Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon Review

Band: Bleeding Gods
Album: Dodekathlon
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Genre: Blackened Death Metal
Country: Netherlands
Release Date: January 12, 2018

Bleeding Gods is the brainchild of Dutch guitarist Ramon Ploeg, who started the project in 2012 after abdicating bass duties for his previous band, Houwitser. Ploeg’s aim was to have full creative license with his own band and to craft a sound which melded the aggressiveness of thrash and death metal with some groove elements to give the music texture. After producing a solo demo in 2013, Ploeg was ready to bring other members into his fold and to give his vision life. Bleeding Gods released their first album, Shepherd of Souls, through Punishment 18 Records on February 23rd, 2015. Ploeg’s ambition paid off in spades; Shepherd of Souls brought a ferocious energy and laid a strong foundation for future releases. So, what’s new with Bleeding Gods?

As it turns out, everything. Ploeg decided to abandon the aforementioned foundation and start from scratch. If you enjoyed Shepherd of Souls and got excited for Dodekathlon, you may want to prepare yourself. Bleeding Gods has taken a sharp turn with their image, sound, style, and even band members. Edwin van den Eeden and Erwin Harreman gave way to a new drummer, Daan Klemann, and a new guitarist in Rutger van Noordenburg. Whether the change in personnel inspired a change in music or vice versa is unclear. What is clear, however, is that Bleeding Gods has done everything they can to evolve their image and distance themselves from their old work. Their old promos and live photos lie in stark contrast against the dark promotions for Dodekathlon. All of the album art now sits in a simplified color scheme of black and white with blood-red highlights. The message is clear: you’re listening to an entirely different band, and they should be treated as such.

Moving past the altered image, the biggest change we see from the band is in the music itself. Ultimately, this is still death metal with thrash-inspired leads and some groove sensibilities. The new additions, however, are abundant and apparent. First, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: synth and orchestral backing. These elements were entirely absent from Shepherd of Souls, and after listening to the 3 singles for Dodekathlon, I was admittedly skeptical. To be honest, I’m usually not a huge fan of synth in metal, as it can be used as a crutch for lazy song-writing. Any patron of local heavy music has probably seen countless -core bands who write breakdown after breakdown behind a lead synth and have no qualms about the repetitious garbage they produce. Bleeding Gods avoids this temptation admirably. For the most part, the orchestral backing sits behind the track and adds a haunting ambiance to the mix. The tracks feel huge and as though they’re engulfing the listener. The guitar tones adds to the feelings of grandeur through their massive, bass-filled resonance. Throw it all together and you have an album which stands larger than life and matches the intimidating presence of the Greek gods, who are invoked through the album’s lyrical themes.

While Bleeding Gods typically implements synth through creative and interesting songwriting, it does occasionally miss the mark. On one of the album’s singles, “From Feast to Beast,” the main riff kicks into gear around the minute mark and gives us a dull chugging on the low Db power chord while a heavy-handed synth chimes in with a few chords overtop. It doesn’t sound bad per se, and in isolation I wouldn’t find it particularly offensive. The riff is repeated ad nauseam through the song and exemplifies the sort of uninspired song writing I alluded to earlier. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between. More often than not, the synth serves to elevate the guitars and give an elegance to the aggressive, hateful riffing.

Another highlight on the album is the drumming. Daan Klemann has done an exceptional job in his debut and provides a rhythmic maturity to the mix. There aren’t a ton of flourishes to be found, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. An album can easily become a busy, cluttered mess when too many parts are competing for attention. A straightforward approach to drumming is a smart choice here given the fat bass and guitar tones along with the fullness of the synth. Still, I would love to see Klemann’s style injected just a tad more. For example, listen to “Birds of Hate” at the 1:24 mark. Here, we’re treated to a polyrhythm tight enough to give Neil Peart wet dreams. I would have loved to see this technicality displayed more.

Speaking of technicality, let’s delve into the guitar leads. There’s a real divide in the album, where some songs deliver slow, melodic, and deliberate solos, and others punch hard with  high octane thrash licks. These moments rarely overlapped, leaving parts of the album feeling disjointed. Adding some slower and more refined melody into the thrash-inspired shredding would have kept the album feeling cohesive and interesting. Instead, we have a dichotomy between purely melodic solos and purely shredding solos. These sections also have a tendency to overstay their welcome, disrupt the flow of the album, and feel forced simply for the sake of having a solo. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if the solos added a lot to the songs, but several of them lack direction and feel like a mixed bag of different scales and techniques thrown together. Ploeg’s technical ability is never in question here, but the guitar solos lack the epic, over-the-top energy of the rest of the album.

With that being said, most of the guitar work on the album is really enjoyable. The main riffs are monstrous, driven, and varied. Dodekathlon floats seamlessly between several genres while retaining a death metal identity. In contrast to their last album and their familiar thrash-inspired riffs, Bleeding Gods takes a blackened approach in several songs. “Inhuman Humiliation” illustrates this point perfectly; we start out with a drudging, vicious blackened death metal riff which is reminiscent of Behemoth and Necrophobic, then move into one of the better solos on the album. Just before the two minute mark, a single guitar picks up a tremolo riff as Klemann gives us some nice cymbal work to transition into a blazing solo which sounds like it could have come right off of Kill ‘em All. It forces the song forward with intent and direction. The ordeal lasts all of 10 seconds, then we move directly into a blast-beat frenzy to offer a stage for Mark Huisman to shine. His vocals impose themselves over the mix here and add a brutal intent to the frantic speed of the guitars and drums. Before too long, the song decelerates back into a slower melody backed by an acoustic guitar and an atmospheric synth to break up the action. “Inhuman Humiliation” demonstrates some of Bleeding Gods’ best qualities in their ability to flip between between several styles of metal so effortlessly while retaining their identity and cohesion.

My complaints aside, Dodekathlon still stands as a solid album which competently blends elements of death, black, and thrash metal. Bleeding Gods proves that a band can cast their roots aside without selling out or giving a half-hearted effort. This isn’t to be understated; Ploeg has demonstrated the power an individual’s vision can hold and has put pieces into place to create a unique product. Dodekathlon does fall short in some of its ambition, but most of the negatives only stem from the apparent potential which Bleeding Gods portrays. The foundation has been laid such that another herculean effort could jettison the band into the ranks of the gods.

Rating: 8/10

1. Bloodguilt
2. Multiple Decapitation
3. Beloved Artemis
4. From Feast to Beast
5. Inhuman Humiliation
6. Birds of Hate
7. Savior of Crete
8. Tyrannical Blood
9. Seeds of Distrust
10. Tripled Anger
11. Hera’s Orchard
12. Hound of Hell

Total Playing Time: 59:20

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