Entombed’s Wolverine Blues: A Newbie’s Retrospective Review
As I mentioned in previous entries for MetalSucks, there were certain albums which, growing up, I was told were absolutely blasphemous to listen to. This was during a rough time in metal, when anything hip-hop-tinged was hailed as brilliant, when Soil were considered thrash, and when many of extremity’s greatest champions had sunk their own battleships with poisonous sell-out fan-insulting albums. One of those albums was Cold Lake by Celtic Frost, which I listened to and loathed a long time ago. Another was Swansong by Carcass, which I didn’t listen to until last year and retrospectively reviewed for this website (turns out that one sucks, too). And a third was Wolverine Blues by Swedish death metal pioneers Entombed.
Like Swansong, Wolverine Blues never reached my ears as a youth, because… well, because it was Wolverine Blues. It was “the album that ruined Entombed,” according to many of the death metal purists I was hanging out with at the time (never mind that half of these dudes are probably now the guys hailing the album as an unsung classic). And there was an alternate cover that featured Wolverine, the Marvel superhero. Obviously, Wolverine is badass (he is, after all, the best there is at what he does), but having him the cover of your death metal album feels like a silly marketing ploy.
But a few things got me thinking that maybe the record wasn’t so terrible. One was Albert Mudrian’s Choosing Death, in which the members of Entombed explain that the Marvel tie-in was pushed on them by money-hungry record label assholes. Another is that I didn’t terribly mind later Entombed growing up; Morning Star is a cool album. So, after the response to my Swansong review was so considerable, I figured I should go the extra step and finally listen to Wolverine Blues. (Cold Lake isn’t happening—didn’t like it then, don’t like it now).
As “Eyemaster” starts with a pretty tradtitional Entombed guitar part, I’m wary—Swansong’s opening sounds a lot like Heartwork-era Carcass—but pretty soon, I’m enjoying the hell out of myself. Speeding drums, grinding guitars, Lars Goran-Petrov bellowing along… this is an Entombed record! Sure, the bass is a little louder, the riffs are a little funkier, and the vocals are a little less guttural, but overall, this rules. “Rotten Soil” and the title track both solidify my opinion. Maybe it’s because I’m from an era where bands like Black Breath and Enabler have already taken Entombed’s signature sound in new directions, but all of this sounds like totally acceptable death metal to me.
And it stays that way throughout. “Demon” has cool vocal patterns, “Full of Hell” rocks a fun sneering attitude to it (“Humanity is the biggest cancer ever to be seen!” — Just wonderful), and “Heavens Die” is heavy as hell. None of it is as speedy and straightforward as Left Hand Path, but what of that? Entombed sound as though they’ve progressed here, but not to an awful level; I’d put Wolverine Blues at the same point in Entombed’s career as I would Heartwork in that of Carcass. There’s an obvious change present, but it sounds natural. Perhaps I can understand why people were disappointed with some of the material on the records—as previously mentioned, the 90s were a weird time in music, and I’m sure it felt like the band was bowing to the emerging grunge scene—but given what I’m hearing, it’s crazy how vilified the album became.
This isn’t to give Wolverine Blues a five-star review. I might never listen to this album again — certainly not in the way I used to jam Clandestine in college. I’m not putting “Full Of Hell” on my ‘Essentials’ playlist. But as far as career-altering albums go? Eh, this ain’t so bad. Give it a spin.