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With great joy once again, I pop ‘Breeding Death’ into my old school CD player, preparing for nearly 14 minutes of old school death metal the way it’s supposed to be. Or at least the way I like it. The only thing not old school here is the fact that I own the re-issue released in 2006, which contains demo versions of ‘Breeding Death’ and ‘Ominous Bloodvomit’.
Inspired by many death metal pioneers, most notably Entombed, the band went for death metal only Sweden could produce, with a pinch of US death metal in the mix. With an all-Swedish line-up, consisting of Dan Swanö and members of Katatonia and Opeth, the creation of something that will be worth listening to definitely lies in the possibilities. Is this EP, Bloodbath’s very first material, worth listening to?
First of all, the production. The guitars sound the way you would expect from their Swedish idols, yet not as dense and gritty. The bass guitar is audible throughout the whole EP, but you have to listen closely though. It stands out during some riffs, but sounds completely buried in the mix during others. The drums sound generally good. The cymbals can be heard nice and clear. However, the bass drum could use a little more kick. My only (minor) complaint about the general sound are the vocals. I’m a huge fan of Mikael Åkerfeldt ever since I bought ‘The Wacken Carnage’. He also convinced me to hunt down any Opeth albums I could find. But on this record, it sounds like he wanted to sound more death metal than he’s capable of. It reminds me of how he sounded on Opeth’s Orchid, but more restrained. Not much variation is to be found in his vocal delivery. In fact, I find his voice to be less powerful than ever. Where lies the problem? I’ll tell you. I’m ‘lucky’ to own the re-issued version of the EP as I wrote earlier. The demo versions are fun to listen to and point out two things: for the final product, the general sound of the EP has been improved, but the vocals have been polished to oblivion. On the demo’s, he sounds more aggressive and screams more often, adding to the variation which cannot be heard on the final product. Been released 10 years after Left Hand Path, I’d expect a veteran line-up to find better studio possibilities, considering their connections and the technological advances over a decade. Financing this EP could not have been a problem since only three songs are to be found here.
As for the music itself: I like what I hear. One of the reasons I like Bloodbath is because of their choruses. One does not simply listen to Bloodbath without grunting along with the chorus. The songwriting is well done. The songs show a nice blend of fast tempo changes (US death metal influences?) and straightforward, slightly melodic death metal the country of Sweden has been known for. The riffing is memorable, which is an aspect Bloodbath will become famous for (‘Eaten’ is known to everyone, even to unborn babies). Drummer Dan Swanö does a good job keeping it groovy while remaining a faster pace, as can be heard after the break in ‘Breeding Death’ and during the chorus of ‘Ominous Bloodvomit’. The songs in general have a pretty good alternation between fast and slow sections, keeping them fresh from beginning to end. A good example of this is the third and final song, ‘Furnace Funeral’. During the first verse, moshpits are a must, while banging your head against a wall is inevitable when the second verse kicks in. This alternation goes on throughout the song, while the chorus slowly becomes more prominent. On this recorded version, fans of ‘The Wacken Carnage’ can discover the true ending of the song, which is slow and eventually bursts into the chorus for the last time.
My conclusion: This EP, Bloodbath’s very first material, definitely is worth listening to. It sounds solid, fast, and groovy. The melodies will be stuck in your head for some time, and the vocals are provided by Mikael Åkerfeldt, which is a well received bonus. The price tag, however, is rather high for a 3-song EP, but worth paying for true fans such as myself. You won’t be disappointed.
This is a death metal side project band from four very capable musicians: Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth), Anders Nystrom (Katatonia), Jonas Renske (Katatonia) and Dan Swano (of too many bands and side projects to list here). What we have on this very short EP (13:16 running time, three songs) is an attempt on the part of these guys to recall something of the glory/brutality of death metal bands from the past, and construct a 'retro homage' to (I'm guessing) both the American death metal scene (i.e., bands from Florida) and older Swedish death metal, before the infection of the Gothenburg style of Maiden-worship. On that level, this is a success, as it could have easily have come from just about any band from that time period...say the late 80's or very early 90's. While the bio on the back of this promo CD speaks about this release being a 'testament and tribute to the death metal style so prolific in the States a decade ago' this really sounds much more like the form of death that bands like Entombed, Carnage, Dismember, etc. were spreading at about the same time, and that isn't surprising because at least one of these musicians (I'm speaking of Dan Swano here) was an integral part of that scene. These guys are are all Swedish, after all.
The songs are, for the most part, mid-paced grinding heavy death in the Sunlight Studio manner, with a few variations thrown into the mix here and there to make the songs distinct entities (this succeeds only marginally). The first song is, I feel, the best - and that only because Anders spins a nice simple melody underneath the main riff in the second part of the song that makes it sound more like early Katatonia that anything else- and that melody is minimal in form and realization, merely a suggestion on his part.
