Bloodbath are not a supergroup – they’re a mega-group. The collective that unleashed 2000’s Breeding Death EP featured Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt (vocals), the Katatonia duo of Jonas Renkse (bass/vocals) and Anders Nyström (guitar/vocals), and Edge of Sanity legend, Dan Swanö (drums). Hypocrisy main man, Peter Tägtgren, filled in on vocal duties for 2004’s Nightmares Made Flesh, and the group invited Paradise Lost icon, Nick Holmes, to take the microphone for 2014’s Grand Morbid Funeral. The line-up for that LP remains to the present day and reminds you on album number six why you enjoy death metal. Survival of the Sickest is a walk in the cemetery for the personnel involved, but it hits the spot like a trepanation from a medieval physician.
You know what to expect from the song title of a Bloodbath number. The founder members had only one vision, and that was to write the unholiest and goriest death metal of their youth with no concern for trends or tastemakers. Opener, ‘Zombie Inferno’, might read like a long-lost Death b-side on paper, but it bashes your head with the savagery of Sepultura’s Beneath the Remains onslaught from 1989. Nick Holmes is one of the most underrated vocalists in metal – he’s easily one of the most versatile. Of course, he feels no need to moisten the microphone here with anything other than a gluttonous cannibal voice, yet you can discern every word emanating from his mouth as if lubricated with the blood of a virgin. This is the standard you should aim for if you write death metal. The thrash metal origins power the exaggerated bloodlust with the right foundations and give it the urgency it deserves. What a start!
In true mega-group fashion, Bloodbath are not content with their own a-list status. They bring in Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway on ‘Putrefying Corpse’ and deliver a reminder of the time when the grindcore legends went death metal on 1990’s Harmony Corruption. Naturally, they speed up the drums for Barney’s parts, but the grotesque mid-tempo thrash aesthetic is its greatest asset. The same goes for Gorguts leader, Luc Lemay, who appears on ‘Carved’ and ‘Born Infernal’. You can hear the impact of Teutonic thrash on the latter. Listen how the riffs slice through your headphones like a radical surgery to the brain. You can taste the diabolical gratification of the spree killer as he splashes his face with the blood of his victims in a moment of ecstasy. The red stuff drips down your chin on ‘Dead Parade’ as you marvel at the syncopated guitar mirroring the phonation of Nick’s words in the opening verse. Now you can hear the Morbid Angel influence. The production is masterful, as you’d expect from such experienced and self-sufficient musicians.
Look in the gaps between the tombs of a mausoleum and you’ll find more things to make your flesh crawl (mainly spiders). Here, Bloodbath shower you in gore and haunt you with the darkest recesses of a diabolical imagination. ‘To Die’ answers the famous question from Tom G. Warrior (Celtic Frost) when he asks, “Are you morbid?” This song will make your hands tremble and could even cause your mouth to fill up at the sides if you’re not careful.
Survival of the Sickest recalls Dismember as much as Death, but it suffers from one regrettable flaw – its length. This album needs no longer than thirty minutes to land the death metal record of the year, but Bloodbath squander this prize by stretching it out to eleven songs. ‘Tales of Melting Flesh’ and ‘Environcide’ are competent enough, but you start to feel jaded at track nine. Thankfully, they end the LP in style with the glorious malevolence of ‘No God Before Me’ closing the catafalque curtain with a surprise Type O Negative chorus to counteract the bone-crunching Obituary dirge. Again, Nick Holmes perfects his harsh voice projection in a muscular technique that could almost be considered anthemic if not for its extremity.
We wouldn’t expect anything other than a blistering extreme metal album from the iconic musicians that make up this mega-group, and they don’t disappoint on Survival of the Sickest. It might have been the best of their career if they trimmed it down by a couple of songs.
Release Date: 09/09/2022
Record Label: Napalm Records
Standout tracks: Zombie Inferno, Dead Parade, No God Before Me
Suggested Further Listening: Cancer – Death Shall Rise (1991), Morbid Angel – Covenant (1993), Dismember – Like an Everflowing Stream (1991)