Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bloodbath - Grand Morbid Funeral (2014)

I admit to being a little swept up in the 'guess who our new singer is?' gimmick Bloodbath was spinning up until the announcement of Nick Holmes earlier this year. Not so much that I was obsessively checking for clues, but when they were presented I would follow them to the natural conclusions, one of which was that the veteran Paradise Lost crooner was going to shed off his Goth Hetfield tone and return to the growls of his mainstay's formative period, which if you ask almost anyone still remains their most notable phase, self included. My immediate reaction was 'this is going to sound like Vallenfyre... Nick is a little jealous of the attention Gregor has gotten, and so is taking up the reins of nostalgia himself.' But of course Bloodbath is already a well-established act in its own right, having produced a number of great albums which don't rely solely on the retro thing but actual riff-writing, genuine energy and excitement. So this was actually quite an interesting team up...and it works to a point.

Musically, where Bloodbath have come up in the past with a number or fairly ingenious grooves or melodic spearheads that characterized their songs among a very busy flock of Swede impersonators and throwbacks, I feel that Grand Morbid Funeral is their album most interchangeable with a huge number of their peers...the songs here could have been written by Revel in Flesh, or Entrails, or any other bootlickers of Entombed and/or Dismember and nobody would know the difference. Like the breaks in "Total Death Exhumed", or the opening barrage in "Famine of God's Word" where the guitars go off on their own for a few seconds to showcase that thick rhythm tone; both could have appeared on a hypothetical Clandestine 2.0. But that's not to say they aren't written at a slightly higher level than the standard knockoffs in the sound, and where Bloodbath balance it out is in the amount of variation. You could trace all the songs to particular sources, perhaps, and yes many of those would be Swedish, but one area in which the record excels is how each of the tunes does not seem like a repeat of the others. They'll go for dire, brooding atmospherics in one tune, gut tearing tremolo guitars in another, and nary a tune goes by without some sticky riff erupting somewhere. 

The leads and melodies are solid, and unlike Vallenfyre they don't go too far into old Paradise Lost worship, preferring instead to incorporate a more airy, light death/doom sense to bridge elements in tunes like "Mental Abortion" which prove among my favorite individual moments of the recording. Solos might feel frivolous, but they definitely reek of the excess we used to love in the 80s, albeit shorter here. The guitar tones wrap the entire affair into a very consistent feel, despite the gulfs in pacing and structure. Despite the seasoned craft Anders exhibits in creating an album as a whole, I did feel there were a number of excessively bland note progressions, specifically in the d-beat driven parts, which sort of balanced off my appreciation for the better bits. Had I stopped listening to death metal of the Swedish inclination after about 1993 and then picked it back up with Grand Morbid Funeral, then I might find it more of an engaging memory trip, but I've been inundated with the stuff for a good decade now, 100s of bands clinging to the same tones and riff techniques without even a spark of imagination, promos piling up. Color me jade, and for at least part of its run time, this record just doesn't deal with it more spectacularly than the majority. Granted, Bloodbath have arguably more rights to this than others, and have excelled within the same parameters in the past, but they often tempered the sound with more Floridian or mildly brutal influences and it just felt fresher...

Grand Morbid Funeral, while good, just doesn't have a bunch of songs I want to keep coming back to time and time again. It's a worthwhile 46 minutes, and won't disappoint you if you're really dying for more of this, but I had higher hopes going in than enjoyment coming out. Now, this is no fault of the vocals whatsoever. Nick Holmes certainly delivers, he's still 'got it', and his more gravelly, ugly, imperfect timbre makes for a refreshing alternative to Akerfeldt's broader guttural palette. The drums and bass sound fine, Renkse owning up to the Swe-tone with fatter, plunky bass lines, but apart from 4-5 of the tunes where Anders and Per make more compelling choices with the guitars, I found myself 'zoning out' more often than the other full-lengths. I should mention that it is slightly darker and more atmospheric...the tongue-in-cheek quality of the prior albums is somewhat supressed, and it strives to capture the din of that old late 80s/early 90s death metal production rather than the 'punch' of previous albums. The lyrics are decent, slightly more thoughtful than you'd expect. I also like it more than either of the Vallenfyre albums. I guess the real question is: when do we hear retro death projects from Stephen Edmondson and Aaron Aedy? Gauntlet has been thrown, guys.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (the pulse receding)

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