What really makes this interesting for me is the fact that Mikael sings on this, and it's a chance to hear him really try to reach new lows with his death growling, something he forsakes in Opeth for an attempt at controlling his voice...and utterly guttural low gravel vomits wouldn't really fit Opeth's style, anyway - those vocals are more about projecting a sense of power than anything else. Here, however, he lets it all loose and really goes for the throat (sorry) with groans, moans, and roars that must have had his larynx scraping bottom.
If you are at all interested in the other bands that these guys spend most of their time in, this might be worth purchasing for its novelty value - but it isn't really something that I could recommend based on its own merits. If this band does get together again and record a full-length (which is what the bio threatens if this EP is popular enough) then I would suggest they try to write music that is in a more original direction. I know that's not the point, that this is all for fun, etc. - but couldn't it at least be aimed at something other than nostalgia? It's a little too early for that, isn't it?
Bloodbath was formed on the sole purpose of bringing back old-school death metal. This is their only release that has really captured the essence of old-school death metal. Not to say the other releases are bad, but this EP captures the true sound of old-school death metal than any other Bloodbath releases. So Bloodbath started out on the right track with this EP but took the band in a different direction afterwards. Mind you, it wasn’t like they were switching to a totally different genre, but instead they were just slightly altering the sound. It can be compared to Cannibal Corpse’s sound change when George became the new vocalist. Of course in Bloodbath’s case, the change wasn’t necessarily for the worse.
The EP starts out with the song Breeding Death. Now with almost every band, metal or not, the song that shares the name with the album is generally one of if not the best on the track. Breeding Death, the song, doesn’t really hold up to that standard. The song is great, don’t get me wrong, but is far too comparable to the many old-school death metal acts before them. I am aware that they are trying to bring back the sound, but there is a fine line between bringing it back and just flat out copying it. It has the same mid paced riffing in the beginning, slows towards the middle, and goes a little faster than the intro riffs around the end. Although the tempo of the song may be just like most other old-school death metal songs, it really brings a lot to the table. Every riff in the song has many slides in them. It really adds to more ‘evil’ and ‘eerie’ sound that old-school death metal produced, instead of basic brutality. Perhaps the best part of the song was the extremely short drum solo at about 3:15 into the song. It leads into a more groove sound that plays out until the end of the song, but with the band all being veterans of metal, they knew how to work with it and make it sound superb rather than generic.
Next we have Ominous Bloodvomit. This song is definitely the strongest song of the album. While it does have the most groove influence than the rest of the songs on the EP, like I said, because Bloodbath is composed of an all-veteran line up they know how to make the groove influence sound better than most bands could. Quite frankly, they’re the only band that I have come across thus far that has taken a groove influence and used it in their favor. But I digress. The reason this song is the best song of the EP is that it remains constantly powerful and more aggressive than the rest of the songs, similar to the works of early Deicide. The bass on this track is also used very well, giving the song a more ‘thick’ sound to it. The bass adds another deep layer to the music while staying out of the way just enough to not make it too visible and thus give the song a more brutal sound.
Now, with only three songs on the EP you would think the order of which they are put in would be rather easy. The final song of the EP, Funeral Furnace, is a song to open an album rather than end it. I say this because the song starts out faster than any other song in the album, and slowly gets more slow (forgive the pun). With some of the mellower points of the song being at the end makes it an odd choice for the last song. An album should always end with a strong ending. As for the rest of the song it was very well executed. The drum work sounded like thrash metal drum work with the guitars sounding like anything but thrash. The song sounds almost like filler up until the keyboards come into the song around the end. The keyboards are the only instrument playing for several seconds, until the guitars come in with slow-held out chords. The keyboards were simply amazing. Anything less of amazing would be an understatement. They were used perfectly; they didn’t orchestrate the current music like Nocturnus, but instead changed the pace of the song entirely, on top of the fact that they were only used for about a half a minute and only once on the EP. There was definitely no overuse of the keyboards at all. I could honestly not have thought of a better way that a death metal band could’ve used keyboards in their music. One can only wonder what Bloodbath would’ve done if they had kept in the keyboard as a permanent instrument throughout all their albums. I can say confidently that Bloodbath’s music would have been far greater if they had used keyboards in all their albums in the same manner as they had used them in this one.
Although I am a huge fan of Bloodbath their newer work does not compare to this EP. I don’t know what it was about Bloodbath’s later albums, but they don’t work with the groove sounds as much as they do on this album. With The Fathomless Mastery they are slightly returning to the sounds of Breeding Death. We can only hope Bloodbath’s next studio release will take more from their elements of this EP more than anything. Not only was the song writing superb on this EP, but it was also some of Mikael Akerfeldt’s strongest vocal performances, not just in Bloodbath, but from all of his projects. His vocals are also sung more from the stomach in this release more than the others, in which case the vocals are sung from the throat and are slightly higher pitched. His vocals are extremely powerful in this release as well. And power is everything in vocals. He does not ‘cup the microphone’, but just gives a full forced scream turned into growls.
