With PESTILENCE, ASPHYX, LEGION OF THE DAMNED and CARACH ANGREN, the Netherlands has a certain pedigree for producing extreme metal. And symphonic blackened death metallers BLEEDING GODS are set to join those ranks. Formed in 2012, BLEEDING GODS released their debut album, Shepherd of Souls, in 2015 – while retrospectively a strong, promising offering, the album unfortunately seemed to pass many listeners by. However, the Dutch quintet signed to Nuclear Blast last year, and their sophomore record, Dodekathlon, is firmly grabbing the attention of metal fans across the world.
Taking influence from a story in Greek mythology almost everyone is at least partially familiar with, Dodekathlon is a concept album exploring the twelve labours of Hercules. Concept albums are tricky to really get right. Lyrically, the songs take on a much more literate feel, which is a totally different skill set than what many lyricists have. Crafting the story across, in this case, twelve tracks, then translating it into punchy, appropriate lyrics without losing the meaning in the words. Musically, creating a tone and atmosphere that runs through all twelve tracks without creating a familiarity in the music that gets boring quickly, and using the instruments to tell the story as much as the lyrics do are both incredible challenging. Across the entirety of Dodekathlon, BLEEDING GODS have done a truly commendable job in translating the Herculean Labours to death metal, even managing to make Hercules’s Fifth Labour – cleaning the stables of King Augues, which contained 1,000 cattle and hadn’t been cleaned in 30 years – sound utterly brutal.
Dodekathlon opens strong with Bloodguilt, which explores Hercules’s slaying of the Nemean Lion. Right from the offset BLEEDING GODS display exactly what they are capable of – a massive chorus that carries an infectious feeling is enhanced by the subtle synth, a blackened ferocity that only really abates to bring in crushing, classic-sounding death metal to the forefront, and some truly beautiful lead work. The solo showcased in Bloodguilt, like all the solos in Dodekathlon, carries a bluesy-but-shreddy feel that really brings a new dimension to the music. Multiple Decapitations follows, telling the incredibly metal story of Hercules killing the Lernaean Hydra. The track excellently shows that while BLEEDING GODS are symphonic and bring a lot of melody to the table, these elements are not mutually exclusive with utterly punishing brutality. Again, the track brings in lead work that is utterly stunning, and one of the strongest moments on the album.
Getting to around the half way point of Dodekathlon, Birds of Hate brings some shred and an old-school death metal sound into play. Arguably the most ferocious track on the album, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Birds of Hate becoming a mainstay in BLEEDING GODS live show. A bit of a wildcard, Tyrannical Blood turns out to be one of the album highlights – serving as an interlude from the brutality displayed across much of Dodekathlon, Tyrannical Blood focus on soft, emotive, Spanish sounding acoustic guitar work that really serves the tone of the album well. Ending on a high, BLEEDING GODS tackle arguably the most well-known Herculean Labour – capturing Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding the gates to Hades. An album highlight for sure, Hound of Hell is almost reserved, with melodic guitar work demanding your focus as up-tempo double bass and growled spoken-word vocals drive the song, and the album, to its final note.
Though parts of the album suffer from a bit of a lack of memorability, BLEEDING GODS have produced an otherwise excellent album with Dodekathlon. Mixing the huge orchestral stylings of SEPTICFLESH and FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE with classic blackened death metal brutality, Dodekathlon is as epic as it is heavy. Production wise, the vocals may have benefitted from being a touch higher in the mix, and in terms of song writing a few more hooks would have really perfected this album – however, this is merely nit-picking. There is absolutely no doubt that BLEEDING GODS are set to become a very exciting band indeed moving forward, and their obvious mastery of conceptualising their music leaves Dodekathlon a fabulous start to 2018’s metal catalogue.
Dodekathlon is out now via Nuclear Blast Records.
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