The obvious evaluation of The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn, Bloodbath’s second outing with vocalist Nick Holmes, focuses on how they carry the momentum. Critics and fans devoured Grand Morbid Funeral in 2014—Holmes’ first album with the Swedish death metal supergroup—but now that the lineup has molted its novel appeal, the band needed to emerge and be judged after a true absorption of styles and thoughts and writing.
The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn was released on Oct. 26 on Peaceville Records. It’s the band’s third record for the label, which is also the home of Holmes’ band Paradise Lost’s first two doom metal classics, 1990’s Lost Paradise and 1991’s Gothic. In addition, Bloodbath have honed their treacherous tones with a new second guitarist, Joakim Karlsson, who also plays in Craft—a band whose résumé is stacked with black metal classics including 2018’s White Noise and Black Metal. Bloodbath have been wrangling their homage to Swedish-meets-USDM since 1998. Bassist Jonas “Lord Seth” Renkse and guitarist Anders “Blakkheim” Nyström are both in Katatonia, and Martin Axenrot—of Opeth and formerly of Blasphemy and Witchery—has been on drums since 2004.
A few fans initially worried about Holmes’ gothic doom vocals’ ability to bear the burden of death metal growls. Now, album number two has arrived, and the answer is an impressive damn straight they can.
Renkse keeps his opinion simple when speaking on this second endeavor. “It was great, really easy,” he says. “Nick’s been with us now for four years. We all share the same idea of how Bloodbath should sound.”
That sound is grimy and unrelenting death metal. The band have never veiled their admiration for Entombed and the OG Swedish sound. The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn doubles down on this target. That was always Bloodbath’s purpose and mission: to pay homage to Sweden and Florida’s celebrated canon. While Katatonia were certainly heavy in the beginning, they incorporated more and more harmonies, melodies, orchestration, clean singing, and polished, pretty production as they evolved—their three separate logos define these movements in the band’s history—and, of course, Opeth have their reputation as progressive metal with experimental sounds. It makes sense that Bloodbath reinvigorate the primal impulses of their members and allow for an outlet as a more focused, less technical band.
On The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn, songs like “Wayward Samaritan,” “Levitator,” “Warhead Ritual,” and “Chainsaw Lullaby” encapsulate this with production that is dirtier and more raw than that found on albums released before Holmes joined. Renkse supports this. “Yeah, we had the same vision as with Grand Morbid Funeral, so we just went further with the dirty stuff,” he says. “We have played around within the different styles of death metal before and have had different sounds accordingly, but I think we will stick with this gritty sound.”
“Levitator” plods along in riff but has simmering, throbbing drums underneath, certainly taking from the heaviest of doom—say, Paradise Lost and a Celtic Frost Monotheist vibe. To solidify the dark vision, Bloodbath culled the talents of Karl Daniel Lidén at Tri-Lamb Studio. Renkse notes his attributes in a condensed list: “He’s got good ears, good equipment, and is an all-around easygoing guy. That was all we needed.” Lidén extracted some beefy yet caustic performances from the band. The groove-based—but mainly just ugly and heavy—breakdown on “Only the Dead Survive,” blended with atmospheric guitars and grandiose growls, exemplifies Bloodbath’s ability to incorporate their various members’ talents.
The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn carries no dead weight, no redundancy. Every song is brutal. Bloodbath trimmed any indulgences—only two tracks hit five minutes. The band worked hard and smart. “Morbid Antichrist” boasts a killer intro, goes into a hard, mid-tempo stomp, then pounces into the fast part halfway through, balancing calculated time changes. The band’s intent to keep it varied and interesting is obvious. Renkse adds, “I think playing live more than before has also shaped the sound, as we try to make sure everything we write will come across good when being onstage.”
Death metal fans will also appreciate the recruited guest talent. The sessions for the blistering second track, “Bloodicide,” were blessed by legends Jeff Walker of Carcass, Karl Willetts of Bolt Thrower and Memoriam, and John Walker of Cancer. “Nick had the idea to ask some of his old friends, Karl and Jeff, for some guest vocals,” Renkse says, “and as Anders was doing a guest solo on the new Cancer album, he asked John to complete the ‘U.K. death metal all-star guest vocal circle.’”
December will unleash a mighty, diverse tour featuring Kreator, Dimmu Borgir, Hatebreed, and Bloodbath. Bloodbath and company will be decimating major European cities such as London, Munich, Vienna, Prague, Paris, Hamburg, and many others. Renkse is anticipating good times. “It will be great. Our first proper tour with Bloodbath and great to do it with such a big package,” Renkse says. That this is the first tour with this lineup seems odd; the band sound like an old engine, oiled and meticulously tended to, on The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn.
Speaking of the title, The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn would resonate with fans at any point in metal’s history, but there is something particular about this current climate of global political upheaval and unpredictability that makes it especially appropriate. Renkse concedes, “I think it definitely suits what we are seeing in the world today: a constant threat of total destruction.”
Then, who is that arrow pointed at?
Renkse signals, “Anyone anywhere!”