Shadows of the Past reviews
shatteredsymbols on December 3rd, 2017
Enjoyable Finnish death metal, but overlong
Prior to becoming a gothic metal band in the mid-90's, Sentenced began life as a death metal act, releasing a couple of EP's before dropping their debut record, Shadows of the Past. The album opens with a deep, ambient wash of what sounds like synthesized strings; it isn't unusual for extreme metal bands to begin a song with an acoustic or classically influenced passage (in style rather than composition, it should be noted) but there's a sort of understated malevolence and horror about this that I felt it needed to be pointed out despite being largely insignificant to the overall recording. Moving from that, the song transitions into an excellent melodic riff accompanied by rhythmic swells of guitar, building up to the death metal assault of the rest of the track, which is pummeling and intense. The drumming is excellent, Vesa Ranta's performance driving, musical and suitably primitive.
This song sort of belies both the strengths and flaws of Shadows of the Past, actually. It can't be denied that the band is enthusiastic and capable, or that the riffs are both melodic and vicious, or that the drumming is colorful and mechanically devoted to pushing the songs onward, or that Miika Tenkula possesses a rich, deep growl that fits the music wonderfully. On the rest of the album they for the most part continue in this fashion, Sami Lopakka and Tenkula's twin guitars harmonizing to create a dark selection of thrash-infused riffs. The tone and style of the guitars is obviously quite similar to the classic Swedish sound of bands like Dismember or Entombed rather than the unique, almost undefinable Finnish aesthetic, which can make it feel like although the music is enjoyable, it isn't particularly unique. Sentenced are certainly competent, and at times brilliant (check the demented vocals and rabid soloing on Rotting Ways to Misery, or the headbanging riffs on The Truth) but ultimately the album is dragged down by its greatest flaw; meandering, overlong songs.
Now, Shadows of the Past is a good album, it needs to be said, but it could have been a great one. The production is nice with noticeable clarity on the drums (especially the bass drums, which repeatedly thump throughout the album) and the performances, particularly the soloing, are of high quality, but it's let down by the compositions simply having too much fat on them. The album itself isn't necessarily that long (it only clocks in at 44 minutes, after all) but almost every song is between five and six minutes in length, with the sole exception of Rot to Dead. Not to say that there's something inherently bad about having lengthier songs, but on this record it isn't needed and the band would have been better off by tightening them up, or even utilizing sharper transitions rather than the noodling that Sentenced are prone to on this album. Nothing stands out as being bad, but it lapses into being boring occasionally, which could easily have been avoided.
If you're into old school death metal (or Swedish death metal, funnily enough) then this is absolutely worth your time; every facet of it is done well (although only from time to time is it great) and its borderline melodic, thrash infused riffwork is incredibly listenable, but it needed to do more to stand out in the sea of good death metal from this decade.
CadenZ on May 12th, 2017
Solid death metal from the old days of yore
Sentenced’s debut album was released during the golden years of Scandinavian death metal, and that’s exactly what this record contains – Scandinavian death metal. Over the next 15 years the booze-loving Finns went on to evolve into a radio-friendly and melodic heavy metal/rock band, and since 1996’s “Down” they were one of Finland’s most successful bands both at home and abroad, right until their demise in 2005. I’ve got nothing against their later releases, I really love for example “The Cold White Light” a lot, but on “Shadows of the past” they were quite fucking badass in comparison.
The opener “When the Moment of Death Arrives” starts out with a melody that reminds me of Dissection and other Swedish death/black bands of the 90’s. Slightly folkish melodies of this kind (though more Sentencesque) pop up every now and then during the course of the record, and give you some kind of evidence that it is, in fact, the same band that made “Killing Me, Killing You”…which is probably in the all-time top 10 of Most Emo Song Titles. Pretty far off from the pure and stale right-on death titles like “Rot to Dead” or “Under the Suffer” found on this disc. Though the melody leads and the occasional well-executed Kirk Hammett-style solo add a nice spice to the mix, the foundation of this record lies in chunky, groovy mid-tempo death metal riffs in the vein of old Entombed, Grave or even Obituary. There’s practically no faster paced material at all, which makes the listening experience somewhat monotonous as there aren’t that many contrasts. I’m not saying every death metal LP should range from doom to grind, just that the tempo on this one gets a tad over-used. Almost all riffs are also written in the same key which dulls the mind like ten seconds watching the GOD Channel. OK, not quite.
