The Fathomless Mastery
posted on 11/2008 By:
It’s been a strange trip for Bloodbath. Not many bands that start out as a goofy throwback side project amongst friends garner as much acclaim as these guys have, but then, not many goofy side projects have counted Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth), Peter Tagtgren (Hypocrisy), Anders Nystrom (Katatonia) and Dan Swano (Edge of Sanity) in their ranks. Though Bloodbath was initially intended to pay tribute to the burly Stockholm death metal scene that provided a launching platform for the aforementioned musicians, the last few releases have seen a shift in philosophy for the band. Beginning with Nightmares Made Flesh, Bloodbath seems to have given up on emulating forbearers and moved onto crafting its own sound—a blend of traditional song-oriented death metal ethos with the broader musical vocabulary of today’s DM scene. Likewise, this band has undergone some serious lineup shuffling—Tagtgren has come and gone, and more recently the illustrious Swano (of whom I am an admitted fanboy) left Bloodbath’s ranks due to creative differences. His guitar slot has been filled by Per “Sodomizer” Eriksson of the impressive but little-known 21 Lucifers. I’m happy to report that this album has alleviated whatever fears one might have associated with the departure of such a songwriting heavyweight. Though some will undoubtedly protest the band’s shift away from tribute-act status, The Fathomless Mastery is an interdisciplinary death metal tour de force worthy of Bloodbath’s mighty pedigree.
Indeed, if you’re still looking for imitation Sunlight Studios guitar tones and knuckle-dragging oldschoolery from these guys, you’re gonna be disappointed—not only have Bloodbath abandoned their dedication to all things 1991, they’ve broadened their influences to include influences from across the Atlantic (more on that later). Yes, they were great at aping the Sunlight sound, and I love that style more than most. This said, with Grave, Dismember, Unleashed, and Entombed STILL putting out good albums, and plenty of quality Swedish DM disciples out there (Hail of Bullets, Facebreaker, etc.), it’s not like there’s some incredible shortage of that particular style of death metal. In fact, it seems to me that Bloodbath have done the world a considerable service by turning their considerable talents elsewhere.
Case in point: this album. Frankly, this is exactly what modern death metal should sound like. Bloodbath seems to have mastered the art of employing their high-end technical capabilities without falling into the incredibly common modern-DM trap of overplaying the shit out of everything and ending up with directionless, arbitrary songwriting (the knotty but coherent “Drink From the Cup of Heresy” for example). Though Bloodbath’s sound is still predicated on catchy, direct, Swedish structures, The Fathomless Mastery shows off their steadily increasing American (and particularly Floridian) infusions of blastbeaten savagery and oozing, slithering malice. “Devouring the Feeble” and “Mock the Cross” blend oily, squealing Azagthothian grooves with chunky directness and a great chorus riff. In fact, chorus riffs drive a lot of this album, as they always have for this band. “Treasonous,” for example, opens with a winding, almost blackened blastbeat and a slamming verse before absolutely unloading on the listener with an infernally catchy and yet brutal refrain.
Akerfeldt’s absolutely spectacular growl does a lot to facilitate moments like this one—even after all these years, he can still stand up to anyone in death metal in the vocal department. He’s certainly not the only star here though, and the individual performances on The Fathomless Mastery are universally excellent. Nystrom and Eriksson’s guitarwork drives this album, and they contribute at least one showstopper riff per song and usually more. Eriksson’s soloing is excellent, ranging from relentless shredding to some moments of what could even be called soulfulness (“Hades Rising”), and Martin Axenrot is his usual, inhumanly precise self—though he too manages to avoid overplaying. Predictably, only bassist Jonas Renske doesn’t get to share the spotlight. Even Dave Castillo’s production job is perfect for Bloodbath’s new sound—crisp, clear, and less squelchy than that of their earlier releases without even approaching digital sterility.
If it sounds like The Fathomless Mastery goes in a lot of directions at once, it’s because it does—this album draws together a number of influences to create a sound that is neither wildly modernistic nor nostalgic. Most importantly, it’s incredibly well-constructed. It’s brutal, but it realizes that brutality is empty and unsatisfying without dynamics, and it’s technical without using musicianship to cover for absentee songwriting. Bloodbath have delivered a distinctive, fun, aggressive, and balanced death metal album that stands up to lots of repeated listening, and it’s pretty much got a sure-fire spot in my top ten for this year already. This is one of the few modern metal bands who are wholly deserving of hype—buy this album.
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