In some ways, Bloodbath wasn’t a band that should’ve lasted this long—begun as a side project; focused entirely on regurgitating a classic sound; born of members occupied with other, bigger, more serious endeavors. Bands like this tend to be always the mistress, never the bride…
As Last Rites’ resident Paradise Lost fanboy, no one was more intrigued than I when Nick Holmes was announced as Bloodbath’s replacement vocalist some four years ago. The first Old Nick-fronted effort, 2014’s Grand Morbid Funeral, found its way onto my year-end list back then, and with good reason. It wasn’t Bloodbath’s finest hour; in fact, it may have been their lowest point, but that low was still a damned high one, another strong salvo from a band of great musicians playing great music.
If Grand Morbid Funeral was a step down from the retro-Swedeath mastery that preceded it, then The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn is a further step down from Grand Morbid Funeral, which makes it handily the worst Bloodbath album. But does that make it a bad album, overall?
No, of course not. But neither is it a great one.
So if it isn’t bad, and it’s isn’t good, then what is The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn? It’s a mostly Swedish death metal effort, burnished with some slight blackness (likely courtesy of Craft guitarist Joakim Carlsson, making his Bloodbath debut here). It’s a collection of respectable tunes, solidly crafted and more than capably performed. And it’s the first time the cracks are starting to show.
Opening track “Fleischmann” is a blistering track, all biting punky-blacky-thrashy death, and yet it’s as forgettable afterwards as it is fun in the moment. Following number and lead teaser “Bloodicide” was a bit of a disappointment as a pre-release introduction, and yet, given what surrounds it, it manages to overcome its ridiculous title to be one of the better songs on hand. Further moments poke forth from the mire – the doomy deliberate trudge of “Levitator” and some strong riffs in the further awfully titled “Deader,” and then the killer late entry in “Warhead Ritual” – but the majority of The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn falls into a good-but-not-memorable rut across its 41 minutes.
A large part of the criticism I read of Grand Morbid Funeral revolved around Nick’s goblin-y growls, especially compared to Akerfeldt’s deeper, deathier guttural, and if that was a sticking point for listeners on Funeral, it will continue to be here, and especially so when the quality of the material beneath Nick is noticeably lessened. Still, the remainder of the formula is in place—Blakkheim’s Entombed-with-a-dash-of-Floridian riffing, Axe’s powerfully propulsive drumming, and that aforementioned slight hint of modern Darkthrone edge.
The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn is a decent collection of tunes that nevertheless shows Bloodbath at their weakest, and though that may be better than many bands at their strongest, it’s still a relative backwards leap for death metal’s greatest super-group. It’s the first time that Bloodbath feels like the side project it’s always been. Go into this record expecting a decent Swedeath album, and you’ll be fine, likely even pleased. Go into it expecting Nightmares Made Flesh or Resurrection Through Carnage, and you’re set up for disappointment.
Seriously, though, that cover art is kick-ass…