Despite being established as Death Metal stalwarts, and already perhaps even close to attaining legendary status, the road for Bloodbath has often been seemingly a little bit bumpy. Admittedly a band that wasn’t always the main priority for its various members, over their time Bloodbath has had to lurk in the shadows waiting for busy schedules of to align. With alumni from the likes of Katatonia and Opeth, and more recently Paradise Lost, it has meant live shows are a rarity and album release schedules somewhat inconsistent. However, with Katatonia now on hiatus, it feels like Bloodbath can become a more prominent concern, which certainly seems evident with the fact that The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn (Peaceville) is quite possibly their most vibrant and strongest effort to date. Continue reading
Initially pulled together as a tour to promote Dethroned & Uncrowned(KScope), which reworked the bands 2012 album Dead End Kings(Peaceville), the Katatonia acoustic tour of 2014 took on more significance with the decisions to expand the set to a full career-retrospective, booked in cathedrals, churches and chapels, and documented via Sanctitude (KScope), a live DVD (plus audio CD version) filmed at London’s Union Chapel.
With the reverent gothic backdrop of the inside of the chapel, and accompanied on the stage only by candle light and music stands, it is not only in the re-arrangements of the music that this is a different Katatonia, with vocalist Jonas Renske and guitarist Anders “Blakkheim” Nystrom the only remaining members from the band’s “classic” line ups. Even the group for Dead End Kings has been torn apart, with Per Eriksson replaced by Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief) and Daniel Moilanen filling in on percussion, for the tour.
Unsurprisingly, the focus of the film is Renske and his world-weary croons and Nystrom’s and his reworked guitar lines. The addition of Soord is beneficial, as his supporting strums, softened backing vocals and supplementary keyboard work swell and embellish the Swedes delicate framing of a selection of their back catalogue.
With the bonus features of the DVD extending to an overlong and, sadly, boring interview only (which is a shame, as Nystrom in particular has a passion for the band that glimpses out of some of his answers that is untapped by the lack of interaction with a presenter), the focus of Sanctitude is the live performance. Unobtrusively filmed so as to feel as though the watcher was front row of the show, the band are sat throughout with Renske displaying dry self-deprecating wit during his low key exchanges with the audience.
While the minimal staging and direction match the stripped down songs, there is a nagging feeling that a shorter set would have made a more striking impact as several of the songs, shorn of their apparel and original guitar lines, sound too similar and at 80 minutes, attention does wander, particularly early on, and it is interesting that the set draws you in as it unfurls rather than impressing from the outset. Indeed, the opening five songs pass by pleasantly and prettily enough, nice renditions that blur together, until ‘One Year From Now’, the first real standout moment, is unveiled, showing just how well an acoustic Katatonia track can be done.
Other notable moments include ‘Sleeper’ and a dark, melancholic ‘Undo You’, while ‘Lethean’ spreads out into an introspective chorus as Renske’s Maynard-esque harmonies lilt and drift with the song. ‘Omerta’ carries a folky edge and ‘The One You Are Looking For’, complete with guest performance from Silje Wergeland (The Gathering), is an understated and sparse ending to the performance. However, the true show-stopping moment is a bare version of the rarely visited ‘Day’ from Brave Murder Day (Avantgarde), the track that first showcased the real template for the Katatonia sound.
Where Renske and Nystrom take the band next will be interesting to see, but one can’t help feeling Katatonia are better with some oomph to their songs. Not one for the casual observer, this is a release for the dedicated as Sanctitude draws a beautiful, if not fully encapsulating, end to another chapter of the bands career.
With their last proclamation Carrion Skies(Code666), British band Fen let the Black Metal flood back into their sound, releasing their strongest album to date and ultimately featuring in the Ghost Cult Magazine Top 40 Albums of 2014. In celebration of opening the sluice gates, front man The Watcher revealed the depth of his Black Metal love by unveiling his Top 5 unsung oft overlooked underground treasures
Setherial – Nord (Napalm Records – 1996)
Cold. That’s the one overriding word to sum up this furious blast of mid-nineties Swedish black metal – cold. Freezing, even. Taking its cues fairly heavily from Emperor’s seminal In the Nightside Eclipse (Candlelight) album, Nord strips backs the keyboards whilst simultaneously cranking up the intensity levels considerably. Riff after riff of freezing melody pours forth across thundering percussion, lengthy songs (the opener alone is nearly 12 minutes long) buoyed by relentless twists and turns. An exhilarating, windswept listen and serious contender for black metal’s finest hour.
