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Justice will be spread - 82%

Ilwhyan, September 14th, 2013

Out of the recent Dutch death metal projects featuring Martin Van Drunen (vocals) and Dan Swanö’s mixing and mastering work, Grand Supreme Blood Court is the most recent, and stylistically the least smoothened. Compared to Hail of Bullets, which features World War II concepts as a theme (very marketable), as well as smooth, slick and low-risk songwriting devices, or recent Asphyx, which is designed to appeal to old-timers and to attracts the attention of newcomers alike with its stalwart status and highly focused style, Grand Supreme Blood Court is obviously the least “cool” and street-credible of the bunch. Its main selling point for metal fans is certainly Eric Daniels, the famed Asphyx guitarist, and old-timers might consider his new project to be more the real Asphyx than the contemporary Asphyx itself. Despite this, this debut album seems to have the highest-budget production of its peers: the guitar sounds are the dirtiest, filthiest things I’ve ever heard come out of such a meticulously crystal production, and when they slam down their heaviest palm-mutes in unison, the earth trembles with the sheer heaviness of it. Regarding Daniels' output on this album, his love for heavy groovy riffing is ever so apparent, but it manifests in a different form here. The mysteriousness of the doom metal influences is largely absent and replaced by utterly banal heaviness, and the groovy riffs also embrace simple brutality to a greater extent.

Grand Supreme Blood Court is actually even more down-to-earth and unostentatious than its peers, even though Hail of Bullets and Asphyx are both extremely straight-forward themselves. GSBC gives the impression utter lack of self-consciousness, and there’s an almost slam death metal-esque mentality to songwriting and musicianship. The music is more sophisticated and emotively captivating, but the general attitude seems to be extremely uncompromising and one-dimensional. When the band indulges in groovy palm muted riffs, it happens completely without restraint, to the point of utter satisfaction, and why not, because “Bow Down Before the Blood Court” features the most polished and perfected production of all of Dan Swanö’s recent ventures in death metal. The album is heavy to the point of absurdity. The open strings of the guitars cut like razors, and the chugs are massive in sound, each like slabs of lead dropped on concrete. The mix is delightfully clear, and despite the outrageously massive sounds and excessive loudness of everything, no frequencies become overly clogged, and every instrument mixes together perfectly while maintaining its own sharply defined comfort area of frequencies. The music delivers brutality not only through massive chugs, but also poignant tremolo-picked riffs that saw through the sonic mass like knife slashes. In songs like the title track, “All Rise” and especially the grandiose ending track “…And Thus The Billions Shall Burn”, these low-pitched tremolo leads provide extremely memorable parts. The finishing epic is made by the brilliant mournful guitar leads that once decorated Asphyx’s dismal death/doom sound, though more focused in form and limited in scope, but in many of the songs, these tremolo riffs are what truly make this album. Most of the standard riffing material is rather bread-and-butter, if not run-of-the-mill, not especially different from the recent works of Asphyx, if certainly less formulaic. The majority of the material here would simply not be impressive if it weren’t for the immense sounds, excellent guitar tones and the ludicrous heaviness of everything, but what crowns the album is the tremolo riffing.

Martin Van Drunen has effectively re-established his status in death metal through these ventures discussed earlier. Here, his voice is darker and more distorted, but in general, completely similar to his hoarse, pained howling on his other recent works, as well as “The Rack”. The entire band is in excellent sync in that there seems to be absolute consensus as to what manner of music is to be performed. Occasionally, the guitars can’t entirely follow Bagchus’ grooving, unsteady beats, which only gives the music a more genuine and natural feel.

A less obvious selling point of the album is its theme, the Blood Court. The reference is not overly obscure, but I missed it prior to looking it up. It refers to a court that passes sentences involving bodily harm and public humiliation. The theme is extremely well done, and it gives the album an amusing edge that goes delightfully well with the over-the-top heaviness of the music. Van Drunen’s lyrics are quite entertaining in their laconic barbarity, and the tone mixes perfectly with the simplistic, blunt force style of the music. The concept follows events from the Blood Court’s perspective: terrible sentences of horrible torture and gruesome death are passed to despicable criminals. Eventually, the Blood Court comes to realise that the entire humanity must be sentenced to extinction, and a nuclear war ensues. Considering this denouement, it seems unlikely that there will be a follow-up to “Bow Down Before The Blood Court”, but who knows; perhaps humanity was able to survive the Blood Court’s atomic wrath, and new battles await somewhere in the future!

Verdict: A Hung Jury - 60%

televiper11, December 12th, 2012

Since Martin Van Drunen's re-activation in death metal, we've been treated to a wide array of new classics from both Asphyx and Hail Of Bullets. Having played his earlier Asphyx and Pestilence records to death, I was utterly grateful for this bountiful harvest of new and capable material but somewhere along the line, something went astray. Grand Supreme Blood Court ought to be awesome as it returns Eric Daniels to the fore-front of death-doom, the genre he helped pioneer. Bow Down To The Blood Court is as close to a true sequel to Last One On Earth that we are likely to get so how come it sounds so lifeless and uninspired?

Part of it is ear-fatigue: in the past four years, we've had six new Van Drunen fronted releases, all of which were produced and mastered by Dan Swano. Diminishing returns have definitely settled in as the similarity of tone and structure found here in relation to both Asphyx and HOB makes it difficult for these songs to stand out. And considering how Deathhammer was a fuckin' incredible Asphyx album even without the presence of Eric Daniels on guitar means this record had a steep climb to stand-out and it never quite finds its footing.

To say expectations were high is an understatement. Eric Daniels was the mastermind behind early Asphyx and his inimitable guitar style helped pioneer a genre. Few can compare when it comes to crafting sick death-doom riffs and mournfully catchy leads. Which makes the blase riffs and leads here so disappointing. I've listened to this record repeatedly and not a single riff or solo has burned into my brain yet. Even the seemingly good stuff like "And Thus The Billions Shall Burn" feels cliche -- the expected epic closer doesn't quite bring the house down this time.

As for Van Drunen, it sounds as though he mailed it in. His vocal lines, cadence, and overall performance skirts along too familiar lines. The whole project sounds this way. Here was a chance for members of both bands to stretch out in a side-project and really deliver the goods but they go through the motions instead. And I am split apart over it because there's nothing really wrong with this record (other than an overly clipped and tinny sounding production job). Fans of Asphyx, Hail Of Bullets, and OSDM in general should eat this up with a spoon but I can't personally get behind it. Having released a glut of material recently, I just feel overfed and ready for a break from these guys.