We all know AMG‘s policy on supergroups, but if ever there was an act that continues to entice, it has to be the Swedish Modern Prometheus, Bloodbath, a band responsible for creating two of my very favorite death metal albums and reliably catering to all my HM2 needs. Our very own Steel Commander saw fit to furnish their previous release with a favorable review, and while I didn’t enjoy it quite as much, I can’t say they have ever truly disappointed me. Four years drinking deeply of the grave has re-energized the quintet to return and beguile those of a buzzsaw bent with another foray into the old-school. The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn (TAoSID) prepares to hurtle through the hearts of Sunlight sons the world over with a fifth frenzy of death metal surely exhumed to consume. The band are famously composed of members of Katatonia, Opeth, Witchery and Paradise Lost — with a pedigree so exemplary, the question is less: is it good? But rather: how good?
There can be no denying that, although successful, Grand Morbid Funeral was a divisive record. Some quibbled at Nick Holmes’ debut as vocalist, while those like me took minor exception to the overt back-to-basics direction of the material. I am happy to report that TAoSID boasts a superior splatter pattern. This is, in part, due to the addition of guitarist Joakim Karlsson of the black metal band Craft. His influence, while admittedly subtle, emerges in microcosms of a musical darkness that Bloodbath had yet to explore, and the effects are immediately noticeable. Opener, “Fleischmann,” pulls a brutal bolt from the quiver and looses a volley of dramatic black metal instrumentation, all swaddled in that ever-present Entombed/Dismember comfort. Similarly, the break-neck “Deader” matches the eerie leads that sprawled over Resurrection Through Carnage with even more icy chords and the extra element is absolutely welcome.
Of course, as is the nature of the genre, there are more than enough typical Swedeath rippers to satisfy. “Bloodicide,” the album’s first single, has grown on me substantially since release and dominates with thick riffing and an immediate chorus. The song’s bridge includes an all-star guest spot from Karl Willetts (Bolt Thrower, Memoriam), Jeff Walker (Carcass) and John Walker (Cancer). Their appearance doesn’t exactly enhance the track, but their inclusion completes a great celebration of some of Britain’s finest. Deserving special mention is “Levitator.” Lurching slow and low, it sees the band dragging the corpse over the deliberate and arcane terrain. Nick Holmes turns in a fantastic performance on TAoSID and “Levitator” might just be his finest moment. His sickening rasp is as grave-worn as ever but now resounds with an added depth sure to silence his detractors on Grand Morbid Funeral.
Bloodbath‘s minor experimentation certainly pays dividends, but sadly not consistently. “Wayward Samaritan” commits an early faux pas by taking a speed metal riff and giving it the HM2 treatment. The song isn’t bad, but it’s notably awkward. “Warhead Ritual” offers a crust assault, but also fails to detonate. In fact, an interchangeable quality is really the album’s biggest issue and pervades much of the second half. Blakkheim’s riffs are as potent as ever, with plenty of trilling leads and a few skillful solos, but repetition undeniably sets in. The biggest source of frustration, however, comes right at the very end. “Only the Dead Survive” is an absolute monster that brandishes jackhammer palm-mutes and evocative blackened tremolos. It neatly ties all of the album’s themes together and should have been the perfect closer to an enjoyable record. Instead, TAoSID ends with “Chainsaw Lullaby,” a fun but ultimately ineffective Swedeath archetype. This lack of attention to pacing seems endemic to metal at the moment and the result directly affects the album’s replay value.
The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn is a good album with some killer songs. It neatly consolidates Bloodbath‘s signature quality with its predecessor’s approach and is perhaps the closest the band has come to replicating the songwriting standard1 found on their first two releases. With better track arrangement and a willingness to cut some unnecessary inclusions, Bloodbath seem poised to rediscover gold sometime in the near future. As it is, they have effortlessly delivered another prime example, but in a year with fantastic releases from Extremity and Heads for the Dead, good might not be enough to survive list season. Still heartily recommended for gorehounds near and far.