(Here we have DGR’s review of the highly anticipated new album by Bloodbath.)
There is a knee-jerk reaction provoked by the name Bloodbath, an impulse to instantly want to like what the group are putting forth. At this point, there is a part of me which loves that Bloodbath have as much hype surrounding them as they do, while likewise also recognizing that the group have become something of an institution.
For some people, they were the first real deep introduction to traditional death metal — especially if you were one of those listeners who checked out the band because a bunch of Katatonia and Opeth band members were in the mix. Not only that, but as something of a tribute act, Bloodbath were also stunningly consistent with their sound. They’re experienced professional musicians already, so there’s none of the sense that they have been stumbling into what they’re doing — they know already.
They know how to write it, and because of that, when you’re listening to Bloodbath you’re hearing a group who are really good at throwing us back to the past when death metal was a dark and disgusting monster that people were scared of — the type of music that was a horror movie incarnate.
And while we as a metal fandom have always carped about other groups for merely revisiting the past, Bloodbath have consistently gotten a pass, because they do it well enough that they seem like a band who have simply stumbled a decade or two forward and taken advantage of better recording equipment but have never reconsidered their sound.
The procession of vocalists incorporated by Bloodbath have incorporated have also drawn people in, from those who’ve wanted to hear Mikael Åkerfeldt growl his lungs out, to those who knew that Peter Tägtgren was also a damned good fit for the group, to those who were there to pick Dan Swanö out of the backing fray, and even those able to recognize and appreciate the guest appearance in “Iesous” on Fathomless Mastery by Christian Älvestam.
Bloodbath have always been a name at the forefront, a band who could draw people out of their shells. In that sense, especially considering the comparatively lighter bands its members have been involved in (Opeth, Katatonia, Pain, Scar Symmetry in Christian’s case, and so on…) Bloodbath have even served as a gateway.
On Grand Morbid Funeral, released on November 17th via Peaceville Records and the group’s fourth full-length release, the band have managed to grab a huge name and a slew of headlines with Paradise Lost vocalist Nick Holmes (going by Old Nick), and boy, has that made things interesting.
Grand Morbid Funeral makes absolutely zero pretense as to what sort of disc it is. It opens with a giant barrage of screams and guitars in the form of “Let The Stillborn Come To Me”. The song is a huge, beefy serving of guitar gallops and bass that has been distorted enough to leave listeners feeling as if they are being covered in dirt after slowly digging their way out of a grave.
It’s also the first exposure to Nick’s vocal stylings, so there is absolutely zero burying of the lead present here. Nick hasn’t been on recorded works growling for some time now, and many folks had assumed that he likely wouldn’t be doing so again, yet here he is — and it’s an interesting choice. Nick’s voice isn’t nearly as low as the vocalists who’ve been in the group before and he makes a clear choice not to even bother playing that game.
His voice, alongside many of his lyrics, feels classically horror-inspired. There’s a slight bit of camp to it, but his growl is almost a gurgled rasp. It’s very mid-to-low, and because he has added a snarl on top of it, he also bounces into a higher shriek easily — but it is all delivered so very, very grimly.
There have been few times in death metal where the visual representation of the vocalist has lined up with the voice that comes out of him, yet Nick in the decrepit robes and painted, sickly skin manages to have a voice that’s just as decrepit and sickly. It signals a shift in Bloodbath’s tone, as they now sound like they’re being fronted by an undead satanic monk. Of course, just saying that Nick has delivered a pretty interesting performance means nothing without the music behind him.
Grand Morbid Funeral is a more raw-feeling disc than the albums that came before it. The Fathomless Mastery sounded really good, but it wasn’t that ugly — there wasn’t much grime to it. It was a huge, noisy disc, but one in which the swampier parts of death metal were cleaned off a little. Grand Morbid Funeral brings that filthy layer back, putting this disc in line with Resurrection Through Carnage and Nightmares Made Flesh.
