Though they were a major gateway for many, and certain darlings for folks discovering the undying power of old school death metal in the early 2000’s, it is hard to imagine what a retro old school Swedish death metal ‘super group’ like Bloodbath truly has on offer in the second half of 2018. Not only has it been an unusually mountainous year for death metal that bridges past and present but most everything released comes with abnormally high standards realized. Balanced fidelity with well rounded dynamic mixing and variation tuned fully concieved albums are the norm of today’s world of death metal plenty. Amidst this renaissance I could not help but notice the elite internet caves of dissent filling with growls of measured disappointment with every successive legacy death metal release of the year. Can we look beyond the trendsetters and forward thinkers that fill the bleachers themselves? And does a spectacle-over-substance project like Bloodbath hold adjacent value merely because of grand production values? By virtue of significant branding they survive and flourish for what they have done perhaps rather than the average things they are doing. I would banish myself from their records the same way I would not pay an exorbitant amount to attend a final Slayer tour yet, I realize legacy acts represent more than just music for so many.
There is no such luxury in my own existence where the music must, at the very least, speak for itself. To see a band such as Horrendous, who no doubt appeared in the wake of a resurgence of Swedish death metal revivalist maw opened by bands like Bloodbath, transcend their own Boss HM-2 beginnings into ‘new old school’ avenues admittedly raises the bar for those who choose not to change or ‘progress’. The occasional appearance of these Swedish/UK folks holds far less mindshare than ever thanks to a relentless release schedule of younger and hungrier bands playing the same style. The fairly similar ethos of bands like Paganizer, Entrails, Demonical, Revel in Flesh, among hundreds more have collectively exhausted the public with their big growling guitar tone. Still, there is a place for Bloodbath in death metal and there is no doubting their professionalism and effective live sound. Before I begin digging into the innards of ‘The Arrow of Satan is Drawn’ I want to preface that exploration with a few statements that are only really meaningful to me and perhaps telling to the reader: I have never enjoyed a Bloodbath album and do not consider any of thier music essential nor anything beyond mediocre in terms of artistry or riff-craft. No rose-tinted nostalgia at all.
By the time I’d really begun to sunk my teeth into death metal, making regular purchases and buying metal magazines, Katatonia had just released what was essentially a ‘The Cure does alt metal’ album in ‘Discouraged Ones’. There was never much hope of recovery for the artists involved (at least in my mind) at that very teenaged part of my life as I’d found Opeth equally uninspiring. By the time Bloodbath had arrived so had the reissue for ‘Dance of December Souls’ and while I felt Katatonia were redeemed, Bloodbath appeared insincere and dry compared to Stockholm ’90-’93 all the same. This came in a time where retro Swedish death metal was at least slightly more appealing than the legions of faceless Suffocation and Nile clones of the early 2000’s but not yet such a ‘sure’ thing in terms of lasting trend. They also arrived on the backs of three equally mediocre Paganizer releases, who were not at all out of touch in terms of riffs by comparison. To put it as succinctly as I can, the ‘groove’ of Bloodbath is where they both make their mark and miss it entirely.
Composed of key members of Katatonia, Opeth, and Edge of Sanity at their inception there was the sense that Bloodbath were taking their gig very seriously at the start. After the second album the departure of Dan Swanö left a very obvious creative void and whether the vocal position was filled by Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth) or Peter Tägtgren (Hypocrisy) by ‘The Fathomless Mastery’ (2008) it was clear that the project had lost focus and the fire within. From that point on Bloodbath appeared as a nonchalant, serviceable side-gig for well-fed popular musicians as they included Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost) on vocals and now Craft bassist/guitarist Joakim Karlsson on second guitar. Were they revived with ‘Grand Morbid Funeral’ (2014)? No. Are they on a roll four years later with ‘The Arrow of Satan is Drawn’ today? No, but it isn’t a bad record so much as it is a mediocre one. Like so many other extreme metal musicians over the last decade they’ve seen that humanity is marching themselves towards annihilation and they’ve decided to join in on the messaging.
When “Fleischmann” fires up there was a genuine moment of ‘Oh huh, what is this?’ as some smaller breath of occult extreme metal coughed up a cloud of riffs and roars before giving way to buzzsaw groove-driven Bloodbath-isms. This is the sort of moment than a band like Entrails sells albums with but it becomes clear as the album progresses from that point that the blackened influences coming from Karlsson are fleeting and the rolling boil of the Sunlight Studios sound ends up going absolutely nowhere interesting. Consider the possibilities that the sound has wrought over the last several decades from Afflicted and God Macabre to Deathevokation and even Horrendous‘ ‘The Chills’ then contrast with the composition of ‘The Arrow of Satan is Drawn’ which is barely serviceable beyond your average thoughtlessly riffed Ribspreader clunker. From the death ‘n roll riffs of “Wayward Samarian” to the Cannibal Corpse-ified deathcore of “March of the Crucifiers” to the bland mid-90’s Disemember-isms of “Warhead Ritual” there is little in the way of substance within the full listen. On the plus side album closer and single “Chainsaw Lullaby” is perhaps one of the best Bloodbath have written to date.
So, why expend time and effort analyzing a fruitless experience that amounts to a surface level resemblance of better things? There is some value in understanding why this brand of death metal is a gateway drug rather than a substantive experience and by identifying the ‘accessible’ aspects of the music some meaning could arise for the initiated. The gateways of my era of induction came from early 90’s Deicide, Morbid Angel, Entombed and Cannibal Corpse so I am not at all quick to shame or ride folk who come about extreme metal by way of any entry point. As a piece of music standing on its own two feet that isn’t -actually- very accessible in terms of songwriting ‘The Arrow of Satan is Drawn’ is entirely rote outside of its opening and closing moments. The trip it takes doesn’t go far, does nothing to stand out, and ultimately brings a very disappointing set of riffs and chorales (which Bloodbath are typically known for). With neither panache nor ‘rock star’ moments I fail to see any lasting value on offer.
Persistence of indoctrination. 2.5/5.0
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