Justify Your Shitty Taste: Entombed’s “Morning Star” and “Serpent Saints”

Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalogue. Occasionally, a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Decibel site to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. This time around, Neill Jameson defends Entombed’s Morning Star and Serpent Saints.

If this was ten or fifteen years ago, I’d be able to write a “Justify…” piece on Wolverine Blues itself since that was considered a hunk of shit by most longtime fans when it came out. You’ll still catch a few whiffs of hurt feelings if you bring up how that’s one of the best records of the 1990’s in the right crowd. Post-Wolverine Blues Entombed is a pretty shaky deal; there’s some gold to be mined but you have to dig through mountains of horse shit guarded by a monster of disappointment and bad ideas made flesh, probably wearing a trucker hat. Like so many early Scandinavian death metal pioneers, Entombed became somewhat fascinated with what I can only describe as a weird cocktail of the Slap A Ham catalog mixed with rockabilly and a Skynrd chaser. Trucker punk? Sure, why not?

I can’t defend a lot of what Entombed did after Wolverine Blues because a lot of it just simply isn’t good. The songs seem half baked and more interested in the long-distance aesthetic of bad speed done off the gummy tits of a lot lizard. I’m really going to drive this “trucker punk” metaphor into the ground. “Drive.” HA! Pulitzer, please.

Anyway, Converge covered a song from Wolverine Blues, which brought the record to the attention of an audience who could appreciate it more than someone who was still holding onto Clandestine like the picture they kept of their ex after a bad breakup.

I’d given up on them after To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth seemed like a crappy parody of what bands like Paroxysm and Xysma were doing much better in Finland. So when someone brought a used copy of Morning Star to the record store I was working at a few years ago, I didn’t really give it any second thought, even though I thought the cover was a little cooler than anything they’d done in a long time. Finally, on a day where I was tired of talking to dads about their kids being in a band and whatever other bullshit I listened to daily, I finally decided to give Morning Star a listen, probably with the same mindset bored kids decide to give heroin a try. What could it hurt? I already thought everything they did for the last block of years was garbage. Maybe this would be different.

For once, I’m glad I listened to my instinct to try new things. Morning Star has fucking riffs; not the kind the fifth-gen Orange Goblin clone that rehearses a few doors down from you has, but punishing metal riffs. Equal parts Slayer (OK, like mid-90’s Slayer) and classic hardcore. Vocally, it shares more with a band like Integrity than Swedish death metal but in the context of the songs, that actually works pretty well. Songs like the opener “Chief Rebel Angel” and “Bringer of Light” are the kind of earworms that, while obviously stylistically really fucking different, were what I expected from Entombed. And I didn’t really detect any of the tongue-in-cheek humor they were trying to pepper their songs with after Wolverine Blues, a big plus for me since I’m not super into “funny” music. Something about it makes me have to shit.

The record kind of peters out a bit later on and could have used maybe one less song, but overall it’s got some great moments with memorable riffs and a really aggressive vocal performance, all of which tie the room together. It kind of feels like a standalone album within their discography since they never did anything before or after that felt like this record. It has groove without sounding stupid. Again, I don’t like “fun” things.

A few months later, I was on tour and found myself in the anxiety-inducing, arena-sized Amoeba Records. I was already in a state of confused delirium because I’d been on the road for a bit, plus I saw Danzig standing in line waiting to pay for his purchase. It made me forget any reason I was there, so I just kind of wandered around, knocking into people because that place would have a high casualty count if a gas main blew up under it on a weekday morning.

I ended up finding Serpent Saints for really cheap, so I figured I’d see if later Entombed was any good. This was before I made the mistake of listening to Inferno, which is just… just dog shit. As a side note, Danzig almost hit me in the parking garage with his car. It was a really good day all around.

Serpent Saints doesn’t have the lyrical finesse of Morning Star. In fact, some of the lyrics are embarrassingly moronic. But, unlike the previous decade and change, it was a death metal record. The vocals were brutal, the riffs were dark. It was an attempt at a return to form, sort of like post Heroin Chic-era My Dying Bride. When the lyrics weren’t reading like a screenplay for “Of Mice and Men,” there was some pretty blasphemous stuff in there, harkening back to the Clandestine/Wolverine Blues-era mindset. I’m listening to it again while I write this and it’s like a lot of older bands who do more roots records: a good, nostalgic time. And it had the last really good moments of the band, before everything got overshadowed with legal drama and the other disruptive things that ruin everything we loved when we were young.

Now, in my (obviously correct) opinion, Morning Star is the only mandatory listen out of the two of them, but I tend to pair the records together because they work well as a set and—this will happen to you too as you get old—my sense of nostalgia for even a few years ago places them together because of the time in my life I discovered them and listened to them the most. They’re both proof that Entombed didn’t run out of steam after 1994, even though they certainly misfired a lot during the subsequent twenty years. And once the legal dust settles, I’d be curious to see the guys who hold the Entombed moniker’s trademark do a record to see where they’re at in this point of their lives. I thought LG Petrov’s first record under the Entombed A.D. name was really fucking great, like the natural “Empire Strikes Back” to Clandestine and Wolverine Blues (I’m really killing it with literary tricks in this one). Hopefully it isn’t an album that takes another ten years for someone to appreciate enough to write their own “Justify…” piece on.