Nuclear Blast Records/Universal Music Australia
Reviewed By Luke Saunders
Powerhouse, groove-heavy album from Polish heavyweights
There’s no need to rehash the well documented and harrowing events that threatened to derail Polish death metal unit, Decapitated, in 2007. Needless to say, the fact the band pulled together and returned with comeback effort Carnival is Forever in 2011 was a triumph in itself. Now the former upstarts are scene veterans and are ready to unleash their sixth full length album, entitled Blood Mantra. While I’ve long considered myself a fan of the band, in truth I’ve felt Decapitated haven’t fully capitalised on the potential they displayed earlier in their career. I generally hold mixed opinions about the band’s post-Nihility albums, despite enjoying aspects of each album. Carnival is Forever was a solid return with Decapitated not really missing a beat with the new members on board, yet I’ve found myself rarely going back to it during the intervening years, a problem that doesn’t seem like being issue with their latest punishing endeavour.
Led by band mastermind Wacław "Vogg" Kiełtyka, Decapitated have undergone further changes since their last release, revamping their rhythm section with the addition of Paweł Pasek on bass and Michał Łysejko on drums. Both members do a more than capable job on their respective instruments, upholding the complex, ridiculously precise rhythmic backbone to the band’s sound. Aside from these personnel changes Decapitated retain their distinctive modern death metal formula and supreme technical prowess that has long been their trademark. The influence of Swedish math metal titans Meshuggah continues to loom large over the band’s career, with Blood Mantra built around machine-like technical riffage, odd time signatures and chugging polyrhythmic grooves. Yet something sounds different this time around. Blood Mantra may not be the heaviest or most technical album of Decapitated’s career, but it’s arguably their most organic and musically varied offering, incorporating more expansive atmospheric elements and even fleeting moments of melody into their brutally tight arsenal. It’s a necessary evolution that keeps the band sounding fresh and inspired, particularly when coupled with a more pronounced return to their thrashier death metal roots.
The mind-bending creativity and technical skill of Vogg’s guitar work continues to astound throughout Blood Mantra. He reaches deeper into his bag of tricks and serves up an array of interesting guitar parts and some of the best riffs of his career. And while Decapitated’s output has strayed a little too far into the clinical realms over the years, Blood Mantra sounds like a more natural, dare I say, soulful sounding beast. Firstly many of the groovier sections swing with a loose and burly swagger which finds Decapitated sounding less rigid than usual, almost like the band has made a conscious effort to slightly loosen the taut cabling that binds them, thus allowing the music more breathing space and natural flow. Secondly the production, while typically shiny and immaculate, is etched with understated warmth that humanises the slightly sterile, machine-like recording traits the band has adopted throughout their career.
Dark and spacey soundscapes open and close out lead-off tune “Exiled in Flesh”, unleashing quiet waves of foreboding malevolence that lend the song a mysterious otherworldly vibe. The rest of the song is a more frenetic affair, fluidly manoeuvring between various high speed tempos, thrashy rhythms and tightly wound blast sections. “The Blasphemous Psalm to the Dummy God Creation” fuses dissonant soundscapes and tight chrome plated staccato riffage onto a rugged death metal base. Despite a solid start, the real meat and guts of Blood Mantra is contained in the enthralling mid-section, between third track “Veins” and sixth track “Instinct”. Combined these four songs make up just over half of Blood Mantra’s length, forming a formidable core filled with inventive, memorable song-writing and trademark brute force that contains some of the most exhilarating moments of the band’s career.
“Blood Mantra” is the brilliantly composed title track, complete with taut sledgehammer grooves, memorable riffs and an explosive climax. It’s an absolute juggernaut and one of the catchiest and grooviest offerings the band has penned. With its robust exterior and stuttering rhythms, “Nest” is a similarly powerful song, incorporating deft melodic strokes amidst interesting guitar lines and loads of groove. The frenetically paced “Instinct” is a potent charge of thrashy death metal precision that jams the pedal to the floor before slamming the gears into bruising mid-tempo groove mode. Blood Mantra’s only real missteps occur during its latter two songs. “Blindness” is marred by its repetitious percussion heavy approach that could have been far more interesting had the band explored a wider range of dynamics and tempos. Instead it meanders past its welcome for seven and a half minutes, while closer “Red Sun” is a disappointingly sedate three minutes of soothing ambiance.
With killer releases from the likes of Artificial Brain, Alterbeast, Soreption, and Inanimate Existence dropping earlier in the year, 2014 is shaping as a banner year for the often maligned technical death metal sub-genre. And just when I’d begun doubting whether Decapitated still has what it takes to match it with stiff competition from the new breed they return with one of the catchiest and musically complete albums of their career.