Phlebotomized – Clouds of Confusion Review

With their resurgence in 2019 with Deformation of Humanity, Dutch progressive death metal sextet1 Phlebotomized reestablished a foothold on the oddball prog-death scene. Combining off-kilter songwriting with dramatic synths and eerie croons didn’t dull the sharp edge of the Dutchmen’s death metal blade, and afforded the band an immediately recognizable identity. Phlebotomized followed up with an excellent EP, Pain, Resistance, Suffering, paired with equally excellent and vivid artwork. Now, the band prepares their next outing, entitled Clouds of Confusion, and with it comes another awesome cover and even MOAR weird death metal.

Eldritch Elitist cited Phlebotomized’s immense talent for songwriting cohesion and melodramatic charm four years ago, and those same defining characteristics hold true today. Clouds of Confusion, however, is a more aggressive and less sorrowful affair than Deformation. It’s also weirder in terms of arrangement and organization. The intro sequence of “Bury My Heart” sneaks you right into the first proper track, “Alternate Universe,” so subtly that I don’t even realize it transpires. But then, “Alternate Universe” transitions into a monologued interlude? It’s a bizarre choice made even weirder by the equally curtailed death grunt of its companion, “Desolate Wasteland.” From there, the album proceeds as any other record would. It’s a bewildering setup that somehow works well overall, and certainly reinforces Phlebotomized’s reputation for thinking out of the box. Lurching riffs, creepy synths and pensive piano create an unusual blend of core sounds that mesh smoothly, recalling an unlikely trinity of Edge of Sanity, Fires in the Distance, and Immolation. Phlebotomized weaves a strong melodic thread, occasionally bordering on the neoclassical (“Context is for Kings (Stupidity and Mankind)”), throughout Clouds of Confusion as well, delving into another unexpected but thoroughly enjoyable songwriting evolution.

Much like Deformation of Humanity, Clouds of Confusion blooms with repeat spins. What felt painfully awkward at first in the aforementioned opening sequence suddenly coheres by the third spin, leaving all memory of a disjointed experience faded and tattered. It helps that “Alternate Universe” is immediately memorable with its oscillating riff structures and ominous chorus. Lead single and mega banger “Destined to be Killed” possesses the same unhinged pit-opening fervor of Invictus‘ “Lord of the Pit,” launching listeners into the meat of the album while tenderizing them in the process. It’s an incredibly smart play as the rest of the record follows a fairly standard structure to make up for the bizarre opening acts, but it by no means indicates that Phlebotomized show their hand too early. Ample twists and turns toss the listener around a wild storm of artful pieces. Whether it be the beautifully haunting “Bury My Heart Reprise,” the ethereal and exquisitely decorated “Pillar of Fire,” or the vicious “Death Will Hunt You Down,” there’s always something interesting and unexpected right around the corner. With each subsequent spin, new details emerge from every nook and cranny—the clinky cymbals of “Death Will Hunt You Down,” the Latin jazz intro of “A Unity Your Messiah Pre Claimed,” the Ivan-esque melodies of “Dawn of Simplicity,” just to name a few—creating new and novel points of interest that motivate yet another revisit.

It is also with repeat spins that I begin to notice Clouds of Confusion’s flaws. More specifically, bloat. Much like Deformation of Humanity, this album suffers at the hands of overlong songs and extended passages which overstay their welcome. “Bury My Heart Reprise” could fool anybody into thinking it was an instrumental, given that the first three minutes or so are thus. While that section is indeed beautiful, it also creates a drag in momentum suddenly disrupted by an unexpected chunk of vocal accompaniment. That would be less problematic if the introductory segment of that track were cut entirely, but doing so doesn’t leave much of substance left to keep, either. Closer “Context is for Kings (Stupidity and Mankind)” also extends beyond limits, as does “A Unity Your Messiah Pre Claimed,” although their extended midsections offer more compelling material to justify their inclusion. Nonetheless, tactical trimming across the board could only enhance the impact of this material.

If nothing else, Clouds of Confusion cements Phlebotomized as one of the more unique and creative prog-death bands around today. Whether they write metal to your tastes remains a polarizing query, but there’s no denying that this work is the product of thoughtful, considered, and detailed writing. I appreciate that kind of daring songsmithing, so it’s my pleasure to recommend Clouds of Confusion to established fans of the style and newcomers looking for something a little more exotic to expand their horizons.

Rating: Very Good
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: PCM
Label: Hammerheart Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: May 26th, 2023

Show 1 footnote

  1. Metallum has seven people credited for this album, the band photo and music videos feature six. Go ask Metallum what that’s about, I guess.
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