Despite that, there’s some interesting songwriting on this disc, with some progressive elements that are sadly gone for the most part in most of the groovier kind of death metal today. There are some great and unorthodox solutions for the drumming with nice beats that remind a little of Nicke Andersson’s way of adapting his playing to the guitar riffs and not just slavishly playing some beat that he already knew. Drummers, please take this to mind. Or fucking die. Another interesting thing on this particular CD is the vocalist. This is the only album on which we can hear lead guitarist Miika Tenkula (R.I.P.) growling, and I have to say he sounds pretty fucking amazing. You can almost smell the grime of his bowels as he’s eradicating them with every plagued syllable, not too distant from the vocal style of Klas Morberg (Desultory) but with a taste of Johnny from Unleashed.
The production is quite good, though the guitars could’ve used a bit more punch. The lack of brickwalling makes the album sound more organic and gives it that nice old-school feel as well. Back in the day the songs were also written to be recorded with this kind of production; had these songs been recorded today with maxed out decibel levels all the way through, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed them as much. All in all, this is a solid death metal record from the old days of yore. If you’re into any of the bands mentioned in the review, check this out. It’s not pure awesomeness, but it’s a good album with nice efforts from the whole line-up – though the guitars sound a bit out of tune…you could call that charming, though. Right? I would not recommend this to a prototype fan of Sentenced’s later material, at least not without a warning: May contain death metal that makes you wanna kill your emo self. On the other hand, that could come across as a promise…
Roffle_the_Thrashard on August 29th, 2015
Swedish Death Metal from Finland
Drawing from all veins of its old-school brothers from around the world, Sentenced created a piece of old-school death metal in its glory days that must be listened to. For fans of Dismember, Gorement, Grave, and Death, you just found another holy grail of death metal greatness when discovering Shadows of the Past. It has very few weaknesses to speak of and despite being Finnish, has an edge to it that just screams good ol' Swedish death metal. So if old school is what you seek, you just found the pot at the end of the rainbow.
If you have not gotten your daily dose of evil today, then Shadows of the Past is certainly a recommended listen. It is quite easy to write lyrics that are perverse, as well as use gimmicks to make yourself appear menacing. However, to actually create a mood of evil through the melodies you're playing, is something that is very powerful. The haunting, ominous beginning of "The Truth" opens up with some dissonant a foreboding acoustic parts that will undoubtedly send chills through your veins. The following choir vocals and the electric guitar chords, open up to the surprising and almost frightening screams of Miika Tenkula and the band really starts to groove while Tenkula plays along with a solo similar to those played by Chuck Schuldiner in his later career. The whole song just emits this sinister aura that comes of the album as a whole like steam off a lake. It's almost tangible.
Another aspect here that you can almost feel is how creepily this album sounds like Dismember's Like an Ever Flowing Stream. The chords used by Dismember can be found here, as well as the vice versa. The production here is also freakishly similar in terms of the mixing and the tones chosen for the instruments. The guitars sound exactly the same, and the drum production is nearly identical. This is sound is very characteristic of Swedish death metal groups at the time, as this album, Grave's Into the Grave, and the aforementioned Like An Ever Flowing Stream all sound the same in terms of production. The note and melody choice is all very similar, and Sentenced and these bands are nothing but a drop in the bucket of the groups around at this time doing the exact same thing.
But along with the ability to create an evil atmosphere, what sets this band apart from other European death metal acts at the time is the musical ability of its musicians. At the top of this list is guitarist and monstrous vocalist Miika Tenkula. The man is like a mixed drink of all of the favorable qualities of death metal vocalists and guitarists at the time that this album was released. His solos sound freakishly like Chuck Schuldiner's, and the vocals have a mixture of Schuldiner, Luc Lemay, and even the great John Tardy in terms of power and sheer tenacity. Listen to the choruses of "Under the Suffer," and you'll immediately hear the striking resemblance to Tardy's signature vocal timing with the riffs, that sound like the chorus of Cause of Death-era Obituary.
And as the last somber notes of “Descending Curtain of Death" finally died out, I sat and thought to myself: "That was spectacular," and it truly was. Something about the chords or, maybe it was the vocals that were powerful beyond powerful, or the solos that were quite intense, simply dumbfounded me. I have not heard death metal in a long time that had the same awesome effect on me that Sentenced and their debut, Shadows of the Past did. With the exception of Obituary, and maybe Death, Europe's death metal bands simply had a vibe that their American partners didn't. And Shadows of the Past has a vibe that few bands will be able to obtain.
