Man, 2014 has been quite a year for heavy music. Right from the get-go I got opportunity to review some of the year’s best in the form of the new Behemoth and Ringworm full lengths and that trend would continue throughout the year with releases from Cannibal Corpse, Misery Index, and Obituary. Just when I thought the year couldn’t get any better, I’m getting to start to conclude my year of reviews with arguably the heaviest release of 2014 with the return of Sweden’s death metal super group, Bloodbath and their newest offering, Grand Morbid Funeral.

Upon hearing members of Katatonia and Opeth were getting together to do a more traditional death metal project, my attention was definitely grabbed. To say that there are incredibly talented individuals in both of those bands would be an understatement. However, it did beg to ask the question of how would the progressive metal (even more rock at times) licks mesh with the doom/alternative metal of a band like Katatonia. It was something that I should have never doubted. Clearly the members of the band know what they are doing and I should have just trusted they wouldn’t mess it up. The band’s first two releases in Resurrection Through Carnage and Nightmares Made Flesh have since gone onto become highly revered albums in the extreme metal community. Blistering speed with a heavy buzzsaw sounding guitar tone and lyrics of gore and macabre, Bloodbath was everything that Opeth and Katatonia were not. The musicianship was there but the ideas were so different. Opeth and Katatonia are all about blending sounds to create somber, atmospheric journeys. Bloodbath is meant to be heavy and scary, just how death metal was always meant to be.

Aside from cranking out some powerful music, the other much documented fact about Bloodbath was their alternating vocal duties. For most of the band’s existence, Mikael Akerfeldt, provided his famous deep gutterals that are a signature to his captive performances on the Opeth records and they served to be just as important to the Bloodbath experience. Luckily the band found a solid replacement in Peter Tagtgren (Hypocrisy) for a few years and the Nightmares Made Flesh album. Tagtgren didn’t mess with the formula that was working and did a mighty fine job in trying to mimic Akerfeldt’s delivery. Akerfeldt would return for a few years and do what he does best on the 2008 release of The Fathomless Misery before exiting the band for the 2nd time. Now in 2014, Bloodbath has hit us with their 3rd singer in the form of Nick “Old Nick” Holmes of Paradise Lost fame. You read that correctly. A guy that has been making a living singing cleanly for the better part of 20 years. What I, and most others, forget is that Holmes did offer more grunting vocals for Paradise Lost’s first 3 records before shifting over to the gothic clean vocals that he’s most famous for. And without missing a beat, the most questionable element of the band was answered with authority. Holmes’ vocals remind me a lot of Suffocation’s Frank Mullen but a few octaves higher. There is a lot of power behind the voice and doesn’t require to hit subhuman territory of lows to be effective. They sound decrepit and sickly much like his “Old Nick” character is depicted in band promos. This is probably the best, most invigorating a Bloodbath singer has sounded in their entire career.

As for the music, the band is still incredibly on point. The Fathomless Misery wasn’t as much of an album to write home about as the band’s first two releases but Grand Morbid Funeral corrects any mistakes that album contained. A new sludge like crunch distortion to the guitars and bass packs the wallop the band needed. There even sounds to be some minor influences from d-beat and grind that rear their ugly heads throughout the record. Songs like Famine Of God’s Word and My Torturer come at you like a machine gun. With some chaotic drumming these songs are more in alignment of previous outings however, I think the band truly shines when they slow things down a bit. Track 3’s Anne is one of these heaviest songs I’ve ever heard and it never picks up more than a chuggy grinding sludge lick. If you wanted your standout track, that would be the one.
Another great aspect of this film is the production. It’s no secret that I’m a snob in this department and love my music to sound well produced, even when the genre seems to do better when it’s not. While Ressurrection Through Carnage has always been the band’s best outing, I’ve always felt that the record could have benefited from a better recording, or at minimum a remastering. Grand Morbid Funeral solidifies my stance as the overall sound of this record reminds me a lot of Resurrection with the meatiness of the guitars but they are presented in a much more pristine condition this time around. You can make an album sound dirty as hell but clear enough for the listener to appreciate all the instruments and sounds available.

It’s fantastic that 2014 has been a year that never quit when it came to heavy music. Normally by now I’d be completely burnt out and looking down other avenues to please my ears but Bloodbath just continued the trend that started with Ringworm and Behemoth. If you are looking for an insanely heavy death metal record written by proven artists that know what they are doing, look no further than Grand Morbid Funeral. They have clearly set the bar high for next year.