Up until now, every Bloodbath album has felt like an event—whether through the addition of a new vocalist or the return of an old one. Now, with Paradise Lost‘s Nick Holmes recording two albums back-to-back, for the first time in the band’s history, it feels like business as usual. …and The Arrow of Satan is Drawn kinda sounds like it as well.
The album is bookended by two outstanding cuts. The album’s final number, “Chainsaw Lullaby” is perfect b-movie fodder, with a film clip to match. Its campy refrain of “The chain / and the saw / shall be the law” and the litany of violent verbs that punctuates the track are sure to be a highlight of the band’s live shows for years to come. They may merely be aping Whitechapel‘s shtick, but the track is proof that, when they put their mind to it, Bloodbath still do death metal better than anyone else. Likewise, “Fleischmann” kicks things off in a suitably stomping fashion—buoyed along by one of the most original riffs in the band’s catalog. Rather than remaining full-speed ahead the whole time, however, it opts instead to make several tonal detours that suggest Bloodbath have more to their arsenal than just crunchy riffs.
The rest of the record, unfortunately, feels far less inspired. Lead single “Bloodicide” is barely a step removed from Metalocalypse‘s “Bloodtrocuted“, and only half as memorable, while also going on a minute too long. “Wayward Samaritan” stands out, but only because its main riff sounds rather similar to that of Deep Purple‘s oft-covered “Burn”. By then you’ve heard essentially everything the album has to offer, and it quickly fades into the background—something a Bloodbath album really should never do. Bloodbath, by design, were never the most original act, but they were always more than simply another death metal band; they were the death metal band. For many, Mikael Åkerfeldt will always be the definitive Bloodbath vocalist, and for good reason. For all he has neglected it in recent years, the Opeth frontman still has (or had) arguably the best death growl in the game, and one can’t help feeling that in his hands—or at least his throat—The Arrow of Satan is Drawn might have packed a bit more punch.
Holmes has really embraced his role as the band’s permanent frontman, and appears to be really reveling in the role. However, Bloodbath felt far more exciting as a revolving outfit by which aging and estranged death metal founders could relive and recapture the gory days of old, than they do as merely another retro-styled, hm2-heavy, modern death metal act. It might be a selfish thing to say but, if they aren’t going to bring Åkerfeldt back, then I’d personally rather see Bloodbath bring a new old vocalist to the fore with each release than continue to repeat themselves ad nauseam. Bolt Thrower‘s Karl Willetts, Carcass‘s Jeff Walker and Cancer’s John Walker all show up on “Bloodicide”, but it’s far more intriguing to imagine what they’d come up with if they were handed the reigns rather than dropping in for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it (or whatever the aural-equivalent is) guest spot. [I accidentally typed Nicke Andersson instead of Nick Holmes while writing this; now wouldn’t that be something…] Holmes does a fine job, and his many Tom G. Warrior-style “Ugh!”s [now there’s another exciting potential prospect] are a nice addition to the band’s nostalgic palette. Yet, in finally nailing down their personality, Bloodbath have also lost a large chunk of their appeal.
The Arrow of Satan is Drawn provides ten tracks of perfectly serviceable and often impressive, old-school death metal—which is to say that it delivers nothing less than what it promises. However, in 2018, that just might not cut it.