Just in time to wash away the bitter taste of Six Feet Under, comes this ridiculously sick death metal masterstroke by Blood Mortized. Taking the vicious, old school Swedish death sound from their Bestial EP and improving on it in every way, The Key to a Black Heart is exactly what you want from the style and death metal in general. Drawing huge inspiration from the nasty gallop of Entombed‘s Left Hand Path and mixing it with the sludgy doom of Grave and Asphyx, Key gives you speed, grind and dirge, just at the right time, in the right doses. Loyal readers may recall my ranting and raving over Entrails debut Tales of the Morgue, and while that platter rocks muchly, this thing beats it at its own retro game. Before you throw up your hands at the thought of even more retro Swedish death, this one is the real deal, right up there with the new Asphyx, and even better in some ways. It’s brutal and crusty, but also surprisingly catchy and hooky. In fact, several tracks seem destined to land among my all time favorites in the genre.
Savage opener “Unleashing the Hounds” mixes thrashy, Entombed-y goodness with crawling, mega-heavy doom riffs and sets the stage for what’s to come. It even features a guest solo by death metal old-timer, Rick Rozz (Death, Massacre). The real fun hits with “The Heretic Possession,” which is just a GREAT fucking song and a textbook example of Swedish death in all its vile glory. The raw, buzzing guitar tone fills my heart with evil glee and the uber nasty vocals of Mattias Parkkila couldn’t be better. As heavy as it is, its catchy and way more accessible than it should be (I seriously can’t stop playing it). “Only Blood Can Tell” is another oddly hooky but heavy-as-hell number, and you WILL be singing the simple but ear-wormy chorus (the discordant solo at 3:00 is a keeper too). “Dead and Rotten” has some of the most authoritatively rolled R sounds you’ll ever hear (dead and rrrrotten!). “Doomsday Architect” is simply brilliant and flattens me every time I spin it. It’s straight forward and simple, but so damn powerful and effective, it’s a deathy wunderkind. When Parkkila bellows “I swallow your fucking heart,” he sounds frighteningly serious about it. The climbing riff patterns work to perfection and get the blood boiling, and the Rozzster comes back to drop a gratuitous whammy dive or three. It’s a total win across the boards.
Elsewhere, they bring back “Rekviem” from the Bestial EP and the creepy, ominous doom-crawl is the perfect change of pace. The guitars sound monumental and things grind along insidiously. “Burn and Die” brings in some early Amon Amarth “epic battle” influence to the riffing, which isn’t a big surprise, since Anders Biazzi played with them from 1992 to 1998. The Amon influence pops up again in the closing title track, which has a boatload of cool riff-work. While the first half of the album is superior, all the songs work very well and nothing feels like filler.
The Key to a Black Heart is such a triumph because it manages to make brutal death metal seem catchy, much like Death did on Leprosy. When you walk around for days muttering the ghastly words to a nugget like “Doomsday Architect,” you know you heard something pretty special. Parkkila has become one of my favorite death vocalists and he really outdid himself here (he also did a helluva job on the Malfeitor album). He sounds like a cross between Johan Hegg and L.G. Petrov (with a hint of Martin van Drunnen), and his roars, rasps and gurgles are a ghoulish delight. Biazzi and Gustav Myrin also deserve a lot of credit for their excellent riffing and collection of jangly, creepy solos. They borrow the best elements of Entombed, Dismember and Asphyx and rip your face off with power, but also throw in subtle melodic hooks that keep the songs bouncing around in your head.
Another success is the perfectly raw, rough-around-the-edges production. The guitars have the obligatory Sunlight Studio sound and they buzz and roar with conviction. They’re placed very high in the mix and pack a huge, molar-rattling wallop. Parkkila is prominent too, and you can hear every phlegm ball he coughs up in grotesque detail. Finally, the drums have a great, organic sound, devoid of the replaced/overprocessed sound so common in modern death metal.
When you feel like thanking a band for the time and effort they put into an album, it says a lot. Well, thanks guys, this thing is a killer! It’s easily one of the best death metal albums to come out in a long time, and it’s heading for a top spot on my “best of 2012” list. This deserves a whole lot of attention from fans of extreme music, so make sure you track it down. Ummm, why haven’t you got it yet??