Bloodshot Dawn appeared in 2012 brandishing a sword whose fiery arc emblazoned their thrash-influenced melodic death metal into the skies. Their self-titled debut impressed many and was hailed as a unique and creative offering in a genre that’s been riddled with Soilwork clones for the last decade. Now, they’re returning with their second-most creatively named album Demons, and with a moniker that inventive, one has to wonder if they’re falling victim to the much maligned ‘sophomore slump.’ Well, wonder no more! Because yes, yes they are.
“Smoke and Mirrors” begins with the sound of a phone ringing. Metaphorically, of course. It’s ringing because Carcass want their goddamn intro back and are still new to this whole internet thing. After its “1985” tribute, the song quickly pummels right through a line of topiaries, by which I mean to say that it doesn’t waste any breath voicing violence towards the space surrounding those shrubs. They’re promptly punished for their impudence and thoroughly thrashed through and through. And then it happens again seven times over. Demons might ostensibly be a melodeath album but it’s constructed almost entirely of thrash elements. The melodies wouldn’t be out of place on the next At the Gates album but some of the riffs could have been written by a far less wacky Revocation. It’s fast-paced and driving in most of the right places and the death metal flourishes are frequent and usually well placed.
The issue with Demons certainly isn’t whether Bloodshot Dawn can emulate and assimilate all of their various influences – they’ve forged their own sound, and Demons’ similarity to the self-titled album would suggest that they’re sticking with it – but whether they succeed in producing worthwhile songs. Sadly, they struggle to do so with consistency here. While “Consequence Complex” and “Unified” kick off and kick ass in a respectable fashion, queueing much air-guitaring and sing-alonging, they represent the high point of the album. The rest of Demons is, in a word, underwhelming. It has definite problems in the songwriting department, a la the tension building chorus in “Black Hole Infinity” leading to nothing special at all and the entirely-uncalled-for orchestration that pops up throughout the back half. Even when songs are well-written their leads and solos are not even close to the level of those on Bloodshot Dawn and their melodies are never rewarding enough to be really worth the while. It’s the same writing problem that Wretched had to deal with during their first two albums.
However, the biggest contributor to Demons’ issues is its rhythm section. While I can’t deny that Janne Jaloma is a powerhouse behind the kit, the drum patterns across the album almost invariably sound canned and hurriedly put together, a problem that the band’s previous drummer Nick Bennet never had. I can’t even count high enough to tell you how many times the snare gets hit on an offbeat or the rhythm reverts to hi-hat quarter notes, endless double bass and snare hits on beat 3. Sure, maybe Bloodshot Dawn really want to keep their percussion thrashy so they don’t fall into file with every other modern death metal band, but this man is not supposed to be a metronome, he’s supposed to be a musician. The same problem exists in Ben Ellis’ rhythm tracks which range from competent to essentially purposeless. These troubles weren’t as persistent on Bloodshot Dawn, which, in addition to being a lot heavier than Demons, was a lot more thoughtfully written. This sort of neglect can’t be excused when the previous album was so much better.
While Demons is a far cry stylistically from the horde of modern death metal albums being released left and right, its impact is identical. Bloodshot Dawn simply haven’t capitalized on their thrash influences and have neglected their writing seriously enough to make this album almost entirely ineffectual. They have committed the cardinal sin of extreme metal – Demons is innocuous. Its cleaner production is sterile, its cut-and-paste drumming bores dangerously, and its leads and melodies are about a third as effective as their ilk on Bloodshot Dawn. Better luck next time.