Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bloodwork - World Without End (2014)

Death metal has changed quite a bit since its formative years in the mid-late 1980's.  What started as a more extreme extension of thrash metal quickly developed into its own form in the early 1990's, and has taken on a number of iterations in subsequent years.  The early-mid 90's saw the rise of technical death metal like Gorguts, Atheist, Cynic, and latter-day Pestilence, as well as more brutal death metal like Suffocation or Dying Fetus.  Death metal mixed with doom metal became prevalent as well, with acts ranging from My Dying Bride, early Paradise Lost, and early Anathema to Paramaecium and Orphaned Land.  The 2000's and beyond have spawned more modern distillations of the death metal sound with ever-improving production values, which sometimes make the music sound more "in your face", but sometimes take away from the raw, unadulterated sound of what death metal was in the beginning.

The last 5 or 6 years has seen a major resurgence in the sound of early death metal, now referred to by most as "old school death metal" or OSDM.  A fair number of indie and underground music labels are putting out cassettes and vinyl releases for a number of bands, and many are retreating from over-produced, sterile sounding records to something more raw and organic, recalling the early 1990's where good production was possible, but the raw sound of the music wasn't compromised by the production, mixing, or mastering.  Endtime Productions has wisely snapped up UK death metallers Bloodwork, and given the vinyl (and CD) treatment to their full-length debut World Without End.  It stands as a shining example of OSDM done right in the modern age.

Right away, I hear many hallmarks of early death metal in the sound.  The guitars are downtuned, like most albums from that early period, but not so far that there's no definition in the guitar tone or in the riffing.  The guitar sound isn't so deep and sludgy that it forsakes some level of bite; indeed, this record's guitar sound is heavy and has plenty of teeth.  There isn't much in the way of solo work on the record, but lots of fast-picked rhythms and segues that really show off the abilities of all 3 guitarists in the band, James, Jeff, and Michael.  There are some nice spots, particularly in the title track, where dueling guitar lines are used to great effect to produce a layered sound that works well.  Other times, it sounds as though 2 or 3 guitars are playing the same rhythm so as to pummel you into oblivion as you listen.  Bass, as provided by relative newcomer Ben, is well played and is prevalent enough in the mix that you feel the rhythms, but can also hear what he is playing, and he chimes in alongside the riffing quite nicely.  Drummer Jon Rushforth has quite an impressive number of bands he has provided drumwork for, and he shows considerable skill here on the album, with lots of blast beats, groove-oriented bits, and really solid, accurate rolls and fills.  Some death metal drummers sound like they're barely keeping pace with the music, but Jon doesn't miss a beat (sorry, pun intended).

Vocally, the album has a lot going on.  Much of the vocal work is a high-pitched, almost rapsy growl that sounds more like black metal than the typical raspy death vocals of Jeff Walker or similar growler.  But similar to an early Carcass album, you also have a deeper, more mid-range to low guttural growl that is layered in with the higher-pitched rasp, creating a good contrast.  Sometimes the vocals are relatively understandable, other times the layering obscures them enough to where it's difficult to make out the lyrics, but it's not overly distracting.  Both sets of growls are quality, though, because there is some inflection and variation throughout.  I didn't get a lyric sheet with the review copy, but based on the band's previous material, it's not hard to guess that the lyrics are based on Christianity, and in a couple spots fairly obvious cries to God for help/deliverance.

There are 2 distinct qualities at work here that keep me coming back to this release.  First and foremost, the album has some level of variety in the songwriting.  There are the usual blast-fest songs that go at full speed throughout, but there are moments of real atmosphere (like the outro of "Shadow Aspect"), as well as slower-paced moments interspersed throughout that give the songs additional flavor.  Also, there are spots where some real groove is present, which keeps the album from veering too far into brutal death metal territory, and help it identify with some early death metal pioneers like Obituary, while surpassing them with a heavier, more brutal overall sound.  Secondly, the album is short and sweet.  Despite the variety present, there's only so much aural pounding one can take before an album wears out its welcome, and this release is long enough to feel like you've been sufficiently been kicked in the teeth when it's done, but not beaten to a pulp and feeling like you need to chase it with something far less heavy or insane.  It's well balanced, well produced, and well constructed overall.  It's also a major improvement over the band's earlier material.  I had previously heard the "Insufficient Flesh" EP, and this sounds like a whole new band, in a good way.  While that EP had the typical markings of a demo-quality band in the studio for the first time, this sounds like a group of seasoned professionals, staking their claim on the metal landscape and putting out a quality album with no filler.  Hats off to Endtime Productions for scoring this release, as well as for making it available on vinyl.  The vinyl has made its way to my short-list, and that says something, especially given the limited income I have to purchase music with these days.  Highly recommended for the death metal enthusiast.


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