How often when listening to a new metal band do you stick on the record, sit through it for the duration then ask yourself the question, “What the fuck?”
For me that doesn’t happen too often within the metal genre, probably because I’m a jaded music addict, so it takes something completely unexpected and/or different for me to ask that question. By way of example the times when I have asked myself that question were the first time I heard a heavy metal song full stop (“Aces High” if you must ask), the first time I heard “Angel of Death” by Slayer, the first Tool album I heard and more lately hearing genre-bending bands such as Enter Shikari and Volbeat. All of these ‘WTF?’ moments were largely powered by a rush of excitement and adrenaline. Descent, the debut from Chicago’s Bloodiest posed a similar ‘WTF?’ question upon listening but definitely not as a result of anything comparable to a kid let loose in a sweet shop excitement.
The sound created on Descent is most definitely heavy, and undoubtedly rooted in the sort of ideas peddled by Neurosis, Isis and The Ocean but there is much more of the droning and a looseness than these influences. Bloodiest introduce a psychedelia akin to that found on early Pink Floyd albums, with meandering, but in this case mostly distorted, guitar lines played over the top of sparse, off-the-wall, and minimalist percussion. The vocals drift in and out of focus chanting with a pained groan commentating on some historical civilisation as it is attacked and then retaliates with a new found merciless attitude. The songs are slow and dense in a similar manner to Sunn O))), but without the completely nihilistic ‘post-music’ approach Stephen O’Malley employs to great effect with that band (another ‘WTF?’ moment).
Opening track ‘Fallen’ starts off with a droning tone before a slowly chiming guitar and piano provide the first musical signatures of the album. Soon after the guitars switch to a deep tremolo picked riff that underpins the first pained vocal. The lyrics of the track describing the initial attack on some long lost kingdom. The slow burning repetition and simplicity of the drums draws the listener in and keeps them hooked for the remainder of the track, with the payoff of something closely resembling a guitar solo, although more accurately described as some very slightly melodic squealing, before the track closes in a wash of ambient electronica. Second track ‘Coh’ brings a lighter touch with acoustic guitar arpeggios providing a counterpoint to the crushing density of the opening track. The sparse use of notes and the lack of percussion creating a suitably melancholic atmosphere following the revelations of a civilisation being almost destroyed.
Pastures’ is the part of the story where the defeated come to terms with what has happened to them, and even start to appreciate their new, albeit temporary surroundings;
we bathe in blue waters, sunlight rains down upon us, beliefs in beauty.
The (very) slightly positive lyrics are echoed in the music with a clean guitar and piano supplying a lush soundscape enabling to listener to disappear into their own displaced surroundings, complete with whatever terrain and weather they too desire.
Fourth track, ‘Dead Inside’ is undoubtedly the centre point of the album, containing some of the best musical ideas and themes of the album. The heaviness prevelant on the first track is once again at the fore with a cyclic guitar motif entwining the still pained vocals as the defeated come to realise they can retaliate against their evil enemies;
embracing your weakness and embracing the lies, crippling us all, bite your lip, you fucking masochist.
As the track builds towards to its climax the listener can almost feel the walls closing in around them as the claustrophobia is built through the use of marching drums, howls of guitar feedback and a mournful piano line.
Penultimate track ‘Slave Rule’ starts off with an almost catchy medieval acoustic guitar while a deep heavy bass drone provides the heaviness. Plenty of breathing space is provided for the listener with a minimalist approach employed between vocal passages before swelling towards a bone crushing density by the track’s end. Closing track ‘Obituary’ is possibly the heaviest thing on the album (which is saying something) and ends the story with the once defeated people reclaiming their now decimated lands as they massacre their attackers;
the enemy was first to attack, but it was we who drew the last blood.
The sheer power of this final song threatens to overpower as Bloodiest deliver the climax of the album with all the guitars and drums set to maximum at the same time, a suitably dense finish to a truly heavy and claustrophobic record.
The album isn’t so much an adrenaline rush, as an adrenaline drain. The power and heaviness associated with metal are present and correct but they have the opposite effect here than a band like Sepultura might expect given the way they wield these mighty sonic tools. The listener is not left exhilarated but almost comatose. After returning to a normal state of mind a few minutes after the album has finished, uncurling from the foetal position on the floor you’ll find yourself in if you have truly been listening, the only thing that will come to mind is simply, ‘What the fuck was that?”