(Here are DGR’s thoughts about the new album by Bloodbath, which was released on October 26th by Peaceville Records.)
There’s always going to be a certain amount of charm in being self-aware about how “dumb” your music can get sometimes, and glorying in it. There’s an attractive confidence in that when it seems like many bands have to play up how serious they are about how brutal their branch of death metal is, how heavy and violent their noise-unleashing can be. However, when you’re Bloodbath and are a long-established throwback act you can find joy in just how “ridiculous” all of this can be at face value.
In some ways it feels like the band are getting ahead of any legitimate criticism by acknowledging this on their newest album, The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn, in part by naming a song “Bloodicide”, which may be my favorite bit of campy fun the Bloodbath crew have executed to date — just behind the caricature-playing during Grand Morbid Funeral, which seems to have continued into the band’s new photo shoots, which has them looking like they hunt demons, and the fact that “Eaten” (and to some extent “Iesous” on the following disc) is basically a death metal nursery rhyme.
You can discuss all sorts of different things about the band’s sound on The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn — what tracks work for you, how the guest appearances play out, the brilliantly subdued artwork, whether you enjoy that Arrow pulls from a lot more different genre-influences than just the classic hammering thud of their beloved Swede-death, and how good Nick Holmes manages to sound this go-around now that he’s un-grimmed his growl a little bit and gone for a slightly more low-end-favoring approach.
But it also all kind of wraps around to the fact that “Yes, but they also named a song ‘Bloodicide'”… and there’s a certain amount of joy to be found in that.
For those less prone to amusement based on song titles alone, the aforementioned “Bloodicide” happens early enough in the track listing of The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn, following the apocalyptic gravitas of “Fleischmann”. “Bloodicide” is something of a beacon for the album because very early on it signals that the band might actually be having fun with what they’re writing this time, as opposed to the overarching grimness of its immediate predecessor or the hammering ferocity of the three albums before that. While Bloodbath have always been a hybrid tribute/throwback act — and one of the earliest to do so — perhaps because they pull from more than just their beloved Swede-death handbook this time, it seems like Bloodbath are feeling a little playfully adventurous.
“Bloodicide” is packed with guest appearances from Karl Willets, Jeff Walker, and John Walker and it’s a hard-driving groove monster of a song. “Fleischmann” before it, as noted, is an apocalyptically heavy blast-furnace of a track for a good chunk of its runtime and kicks off the album in pyrotechnic fashion, but it is the relentless thudding of “Bloodicide” and its low-end-driven riff-writing that make it one of the early album highlights.
The sort of tossing back and forth between the dark apocalypse of the opening song and the glorying-in-its-own-stupidness of the next one is a common thread throughout the album; the apportionment of such experiences across the disc is part of what makes The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn an interesting listen. There’s a pretty good chunk of this album where Bloodbath seem to be having a terrifically good time alternating between some rock-stupid drum thudding and delicious d-beat work before fully giving themselves over to the power of the blast.
The album is split pretty evenly across the death metal spectrum. Its ten tracks cover the gamut between infernal furious blasters, solid death-groovers, and down-tempo doomier fare. That translates to the disc as a whole feeling the most like a collection of singles that Bloodbath have done so far. Yet by that same token that near-three-way split among styles — and the occasional hybrid monster — means that a lot of listeners will find themselves digging on different songs constantly.
The five minutes of groaning chainsaw riff that defines “Levitator” as it alternates between a gigantic and stomping rhythm-riff and an occasional quickened tempo means that, more often than not, you’ll find yourself joining in on the deafening “Leeeeevitatooooooor” growl and wishing you could throw some minor vocal effects on it as well so you too can sound like you’re drowning.
For as much joy as I’ve found in the bluntness of “Bloodicide” early on, “Levitator’s” follower “Deader” is one of the few other songs on The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn that could compete with it in the caveman death metal olympics. It pairs off quite well with its immediate predecessor, though most of the songs on this album pair with another quite well; they just happen to be more spread out. For instance, two other album highlights are “Wayward Samaritan” and “March Of The Crucifiers”, both of which run in a similar vein music-wise, both of them embracing a fast groove that no doubt is purpose-built for headbanging, especially in “Wayward Samaritan”, whose ruthless murderer protagonist feels like the opposite viewpoint of “My Torturer” — just performed a hell of a lot faster and more efficiently.
“Chainsaw Lullaby” even calls to mind the classic horror-movie bent that death metal has long been fond of (and has even recently been approached by Arsis as well for a few songs on their new album Visitant). “Chainsaw Lullaby” lives up to its title, though, because if you’re a huge fan of the chainsaw guitar tone that Bloodbath have long made their bread-and-butter then “Chainsaw Lullaby”s three-plus minutes will have you satiated. It’s probably one of the more “classic sounding” Bloodbath songs on this album as well; no wonder it was one of the first revealed from the disc as its release approached.
A quick aside for the two bonus tracks, since their inclusion in the deluxe edition means that most folks won’t get the chance to hear them: “Ride The Waves Of Fire” is a slow-moving grinder, built entirely around its chorus growl. It’s one of the slower songs Bloodbath have put in their arsenal for The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn, but its three-minute-fifty-second track length means that it often feels like it’s over before it has begun. If you’re a big fan of the chugging death metal stomp — the guitar riff especially being more classically rock-oriented and not hyper-complicated — then “Ride The Waves Of Fire” should hold some interest for you.
On the other hand the second bonus track, “Wide Eyed Abandon”, keeps the glacial tempo but goes fully apocalyptic black metal, and that is a ride unto itself. Outside of “Fleishmann” and “Warhead Ritual” on the main album, Bloodbath don’t dwell too much in the realms of the echo-heavy guitar apocalypse, flame-covered horizon and all. They do all of that in the five minutes of “Wide Eyed Abandon”, which of the two bonus tracks is the one that should be sought out because it leaves one hell of an impression by the time it wraps up. It feels like the missing link between the exhumed corpse of Grand Morbid Funeral and this newest disc.
In a strange way I’ve found that The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn shares a bit of a similarity with the most recent Behemoth disc, I Loved You At Your Darkest, beyond the classical painted cover art layout, in large part because it seems like this is the album where the band have evolved past the musicians who make up its lineup and have transformed into full-blown characters in their own right. In a way, Bloodbath have become a cultural artifact and reference point, having long solidified their place in the “death metal plumbing its own history worship” genre. The difference, I think, is in the approach to embracing their inherent camp while still retaining a veneer of honesty about what they are doing — in more blunt terms, how willing they are to buy into their own bullshit.
Behemoth are completely bought-in, and as long as you’re prepared for the fact that they are bought-in and have embraced their persona, then their newest release can be very enjoyable. Bloodbath, on the other hand, are a bit more self-aware in how they embrace it, which can lead to the band lyrically not just committing acts of violence and horror on others but also — much as in Grand Morbid Funeral — allowing themselves to become the victim, and in that way to divorce themselves from the approach of unrelenting brutality. They pull from a treasured cavalcade of death metal tropes and this time expand beyond their early Swedish-death origins into something a little more pan-European.
The songs on The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn are equal parts more even-keeled than those in its immediate predecessor, but also a little more varied and adventurous, which makes listening sessions pretty dynamic. It’s not difficult to imagine that there will be little commonly shared ground among listeners over which song is the favorite, and that is great. The album may not be the most thematically tied-together, but the material within manages to remain interesting throughout.
Just put my votes down for that opening salvo in “Bloodicide”, and ‘Wayward Samaritan’.