It is time once again to cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war, and simultaneously to ring the dinner bell in the heads of those Pavlovian dogs among us who salivate at the sound of chainsawing riffs and the movement of skull-plundering rhythms. Bolt Thrower may have fought their last battle, Hail of Bullets may have been drained of life, Asphyx may be pondering their next move, but Just Before Dawn continue to rise in gruesome power and terrible glory.
On their new album, Tides of Glory, all the key ingredients from previous releases remain in place — the thematic focus on events from the Second World War; the head-hooking, body-moving riffs; the monstrous power of the enlisted vocalists; the obliterating might of a rhythm section firing on all cylinders. But while riff-meister Anders Biazzi and his combat-veteran comrades haven’t made any dramatic departures from the old-school death metal stylings of the earlier albums (and it would be a rude shock if they had), they’ve still found ways to up their game.
It may be my imagination, but Tides of Glory sounds even more titanic than ever — from the enormous drum tone to the slaughtering, blood-freezing corrosiveness of the guitar distortion, from the brain-searing clarity of the solos to the petrifying immediacy of the vocals. The effect is near-overpowering, and thus meshes seamlessly with the staggeringly destructive nature of the events that inspired the lyrical themes.
The album is also the most effective of JBD’s releases (so far) in creating atmosphere as well as blood-rushing force — atmospheres of almost ineffable bleakness and terrible grandeur. The melodic currents in the songs, further accented by an array of soulful and fiery melodic solos, are effective in conjuring the terrors and the tragedy of men fed into the insatiable meat-grinder of war.
Biazzi and his usual drumming partner Brynjar Helgetun haven’t lacked for strong voices in their past work under the JBD moniker, and the vocal performances on Tides of Glory are at least the equal of what has come before (and by my lights a further step forward), thanks to the participation of Dave Ingram, whose remarkably vibrant roar can be heard on most of these tracks. Other guests have also added their vocal talents (in addition to JBD band member Jonny Pettersson), including Matias Nastolin, Ralf Hauber, Mattias Parkkila, Jocke Mikiver, and Teddy Möller (the latter two provide an especially wild pairing of rage and despair when they team up on “Civilian Alliance”).
Biazzi and his mates have also taken care to prevent a full-album run from devolving into monotony. It is book-ended by acoustic, spoken word pieces that set the stage and draw the curtain closed (the latter of which is situated as the outro to the closing track), and in between, the songs push and pull the intensity.
“Day of Days” brings the intensity to a boil immediately, delivering a fury of deep, detonating percussion and a combination of fleet-fingered riffs that are viciously seething and that also burst like machine-gun fire. A couple of subsidences in that storm provide space for ghostly, wailing guitar solos by Scott Fairfax that convey a feeling of lament. JBD follow that harrowingly savage start with a track (“Market Garden”) that exudes an atmosphere of darkness and dread, gloom and grandeur — while also delivering the kind of jackhammering riff-work and hammering drum drive that shake the spine (the exotic, swaying and spiraling solo adds icing to the cake).
There are plenty of galvanizing, hard-charging tank attacks spread across the album, but also slow, dismal movements, with melodies that flow slowly like rivers of blood across a blasted ground. The title track is the best example of that recurring change of pace and mood. The long, moaning chord reverberations and bleak, pulsating lead are catastrophic, summoning the emotional force of scanning a vast killing ground littered with broken bodies soaked in blood. The soloing in the song is both mournful and mesmerizing.
It is only near the end, within the closing track “In the Depth of War”, that moments of genuine beauty surface in this pageant of obliteration and grief, when Håkan Stuvemark delivers a haunting and hypnotic solo that blends into a gleaming, keyboard-enhanced cascade of sound that seems almost inspiring.
No, JBD haven’t done anything dramatically different from what they’ve done before — you really can’t tinker very much with this kind of warlike old-school death metal without breaking something that should never be broken — but they’ve done it better than they have before (which is saying something), creating an album that’s a massive, primally powerful assault on the senses, but also one that casts long shadows which linger in the mind.
Tides of Blood was mixed by Brynjar Helgetun and mastered by Jonny Pettersson. The cover artwork was made by Benny Moberg and Jonas Wideen. The album is being released today by Raw Skull Recordz on limited-edition vinyl LP and on CD.