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When I was reading up on Peter Hasslebrack to write this review, I realized with some astonishment that there was a local connection here, since he once played in the Massachusetts thrash unknowns Deslok, whose first demo Instant Death...Just Add Water! got a lot of rotation from me at the ripe age of 14-15 (the chorus to one of their tunes, 'I am a relic of depression - of misery!' was one of my disaffected teen anthems). Now, Hasslebrack wasn't on that demo, but rather their second the year later, I just thought it was a rather amazing coincidence and proof that the world is smaller than I think. Nevertheless, the guy has moved on to North Carolina and greater things, not the least of which is Bloodsoaked, his one man death metal juggernaut which has to date produced three albums through the stylin' Comatose Music.
Peter performs all the guitars, bass, and vocals here while using a mix of session (Brent Wiliams) and programmed (Shane McFee) drums to support the solid old school riffing. He's also managed to wrangle the iconic James Murphy to perform a few of the leads here, and it's a good fit, for surely some of Murphy's old stomping grounds provided a lot of the influence to what Peter is trying to achieve here. This is essentially late 80s/early 90s death metal with a modern spin concocted through the very precise guitar tone and overall productive values. I hear traces of early Morbid Angel, Death, Obituary, Disincarnate, and all manner of Floridian gods in the bowels of this album, but was much more surprised at the similarity to Dutch forebears Pestilence, in particular their Testimony of the Ancients record or the more recent reunion effort Resurrection Macabre (which drew on the former for much of its riffing structure). The songs have a mechanical, vital semblance to them which meshes solid guitar progressions of menacing mute streams, octave and/or minor chord slides ("The Death of Hope"), repetitious Mameli meets Schuldiner meets Vincent vocal patterns and leaden yet cutting grooves.
Bloodsoaked has the ability to make even the most derivative chugging riff pattern seem somehow fresh and warlike (as in the opener "Lies"), so while you get the feeling you've heard this all before you still can't help but to jerk about in violent libation. Personally, though, I rather preferred the more clinical sounding sequences through the album which focused in on the more delicate, crisp floods of notes. Now, The Death of Hope is not indiscriminately old school in tone: the intensity of the drums is like meticulous brickwork in both the blasted and double bass sections that give it a more modern, brutal edge that you'll hear in a lot of younger tech death acts, if not as acrobatic. However, Hasslebrack's compositions never fly off the handle in terms of self indulgence or wankery. Each practices a measure of restraint, ranging from about 2-3 minutes on average and cycling through only a violent but controlled burst of riffing with near perfect lead placement and no danger of succumbing to ennui.
Admittedly, this utter precision gives The Death of Hope a feeling of tight-assedness that some might feel too callous or inflexible, but I for one welcome our new robot overlords and, like the aforementioned Resurrection Macabre, find this a pretty interesting approach even if it lacks for much range and variation. Not all of the rhythm guitar progressions on the album really stood out to me, but regardless they seemed intense and refreshing despite their obvious sources. The lyrics left a lot to be desired, fairly average ruminations on violence and gore that never become to graphic or interesting, yet I'm sure this is not a deal breaker for most into the genre. Even more, one has to appreciate that Hasslebrack is not just jumping on the current trends in retro death metal. Bloodsoaked doesn't sound remotely Swedish circa 1990, nor does it try to emulate the cavernous atmosphere of Autopsy or Incantation. It belongs to a crop of newer US bands like Nocturnal Torment, Never to Arise and the late Godless Rising in tempering a firm respect for its influences with a contemporary recording aesthetic, and as such it's worth experiencing.
By now, the one-man death metal band is not entirely new to most of us. Both Insidious Decrepancy and Putrid Pile have been recording and performing live as one-man acts for many years. North Carolina's Bloodsoaked (A.K.A. Peter Hasselbrack) has been crushing skulls in a similar manner since 2006, and shows no sign of letting up with the latest album, The Death of Hope.
While still remaining heavy as hell, Bloodsoaked has grown and evolved slightly on The Death of Hope. Outside contributions have surely helped with this transformation. While writing material in the past, Hasselbrack would sometimes jam with other musicians to help flesh out ideas. This time around, the album was almost entirely written while jamming with Atrocious Abnormality drummer, Brent Williams. This may have helped contribute to one of The Death of Hope's greatest strong points: more variety in the songwriting. Each song is more distinct on The Death of Hope than on past releases. The guitar solos definitely lift the songs to a new level as well. A ripping lead first shows up near the end of the fourth track. It was such a shock when the solo entered that it really caught me off-guard. "Sounds like Hasselbrack has been doing some serious wood-shedding," I thought to myself upon first hearing the solo tearing through my speakers. After closer examination of the CD booklet I realized that it's not Hasselbrack playing the lead, but none other than James Murphy more or less reprising the role he played on Obituary's Cause of Death as the "go-to-solo-guy." His solos on "No God" and "Consume the Flesh" are simply awesome and add a new dimension to the Bloodsoaked sound. With the outside contributors making such a difference, one can't help but wonder how strong Hasselbrack's creations would be with more input from others.
Don't let all of the talk of other contributors fool you. This is definitely Hasselbrack's show, and it's obvious that he has done plenty to improve and grow himself. While I have enjoyed past Bloodsoaked releases, The Death of Hope is the first one that I've had a hard time taking out of the CD player. The songs are catchy and well-written and stick to the Bloodsoaked style, but the riffs are stronger now and the tunes are downright infectious. It's easy to see that Hasselbrack has been honing his craft over the years. Probably the most glaring difference between The Death of Hope and its predecessors is Hasselbrack's vocal style. The deep gutturals have been replaced with a more mid-rangy early David Vincent growl. This took some getting used to at first, but after several listens it really grew on me. However, it might have been even better if he had used both vocal styles to add even more variety to the album. For a quick comparison, check out the re-recording of "Grinding Your Guts" (originally from 2007's Brutally Butchered) that closes the album. The song is essentially the same as the original, but now features the new vocal style.
The Bloodsoaked groove-driven catchiness of old combined with the new stronger songwriting and new vocal style make The Death of Hope a winner for brutal death metal genre fans. This is easily the best Bloodsoaked album yet. It would definitely be interesting to see how having a full band would affect recordings and live performances. Having seen Bloodsoaked three times to date, I can say he pulls it off damn well live for one guy with a guitar and an iPod on a stool. There's something slightly vulnerable and awkward about seeing one man playing brutal music like this all alone on stage. At the same time, one can't help but be impressed with the fact that he actually succeeds. The Death of Hope is proof positive that Hasselbrack doesn't need to fix what ain't broke. A few tweaks here and there will do just fine.
Originally written for http://www.metalpsalter.com