This week’s album comes from 1993 and when extreme metal looked like it might be poised to be big business. This album marked a stylistic departure for one of Sweden’s pioneering death metal acts and also served as an ill-fated marketing ploy on the part of an opportunistic record label.
Emtombed – Wolverine Blues
Released October 4, 1993 via Earache/Columbia Records
My Favorite Tracks – Contempt, Full Of Hell, Demon
Entombed were one of the original Stockholm wave of Swedish death metal luminaries, along with Grave and Dismember, who used headache-inducing guitar tones to accent their brutal approaches to extreme music. The band’s first two albums Left Hand Path and Clandestine are hailed as essential building blocks of the death metal genre. The magic of downtuning and the Boss HM-2 pedal were on full display in Sweden’s death metal scene.
In 1993 Entombed threw a curveball with their third effort. Wolverine Blues, while still savage and rancid-sounding as ever, was not standard death metal issue. Instead the band were playing fast and loose with their sound and incorporated a fair bit of rock and groove into their formula. They would be chief among several in starting the subgenre of “death n’ roll.”
There is a lot to talk about here, both the implications of stylistic change and a major media tie-in offer quite a bit to discuss. But for now I’ll get through the 10 tracks that run a lean 35 minutes, then I’ll jump into those other issues.
The opener sets the tone with sick riffing and a lot of hoarse singing going on about “I’ll do me and you do you” kind of stuff. A bit of philosophy sprinkled in with our death metal, I’m cool with that.
A very gnarly, nasty tune that exemplifies how scuzzy and scummy death n’ roll can be. The lyrics are a bit of an incomprehensible mess but apparently walking on rotten soil will cause your blood to boil, and even better, blood will be pissing down your spine. Pretty good shit there.
The title track lives up to its animal namesake’s ferocity. The wolverine is some kind of mutant badger/bear thing that is just utterly destructive. It is towards the top on a list of animals you don’t want to run into and Entombed capture the ferocity of the animal very well in song form.
This is also the link to the coming media tie-in I’ll be discussing later.
A very tight, well-done tune that invites demonic possession. Not something for church but a highlight from the album, which as a whole is also something not for church.
This blistering song takes aim at society, or “civiliezation” as the lyrics spell it. While heavy metal and misanthropy have long been dance partners to the point of it getting boring, Entombed bring the fire on Contempt. The low-tuned, sloppy music fits like a glove but is almost secondary to some of the lyrics L.G. Petrov is belching out here. The line “No matter how low you are, there’s always someone to look down upon” is one I find in my head a lot these days as society seems desperate to tear itself apart. This is the star of the show.
Full Of Hell
Not to be outdone, this song also shines with its descent into willful madness and chaos. The lyrics flow right along with the disgusting riff and it’s a full-speed bullet train straight into insanity. It’s a death-groove stomp through just going nuts and it works splendidly.
We’re out of the peak of the album now and into a bit of a valley. As the title might suggest, we are cosplaying as vampires here. The marriage of death n’ roll and vampirism doesn’t quite pan out. The song is sufficiently heavy but the theme doesn’t quite land. It sounds like Petrov is just fucking off as he delivers the lines, which include gems like “I fuck your blood.” It’s probably a good thing that Entombed’s media tie-in wasn’t with Interview With A Vampire.
Off now to the song chosen as the album’s single. Hollowman was released as an EP, which for an album the length of Wolverine Blues is like half the album. The song is a bit abstract in its lyrical fare but does post the equally profound and dumb question “Who examines the doctors?” I think doctors do but I’m not entirely sure. At any rate it’s another worthy track and a good pick-me-up after whatever the hell happened before it.
The song is monstrously heavy and a nice addition to the record. I have no clue what’s going on in the lyrics, this is some masters-degree level philosophy shit here. It’s beyond me.
Out Of Hand
We close the record on a song that leaves no lingering philosophical questions – everything is fucked and fuck it all. Even on an album full of nasty, intense songs, this one kicks the dial up a notch further and bookends the album in properly brutal fashion.
Wolverine Blues was a curveball album from Entombed. Just as death metal was making international noise and gaining in popularity in 1993, one of its formative bands changed gears and threw out a death n’ roll platter instead of staying on the death metal train. The album did alienate a fair portion of fans, to this day many swear off the record.
The album does have its fans, myself included. There’s just something about the nasty, unhinged approach to it that makes everything work. Death n’ roll would not spring up as much of a subgenre though a few other bands took a stab at it. It would mainly become the music that Entombed was known for. They would continue on a similar course for years afterward with the band eventually splintering and leaving only vocalist L.G. Petrov, who for legal reasons had to change the group’s name to Entombed A.D. Petrov would succumb to cancer in 2021.
For all the talk of the album, there is also a discussion to be had involving the record label and their decision to force a corporate tie-in on the band and record. Against the wished of Entombed, the label Earache Records got a hold of Marvel Comics and produced a variant cover to the album featuring the mutant comic character bearing the same name as the album. A mini-comic was included in the CD’s booklet.
It was an attempt at marketing to a wider audience and it wasn’t a really good one. There was no real connection between the Wolverine of the comics and the song or album. Comics were a bloated mess by this point in the 90’s and were destined for a huge crash, and any link between comic books and death metal is minimal at best. The album was also edited in order to avoid issues with the tie-in that would obviously appeal to younger audiences – instances of the f-word in multiple songs were cut out, and the track Out Of Hand was cut completely.
It’s also worth noting the presence of Columbia Records on the label spine – this album was part of an ill-fated pact between Earache and Columbia to capitalize on interest in death metal in the early 90’s. Nothing really came of the merger and it ended without doing much good for any of the bands. If anything, dumb tie-in ideas like this were all that the partnership brought. Carcass did get paid for an album twice because of the dissolution of the arrangement, but that is another story for another time.
The Wolverine and Entombed mash-up did not bear much fruit – the band remained underground and hordes of comic nerds did not seek out the album or become death metal converts due to the tie-in. There are probably a few instances of that happening but those are few and far between I would imagine.
But at the end of the day the Marvel crossover is just a footnote in the story of Wolverine Blues. The true story is that a band changed course and provided an out-of-left-field sound that turned off some but captivated others. Metal’s underground was all over the place at this point in the early 90’s and Entombed was still able to bring something unique to the table. Even with detractors, the album is still celebrated as a triumph and is always a treat to put on the stereo.