Album Title: Survival Of The Sickest
Label: Napalm Records
Date of Release: 9 September 2022
Bearing in mind that I spent the entirety of the pandemic repping these guys with my Bloodbath facemask, it would feel incongruous were I not to review their latest album, even if it did drop during a period of inactivity on my part, as I tried to catch my breath following an unsustainable reviewing schedule earlier in the year.
By now, most of you will be familiar with the fact that Bloodbath could be given the dreaded ‘supergroup’ tag, a brutal death metal outfit comprised of some serious names from across the metal spectrum. Despite losing the assistance of the likes of Dan Swanö, Peter Tägtgren, and Mikael Åkerfeldt over the years, since their inception in 1998, the line-up is still mouth-watering. Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse and Anders Nyström handle bass and guitar duties respectively, whilst Martin Axenrot takes care of the drums, Tomas Åkvik plays guitar, and Nick ‘Old Nick’ Holmes of Paradise Lost fame belts out the growls behind the microphone.
If you are thinking ‘these guys couldn’t possibly create something that isn’t great’, then you’d be just about correct. ‘Survival Of The Sickest’ is yet another slab of extreme metal that will have old school death metal fans rejoicing until they find the next corpse to feed on. As is the Bloodbath way, this is blood, guts, and gore put to savage music in a way that only the very best of the genre can achieve. Unlike previous affairs, I sense a marked decrease in the atmospheric elements here, in favour of a dirty style of death metal that borrows from the likes of Dismember, Entombed, and Asphyx without ever sounding derivative or lacking identity. Of course, the confines of death metal can be a little limiting at times, but when handled by a group of musicians such as these, the results cannot be scoffed at.
I wonder whether the slightly more ‘straight-up’ and old school death metal approach has been plundered here because of Holmes’ vocal style; he feels very much at home on ‘Survival Of The Sickest’, as if he has been entrenched within Bloodbath for longer than his eight years. Whether this is the case of not, the fact remains that he dishes out his low, mainly decipherable growls surrounded by a collection of songs that deliver riff upon riff, and groove upon groove, as Bloodbath slowly, inexorably seek to batter the listener into willing submission.
One complaint I can often level at this kind of death metal is that it can often lack enough variety, with songs sounding similar to each other, or lacking individuality. There is only a very slight whiff of this on ‘Survival Of The Sickest’ with just a couple of the songs threatening to blend into a certain type of obscurity along the way. However, it is only an extremely minor gripe and perhaps one caused by the fact that the remainder of the material is so strong and ear-catching.
One day, I’ll begin a review elsewhere than the opening track, but when the first cut is as good as ‘Zombie Inferno’, it won’t be today. I’m not a big fan of the slow and steady build up, but once the song kicks in properly, it’s an intoxicating slab of death metal with so many positive elements to it. The riffs are properly meaty, the lead breaks are full of unhinged, swift flamboyance, the grooves are chunky as hell, and the whole thing feels dirty and depraved despite an incredible production job that lends the entire composition an extra touch of brutal power. I also really enjoy the way in which the song never sits still, always seeking a new riff to deliver some savagery.
The inclusion of some guest vocalists is another nice touch, with Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway featuring on the mammoth slab of mid-tempo bludgeoning that’s ‘Putrefying Corpse’. Elsewhere, ‘Carved’ and ‘Born Infernal’ boast an appearance from Gorguts’ Luc Lemay, the former also benefitting from a deceptively simple but effective chorus alongside more satisfying riffs and rhythmic skill. Then there’s ‘To Die’, featuring Morgoth’s Marc Grewe, that tests the neck muscles to breaking point, whilst injecting a little more atmosphere into proceedings when things slow down further. The solo that emerges at the hand of new guitar slinger Tomas Åkvik is stunning too, full of menace and carrying with it a touch of melancholy melody not far removed from the sounds of an early Katatonia. There’s an argument to say that this peach of a song allows a little Gothic misery to infiltrate too, perhaps the machinations of the Paradise Lost frontman.
Possibly the best of the whole lot though as far as I’m concerned, is ‘Affliction Of Extinction’, for several reasons. Firstly, I love the opening riff that is brought further alive by the deep bass rumblings of Renkse. But it also happens to be one of the most varied tracks on ‘Survival Of The Sickest’ with moments of synth atmosphere adding to the darkness, as well as some gorgeous lead guitar lines, injecting memorability as well as a sense of dark melancholy along the way. Mind you, the possessed lead solos that litter ‘Tales Of Melting Flesh’, or the plodding doom-laden excesses of closer ‘No God Before Me’ mean that the ‘best song’ accolade is far from a foregone conclusion.
Being so late to the party, it has been impossible to steer clear of all of the reviews for this record and as such, I’m aware of a few dissenting voices in the ranks. However, for my tastes, ‘Survival Of The Sickest’ is a superb album. It sounds brilliant, it is executed with the kind of professional ability that you’d expect from the clientele involved, and it proves that death metal is alive and well. More than that – in the right hands of those who love, revere, and understand the genre, any fear that the genre might be stagnating and running out of quality is unequivocally misplaced. To back up this statement, I present exhibit A: Bloodbath – ‘Survival Of The Sickest’. Case closed.
The Score of Much Metal: 91%