SENTENCED - SHADOWS OF THE PAST (1991)
By 1995, Finland's Sentenced were playing cheesy goth-metal atrocities - tapping into a new commercially lucrative subgenre of metal. Their first two albums were of a different sort - their second album was a progressive death metal anomaly and their debut, Shadows of the Past (released in the states with 3 bonus demo tracks), is pure Nordic death metal.
Sentenced may instantly sound inline with their Swedish counterparts, but repeated listens will reveal a more nuanced and melodious approach - incorporating elements of what would soon be called the Gothenburg sound in Sweden, the precursor to modern melodic death metal, ala In Flames and Children of Bodom. Miike Tenkula's vocals are the strongest Swedish connection, but musically they bare some similarities to early Death and England's Paradise Lost. Based on their musical trajectory through the years, Sentenced we're clearly a band trying to find their sound during this time period, but the end product does not come off as aimless or confused. This is possibly one of the best Nordic death metal albums from this time period. It is both brutal and beautiful, melodious and aggressive. It is the perfect blend of several key influences. The guitar breakdown in the middle of In Memoriam (a bonus track) sums it up perfectly - morbid, sorrowful, and soulful.
Although Sentenced were undoubtedly unaware of the strength of their debut, or the impact it would have years later, it is fitting that they changed course after its release. They could never have topped it. Shadows of the Past bleeds sweet death nostalgia for me, and it is one of my favorites. I'm giving it 5 out of 5.