There’s an entire generation, and probably more than one, for whom Swedish melodic death metal was a gateway into extreme metal, ushered into a new world of musical experiences by the likes of At the Gates, In Flames, and Dark Tranquillity. For a stretch of years, a certain golden age, it seemed to rule the underground, and eventually some of the surface world. And then, as always happens with a sound that strikes such widespread sparks among audiences, the genre became saturated with lesser lights and then overtaken by the next new thing, and the next.
It isn’t what it used to be, but as in the case of Mark Twain’s rumored demise in 1897, reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. Undeniably, it’s enormously more difficult for a band to succeed with this style in the current age than when the sound was in its infancy, and seemed like a revelation. But as daunting as the task may be now, it’s not impossible, and Bleeding Utopia from Västerås, Sweden, have proved that with their new album Where the Light Comes To Die, which is being released today by Black Lion Records.
They succeed (in spades) in part because they’ve brought some other ingredients into the mix, and in part because they’re just so damned good at what they’re doing — so good, in fact, that one could imagine this album also being a gateway of its own to a new generation, in addition to being a great reminder of this music’s appeal to those of us who were led down the path by those legendary progenitors.
Those names mentioned above do come to mind quite often in listening to Where the Light Comes To Die, along with such bands as Amon Amarth and Demonical, and perhaps a bit of Hypocrisy and The Black Dahlia Murder (whose Ryan Knight turns in a guest solo on “Enhance My Wrath”). The songs are emblems of the head-hooking melodies, darting and pulsating leads, dual-guitar partnerships, and galloping rhythms of Swedish melodeath. Bleeding Utopia also fuel their music with turbocharged energy (almost all the way through, the music is an unbridled rush) and they provide frequent opportunities for headbangers to hammer themselves insensible.
But there’s also an undeniable viciousness to their music. Interwoven with those classic melodeath tropes are cold, drilling tremolo riffs that always pull the mood of the music into one of maniacal, murderous hate, bringing to mind a horde of demons well-practiced in eviscerating their victims with calculated cruelty and no remorse.
That quality of cold and hateful savagery, which forms a kinship with black metal, is part of what makes the album stand out. But it stands out for other reasons. The song-writing, for example, is excellent. Every song becomes a thrill-ride, and every one of them is fiendishly infectious, not only because of the melodic hooks and catchy riffs but also because of the band’s proficiency in bringing compulsive grooves into the songs. At times that happens when the bass quickly trades off with the guitars to inject a hard pneumatic pulse (the bleak but tremendously head-moving closing track is a good example). And the band also achieve heights of epic (and ominous) grandeur that give the music another appealing dimension.
The instrumental performances are also top-shelf. The drumming is particularly explosive and dynamic, and if you’re a fan of technically jaw-dropping guitar solos that also carry melodies, both ebullient and melancholy, you’ll find great ones in every track, usually preceded by a groovesome rhythm that becomes the highly headbang-able foundation for the fretwork pyrotechnics.
The vocals are also remarkably powerful. David Ahlén delivers savage howls and heartless roars with conviction — and intelligible enunciation. The words in the choruses tend to be memorable (of the shout-along variety), and there’s a rhythm to the way he expresses the lyrics that matches the instrumentation.
And finally, the album presents the music through a clear but powerful production, evenly mixed among the instruments. Credit for the production and engineering goes to one of the band’s very talented guitarists, Andreas ‘Fluff’ Moren; it was mixed and mastered by Jocke Skog.
As previously noted, all the songs on the album are damned infectious, but some a bit more than others. Bleeding Utopia put perhaps the two most infectious tracks, “Already Dead” and “Welcome To My Pantheon”, right in the middle of the album. The second of those includes what might be a rippling keyboard accent, or at least a guitar tuned to sound like one. It’s the only time on the album when they dip into those waters, and maybe for that reason it makes an impact.
Those two songs are followed by the only real break in the turbocharged rush that begins in the opening track. That break arrives in the slow, ominous opening section of “Crown of Horns”. The snare beat stays slow at first, even when the kick drums start going hard and the riffing becomes more chaotic and barbarous, and the song remains grim and cold, though mixed with an atmosphere of threatening majesty, even after the song becomes a skull-hammering jolt. Before it ends, the guitar leads create sensations of anguish and desolation, guiding the song to a heartbreaking conclusion.
That trio of songs tends to stick out, but there’s lots of great stuff before and after them. And from beginning to end, for those who haven’t lost their affection for this kind of music or for those who are just discovering its appeal, the album doesn’t wear out its welcome — not because there are any big surprises, but because (to repeat) Bleeding Utopia are just so damned good at what they’ve chosen to do.
The album is out today (it was released a couple days ago in Japan and Korea by Spiritual Beast). Pick it up from Black Lion via the link below — and please enjoy our premiere of the full album stream.