Album Review: ENTOMBED A.D. Back to the Front
It worked for Jack Russell and Geoff Tate, so why shouldn't it work for death metal, right? Yep, looks like this trend of splintered groups going out on the road and confusing the hell out of casual fans with band names differentiated only by small print above the marquee is poised to become pretty standard in the new millennium. Except, in the case of Entombed A.D., there will apparently be no Entombed to compete with in the near future. Huh?
There are as many variations on who comes to own a band name as there are ways to come out the wrong side of a divorce; usually the legal arrangements are kept close to the vest and the average fan is not privy to the details. In the case of Entombed A.D., we have a band comprised of original Entombed frontman LG Petrov and a backing trio made of newer members that joined Entombed between 2006 and 2010. In spite of having been without founding members Uffe Cederlund and Nicke Andersson for some years, the trigger point for the band name dispute was apparently the acrimonious departure of original guitarist Alex Hellid last year.
According to a recent Petrov interview with Sweden Rock magazine earlier this year, it was ruled that the Entombed name was owned by all four original members and would not be used until further notice. And so, even though there has been no indication that any of the Hellid, Cederlund or Andersson trio have interest in carrying on a variant of the Entombed legacy themselves, we still find ourselves with a situation where the lone competing entity nonetheless has to modify their identify – if only slightly – to satisfy a legal arrangement. Confused yet?
In simplest terms, Back to the Front is essentially canonical Entombed: even with Hellid's departure, the remaining members had all been touring with the band for several years and would almost certainly have been present on the next album even had Hellid stayed aboard. Furthermore, the recording finds Entombed getting back to their mid-90's high water mark. After inventing "death 'n' roll" on 1993's classic Wolverine Blues and, arguably, perfecting it four years later with To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth, the group found themselves floundering a bit. Nicke Andersson left to devote his full energies to The Hellacopters, and the reconstituted Entombed quickly rebounded with 1998's Same Difference, probably the most controversial album to be released by a death metal band up to that point (unless you want to count Celtic Frost [Cold Lake]).
It's been a seesaw of changing styles since then, never returning to full on death metal but often shedding a poorly received mainstream flirtation to go back to their core death & roll style. With a full seven years having gone by since their last album, Serpent Saints, Entombed A.D. are unlikely to be reacting to the reception of that album so much as the proliferation of the sound they helped to originate over the last few years: bands such as Death Breath, Trap Them, and even latter day Carcass have all substituted the traditional blast beat with the more boogie-infused back beat associated with classic rock. If anything, Petrov is likely just here to reclaim his throne.
Not so fast, though. Back to the Front is a pretty thrilling welcome for fans like me who felt that the band peaked with To Ride, but that warm initial flush of excitement cedes way over several listens to a much less starry-eyed sense of mere contentedness. "Second to None" and "Waiting for Death" have immediately engaging riffs, and "Soldier of No Fortune" shows the band at a post-millennial high point in terms of composition, but for the most part the eleven tracks here, though promising in light of the group's checkered past, offer little by way of new classics to the band's catalog.
Much of the blame for the lackluster character stems from the combined monotony of Petrov's lack of dynamics – his growl is uniform and slightly strained throughout – and the relative lack of balance. Back to the Front falls victim to the same fault that so many would-be comeback albums do, which is that they strive so hard to blow the doors off that they end up with a one-dimensional product that doesn't fully reflect the versatility that fans had come to love the band for. In that regard, Petrov and company would be best suited having a listen to the breadth of Surgical Steel and then giving it another try. They've got something to build on here, but it struggles to rise above a sturdy foundation. Next time, guys.