This EP is also easily the most un-produced in all of Bloodbath’s releases. Nothing is more old-school than cheap production. Now just like the keyboards, there is a right way and a wrong way to use the cheap production. There are ‘cheap productions’ like Mayhem’s later releases where the album was recorded in a fancy studio, then just made slightly scratchy to sound “true”. Bloodbath instead uses the cheap production to truly give the material an old-school death metal sound. They recorded it cheap because they had to. They didn’t have the option of a studio to hold their hand through the release.
This is definitely not an EP to pass by. The only obvious problem with this EP is that it is only 14 minutes long. I am aware it is an EP, but even for an EP that is still rather short. Nevertheless, a hell of a lot of material is packed in those 14 minutes. That being said, this might be purchased after you have listened to other Bloodbath albums to ensure you can appreciate their style before you fork out $7 for three songs.
Born of the minds of several of Sweden's most prominent metal musicians of the 90s, Bloodbath seemed poised for success from the moment of its conception, before even a track was laid down in the studio. That the four principals were all well acclimated to one another, and writing music here that came as a stark contrast to their more mainstream friendly outfits (Katatonia, Nightingale, and Opeth) was all the more reason for its existence. Jonas Renkse, Mikael Åkerfeldt, Dan Swanö, and Anders Nyström owe a lot to death metal. Its migration throughout Europe and the States (and beyond) is what led to their individual success in other projects. It's the camel they rode in on, regardless of whatever mutations their better known bands have undergone in the past decade or so.
That the debut with this project would be an EP titled Breeding Death seems rather obvious, and a wise decision to test the waters with a few tracks before committing to a larger project which would involve tours and several albums (having now all come to fruition). The goal here was to adapt the roots Swedish death metal of Grave, Entombed, Edge of Sanity, Unleashed, Hypocrisy, Grotesque and Dismember into the digestive tract of the big Y2K, and though they cannot be chiefly accredited with this sub-genre's rebirth and the inevitable scores of bands who would flock back to the style's dark waters in the 21st century, they certainly played their parts, on a high visibility label (Century Media) and reaping in many thousands of fans of their other bands to a sound they might have otherwise ignored. And in some, sad cases, a sound they probably ignore to this day outside of Bloodbath. It's true that bands like Vomitory, Fleshcrawl, Paganizer, Kaamos and their ilk had been kicking around the Swedish flavors already by this time, among others, but none have been quite able to break through.
In some ways, Bloodbath resembles its constituent members' other work through their individual roles. Mikael Åkerfeldt performs his fabled low end Opeth growling here without any need for 10+ minute long songs and vast acoustic interludes, and the others peep in once in awhile (all vocalists in their own right). Jonas and Dan return to the rhythm section they were once all too comfortable with, and Anders is in the drivers' seat with a slew of riffs that would do Grave or Dismember proud in 1990, with a little of the added atmospheric spin he might have picked up in his years of Diabolical Masquerade and Katatonia. Still, with all of the talent and the history behind the members, the compositions themselves fall rather flat.
Surely there are huge grooves and surges into the unbridled, old school riffing style that once made the format such an ominous venture into extremity. But it definitely edges on the 'been there, done that, not going to do it any better' mentality which might comfort the majority of retro death metal outfits, but doesn't offer much towards the more seasoned listener who might expect some manner of tweak to the genre. To be fair, this is the larval stage of the band, and their future full-lengths all manage to destroy this material, but "Breeding Death" and "Furnace Funeral" do little more than offer some standard, thick riffs over Mikael's level vocal battery that becomes somewhat monotonous. This guy's inflection is no Martin van Drunen or Chris Reifert, and it's no wonder he uses a lot more cleans in his other band. The middle track here, "Ominous Bloodvomit" benefits from a slightly cooler riff and thrust, and a nice mean groove that conjured up earlier Obituary, though it does sputter out into generic, brute filler at one point. The end of the track picks back up, however, and I found it the most memorable of the three.
Regardless of my own lukewarm reaction to this project's first offering, it is a success from the technical standpoints: semi-famous musicians getting together and rocking out a few old school tracks; delivering a modern and dark, if not distinct production; and building some excitement for a return to the style's halcyon days which were probably too quickly forgotten. Fuck, many of the great cult acts of the early Swedish death scene STILL lie in obscurity! Poor, poor Gorement. If you already own and enjoy Bloodbath's full-lengths like The Fathomless Mastery or Resurrection Through Carnage, then this EP is a curiosity that might be worth a few bucks. But if you haven't heard them at all, start with one of those albums first. One of the pressings of Resurrection Through Carnage even comes with Breeding Death as a bonus.