After triumphantly re-emerging from the other side of horror after the truly horrific bus crash of 2007 which claimed the life of drummer Vitek and left front m n Covan in a coma, Polish Death Metallers Decapitated have been on the ascent after 2011’s Carnival is Forever (Nuclear Blast) firmly re-established them as one of the genre’s important bands. Despite a few line-up shuffles, 2014 sees the band utterly at the top of their game with sixth full-length Blood Mantra (Nuclear Blast) the album they have always been threatening to make, and one that should leave the competition choking on (human) dust.
From the second that the searing guitar lines that open first track ‘Exiled in Flesh’ begin until the washed-out, apocalyptic starkness of closing track ‘Red Sun’ fades into the distance, the band seizes you by the throat, shakes every last bit of resistance from your aching body and leaves you utterly spent yet begging for more. The thick, full-bodied production gives each track a monolithic intensity while the subtle yet sinister atmosphere lurking just out of sight in the background gives proceedings an eerie and desolate air not usually found in Death Metal.
But without the songs to back it up, this would be meaningless. Thankfully that is not the case by a long shot.
It’s hard to pick favourites when there are so many choice cuts on offer but the blitzkrieg lunacy of ‘The Blasphemous Psalm to the Dummy God Creation’ should win prizes for sheer intensity as well as most over-the-top song title. The sickeningly catchy riff and merciless percussion of ‘Veins’ is so ludicrously tight and neck-snappingly awesome that it should come with a government health warning, while the chugging brutality of the title track is the kind of song Slipknot would write if they knew anything about heavy music. The accessibility of these songs will no doubt gain Decapitated a whole new legion of mainstream fans, something wholly deserved for not an ounce of integrity or brutality has been sacrificed in the process. They’re just that damn good.
Elsewhere the dead-eyed, clinical technicality of ‘Nest’ flirts with industrial themes before unleashing a gloriously epic solo while the sprawling, progressive riffs of ‘Blindness’ carry us off into the distance to pastures unexplored yet soon to be conquered. All of this would not be possible without the vision and skill of guitarist and band leader Vogg whose talents increase with every record and is firm proof that Death Metal can be innovative and enthralling whilst remaining skull-crushingly heavy and challenging to listen to. Credit must also go to vocalist Rafal Piotrowski who eschews the usual death growl in favour of a hoarse bellow that sounds like he’s coughing up his very soul for all to bear witness to. The rhythm section is flawless, with the new arrivals on bass and drums locking into so many tight grooves it’s almost tempting to believe they possess psychic abilities.
Like their countrymen Behemoth, Decapitated have conquered tragedy and emerged stronger than ever before. However, with no visual aspect to fall back on like Nergal et al, they have had to rely solely on their musical talents to remain relevant in a scene still bursting at the seams. But with this much skill at their disposal, looking back it almost seems embarrassing that they were ever doubted. To use a lazy comparison, Decapitated are like (Marvel Comics anti-hero) Blade; they possess all of the strengths of Death Metal and none of its weaknesses. And it’s increasingly evident they cannot be killed. Quite simply Blood Mantra is one of the finest Death Metal albums to be released now or ever and it’s difficult to see how it can be topped. One thing is for sure though, Vitek would be proud.