Every society has institutions dedicated to keeping certain cultural traditions alive. American state capitals often have buildings earmarked for operas or symphony orchestras. Most countries have a ministry tasked with preserving essential landmarks and works of art. Likewise, the gentlemen in Bloodbath are dedicated to keeping the flame of death metal burning, lighting the way to heavy in its purest form.
Bloodbath's latest album, Survival of the Sickest is the latest effort by this death metal institution to maintain the integrity of the old ways. But audiences shouldn't take that the wrong way. Unlike their fellow old-school devotees in Gruesome, Bloodbath doesn't explicitly borrow from one band or sound (though the chorus of "Zombie Inferno" is obviously a callback to Death's "Zombie Ritual"). Their sound has gone through a few shifts since Resurrection Through Carnage, but this album shows it taking a very clear shape.
Bloodbath latest form is very recognizable on songs like "Malignant Maggot Therapy," "Born Infernal," and "Affliction of Extinction." Essentially, the band's sound on this album bears clear similarities to Grave (from You'll Never See and onward), the last few Asphyx albums, the last few Vader albums, the last few Hypocrisy albums, and a touch of modern Cannibal Corpse (pay close attention to the palm-muted guitar sound and you'll hear it). This means that the songs rise or fall based on how well the band executes this strategy, and whether it works on you in the first place. It's a BIG sound, resembling a lumbering machine blasting its way through buildings.
Bloodbath's songs that rise include the expertly crafted "Tales of Melting Flesh," the blackened ripper "Affliction of Extinction," and the punishing "Putrefying Corpse." The single "Carved" is another definite highlight of brutality, featuring Gorguts' Luc Lemay on guest vocals. It's moments like the chorus to "Carved" that deliver on the promise of such a booming take on death metal. Additionally, the pulsating insanity of "Malignant Maggot Therapy" is a master class in dynamics — shifting effortlessly from speed-fest terror to crushing atomic detonations.
However, the sound does have its limitations. Nightmares Made Flesh and The Fathomless Mastery had a similar atmosphere to this album, but former Bloodbath vocalists Peter Tägtgren and Mikael Åkerfeldt (respectively) have harsh vocal techniques better suited to it. Nick Holmes' voice seemed to gel better with the raw sound exhibited on Grand Morbid Funeral and The Arrow of Satan is Drawn. Whereas on this album, the production of the other instruments seem to just engulf him. If he was still using the approach from Lost Paradise and Gothic, this wouldn't be a problem. But his current style leans more toward creepy and raspy than monstrous and gutteral. And that's totally cool! But it's awkwardly placed on this album.
In a way, this is me complaining about the album sounding "too good." There's nothing wrong with giving death metal a booming sound, but it can be taken too far. Nightmares Made Flesh enveloped you, but still had a razor-sharp guitar tone that stabbed you in the chest. Unblessing the Purity and The Fathomless Mastery surrounded you with full-sounding guitars and bass, but the songs had the unhinged quality that kept you on edge. Here, you know what to expect a little too easily, even if you know it's going to be good.
Regardless of these quibbles, this album makes it clear that Bloodbath remains an essential death metal institution. As much as I appreciate what Paradise Lost and Katatonia do nowadays, I'll always be partial to their early works. Therefore, I remain extremely grateful that Jonas, Anders, Nick and their compatriots maintain an outlet for the extremes. And anyone looking to blast something heavy and true into the night sky (and upsetting to their neighbors) will find plenty of fireworks here.