, In Flames, Dark Tranquility and more, owe their sound to this record. Just listen to the guitar tone on Slaughter of the Soul, need I say more?


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