The death metal genre has millions of acolytes around the world and probably spawns more new bands than any other movement in extreme music, other than black metal. Even in the dark days of the 1990s when the continued existence of metal seemed doubtful and the artists irrelevant to mainstream and youth culture, death metal continued to innovate and win new converts with its exquisite musicianship and hostile sound. Many offshoots evolved from the seeds of Death, Entombed and Carcass, and today we have jazz musicians, hardcore kids and experimentalists drawing inspiration from its unique DNA as well as musicians that want to make it even heavier and transgressive. New Zealand’s Blindfolded and Led to the Woods (BALTTW) find themselves in the progressive camp yet pursue new paradigms of ferocity and aggression as if the two are mutually exclusive. This involves more risk-taking, but it might also stop you losing interest in an overcrowded genre in need of reinvigoration.
The first thirty seconds of opener, ‘The Inevitable Fate of the Universe’, make it clear that BALTTW already have a hostile sound of their own after ten years of touring and two full length releases under their belts. Here the guitars are labyrinthine and slithery, seldom fretting conventional chords or relying on the pull of the open strings to unleash the brutality. It will remind you of Gorguts in its execution, but few bands sound so precise and spontaneous. You’ll rub your eyes after sitting through ‘…and You Will Try to Speak’. Is this what Dillinger Escape Plan would sound like if they returned as a blackened death metal band? Christ, that churning bass guitar is loud in the mix. Be under no illusions – this is heavy as fuck despite the advanced complexity of the arrangements.
It’s hard to assign a description to BALTTW’s audio onslaught when the music is so unpredictable and chaotic. You’ll find no self-indulgence here but plenty of insane aggression. One moment they’re serving up a cocktail of dissonant grindcore on ‘The White of the Eyes’; the next track they’re offering a mathcore interpretation of death metal with Nile’s Karl Sanders on the excellent ‘Atop the Wings of a Magpie’. Drummer, Tim Stewart, has a telepathic understanding with the two guitarists – Ben Atkinson and Stuart Minchington – but you wonder if his heart sinks every time they present him with a demo for a new song. “How the fuck can I play along to this?” must be his first thought. And yet he makes it look so effortless and natural. Listen to the serene chord-picking and distant screaming of ‘Lucid Visitations’. The blast beats arrive like a surprise barrage of artillery fire but retreat at the three-minute mark into solemn military snares. You ask the inevitable question after hearing ‘The Obscured Witness’: how do you reach this standard of collective musicianship while still sounding as raw as hardcore legends, Deadguy, and as aggressive as Pupil Slicer?
Nightmare Withdrawals is all about variation, whether it be tempo, genre or mood. Closing track, ‘Sic Mundus Creatus Est’ encapsulates this best with grinding fuzz bass and atonal chord picking before the staccato riffs kick in and the low-end groove squirms through the speakers in a slower mode of agony. You’ve got one last breath in you by the time they deliver the transcendent glory of gothic choirs and the euphoria of relinquishing that final burden keeping you enslaved to the rules of polite society.
BALTTW are proof that extreme metal can continue to chart new pathways to sonic destruction. The lyrics battle man against planet and the individual against the menace of neurosis and isolation. Like The Amenta, they paint a bleak picture of the future and dare to capture the moment when the last light bulb dims and the few remaining comforts of civilisation lose their appeal. This is quintessential dystopian death metal with the technical prowess of Psycroptic, the unfiltered hostility of Autarkh and the sophistication of Schammasch. Of course, it’s not for everyone, but it’s unique and challenging.
Release Date: 26/03/2021
Record Label: Self Released
Standout tracks: The Inevitable Fate of the Universe; The Obscured Witness; Sic Mundus Creatus Est
Suggested Further Listening: Gorguts – Obscura (1998), Psycroptic – As the Kingdom Drowns (2018), Dillinger Escape Plan – Calculating Infinity (1999)