Album Title: Creatures Of The Dark Realm
Label: AFM Records
Date of Release: 28 May 2021
Sweden’s Bloodbound are another of those bands that has always been at the periphery of my knowledge. I have dipped into their back catalogue from time to time since their formation just after the Millennium, and it’s a hefty body of work, with eight previous full-length records released, from the 2005 debut, ‘Nosferatu’, to ‘Rise Of The Dragon Empire’ that saw the light of day in 2019. Add to that a 2020 EP, and it’s fair to say that Bloodbound are one of the most prolific bands out there in the power metal scene. But despite a love of power metal, Bloodbound have never really ignited a fire within me. With the imminent release of album number nine, ‘Creatures Of The Dark Realm’, I felt it was a good opportunity to see if the sextet could finally convert me.
Let’s start with the positives: the production is great, the band are as tight as a duck’s behind, and there’s a real energy to the musical output. It could be argued that I’m damning Bloodbound with faint praise, but actually, these three things go a long way to ensuring that any album is going to be of a high quality. The fact that the only new member in the last five years is the drummer, Daniel Sjögren, means that Bloodbound are a tightly honed unit, with a clear identity and modus operandi. Added to which, the principle songwriting trio of vocalist Patrik J. Selleby, guitarist Tomas Olsson, and keyboardist Fredrik Bergh hasn’t changed for a decade, with ‘Creatures Of The Dark Realm’ once again written by these three comrades.
When you think of power metal, it is natural to expect a ballad or two, especially when an album is comprised of twelve tracks. Not so here. ‘Creatures Of The Dark Realm’ has shunned the ballad in favour of creating an entire album full of driving power metal anthems. To use the cliché, it’s pedal to the metal’ from the point at which the brief acoustic instrumental intro piece subsides, to the very end of closer, ‘The Wicked And The Weak’. This is pure, unadulterated European power metal with a decent symphonic, epic flavour.
Another positive element of this album is that it is undeniably catchy. Each song is laced with plenty of hooks, or a big chorus to wrap your ears around. I like the fact that there’s a nice balance within the music, so that no single instrument seeks to hog the limelight. Each musician can be heard, and each brings forth an element that’s integral to the overall sound, be it a thundering double pedal drum assault, a heavy riff, a satisfying bass rhythm, or a keyboard embellishment to add texture or atmosphere to the music. And, with Selleby, Bloodbound are blessed with a highly competent vocalist that can hit the high notes whilst injecting passion into his performances.
I know you could sense it coming, so here it is:…but….
For all of the histrionics, for all of the energy, for all of the melody, I just don’t engage with the music as much as I wanted to. Yes it’s catchy with hooks galore, but the music feels a little too easy, safe, and saccharine for my tastes; there’s a lack of an edge to the music that I was hoping I might discover with repeated spins. The melodies don’t resonate however hard I try. I normally like to lace my reviews with a more in-depth description of some or occasionally all of the individual tracks. However, on this occasion, I feel it’s a little redundant as an exercise. It’s unfair to say ‘hear one, hear them all’, because there is a slight ebb and flow, as well as subtle differences within some of the tracks. The fact remains though, that you’re either going to love or hate this record after the completion of the opening duo that consists of the title track and ‘When Fate Is Calling’. That’s because Bloodbound have a distinct, relatively narrow style and the album follows this path pretty closely throughout.
It would be unfair of me to say that ‘Creatures Of The Dark Realm’ is not enjoyable, because that’s not the case. At times, I do find myself nodding my head along with the music, or tapping my foot, but that’s because there are some solid riffs to be heard, as well as some rousing choruses on the album. After all, you’d have to be dead or unconscious to not feel something when listening to such a catchy record. It’s just that the album never stops me dead in my tracks or delivers a goosebump inducing moment. I smile, I nod appreciatively, but I don’t give myself over to the music entirely. It does its thing in the background whilst I work, do the housework, or walk the dog. Headphones or speakers, it makes no difference – the music is just there. I don’t want to say that it’s background music, but you get the idea.
I have tried. I came to this album with as open a mind as possible. I wanted to like it. And up to a point, I do. But I’ve not been blown away by Bloodbound or ‘Creatures Of The Dark Realm’ as much as I hoped or wanted to be. There is definitely a market for this style of music though, and for those of you who enjoy up-tempo, rousing, and melodic European power metal, I’m sure this will sit very well with you. Unfortunately, it’s just doesn’t do enough for me.
The Score of Much Metal: 73%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: