Sentenced, aka “The Northernmost Killers”, are one of my all time favorite heavy metal bands. Their fourth album, “Down”, is George’s Classic for this week. Sentenced started out playing a melodic death metal, but with each of the early albums they slowed down just a little more and became a bit more melodic. By the time they were getting ready to work on their fourth album this gradual change in style apparently didn’t sit well with vocalist/bassist Taneli Jarva and he left the band. Enter singer Ville Laihiala and bassist Sami Kukkohovi.
Ville joined in 1996 and recorded his first album with the band: “Down”. This is where I first became aware of Sentenced. I may have seen the earlier albums in the Tower Records in Ann Arbor but with a name like Sentenced it probably didn’t register as something that might interest me. I used to spend hours poring over all the music at Tower looking for new bands. (Other than magazines there wasn’t much in the way of music discovery back then. The internet was just starting to become widespread but I had not yet come to realize its potential.) All the metal was mixed in with the general rock population, so I would go A to Z through all the music and look for anything interesting (I used to get terrible neck aches from staring down at the CD racks for so long.)
Sometimes I found things I was looking for and sometimes, frustrated after looking through everything and nothing jumping out at me, I would make impulse purchases just to justify the time spent searching. After all that looking I couldn’t leave empty handed. On one of those seemingly fruitless days I saw “Down” sitting there with its unassuming cover and decided to give it a try since it was released by Century Media. I bought the CD and went out to my car, popped it in the CD player and headed home. By the time I’d reached home I was bouncing off the walls with excitement. I expected some really bad death metal, what I got was something else entirely.
I did not know this at the time, but “Down” was more mid-tempo than the earlier releases. The music was crisp and clear with catchy riffs and melodic leads. The vocals, while having a rough raspy edge were also very melodic in their way. I don’t know that I’d ever heard anything quite like that before “Down”; it seemed either you played brutal or you played melodic, but not a mix of both. I could not stop listening to this album; I was instantly obsessed with Sentenced.
I told anyone that would listen about this great new discovery, but the only one I recall that actually shared my devotion to Sentenced was my friend Josh. I picked up all the earlier albums, and liked them to an extent, but none of them came close to how I felt about “Down.” By the time the next album came along I had moved to Maryland.
If you are at all familiar with Sentenced you know many of the songs are very depressive and forlorn. This was the other half of what made me love them so much. I was one morose metalhead back in those days and hearing these songs which were so frank and honest in their despair made these Fins my kindred spirits. Just like in math, two negatives made a positive. While “normal” people would listen to Sentenced and comment that it was horrible and made them want to kill themselves, to me and thousands of others it was proof that someone else knew how I felt and could relate. For years, when life would serve up a steaming hot turd sandwich, rather than sitting on the couch with a tub of ice cream or drinking myself into unconsciousness I turned to Sentenced to heal my wounds.
“Down” is full of great classic Sentenced songs: “Noose”, “Shadegrown”, “Bleed”, “Sun Won’t Shine” and one of my all time favorites – “Warrior of Life.” The album also featured some back-up vocals from Vorph of Samael.
The best things never last, and in 2005 after eight albums, Sentenced had run its course and the band decided to call it quits and go out on top. I was shocked and upset by their decision, but at least I had a great catalog of music to look back on. I had come to appreciate the Jarva era, but the Ville era was still my favorite. In 2009 the hope of a reunion died along with founding guitarist Miika Tenkula.
Brief is the light.