Diabolical Masquerade – Nightwork (Avantgarde Music – 1998)
Anders Nystrom may be much better known for his “day job” in Katatonia but back in the mid-90s, as the mysterious Blakkheim he released four records of haunting, horror-themed black metal under the banner of Diabolical Masquerade. The pick is undoubtedly the third full-length Nightwork, a peak-laden brace of songs replete with infections fretwork, searing melody and an underlying sense of humour. This isn’t at all to detract from the ‘abandoned mansion’ atmospherics of the album and Nightwork simply oozes a convincing crepuscular ambience in amongst the riffage.
Armagedda – Ond Spiritism (Agonia – 2004)
From pure early Darkthrone worship on their debut to ‘fist-in-the face’ muscular black metal on ‘Only True Believers’ to occult-themed dungeonesque roamings, Sweden’s Armagedda explored a gamut of expressions within their short, three-album career. Swansong ‘Ond Spiritism’ is the peak – a lengthy, sprawling opus with an undeniable cloak of darkness wafting across the whole thing. Graav’s guttural croak spits venom in his native Swedish whilst the guitars and bass swirl like a thick fog. Absorbing and unsettling work from the young Swedes.
Tenebrae in Perpetuum – Antico Misticismo (Debemur Morti – 2006)
Yet another band who are no longer with us, Tenebrae in Perpetuum specialised in a particularly brittle, shrill form of frozen melodic black metal – made particularly surprising by the fact that they were actually Italian! Mainman Atratus’ guitar sound is one of the most distinctive you’ll hear – a treble-heavy, reverb soaked saw that nonetheless manages to convey the band’s excellently-developed sense of melody and song structure. All three of their full-length releases are worth tracking down so consistent is their quality but Antico Misticismo probably edges it thanks to a couple of genuinely spine-tingling moments.
Obsidian Tongue – A Nest of Ravens in the Throat of Time (Hypnotic Dirge – 2013)
The most recent release on this list and hopefully a band who won’t remain ‘hidden’ for too much longer, this US-based duo ply their trade with a particularly punishing brand of “Post” black metal. Building on the template laid down by the so-called ‘Cascadian’ sound (Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room et al), Brendan Hayter and Greg Murphy lay down a serious challenge on their sophomore effort here. Winding passaged of considered guitar, inventive percussion and a darker atmosphere than many of their peers render them a real one to watch. That they can pull it off live is just the icing on the cake.
The Watcher was speaking to STEVE TOVEY
To celebrate the release of Bloodbath‘s excellent new album Grand Morbid Funeral (Peaceville) Anders Nystrom (aka Blakkheim) talked us through his ultimate all time Top 5 Death Metal albums (and couldn’t resist sneaking in a sixth…)
Entombed – Left Hand Path (Earache) “It features the guitar tone pedal called Boss HM-2 and that’s enough said. That pedal represents the ultimate guitar tone in the world so if you want to discover where that came from then this is the album to go to.”
Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness (Earache) “Probably the classic Death Metal album of all time; where every band, directly or indirectly, draws their influence from. It’s pretty much what started the whole thing. I’m not saying it necessarily needs to be the best in their discography but it’s definitely the essential choice.”
Autopsy – Mental Funeral (Peaceville) “It represents a very morbid side of death metal; it’s sludgy, rotten to the bone and very dark. It also shows it’s not just about production values, you can also create magic with Death Metal by going more primitive and having imperfection as your guide.”
Dismember- Like An Ever Flowing Stream (Nuclear Blast) “This is pretty much up there with Left Hand Path. It’s a little bit more underrated, they always came under the shadow of Entombed, but the song writing on that album is amazing and the production is at its peak and represents Sunlight Studio in Stockholm at its very best. The whole album is very much worth buying just for the opening riff of the first track ‘Override Of The Overture’ that riff is one of my all-time favourites. If you could just bring one Death Metal riff into space for an alien to discover it would be that one.”
Deicide – Deicide (Roadrunner) “At this stage, there was no band as outrageous and controversial, they were outspoken Satanists and this album really shows it. It wasn’t just talk, they were living it. It’s a demonic album, it’s a very violent death metal album and it’s also representative of the whole Florida scene.”
Obituary – Slowly We Rot (Roadrunner) “This comes down as well to Obituary, again an album that is almost loose in a way, it also has a hilarious lack of lyrical tendency! A lot of the growls on this album are made up of just sounds, which was an insane idea to start with. It has a really big Celtic Frost influence, so is good for people to go back with.”