Label: Peaceville Records
Can I confess something that, to some, will sound like a blasphemy? I’ve not really cared for Bloodbath before now. I’m not exactly sure why. I mean, I like death metal. I like Swedish death metal. I like Swedish death metal that recreates the glories of old, and seeks to do little beyond that. So, in theory, Bloodbath should be one of my favourite bands. And yet, before now, I’ve only ever reacted to them with a shrug. So, that context should be kept in mind when I talk about how excited listening to The Arrow of Satan is Drawn got me. It doesn’t do anything too different from previous Bloodbath albums; and yet, it felt as revelatory as hearing Left Hand Path or Like an Ever Flowing Stream did all those years ago. Can I work out why? Not really. But, when the results are this enjoyable, do I care? Not especially.
For sure, Nick Holmes (also of Paradise Lost) puts in a more charismatic performance than previous vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth) ever did. Holmes is a vocalist who has always been aware of metal’s inherent theatrics and excess, and that feeds through into his performance. It’s obvious that he’s having a great time, unleashing every bellow and growl throughout the course of The Arrow of Satan… with a devilish glint in his eye. None of this is to suggest that the album is somehow less than serious; rather, it’s that Bloodbath are a band who are all about enjoying death metal, and Holmes’ performance is emblematic of that.
It’s also a joy to hear the riffs so clearly. The Bloodbath albums with Åkerfeldt never felt like they were well-served by their production, but The Arrow of Satan… sounds absolutely huge. There is still plenty of dirt to the album, perhaps best demonstrated by the crawling ‘Levitator’; but faster songs such as ‘March of the Crucifiers’ and ‘Morbid Antichrist’ are best served by the sense of energy that the productions lends them. The songs still charge like a pack of ravenous zombies, hungry for your blood and brains; but the riffs strike strongly and distinctly, with their nuances more clear than ever before. It’s a sound that suits Bloodbath well, and it may be this that has helped them win me over for the first time.
Or, it might simply be a more general point. There’s nothing too new on The Arrow of Satan… compared to previous albums; so, maybe it’s just that this is Bloodbath’s strongest batch of songs yet. Or perhaps something more subtle has changed, with the addition of Joakim Karlsson (also of black metal band Craft) joining the veteran group on second guitar. It’s a genuinely difficult question to answer – not least in part because The Arrow of Satan… is the kind of album that will hijack your higher cognitive functions, the power of its riffs compelling you to raise your fist and bang your fucking head. It’s the kind of album that is so filled with raw power that critically assessing it is to miss the point. This is old-school Swedish death metal as it should be; unpretentious, filled with killer riffs and movements, and hugely enjoyable. Thinking too deeply about a record like this is a fool’s errand. Better instead to just let the riffs wash over you, giving in to the inevitable sickness, surrendering all before the power of The Arrow of Satan…
The Arrow of Satan is Drawn is due for release on 26 October 2018. It can be pre-ordered on cassette, CD, and vinyl via Peaceville Records.