Company: Peaceville Release: 2008 Genre: Death Reviewer: Raising Iron
A damn fine piece of modern death metal
After a lot of hype, a second (ever!) live performance (wish I coulda been there!), and a nice four song EP teaser earlier this summer, Bloodbath have finally opened the elevator doors at the Overlook Hotel to give us The Fathomless Mastery (that's a "The Shining" movie reference for you youngins out there).
Turns out Unblessing the Purity, being the EP referenced earlier, was an accurate hint as to what to expect with this full-length. I gotta say initially I was a bit torn with this one. Bloodbath is supposed to be all about old school, unadulterated, Swedish death metal, and The Fathomless Mastery is and isn't.
For those not in the know, Bloodbath is a "side-project" made up of members from other, more famous Swedish bands. Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth is on vox, Anders Nystrom and Jonas Renske from Katatonia are on guitar and bass respectively, Martin Axenrot from Opeth (and Witchery, as well as a half dozen other not-so-famous bands) is on drums, and a relatively unknown second guitarist by the name of Per Erickson rounds out the group. The conundrum many will face here is that Dan Swano is no longer a force in the group. His exit seems to have resulted in a loss of that rough-shod, old school edge that was found on earlier outings Resurrection Through Carnage and Nightmares Made Flesh. Production here is quite creamy smooth, and a perfect mix gives enough room for all the instruments to breathe despite the ferocious speeds at which they progress at times. This is one thing that will bother the purists, longing for the days of Dismember's Everflowing Stream and Entombed's Left Hand Path. That's why these guys started this in the first place, right? To resurrect the early sound of Sweden's most traditional and brutal death metal giants? Well, that's not all; astute listeners of the genre will find that light shades of progressive death have crept into this release, as well as technical death. This isn't really a surprise given the current cast, whose respective bands were all begun with intentions to build upon and expand the early death metal sound, and without Dan Swano (who was a force at the forefront of the initial Swedish death metal sound with bands like Pan-Thy-Monium and Edge of Sanity) to keep Bloodbath more grounded in the traditional sound, they've naturally injected into this release their writing personalities.
So, have all these gripes left The Fathomless Mastery a mere, coagulated mess? I'd have to say a resounding "no" is in order. Judging this album on its own merits, for what it is, without knowledge or deference given to the players and where they come from, it's a damn fine piece of modern death metal. Hell, many would be hailing and revering this release if it was done by an "original" or "unknown" group of players who founded and built this band as their mainstay. But such is not the case, and granted, these guys have always said Bloodbath is here just to give nods to the old school.
Therefore, this one will probably be divisive for the die-hards. Look, overall, the riffs are intriguing and enjoyably head-bangable, Akerfeldt's death vocals are perfect, nary a clean one to be found anywhere, the drumming is stellar with plenty of blast-beats, rolls, and fills, and just enough intrigue lies in the compositional segues to keep one interested. Take it for what it is, you can't always have your raw flesh and eat it too!
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