BODYFARM – Ultimate Abomination (2023)REVIEW

The ruthless, bulldozing advance of traditional death metal’s aging zeitgeist continues to spur the heels of the outsized sound design and steadily evolved character which drives Amersfoort, Netherlands-based quartet Bodyfarm into the future, a steady constant in their five LP and roughly fourteen year history which now smartly capitalizes upon a unique opportunity to re-tune and refine their approach as the lineup returns from its biggest shift(s) to date. Album number five, ‘Ultimate Abomination‘, appears energized as it manages to reinforce the band’s signature (or, niche) as often as it leans into memorable and/or varietal stabs both outside and within of their well-established circle. Though they are still a fine crossing of melodious regalia and tank-like, lumbering munitions the mastery available to their fairly accessible craft continues to read as progress made, unflinching domination.

Bodyfarm formed in 2009 and over the course of five full-length records they’ve since become known for traditional death metal style achieved with tank controls, slow turning with a devastating roll to it. The original line-up were still learning at their point of first release, offering a mid-paced record which reserved a lot of its personality to the vocalist’s expressions. Their first mLP (‘Bodyfarm‘, 2010) was an average death metal chugger in a throwback style not far from the simplified ‘old school’-adjacent stuff we’d expect from earlier Bloodbath and Hail of Bullets. While the full-length (‘Malevolence, 2012) in that same style did up the ante a bit in terms of the drums hitting a more pro standard and the production sound stacking up better, Bodyfarm didn’t really reach a notable point in their discography for my taste until ‘The Coming Scourge‘ (2013) released. Still a slow-rolling tank of a record but a good balance between ‘underground’ death metal personality, some melodic death metal influences creeping in, and the insistent loudness of increasingly over-polished production values. It’d been a unique point in time where this type of traditional death metal band could stand out for a subtle yet classic approach yet still stand apart from cheaper, underthought retro bunk. They continued to amp it up along the way and that meant leaning into melodic death metal guitar ideas to brilliant results on the next two full-lengths with ‘Battle Breed‘ (2015) being one of my favorite releases from the band and ‘Dreadlord‘ (2019) being a bittersweet deal due to the too-early passing of original vocalist Thomas Wouters a month prior to release. The band appeared to split or hit pause at that point and the pandemic wasn’t far off in the distance so, it was a wonder that Bodyfarm eventually regrouped at all.

With such a legacy of releases and a natural progression available to their discography within a decade plus career it made sense to continue with Bodyfarm, albeit with a new line-up, in 2020 and this meant the vocalist/bassist position was filled by Ralph de Boer, who has fronted death/thrashers Dead Head since ‘Depression Tank‘ and former Grafjammer skinsman David Schermann would replace longtime drummer Quint Meerbeek. This of course means the direction of the band has adjusted beyond the Dismember meets Bolt Thrower-esque melodic tank-style death metal (see also: late 90’s Fleshcrawl) push of past releases to some degree, allowing for these two vital pieces of Bodyfarm‘s sound to insert themselves. Whereas ‘Dreadlord‘ had an almost blackened melodic death lean to some of its twists and turns ‘Ultimate Abomination‘ takes a slightly more hardcorish stance without losing the long-developed signature rhythm guitar work/songcraft from Bram Hillhorst, who persists as the last original member of the crew. Many bands lose themselves entirely and become generic slog-fests after so much turnover and tragedy but I wouldn’t say these folks have lost the plot at all, no dumbass kid-mosh metal shit in sight, plenty of work up front on display, and overall this record makes well-enough sense as the next step for the band.

Consistency is key for this type of death metal and longtime fans won’t find anything outrageous, underdeveloped, experimental or out of line on this fifth full-length as it fires up its introductory pieces. “Symbolical Warfare” is right to the throat a modern sheen upon classic mid-paced mid-to-late 90’s death metal tradition and speaks Bodyfarm‘s language despite de Boer‘s vocals being clearer as more of a groove/death metal vocalist and the pace of the cut is more thrashed-at yet melodic as its later verse riffs stand in lineage of ‘Dreadlord‘. The existing fan gets endorphins they need up front as the fix is in and the new listener gets a representative notion of where the band’s oeuvre has built up its knack. There’ll be a few curveballs to come, such as the death n’ rolling kickstart to “The Wicked Red” which finds the band leaning a bit more heavy metal in general, a notable spike in enthusiasm on a pretty consistently aggressive record. This doesn’t appear wildly out of context though they are back to thrashing within moments as “Blasting Tyranny” burns in, this is the one song to officially set ‘Ultimate Abomination‘ over the edge for the death metal guitarist/fandom since their rhythmic style receives a staggering elaboration therein. As a fan of ‘old school’ death metal it ends up being what I’d consider big festival draw death metal, an exaggeration of fidelity with readable yet nuanced groove-focused classicism as the main modus. At the end of the day, there’ll be no fighting off how catchy-as-shit “The Wicked Red” is, it only leaves me wanting/expecting more in this style in the future, but “Blasting Tyranny” is the one I’ll hit repeat on fifty times while picking away at a guitar.

Bodyfarm haven’t tasked themselves with discovering any sort of curious, or, outlandish rhythm guitar textures since 2013 so, it is good to see slightly more variation here before we get to the sluggish death/groove clunk of “The Swamp“. At this point the three major singles of the album have shared the main modes of ‘Ultimate Abomination‘ as they persist throughout the ~45 minute rub of the full listen with a few notable modifications made, expectations are well and clearly set therein and the album has generally delivered. All is reinforced from that point on, we get big and dumb stompers left and right when dipping into the gist of Side B (“Empire of Iniquity”, “Soul Damnation”) before one last hit of slightly blackened guitar work lands one last highlight with the otherwise thrashing, exemplar bit of the band’s general style with “Sacrilege of the Fallen”.

With repeat listens the overall effect of listening to ‘Ultimate Abomination‘ bears a burly, tunneled-at charm which speaks to the grotesque reality of human society today as well as it speaks a somewhat universal, if not ploddingly phrased, language of pure enough mid-paced death metal. There are no major missteps or glaring technical flaws which allow me to pick or prod a the result, Bodyfarm continue to be slick as Hell within their greater modus. I couldn’t throw a serious nag or put a negative dent in any of their last three records, so, this one ends up being a pretty easy thumbs up — a crowd pleasing tank of a record that manages to crank out a few memorable pieces along its path to war. A moderately high recommendation.

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