The drumming by Martin Axenrot, for example, is a cymbal-filled affair, one in which the drums sound tightly wound and recorded, but the cymbals crash and splash all over the place, washing out some of the band when they hit. He puts on a vicious performance back there, one that fits well with the death metal resurrection ritual in which Bloodbath are participating. On the album’s faster songs the guy is just a battering ram of noise, and on the closers of “Famine Of God’s Word” and “My Torturer” he seems to be hitting everything he can as quickly as possible, just to add to the overall cacophony.
Since we’re on “My Torturer”, the three-pack of songs that lie at the end of Grand Morbid Funeral may be what the disc should be sold on. The combo of “Unite In Pain” to “My Torturer” to “Grand Morbid Funeral” is a great run of music. It’s the kind of bombing run that resulted in me glancing over to see my fellow NCS writer (in this case BadWolf) laying flat on his bed just pumping his fists in the air like a piston machine at each drum hit while I was hanging out in his apartment on a visit to Seattle.
“Unite In Pain” is a percussive death metal track that is the first of two high-speed trains in this three pack. It feels long a song built for people to keep up with just so they can get to the line and shout, ‘Unite In Pain!’. “My Torturer” is a maddening song, a swirl of riffs and chugging bass, and one of the few in which Old Nick is not involved in manifesting harm inflicted upon another person. Instead, in “My Torturer” we envision the acts performed upon him — and yes, they are as gruesome as you would expect them to be.
Despite the howled calls for help, though, the song continues to barrel through its movements — which means that “Unite In Pain” and “My Torturer” kind of run into each other if you don’t catch the song changeover. But every part of the song seems to be built on the objective of getting a good headbang and a pit out of it.
“My Torturer” may wind up being one of the dark-horse highlights on Grand Morbid Funeral. The song is the auditory equivalent of the CD actually belching fire. GRAND. MORBID. FUNERAL — which I can’t help but type just as Nick enunciates it — is the funerary march that closes the disc. It’s a shift in pace from the previous two thrashers but feels like a song written to be wholly anthemic.
If, months from now, when Bloodbath take the stage during the big festival runs they seem to be plotting, there aren’t crowds of people thrusting their fists in the air and yelling GRAND. MORBID. FUNERAL as the song plays, then we will have failed as a metal fandom. It also feels like a weird reprise of the way the disc starts, with two speedy songs and then finally slowing things down a bit for “Anne”, and it’s fun and wholly not the stuff-of-nightmares subject matter.
It will be interesting to see the spectrum of reactions to Grand Morbid Funeral. For someone who has found Bloodbath to be wholly entertaining since the start, from my beginning with Resurrection Through Carnage to The Fathomless Mastery six some-odd years ago, Grand Morbid Funeral slots in right near the top.
It sounds like a well-produced version of Resurrection in some respects, as the guitar and bass are just as meaty as they were on that album and still retain that layer of grime, but it also comes through a whole lot more clearly than before. There’s nothing really obscured, so those who prefer their death metal a little swampier and less coherent may not find the sludge monster they want in Grand Morbid Funeral. For those who enjoy the throwback sound that the band have retained, and yes, made uglier than before, then Grand Morbid Funeral’s procession is one worth marching in, all the way to the gates of hell.
Bloodbath sound great, and Nick’s super-grim and raspy delivery fits in, giving the group a distinctive leader like they haven’t had before. Grand Morbid Funeral is a forty-minute, well-cooked piece of meat that comes out bludgeoning and furious. It’s certainly not stuff we haven’t heard before, but it is music done very well and hopefully will be a gateway through which fans will fall deeper into this genre of music; like Bloodbath’s other albums, it is an excellent starting point and a vivid introduction to the horror.
Grand Morbid Funeral is out now on Peaceville Records and can be ordered here; it’s also available digitally on iTunes and Amazon. The entire album can be streamed at Metal Sucks. Four of the songs can be streamed below.