Following the spate of fantastic death metal records released in the twilight months of 2018, my new year’s resolution was thusly engraved: listen to more death metal. Admittedly, last year was absolutely bananas when it came down to average release quality across all varieties of death metal, rendering wishes for the streak to continue borderline pointless. I can at least continue to expand my horizons in a genre that I have always somewhat neglected, and what better way to start than with—Jesus fuck, what is that? I know that excessive gore on death metal covers is played out, but is this thing—which I can only process as an ill-conceived KoЯn homage—really the best alternative? Deformation of Humanity‘s cover art at least lives up to its genre’s reputation for grotesqueries, even if it means opting out of a vinyl purchase to avoid witnessing this thing full-sized. Which is a damn shame, too, as Phlebotomized has slapped this art on one of the first great death metal releases of this year.
After a moody, synth-focused introductory track which hints that someone in the band really loves Metroid Prime, Phlebotomized launches forth with “Chambre Ardente.” Beginning with a tremolo riff that recalls a more somber At the Gates, the track methodically plays its hand across eight-plus minutes, yet is so engaging as to barely feel half that length. Movements flow gracefully from My Dying Bride-worshiping doom death to lurching prog death and even burly sludge. The sole constant aside from the overarching death metal aesthetic is the arresting synth work, recalling the earliest days of symphonic black metal in its mystic iciness. The keyboard icing turns out to be a deceptively smart choice; the synths drape the proceedings with a persistent atmosphere of melodrama without ever feeling overwrought. All of this adds up to a truly fantastic composition, one which well represents the record’s entirety without spoiling all it has to offer.
Extended time spent with Deformation reveals that its charms cut deeper than the skin. Phlebotomized are great songwriters, evidenced in a tangible cohesion that only grows more concrete with repeat spins. Don’t mistake cohesion for staunch uniformity; from the extended, melancholic intro of “Descend to Deviance” to the Woods of Ypres-esque heartbreak of “My Dear…” and the effective OSDM blast of “Eyes on the Prize,” tracks never fail to establish instantly memorable identities. Admittedly, the spell becomes diluted a bit as the record barrels toward its conclusory acoustic track. The title cut comes across as wishy-washy due to weak rhythmic choices, and penultimate track “Until the End Reprise” offers a watered-down version of a fun instrumental that arrived only two tracks earlier. Neither of these songs classify as bad tracks, let alone deal breakers, but Deformation would have been made all the stronger with their exclusion.
In regards to standout performances, there is little to highlight. It takes a highly flexible group of musicians to be able to execute a work as dynamic as this one, and Phlebotomized are more than skilled enough for the task as a unit. They play each genre they tackle as though each was their primary style. Vocalist Ben de Graaff may not be the most exciting extreme metal singer I’ve ever heard, but his general purpose growls and overall dedication to clarity make him a great fit for an album packed with stylistic shifts. The engineering that ties the performances together is pretty damn fantastic, too. While the bass is relegated to little more than a background hum, the guitar and drum mixing makes Deformation sound like a forgotten relic of death metal’s early glory days, and the keys and vocals are mixed as to remain prevalent without ever obscuring the rhythm section.
As it turns out, Phlebotomized had something of an underground cult classic with 1994’s Immense Intense Suspense, an album which only shares one member with the band’s current incarnation. I haven’t had the time to wholly familiarize myself with that record over the course of this review, but based on what I’ve heard from it, Deformation is a pipedream of a comeback record. It possesses a timeless quality that should absolutely tickle fans who waited over 20 years for Phlebotomized‘s return, and it’s so dynamically composed that it should stand head and shoulders with the current crop of experimental death metal while effortlessly winning a new cult following. If there’s no better death metal released in January, this could very well be the genre’s 2019 benchmark for months to come.
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Hammerheart Records | Bandcamp
Websites: phlebotomizedmetal.com | phlebotomizedhhr.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/phlebotomized.official
Releases Dates: Digital: 12.21.2018 | Worldwide: 01.07.2019