With a new album and a gruesome new look, death metal lifers Bloodbath are ready to tackle horrors both real and imagined…
Death metal’s A-lister collective ruminate on B-movie thrills.
whether it’s Black Sabbath turning the pages of Dennis Wheatley paperbacks, Anthrax riffing on Stephen King or the gut-ripping antics of Cannibal Corpse, heavy metal has a long and torrid love affair with horror. Aficionados of both are death metal supergroup Bloodbath, whose members have cut their teeth on death, black, gothic and doom metal, along with no end of grimy horror schlock.
Given the demands of family life and the bandmembers’ day jobs (Katatonia, Opeth, Paradise Lost and Craft, in case you’re keeping score…), each new Bloodbath release feels like an event, and over the course of a 20-year career they’ve gleefully raided the death metal catacombs for inspiration. New album The
Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn continues down the regressive path forged by 2014’s Grand Morbid Funeral and sees the band picking vulture-like at the genre’s primitive beginnings.
“I think we started something with the last album that we wanted to expand on,” says bassist and band co-founder Jonas Renkse.
“We wanted to make something uglier and dirtier. I think we pretty much succeeded.”
He’s spot on, because what you get is an unwholesome lump of stick-to-yer-ribs death metal filth that manages to mix respect for the art with genuine excitement and enthusiasm. Despite their clear love for Bloodbath, though, it’s no secret that the members’ various commitments mean their time together comes at a serious premium.
“When we go away or when we’re in the studio I’d say we’re very, well, professional,” Jonas chuckles. “Everyone knows how to behave. Fifteen years ago we’d probably be drunk all the time, but now we know that something has to be done.” Rather than a hindrance, however, Bloodbath’s time-limited nature may well be the source of their energy and dynamism.
“We’ve always drawn inspiration from the old death metal bands from the late 80s and early 90s and I think that’s how they did it as well,” Jonas says of the band’s smash-and-grab approach. “Back in those days you couldn’t afford a lot of studio time – you had to be well-rehearsed and you had to do everything as fast as you could. I think this kind of music benefits from that, because it’s supposed to be angry and fast and a little bit chaotic.”
The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn definitely sounds urgent rather than rushed, with the band successfully bedding in vocalist Nick Holmes for his second outing (“His vocals are fantastic,” smiles Jonas. “Very grim, very rotten-sounding!”) and welcoming guitarist Joakim Karlsson to the cult.
“We really like Craft,” says Jonas of this newest addition to Bloodbath’s ranks. “They’re black metal, but maybe a bit more rock’n’roll. It’s still very grim, but it has a groove to it. Joakim is a really good fit, and any time you bring someone new to a band you get some new energy to feed off.
while the music sounds feral and immediate, the band’s current aesthetic definitely suggests something more thoughtful and considered. The album art, for starters, trades the overtly horrific imagery of yore for imagery that instead instils a quieter sense of dread.
“We just gave the guy who painted it, Eliran Kantor, the title of the album, and he came up with the art,” says Jonas. “I think it’s a perfect way of summing up the title – it hints at this global threat, like a premonition. You have to think a bit more, and when you realise what’s going on it’s even more horrifying than the usual guts and gore.”
Then, of course, there’s the band’s new look… “We wanted the photos to look like they could be used on a poster for a horror movie,” laughs Jonas. “Nick has a kind of elegant, well-dressed undertaker vibe, and we look like his exhumed army of death metal zombies.”
While subgenres like black and nu metal might be used to raiding the makeup case, this recent shoot wasn’t quite so familiar for an act more used to denim and well-worn band shirts.
“It took a whole day, nine or 10 hours,” says Jonas. “It was weird, because we’re used to sweating off make-up when we play live, but over a day the fake blood started to stiffen and you couldn’t really move your face. It was impossible to smile and stuff like that, which was probably a good thing.”
Talk of movie posters and the shambling undead means conversation inevitably turns to the horror genre, and its close relationship with death metal. “To me, the two have always been hand in hand,” Jonas muses. “When I started listening to death metal it just felt like the perfect match – I loved horror movies, and death metal sounded like the ultimate musical version of a horror flick.”
While you might expect his top tips to include the shambling horrors of Lucio Fulci or George A. Romero, Jonas instead has some surprising choices when it comes to his standout horror memories.
“I remember seeing Pet Sematary at the movies and that one had a big impact,” he says. “I was pretty young, and I remember walking home from the cinema by myself, in the dark, through the woods. It was really terrifying for a young kid. But I always think that when you put on a horror movie you should want to be scared, otherwise there’s no reason to do it. Nowadays I tend to prefer more psychological horror. Things like The Others with Nicole Kidman, which has this desolate feeling throughout the whole film. There are no jump scares, but everything just gets worse.”
As inured as we might be to horror cinema’s many tried and tested tricks, many of us have certain squeamish turn-offs – splinters of wood to the eyeball or lump hammers to the kneecap, say – that make our sphincters involuntarily contract. Jonas’s choice is perhaps an odd one for a guy who probably has at least a couple of Carcass LPs knocking around the house… “I have a problem – and it’s not only in horror films – with the kind of posters you have at the doctor’s surgery,” he laughs. “You know, where a human’s been bisected and you can see how the organs look, or a skeletal face with the eyeballs staring out. I can’t stand looking at that kind of thing, it freaks me out!”
While we could perhaps gas for hours about The Omen’s classic death sequences or recent Toni Collette movie Hereditary, it’s necessary to steer things back on course, so Hammer circles back to the ‘global threats’ Jonas mentioned earlier. After all, while there’s a pungent, corpse-like stench to songs like Deader or nods to Tobe Hooper with Chainsaw Lullaby, the new album is also infused with a sense that modern reality offers more nightmare scenarios – climate change, never-ending conflict, the increasingly crazed behaviour of certain world leaders… – than fiction can offer.
“Yeah,” sighs Jonas. “If you’re about to make a death metal album then you don’t have to look very far for inspiration. You don’t have to watch 10 horror films, you just have to watch the news.”
Still, if there’s one shred of bittersweet comfort to take from the shambolic state of the planet, it’s that terrible events will always inspire art, literature and music – just look to how everything from UK anarcho punk and US hardcore to thrash metal was inspired by the possibility of life’s destruction during the Cold War. “That’s true,” nods Jonas. “I feel sorry for any country with a shitty leader, but it’ll at least inspire some people to make great music.”
THE ARROW OF SATAN IS DRAWN IS OUT NOW VIA PEACEVILLE
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