Nightmare_Reality on June 5th, 2012
I'm sure any death metal fan reading this knows about Finland and the country's tendency to unleash filthy, murky death metal of the highest caliber, so I won't ramble on about it and bore you. Sentenced is one such band that took up their axes and then proceeded to drown them in melodic, doomy brilliance and then drop tune the shit out of them. Seriously, these guys must have gone a major Bolt Thrower binge because the amount of grooving and chugging on "Shadows of Past" is ridiculous. The opening track "When the Moment of Death Arrives" starts off the way that you would expect a Finndeath band to sound - with a dark, yet beautiful melody that sets up the tone and then all of a sudden this plodding, behemoth-like riff enters the fray and heads begin to bang. "Rot to Dead" and "Under the Suffer" are a couple more tracks that embrace the "Realm of Chaos" groove and pummeling and they do it incredibly well.
Of course, this is Finnish death metal and "Shadows of Past" isn't just a Bolt Thrower-worship record. There are plenty of melodies strung throughout this album, whether they're used as an atmosphere enhancer like on the intro to "Rotting Ways of Misery," or they're being used to balance out the heaviness with the melodic like on "Disengagement," Sentenced knows how to write some great music that isn't just endless tremolos and blast beats. Another notable trait of the country's style of death metal is the underlying doom influence and just about every song has a moment that is undeniably doomy. The powerchords possess a grim emptiness to them that conjures the feel most of the time, similar to a band like Autopsy, but there are also plenty of riffs that are just straight-up doom ("Disengagement"). But, the major influence for this low-end sound is none other than the heavy-as-fuck bass. The bass creeps along and is always the elephant in the room, so to speak, and its presence is very welcome as far as I'm concerned.
In addition to the Bolt Thrower grooving and the more melodic material, a lot of the other riffs and parts of the music are greatly influenced by the godfathers of death metal, Death. The tremolo sections throughout reek of "Leprosy"-era Death, as they're fast and somewhat evil sounding, but not as heavy as a band like Incantation or as evil as a band like Morbid Angel. The vocals are also very reminiscent of Chuck Schuldiner, but there's also a healthy dose of Brett Hoffmann in there as well. "Shadows of Past" is definitely a great record to have in your collection if you're a fan of Bolt Thrower, Death or Autopsy, as it is a fantastic representative of what Finland had to offer, though Sentenced wasn't the best. It's a shame that these guys would go on to later produce some utter shit, but at least I've still got this album to deteriorate my eardrums to...
"When the Moment of Death Arrives"
"Rot to Dead"
"Suffocated Beginning of Life"
Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine.
CoffinText on February 25th, 2009
When the moment of death arrives...
“Darkness fills the life
covers the tired mind
like the darkest damnation
In honor of Miika Tenkula’s recent death, I’m going to make it my goal to review every Sentenced release in chronological order, beginning with their 1991 full length debut album, Shadows of the Past. My writing skills are probably a little rusty as of now, but, let’s just see how this goes….
Let me say something about the guy first; Miika Tenkula. He was the driving force behind Sentenced; wrote the majority of the lyrics and riffs, came up with the song structures, decided every direction that the band would go in prior to every new release, and well, ended up disbanding his creation, putting Sentenced to rest for good in late 2005. But this review isn’t about the end, it’s about the beginning. It’s about four young metal heads from Oulu, Finland, on a journey to create some of the darkest, most sinister music to be printed on vinyl. Of course, the year was 1991, and the Black Metal scene in Norway had just began to flourish. But you know what? Norway was in a little world of its own, metaphorically isolated from the rest of metal community. But, Death Metal on the other hand had been a totally different story…
In the late 80s, it had exploded world wide, pioneered by the likes of Death, Possessed and Bolt Thrower. As a matter of fact, the obvious Death/Bolt Thrower influence within Shadows of the Past has been pointed out quite a few times. People have even thrown in comparisons to old Paradise Lost. I can’t really disagree, although I must stress that this album is NOT in any way a carbon copy of any of the aforementioned groups, nor is it in any way musically groundbreaking and spectacular. What we’ve got here is just the general bases for early 90s Death Metal with a strong emphases on the riff work. Miika and Sami (guitar duo) forge some of the ugliest, heaviest riffs I have ever laid ears on. And I have to say, the riff work plays an important role for the album’s dark and brooding atmosphere. So let’s just say that this is far from brutal Death Metal, as it contains its fair share of doom-esque, slow and uber heavy guitar work. Blast beats (if you wish to call them that) are sprinkled casually through out, carrying on through typical Death Metal numbers like “Rot to Dead” and “Rotting Ways of Misery”. As stated before, this is typical early 90s Death Metal, with a strong Swedish vibe to. Although the band hails from Finland, you would have probably assumed that they were Swedish, just by listening the sound of this record.
