About a week ago, some friends and myself went to a local steakhouse that offered rodizio. Our dinner included about twenty different cuts of beef, pork, chicken and lamb. It was absolutely incredible. We downed a ton of sangria and engaged in gluttony that would make Nero wish he had friends such as us. The most peculiar serving was roasted chicken hearts slid onto our plates from a large skewer. I maintain that they brought these out to attempt to run us out of the place since it didn't seem like we were willing to stop eating. Instead, we toasted the dinner with the tiny little morsels and gulped down the peanut sized flavor pouches. They were dense and mealy yet had a rich chicken flavor mixed with a saltiness of blood. They were actually really delicious. They weren't as appealing overall as garlic roasted steak or cheese infused pork loin but they were the perfect item to remind me of all the things I had been enjoying about, Devoted to God, Preach Eternal Gospels, this Phlebotomized compilation I have been stuck on for the past two weeks. Blood and Phlebotomized go hand in hand - their early 90's demos are one of the best examples of the melting pot of death metal, doom metal and classic slasher movie soundtrack scores. I had never heard of this band before this compilation and to finally get a death metal album sent to me - even if I am about twenty-three years too late - that I can really enjoy makes me shiver with joy. I think the last death metal album that impressed me this much was the Beyond debut full length, Fatal Power of Death, or some of the material I encountered on Leukemia's early albums while doing some research for the review of their third album, Love. Clearly Vic Records is putting out some worthy material to pick up. It just so happens that most of that worthy material appears as old and obscure re-releases.
The key to Phlebotomy's awesome sound is the combination of melody, brutality and horror. These three components of their sound are very well refined to sound perfectly in place with each other. Melodically, the band takes a lot of influence from the early doom stalwarts such as Candlemass and early Cathedral. The first five tracks are from the band's 1992 demo, Devoted To God, with some tracks combined. Opening track "In Search of Tranquility & Subtle Disbalanced Liquidity" is one of these - originally it was two separate tracks on the original release. It's intro highlights the melodic genius which is present in all tracks and draws forth from classic doom albums like Nightfall or Forest of Equilibrium. It's evident that the Phlebotomized members were heavily into all the material coming from numerous scenes. Bolt Thrower riffs are plentiful throughout, and there are shared tendencies there as well, especially from Warmaster. Phlebotomized usage of melody is pristine. It leads and moves the listener into horrific places, foreshadowing a lack of anything remotely happy. On "Fate of a Devotee & Devoted to God" - the other combined track on the compilation - we meander through sections in which the listener is taunted and ridiculed by the mean-spirited combinations of rhythm and melody. Often times keyboards are also used to push the melodies to great effect such as on "Mustardgas" - off the Preach Eternal Gospels demo - or "Desecration of Alleged Christian History" which has one of the best song titles in all of metaldom and is my favorite track of this release.
With regard to brutality, Phlebotomized nails all the components of this integral element of death metal. The production on these demos is absolutely incredible. Thick, deep and gurgling guitar tones provided by Tom Palms and Jordy Middlebosch are an example of what modern bands can't seem to get right. It's a truly natural tone. It lives in the humble recording like a wolf lives in a cave. While the rhythms are murky and sludgy, the guitar leads cut through with a rough and trebly timbre. In addition to this, the vocals of Barry Schuyer and Dennis Geestman are super low-end snarls that are performed with the kind of distraught and malevolence you'd find in the voices residing in the minds of serial killers and madmen. Barry Schuyer's performance on the Devotion of God tracks tops Dennis' on the Preach... songs but both are aeons ahead of most other death metal vocalists. With the sounds perpetrated here very much holding up to the iconic death metal production expected of material from this period, to have songs that are every bit as competitive completes the brutality puzzle. Songs are memorable but never simple. There are twists and turns and numerous riffs and variations in each song to really increase complexity, but whether it's the opening bombardment of keyboards and accents of "Tragic Entanglement" or the unexpected turns and twists of ""Mustardgas" and "Preach Eternal Gospels" the compositions no feel pressured.
That said, there are other albums which have these characteristics out there. Phlebotomized however sets themselves apart with the horror motifs in their tracks. The keyboard parts are integral to this. It's easy to imagine Phlebotomized's keyboard parts being the score to Suspiria or Phantasm or any other number of classic horror movies. Devoted To God definitely is much more consistent with these sounds and overall vibe. Preach Eternal Gospels has moments where this influence is shown however other moments break this feel such as at the end of the title track with a folky interlude. It doesn't detract too much though and when the song ends with a slightly out of tune violin solo, fear is rekindled. This compilation also has three live tracks which are a nice window in what Phlebotomized was able to provide in a live environment; strong renditions of their complex brand of Death/Doom that retain all the essences of their demo and album material. This is a huge release that should be in everyone's record collection, especially for fans of this style of music.