A new year, a new opportunity for the masses to spout some ephemeral nonsense about “living for the moment” mere seconds before they relapse into heart disease and bad decisions. While we’re all guilty of this to some degree or another, 2018 does represent a year of change for me. As I advance upon a new academic challenge, amongst other things, it also means I have to fucking move house again. However, the disturbance has motivated me to examine some albums I might not have previously, so when I stumbled upon Bleeding Gods and their second release, Dodekathlon — a symphonic death concept record detailing the twelve labors of Hercules — how could I possibly resist? Sweeping Homeric melodrama, titanic rhythm, and tales of Helenic heroism; what could possibly go wrong…
Having absolutely no previous knowledge of Bleeding Gods, I had no real expectation to weigh this album against, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be significantly better than it could have been. The symphonic genres are overcrowded, to say the least but these Dutchmen (and woman) have held fast to their craft and attempted to forge an entity fit to rub shoulders with the likes of Septicflesh or Ex Deo. First up, “Bloodguilt,” tracing the infamous events leading to Hercules’ laborious vindication. The indicative orchestration resounds before consequential guitar lines herald a heavy track reliant on battering double-bass drumming and an evocative refrain. Interestingly, the halfway point almost veers into progressive territory before a deceptively nuanced solo layers the grandeur. So far, so godly.
Bleeding Gods, in a bid to do their very best by the mythological material, have pushed the boat out in their application of dramaturgy in the songs’ scope. The orchestration and instrumentation match each track thematically, swelling and quelling in accordance with the demi-god’s great deeds. “Multiple Decapitation” and “Beloved by Artemis” are cinematic in their breadth, drawing similarities to modern Fleshgod Apocalypse in their brutal riffing and ability to set a monumental mood. Dodekathlon also succeeds in channeling the band’s alternative influences. Aside from the obvious comparisons, a potent thrash inflection commands much of the heavier sequences, and none more so than “Birds of Hate,” possibly the most traditionally aggressive song on the record and one rife with herculean brawn.
Unfortunately, Bleeding Gods‘ propensity for melding styles also represents something of a Damoclean sword. While the thrash influence serves to emphasize the riff work, some of the other inclusions don’t fare so well. “Tripled Anger” apes Dimmu Borgir with its overwrought intro and insistent horn section, bleating throughout the song’s mundane shelf-life, and although admittedly enjoyable, “Inhuman Humiliation” borrows a progression ripped straight from Behemoth‘s “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel.” I commend any band attempting to enhance their palette, but these genre excursions simply don’t work on their own merits. Despite these creative endeavors, in a tragic twist of irony, it’s a pervasive homogeneity that ultimately halts the record from reaching truly Olympic heights. Commanding any ingenuity in this genre can be an uphill struggle at best; lamentably Dodekathlon observes a truly Sisyphean task in its ability to maintain memorability over its concept-defined near-sixty minute length, sadly rendering half of the album largely indistinct.
What Dodekathlon does enjoy is the glory of promise. Many of the ideas and subtleties that are incorporated into the album’s mass are easily on par with the band’s peers. Vocalist, Mark Huisman, employs a gorgonic growl that propels the material over drummer, Daan Klemann’s, labyrinthine foot-work, but it’s guitarists, Rutger Van Noordenburg and Ramon Ploeg, who truly elevate the album. Their tight riffing and sharp, yet elegiac, soloing adds an extra dimension to what could otherwise have been an also-ran release, softening the blow of the production’s industry-standard compression.
Caught between a stylistic Scylla and Charybdis, Bleeding Gods are a band attempting to tackle a lofty concept inside a cyclopean category. Although Dodekathlon doesn’t always hit the mark, when it does, it offers a glimpse into a potentially bright future, full of bloody victory and brooding tragedy. Until such a time comes for the band to take their seat amongst the pantheon, Dodekathklon remains a worthy, if occasionally analogous, entry.