The death metal super group of all death metal super groups is finally back from the grave after six long years moldering in the soil. Bloodbath needs little introduction, as the preeminent standard bearer of all things retro Swedish death this collective composed of members of Opeth, Katatonia and Witchery once included the likes of Dan Swanö and Mikael Akerfeldt, but both have fled to other pursuits, leaving the band’s new era in the hands of Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost) who now handles vocals. This may come as unwelcome news to those that wrote off the man and his band during their period of electronica club music, and perhaps some forgot just how powerful Mr. Holmes sounded on those early Paradise Lost albums like Gothic. Past history aside, you can rest assured, this is the same Bloodbath that ripped up the scene with classics like Nightmares Made Flesh, and Grand Morbid Funeral sounds like these well seasoned chaps are out to maintain the good name of their project by any means necessary. Is this anything new? No, of course not, but it’s well done nostalgo-death from dudes who know how that should sound, and that will likely be sufficient for most death heads.
Naturally the sound here is as close as possible to the Entombed and Dismember school of rot, with some nods to what the classic Florida bands were doing in the early 90s as well. Lead track “Let The Stillborn Come to Me” is a big bomb of Swede death with enormously heavy, caustic riffs and it immediately calls to mind the sound and style on Entombed‘s Clandestine. Nick sounds unbelievable and his death roars and screams are better here than they were way back in the early 90s. He sounds quite a bit like David Vincent (Morbid Angel), which he never did back in the day, and he sounds very convincing.
From there they deliver ten more tunes of morbidity, some better than others, but all solid and suitably blood drenched. “Total Exhumed Death” is a ripper with pulverizing riffs and a slight hardcore sensibility. It also has some interesting riff idea (like the ones around 2:25) and a sub-basement vocal delivery from Mr. Holmes. “Anne” introduces some Morbid Angel style riffs, “Famine of God’s Word” incorporates some nifty discordant leads amid driving deaththrash, and “Mental Abortion” steals the loathsome vocals and hyper riffing from Autopsy (which isn’t a big shock since Chris Reifert and Eric Cutler do guest work on the album). Elsewhere, “Beyond Cremation” harnesses a savage D-beaty gallop and infuses it with eerie riffs, thereby insuring it could have fit right in on Left Hand Path. Lastly, “My Torturer” delivers some nerve jangling riffs and gripping guitar-work throughout.
While none of the songs are lame, some are less inspired and more prone to Swedish Death Overfamiliarity Syndrome. The slower, doom dirge of “Church of Vastitas” is certainly heavy, but it drags and loses focus, and “Unite in Pain” is fast and furious, but a bit generic at the same time. Though the album is a punchy 46 minutes and the songs are all short and sharp, they probably could have dropped one or two and been the better for it.
Obviously the big news is the addition of Nick Holmes, and to his credit he really delivers an impressive performance. He sounds as heavy and inhuman as anyone in the heavy inhuman business and you can’t help being shocked by how well he fits the crushing tuneage. As on the past albums, Anders Nystrom and relative newcomer Per Eriksson unleash a fearsome fulsade of old timey riffs, most of which are quite tasty. As a band, Bloodbath is tight as hell and they have a solid ear for what fans of this genre expect, likely because they are fans as well.
The sound on Grand Morbid Funeral is a bit of a mixed bag of orcs. While the guitars sound righteously heavy, mean and buzzing, the production itself is somewhat brickwalled and falls prey to the dreaded wall of sound effect. It doesn’t ruin the listening experience, but it does make it a bit annoying at times.
My issue with Bloodbath is a simple one. When you get right down to it, despite the star power, they’re just another band churning out nostalgic paeans to the halcyon days when Sunlight Studios and Morrisound Studios ruled the death metal landscape. Back when they released their debut, they were an early adapter of the throwback style, but in 2014 they’re just one of too many acts shaking the same retro tree though all the best apples have long fallen to the ground to fester. If this came out in 2000, I would have drooled on it enough to get myself committed to the nervous hospital. Now, it’s another well done retro release with bigger names involved.
Issues aside, Bloodbath once again delivers pretty much everything a fan of the style could want with enough veteran savvy and panache to make it stick. It’s more than worth your time just to hear Holmes relive and surpass his death glory days. I suppose there’s always room for one more quality retro death platter, but the mausoleum is getting pretty fucking crowded these days!