Monday 7 January 2019

Phlebotomized - Deformation of Humanity (2019)

Country: The Netherlands
Style: Doom/Death Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 7 Jan 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | Official Website

The name Phlebotomized may make this Dutch band sound like a gore/grind outfit (and these folk did play grindcore as Bacterial Disease back in the late eighties) but, under this name, they play doom/death. Deformation of Humanity is their third album and it's interesting stuff.

It starts out faster than I tend to expect from doom/death, but it doesn't stay there. There's a second higher and slower guitar in the mix playing melody, there are Rob op 't Veld's keyboards dancing around like a mischievious imp and the tempo is a fluid thing. It's this set of contrasts that makes this album such a delight. Tracks like Chambre Ardente and Descend to Deviance define what they're going to be immediately but then continually change that as they expand to keep us happily on the hop. They play fast, they play slow. Ben de Graaff growls, he goes clean. Spoken word sections show up. That these are the first two full tracks on the album is a statement.

Certainly, it's the less diverse tracks that are less interesting but there aren't too many of those. Eyes on the Prize is the prime example, consistently fast and standing out in a negative way from the rest of the album because of that, even though it isn't a bad track on its own merits. It also hands off to Desideratum, which combines fast death with a unique minute long dramatic intro and a weird electronica phase that adds yet another dimension. Dance club doom/death? Why not.

By the way, Desideratum is a truly glorious title for a doom/death song; it simply means 'something wanted' but it sounds agreeably ancient and depressing while it does so. It tops even Chambre Ardente, which translates to 'burning chamber' and was the name of a court of justice in 15th and 16th France which sent a lot of its prisoners to the stake to burn. I got a kick out of the fact that Until the End has a reprise because Until the End Reprise is a title that carries ironic depth. We're going all the way to the very end of everything. Again. How doom/death is that?

Talking of Until the End, the intricate original and plodding reprise are bookends to the seven minute title track and there's a great deal going on in this setpiece trio. Apparently, the album was written over a four year period after the band reformed in 2013 and they've clearly taken full advantage of the changes in the extreme metal musical landscape since they split up in 1997. Those lost sixteen years were busy ones for the genre ("it's been a while, a lot has happened" they appropriately sing in My Dear...) but the six members have a wild variety of ex-bands to their names to help diversify their sound.

What struck me here most was how prominent the keyboards are. They're not just adding a layer of depth (though they do that too), they're often adding something different to everyone else, playing their part like an actual other lead instrument in the line up, somewhat like we tend to see with folk instruments in folk metal bands. They're also highly varied, appropriately given how the album unfolds, sometimes playing the part of an organ, sometimes a flute and sometimes even what sounds like bells. Rob op 't Veld is far from the only member of the band to get such a wildly diverse run through this album, but he does epitomise that approach.

I haven't heard Phlebotomized's work before but, by the time Ataraxia II wrapped up Deformation of Humanity in enticing instrumental fashion, I was hooked. Their other two albums are much older, Immense Intense Suspense dating back to 1994 and Skycontact to 1997, during the band's first time together, but I'm eager to seek those out now. I grew up in Halifax and saw Paradise Lost live during their demo days, so I was there at the beginning of doom/death even if I'm rather out of date with what's been going on lately, but Phlebotomized bring something new to the table that I haven't encountered before and I find that I like it a lot.

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