Bloodbath: Blood Brothers

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If you love death metal, you must know Bloodbath: those dogged upholders of the ancient DM code and one of the few metal supergroups worth a damn. Over the course of once EP and three full-length studio albums, the band formed by Katatonia members Anders ‘Blakkheim’ Nyström and Jonas Renkse as a purposeful salute to the glory days of death metal’s first wave have always made it their business to conjure the atmosphere and feral bite of the genre’s original blueprint, but rather than indulge in shameless retro posturing, the Swedes have celebrated brutality’s inherent diversity too.

As studious observers will know, Bloodbath’s original and most recent vocal incumbent, Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt, officially flew the blood-spattered nest in the spring of 2012. The first time he abandoned his bloody brothers, it was Hypocrisy’s Peter Tägtgren who filled his shoes: a neat and fitting replacement on every level.

On this occasion, however, Bloodbath find themselves fronted by one of the true heroes of death metal’s early days and one of the musicians who inspired the band’s obsession with all things vicious and gruesome in the first place. Much to the surprise of many longtime fans, the new Bloodbath singer is Nick Holmes, better known as frontman with doomy death pioneers and gothic metal titans Paradise Lost. It is a match made in heaven and hell./o:p

“We had a while to reflect on what we wanted to do and to discuss singers,” Anders tells us. “It was a weird scenario when we approached Nick, because Katatonia were on a co-headline tour with Devin Townsend and Paradise Lost were the support act! They’re one of the most important bands in Katatonia’s history, so we asked Nick how he’d feel going back to his roots. It was about going to the studio and indulging in nostalgia, having fun, drinking beer and recording, maybe a few gigs. I think hearing all that and maybe also knowing that Greg [Mackintosh, PL guitarist] was doing death metal again with Vallenfyre, it opened a whole mental door for Nick to step back into his youth.”

Given the creative, often experimental journey that he’s experienced with his main band, Nick could’ve been forgiven for passing on the chance to growl and scream for the first time in two decades or more but the call of his brutal adolescence couldn’t be ignored. /o:p

“I was flattered, as I’m very aware of Bloodbath, obviously,” he explains. “Then my mate said, ‘You’d be mad not to!’ so I figured, ‘Why not?’ I’d sort of forgotten how to do this kind of vocal. There’s a technique to it! But the guys sent me the song Eaten, without the vocals, and I sang along and realised I could still do it. My style’s very different to Mike’s and we all laughed about the fact that people would say, ‘He’s not like Mike!’ But it all feels very natural.”

One listen to Grand Morbid Funeral, the results of Bloodbath’s travails with their new lord of guttural proclamations, should confirm to any discerning death metal freak that this band’s mastery of their chosen artform has reached a new peak. While the blistering, contemporary precision of 2008’s The Fathomless Mastery was undeniably exhilarating, the new album takes Bloodbath right back to the very beginnings of the death metal story, replete with all the scabrous sonic rawness and overpowering, arcane atmospheres that made those classic Autopsy, Morbid Angel and Death records so outrageously compelling. If modern extreme metal lacks anything, it’s what Anders describes as “the magic”, and Grand Morbid Funeral has that magic in plentiful supply.

“We knew what we were gonna do with this album, straight after we did the last one,” says the guitarist. “Somehow Bloodbath had evolved into one of these more contemporary acts. That was fun to do, but this was always about the old-school thing, so the plan this time was to go way back, even earlier than the sound we had on the Breeding Death EP. That intrigued Nick, when we explained the vibe and the concept of the new album, and that it was gonna be right back to the days when he was a big death metal fan himself. The late 80s was a magical time for everybody who was part of that. There’s no manual on how to recreate those formative years, but it’s about imperfection, being analogue and raw, and tapping into those old-school vibes.”

Make no mistake, the new Bloodbath album is as old school and gnarly as it gets, and yet it is common knowledge that the Katatonia boys – and, indeed, their regular comrades Martin Axenrot of Opeth and second guitarist Per ‘Sodomizer’ Eriksson – are no kind of musical elitists, as evinced by their respective catalogues with their other bands. Nonetheless, Anders insists that beyond the joyous revisiting of old sonic stomping grounds, Grand Morbid Funeral represents a concerted attempt to direct younger death metal fans towards a spirit and feeling that has somehow been mislaid over the years.

“I see this album as a lesson,” he says. “It’s like a gateway to the old-school scene. I want the younger generation, who didn’t have the opportunity to grow up with it, to get a ticket back there and see what they’ve been missing, you know? It was all one scene back then. It was a big melting pot of brutal, old-school metal. So I really hope people are going to trace the footsteps back and do their homework. I see a whole generation here that hasn’t done that. When we announced Nick as the new singer, a lot of people didn’t know who the fuck he was! And that was just mindblowing to me! So once people have done their homework, hopefully they’ll get into the vibe. I’m not saying people have to worship it or even like it, but they have to respect it. That’s what I demand.”

Meanwhile, as their publicity shots reveal, Nick Holmes is very much relishing a chance to reinvent himself as a snarling, blasphemous priest, replete with cobwebbed cloak and deathly pallor. As seriously as they take their sustained paean to the ancient death metal gods, Bloodbath are also keeping true to the notion that heavy music is supposed to be fun.

“The other guys wanted our photos to look like the old Dismember photos, all covered in blood, but then I thought up the hooded thing,” laughs Nick. “I was going to be a leper originally! Ha ha! They want me to wear it all onstage, but I’ll definitely trip over the cloak. It’s an accident waiting to happen! I’m going for a Satanic priest look onstage, so we’ll see how that works out!”

“Yeah, Nick’s probably painted himself into a corner now, so people will expect that!” adds Anders. “But it’s a cool thing. Early on we started calling him Old Nick. He’s literally old-school Nick but it’s also a nickname for the devil, so it fits like a glove! I just love seeing him that way. It’s not what people would expect from Nick Holmes in 2014, so it’s a little slap in the face for everybody.”

With their finest album to date under their offal-soiled collective belt and with 2015 panning out to be their busiest year yet, with a dozen festival appearances across Europe already booked, Bloodbath’s mission to pay tribute to death metal’s first rotten fruits seems to be gathering momentum; a testament, it seems, to the enduring power of a genre that refuses to die and that still wields great power over several generations of grim acolytes. Death’s magic lives on and on and on…

“I never found anything more ultimate than death metal, no matter how hard I searched,” Anders concludes. “You can never generate a more brutal guitar sound than the death metal sound from the Swedish school, with the Boss HM-2 pedal! Sure, there might be some extremely evil, over-the-top black metal going on, but nothing can touch that sound.”

GRAND MORBID FUNERAL IS OUT NOW VIA CENTURY MEDIA/o:p