Fight Fire with Fire is an ongoing series on our site where we pit two classic genre albums against each other to definitively figure out which one is better. “But they’re both great!” you’ll say. Yes, these albums are the best of the best. But one is always better. Plus, we love these sorts of exercises, and also love watching you battle each other to the death in the comments, so how could this possibly end poorly?
The first Fight Fire with Fire was a showdown of classic melodic death metal, with Carcass’ Heartwork taking the win over At the Gates’ Slaughter of the Soul. Today we go back to more death metal, with a Swedish showdown of the highest order, pitting off two legendary debut albums.
Entombed‘s Left Hand Path dropped in 1990 and announced loud and proud that Swedish death metal had arrived; Dismember‘s Like an Everflowing Stream was released the following year and, it could be argued, sharpened the sound to a finer point.
These albums are both classic death metal and deserve tons of respect; they’re records that helped usher in a much-beloved splinter genre of DM. It’s all here: the melodies, the catchiness, the chainsaw guitars. But whose chainsaw cuts hardest? Whose Boss HM-2 gave us the most, uh, boss HM album… uh, forget it, read on to find out which of these two classics is a cut above. A cut made by chainsaws, of course.
Entombed – Left Hand Path
Fills me with joy just hearing the words: Left Hand Path. It’s the perfect early Swedish DM distillation; with their debut, Entombed put it all together and laid down for the world an incredible statement of intent.
The album opens with the title track, and I tend to forget how epic this one actually is, the band taking 6:38 to guide us on a journey through the catacombs, through the underground, through the outrageous guitar tone into a whole exciting new world of extremity. Love the drawn-out solo, and the sense of atmosphere lulls us into a bit of peace before “Drowned” comes along and just tears everything apart, the band working mid-tempo and double kicks to create a stunning and memorable slice of DM.
“Revel in Flesh” brings barbaric blasts, and “When Life Has Ceased” is an excellent example of peak early Swedish DM, with catchy riffs and a brisk yet battering pace.
“Bitter Loss” anchors the album’s final third with a wildly catchy vocal hook and riffs to remember. It’s one of the classic cuts on this album, one of those songs that has a chorus that ends up in your head even if you haven’t spun the album in half a year, which speaks to the songwriting skills on display here, shockingly good so early in the band’s career.
“But Life Goes On” is, in my mind, the classic, with a perfectly written chorus (vocal hooks!), an early suggestion at how death metal can indeed use rock structures and still be completely intense. I’ll never, ever tire of hearing the chorus of this song.
“Abnormally Deceased” and “The Truth Beyond” (and, sure, “Carnal Leftovers” and “Premature Autopsy” if we’re gonna go with the CD bonus tracks) end things off with style and ease, the band just laying down well-crafted song after well-crafted song.
Finding complaints is pushing it, but I suppose there’s not a lot of ebbs and flows here, but we didn’t really come to Swedish death metal in 1990 for subtlety, did we?
Entombed excelled on Left Hand Path in a lot of different ways: it’s trailblazing, it has tons of atmosphere—even the raging parts take the listener places beyond just a total beatdown—and it has killer songwriting placed within an extreme metal framework. And some of these points Entombed really don’t get enough credit for. For my money, the band ramped it all up a notch next time out on Clandestine, but for today’s purposes, Left Hand Path is as perfect a Swedish death metal album as there was in 1990.
Then, one year later, Dismember dropped their debut.
Dismember – Like an Everflowing Stream
Dismember have a slight advantage here, having had a bit more time to perfect the Swedish sound, and the first thing that comes through when cranking this one up is the production is more crisp and inviting than Left Hand Path‘s more primitive take on the sonics. And, man, does the mighty “Override of the Overture” ever take full advantage of that, the production wrapping up the glory-ride middle section and the chainsaw workshops alike, and “Bleed for Me” just keeps things going, the band not stopping for a minute to breathe, even though the album suggests a refinement over Entombed’s glorious din from a year prior.
“Dismembered” works on the atmospherics that Entombed’s debut also did so well before going batshit crazy, while “In Death’s Sleep” goes low and slow, the band showing some power in the spaces, not so much giving us respite as finding new ways to kill.
There’s just great song after great song throughout this album, the band playing with some killer trad metal melodies in “In Death’s Sleep,” the song showcasing some fantastic guitar work both rhythm and lead, and showing some sounds Entombed hadn’t explored on their debut.
“Defective Decay” flirts with gore-grind as it brings the album to a very brutal close, reminding us that this is still completely extreme, even if the slight hints of maturity (and that delicate album title) might have lulled us into thinking this was going to be a bit less heavy than Entombed’s take on the genre from the year before. But it’s not at all: it has all the heaviness and a bit more sophistication, this one not sounding so much like the work of realm-exploring teenagers as it does, well, maybe, like, slightly older teenagers taking a template and absolutely nailing it.
However, the songs aren’t as memorable as the ones found on Left Hand Path, and it lacks that genuine creepy feeling that Entombed’s record manages to hold on to even all these years later. For two records that, really, sound so similar, they sure take you different places. Like an Everflowing Stream feels slightly classier, slightly more nuanced than Left Hand Path, but we’re talking slightly, like… really slightly. All the players in Dismember are fantastic here, the guitar work in particular being a highlight, the band hitting the melodies hard but never cloying, still maintaining an intense atmosphere.
Dismember laid down some incredible Swedish death metal on their debut, the album being pretty hard to fault unless you’re taking a magnifying glass to it. The same can be said for Entombed’s debut. So, the question is, which of our Swedish heroes does it better?
Even more than a lot of our Fight Fire battles, this one is a close call. Stripping away context and forgetting about what happened in the years after the records is key when you’re just sitting with two albums and trying to figure out, straight up, which one is better. And I’m glad that’s how it’s done, because everything that Entombed did post-Left Hand Path has been extremely confusing and distracting, but today nothing can distract me from the fact that Left Hand Path is the winner of our Swedish DM showdown, for its total brutality, for its trailblazing, for its utterly devious atmosphere. Left Hand Path is the exciting sound of young men exploring and creating new forms of extremity, yet it still sounds invigorating and well-crafted today. If we had a golden chainsaw kicking around (which, surprisingly, we don’t), today it would belong to Entombed for their timeless work on Left Hand Path, the Swedish death metal album to rule them all.