Sentenced – North From Here (1993)
If you’ve been paying attention to this blog (and you should, there’s going to be a test at the end of the term), you’ll notice that I’m a fan of the more melodic variants of death metal, between At the Gates, Necrophobic, Septic Flesh. Not to be confused with the Gothenburg sound, mind you, which is basically extreme power metal.
When it comes to that sound, Sentenced’s 2nd album is really the perfect storm – it retains aggression and violence, but is fairly technical, melodic, atmospheric at the same time. As an added bonus, the recording appears to be a quarter tone flat throughout; perhaps it was a recording error of some sort. But that’s a trifle. The thing about this album is that all the instruments play material that I would describe as heavily ornamented – there’s lots of counterpoint (Remember how I’m a sucker for counterpoint and polyphony?), plenty of trills, complex drum fills, and so forth. I imagine it these songs took some time to write out and play, and while it’s obviously been exceeded in pure technicality hundreds, if not thousands of times, for 1993, you couldn’t find much more technical than this without essentially leaving death metal.
There’s also some interesting thematics going on in this album – like their country brethren Amorphis, Sentenced is drawing on the folk history of Finland to inform their lyrics, if not to the same extent. It’s mixed in with loose themes of war, nature, and more generic paganism. What makes this important is how it shows up in the songwriting. Sentenced employs a great deal of riff styles, but most of these combine to create an atmosphere best described as ‘heroic’. This is subjective, of course, but compared to the more straight ahead, less idealistic approach that much death metal takes, such an approach is more typical in the black metal scene. Considering that this was released in 1993, at the height of the second wave, it’s most likely that either the band had incorporated a great deal of black metal recordings into their collection, or that they’d independently tapped into the same sources. Given the dates of recording and release, the former seems more likely, but that the band’s debut, Shadows of the Past, is somewhat similarly constructed, which acts as counter-evidence. Either way, it’s Sentenced’s peak – after this, they gradually turned into a mediocre, generic gothic metal band for some reason. Amok and Down are supposedly quite good (apparently as a result of this), but once the main lyricist and vocalist (Taneli Jarva) left, things fell apart. Regardless, this exists, and it’s of high quality.
Highlights: “Wings”, “Fields of Blood”, “Northern Lights”