Bloodbath – Survival of the Sickest Review

Let’s talk about blood, baby. Hemoglobin and me. Let’s talk about all the blood things and the bad things that may bleed. Death metal and that hideous ichor that courses through us all are as synonymous as editors and intimidation… Swedish supergroup extraordinaire Bloodbath have made a career out of celebrating the genre’s twisted tenets and once pulsed at the very center of the classic scene. While no swedeath fan could dispute the quality of their initial releases, nor could we argue diminishing returns inherent in the years since. Survival of the Sickest marks the band’s sixth platter. Bloodbath‘s pedigree guarantees a certain level of arterial spray. But, in the wake of the band’s better years, just how much pressure is left?

An exuberant devotion to the genre is what cemented Resurrection Through Carnage and Nightmares Made Flesh in the annals of death metal history. The creeping sickness of Entombed and the visceral nature of Dismember combined to give Bloodbath a nostalgic yet immediately identifiable sound. It wasn’t until 2014’s Grand Morbid Funeral and the inclusion of Paradise Lost‘s Nick Holmes that the Swedes would begin to trade creativity for more traditionally gnarled soundscapes. While that album was fun, the proceeding record is barely memorable. Sadly, Survival of the Sickest follows suit.

As “Zombie Inferno” bursts into life, it’s immediately evident that Bloodbath have opted for sheer percussion as the album’s propulsion system. It’s big, ugly and takes life from burly riffing. Much of what follows draws on the same source but, while the material takes heart in shattering bones, very little of it actually sticks to the ribs. Mid-album highlight “To Die” makes good use of new guitarist Tomas Åkvik (Lik) with a fun solo, while the chorus of “Carved” is sure to please. “Affliction of Extinction” keeps an engaging mid-pace but everything seems to pale in the face of past glories. Atmosphere is the increasingly absent commodity in newer Bloodbath albums. “Soul Collector” and “Iesous” are classic cuts and drenched in a pervasive profanity that seems suspiciously absent now. “Environcide” tries to engineer some gravitas but suffers from poor placement. Closer “No God Before Me” follows and is a much better example. It even plumbs some of Holmes’ alma mater with gothic influences, that, unsurprisingly, fit his croaking vocals like a glove. Unfortunately, after multiple listens, I’m not convinced it is enough to rescue a very uniform album.

Survival of the Sickest is absolutely never egregious. It might even be a better album than The Arrow of Satan is Drawn in some ways. But a homogenous first half, which even guest vocal spots by Barney Greenway (Napalm Death), Luc Lemay (Gorguts) and Marc Grewe (Morgoth) can’t accentuate, makes for a laborious listen. Fortunately, the second half does more of the heavy lifting. The production is designed to emphasize the rhythm section. As a result, the record feels robust. Sadly, when the material is lacking in idiosyncrasies-even for a tried and tested genre, no amount of pulverization can account for a lack of riff selection.

Death metal is a unique genre. On one hand, we look to it for innovation, and on the other, we take comfort in its reliability. Bands like Bloodbath are lodged firmly in the latter. But that was always the point of this project. They exist as a celebration of everything death and dead. The early albums reveled in the milestones of the Swedish scene. However, as time goes by, the fuel for the fire seems increasingly rote. I, for one, used to set my schedule firmly by Bloodbath‘s releases. It is becoming increasingly difficult to justify that kind of excitement. Survival of the Sickest is a good swedeath album. But as a Bloodbath album, it is wanting. Those with the taste will find plenty to pass the time with here but, make no mistake, this will not stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the giants of their own discography. I’m not convinced it can even look them in the eye.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: NA | Format Reviewed: Stream Only
Label: Napalm Records
Releases Worldwide: September 9th, 2022

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