Friday, May 21, 2010

Sentenced - Crimson

Sentenced - Crimson
Century Media, 2000

I think I have finally figured out why labels refuse to send out lyric sheets in promo packages - they can control almost all the perceptions that will result from a person listening to an album: they design or veto the album artwork, they shape the production, they influence the bands this-way-and-that in order to increase sales (Nuclear Blast trying to turn Dismember into a trad-metal band? Come on!), they spread hype and boot-licking reviews from sycophantic critics across the horizon, or all over advertisements, announcements, emails, magazines, radio, and the promo sleeves themselves, etc. - but one thing they can not censor (not yet anyway) are the words in a song. Face it, a song can be as musically traditional as possible but the lyrics can change the entire effect of the message by being subversive in any number of ways (some bands thrive on this formula). Now I know it is increasingly rare for the music audience out there to even grasp, in a limited way, the lyrics that they often find themselves singing along to (Nirvana proved that beyond reproach), but Sentenced is a band whose lyrics remain dangerously personal and, in my opinion, completely contrary to the 'fashionable' image their handlers want to spread throughout the metal world. The music may have changed over the years, filtered piece-by-piece through every paradigm of 'progression' that has been bandied about by journalists (yes, those people who endeavor to explain to others just what is going on in front of their own noses) ever since the Swedish death metal scene rediscovered alternative rock, trickling ever so slowly through the metal world's recalcitrant attempts at labelling and categorizing everything under the sun, but their lyrics have become, if anything, always more personal, closer to the first person singular, and ever more explosive in their potential to reach across to an audience that is doubtlessly drowning in a desperate search for empathy. Wasn't music supposed to be all about communication? Did I imagine that? If music is a universal form of communication, how much more powerful is it when allied with lyrics that are expressively confessional in this confessional age? Suicidal in a suicidal age? Sentenced seem to me, at times, to be tailor-made for this generation.

Let me tell you how I understand this album: the entire thing is a prelude to, or turning away from, the central two songs on this disc: tracks five and six, 'Broken' and 'Killing Me Killing You'. The latter may have been the single, the song that the powers that be chose to precede the album's release and grace the airwaves in this band's native Finland (or across Europe, actually), but it is 'Broken' that I think makes this entire record, and the track that firmly cements this collection of songs in my mind as being worthy of enthusiastic acclaim. Gifted with a stirring intro that will have fists and heads banging, a main riff to die for, catchy beyond belief (with hooks that will stay in your consciousness for days), and a twisted wheezing guitar riff in the breakdown sections (I hope that's a guitar) that sounds like nothing as much as a rusty bed-spring squeaking (instantly bringing to mind all the little goth girls that will be sweating on dorm room beds under their drunken dates with visions of Ville dancing in their heads while listening to this opus magnificat, making that corpus move to the sugary croonings of Finland's dark prince of suicidal romance - what is it called when something reminds you of something else that has not even happened yet? Reverse serendipity? Insanity?), a rousing solo, choruses and vocal melodies that are textbook-perfect, etc. this moving piece is a work of art - that rarity in the metal scene - a really great song.

But all raving aside, Sentenced are a true enigma in their own time: they are talented enough to escape all the restrictions that normally shackle the hands of musicians who are not secure outside of genre restrictions, and they are able to effortlessly reference those same genres while stubbornly staying clear of all of them. Death metal, black metal, heavy metal, new metal, alternative, rock, radio-friendly pop melodicism? What does any of this mean to Sentenced? They transcend these pigeon-holes, hurdling boundaries with dignity and grace always intact. A lucky band, then. Dark and drama-driven one moment, they are equally uplifting the next. Groups like this do not come along very often, and I can only watch with surprised detachment the progress of their career - where will they go next? Who knows? One thing I do know, however: if there was ever a band that had the potential to rise like a phoenix out of the metal underground and dash into the mainstream, onto radio and deep into the hearts and minds of music fans across the world, Sentenced are it. This album deserves to be huge. I wish them luck.