Another important aspect of the music is Taneli Jarva’s BASS! Akin to the guitars, the bass is low, down-tuned and quite muddy in its execution, perfect for this brand of Death Metal. It gives it that…sort of “doom” like atmosphere as it rumbles through under the thickness of the riffs. This is most present in the first and best track on the album, “When The Moment of Death Arrives”. After giving this track a listen, you’ve pretty much heard the whole album already. But needless to say, Shadows of the Past is a strong, solid piece of music from beginning to end. Now, Miika’s vocals aren’t anything to wet yourself over. They’re deep, guttural, and perfectly reflect his lyrics that delve into topics such as suffering, death, decay and doom. I’ve heard better, but I’ve also heard much worse, and they are certainly deeper than Chuck Schuldiner’s. This would be his last up front vocal performance with the band. Bassist Taneli Jarva would take up vocal duties for the next few releases.
Despite this album technically being Sentenced’s heaviest release, it is by far from their crowning achievement. But, I’d recommend this album to any fans of Death and Extreme Metal. It’s definitely worth a listen, just don’t expect anything extraordinary.
“Memories of his past life
vividly in his mind
feeling himself alive again
when the Moment of Death arrives”
Pestbesmittad on July 14th, 2007
Their glorious beginnings
You basically can’t go wrong with early 90s death metal and this album is one more proof of that. “Shadows of the Past” is Sentenced at their deadliest and heaviest. The material is mostly influenced by two bands: Death ( “Leprosy” – “Spiritual Healing” era) and Paradise Lost (“Lost Paradise” – “Gothic” era). Some slower parts also remind me of Boltthrower. The vocals sound quite a lot like Chuck Schuldiner. Despite being heavily influenced by the aforementioned acts, this album is not any kind of weak clone but stands up very favourably among all the noteworthy old school death metal releases.
Production wise “Shadows of the Past” is the heaviest Sentenced outing for sure. The guitars are thick and down tuned just like you’d expect them to be and the bass provides a proper foundation for the music. The album has been recorded at Tico-Tico studios but still manages to sound different from the tons of other metal albums recorded there.
“When the Moment of Death Arrives” is the first track and after a short mournful keyboard intro the metal stuff kicks in. You immediately notice the obvious Paradise Lost influence in the guitar melody, great! The fast parts of this song make me think of Death. This track shows you exactly what this album is about: a skilled combination of heavy riffs and melodies that really manages to keep one’s attention and has that great old school death metal feel. “Rot to Dead” features a part which sounds very Death influenced when looking at both the guitar riff and drum rhythm, if you’ve heard the two Death albums mentioned in the beginning of this review, you’ll know what I mean. The rest of the album continues in the same manner: heavy Death/Paradise Lost/Boltthrower inspired riffing meets Paradise Lost inspired melodies.
I’m reviewing the re-release of this album, which has the “Journey to Pohjola” promo tape as bonus tracks. Two of its tracks appeared on latter releases, while the instrumental “Mythic Silence (As They Wander in the Mist)” remained exclusive to this tape. This instrumental track is in the “North From Here” vein, melodic and technical, a great listen nonetheless. The version of “Wings” on this promo doesn’t differ much from the version on “North From Here” but some guitar and bass lines are a bit different from the final version. I myself hadn’t heard “Journey to Pohjola” before so I really appreciate it being included here. If you don’t have this yet, make sure to get it and enjoy some truly classic death metal! The inclusion of “Journey to Pohjola” as a bonus makes this re-release a real must.
Shadows of the Past track list
|1||When the Moment of Death Arrives||06:11|
|2||Rot to Dead||03:47|
|4||Rotting Ways to Misery||05:54|
|6||Suffocated Beginning of Life||06:10|
|7||Beyond the Distant Valleys||06:03|
|8||Under the Suffer||05:21|
|9||Descending Curtain of Death||05:48|
Shadows of the Past lineup
|Miika Tenkula (R.I.P. 2009)||Guitars (lead), Vocals|
|Taneli Jarva||Bass, Vocals (backing)|