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Blood Mantra Dean Brown , October 16th, 2014 11:51

In hindsight, Decapitated guitarist and chief songwriter Wacław "Vogg" Kiełtyka's decision to continue on with the band after the death of his brother/bandmate Witold "Vitek" Kiełtyka (who was one of the best extreme metal drummers ever recorded) and the serious injuries suffered by singer Adrian "Covan" Kowanek (who replaced original vocalist Wojciech "Sauron" Wąsowicz for 2006's Organic Hallucinosis) in 2007 has been the correct choice, albeit an undeniably difficult one to make.

Decapitated's first album after the tragic car crash, Carnival Is Forever, released in 2011, was impressive in that Vogg had to cope with the grief of losing a family member, and then reassemble the band he formed with Vitek when they were kids, as well as deal with the loss of instinctive, brotherly chemistry – something that cannot be replicated in music. But what Vogg and his band – currently comprised of vocalist Rafał "Rasta" Piotrowski, bassist Paweł Pasek and drummer Michał Łysejko – have created with Decapitated's sixth studio album, Blood Mantra, is noticeably different: it's the sound of a man who has settled back into his role as respected extreme metal musician, one with a definite vision for his band now he's no longer blinded by raw grief.

Since their 1996 formation in Krosno, Poland as a bunch of wide-eyed teens, hungry to push the heaviness and technique of death metal to the limits, Decapitated have always focused on clever songwriting based around frenetic, punishing riffs and rhythms that owed as much to prime Machine Head and Sepultura as they did to death metal's maestros and the polyrhythmic mind-warp of Sweden's Meshuggah. In fact, towering thrash and groove metal can be heard from their startling 2000 debut, Winds Of Creation (which also includes a supreme cover of Slayer's 'Mandatory Suicide'), and the catchiness and mass metal appeal of the artists associated with those subgenres ripples throughout Decapitated's entire discography – a run of five incredibly strong studio albums that have led to Blood Mantra. It should therefore come as no surprise to Decapitated fans to hear that Blood Mantra has concentrated itself around the totality of groove – tightly-wound, technically-stacked syncopations that scald the listener from the opening strains of 'Exiled In Flesh' and jack-hammer you into the ground until the mechanical forward repetitions of 'Blindness' transforms into textured outro 'Red Sun'.

Elsewhere, 'The Blasphemous Psalm To The Dummy God Creation' takes the polemics of Behemoth and thrash metal at its technically proficient best and even incorporates an alien Fredrik Thordendal-esque lead into its short and sharp structure. Thordendal's trademark jazz-fusion-style solos (an extreme metal Allan Holdsworth) reappear during the Meshuggah-isms of 'Nest', a song in which Vogg leads a series of spasmodic syncopations that show how tight this incarnation of Decapitated actually are; drummer Łysejko's aggressive attack matching the staccato screams of Rasta, who shows more confidence at the forefront of the band than he did for Carnival Is Forever. On Blood Mantra, Rasta proves himself to be just capable as Covan and Sauron before him. He brings the confrontational side of hardcore to Decapitated's death metal and sounds not unlike Max Cavalera in terms of blunt-force delivery on the breakneck title track. 'Veins' meanwhile, boasts a Chaos AD-meets-From Mars To Sirius collision; a phenomenal representation of Decapitated as one of metal's current superstars alongside Gojira, Meshuggah, Lamb Of God et al.  

By condensing Decapitated to the core values of their sound, Vogg and co. should appeal to a wider metal audience; the same kind of metalheads who made megastars out of Pantera, Slipknot and their ilk during the '90s. Death metal curmudgeons may baulk at the mere mention of those heavyweight bands, especially if they've ventured online and stumbled across the lazy, clicks-over-craft website posts derogatorily and stupidly labelling Decapitated as "nu metal". Nevertheless, there's nothing to fear here: death metal remains the indestructible engine this machine is built on.

With 8 songs across 40 minutes, there's little time wasted, and the succinctness and savagery on display is what makes Blood Mantra so exhilarating. There are rapid tempo changes galore twisted into form by Łysejko, and Vogg's penetrating riffs and eerie atmospherics lodge themselves in your cerebral cortex while the words barked at volume by Rasta attempt to fully deprogram our ailing religious dogmas ('Blood Mantra') and our increasing worship of "digital gods" ('Veins'). Yet, Decapitated's control when they slow down and stretch one hypnotic movement to the outer limits during 'Blindness' is just as imposing as the hyper-speed assault on the senses as experienced on 'Instinct'. There's also no forced stride towards the mainstream and zero compromise. The songwriting is impenetrably tight and the music so immediate in its impact that the results are instantly engaging without sacrificing a drop of the intensity Decapitated are known for. Accordingly, Blood Mantra is pure power and the beginning of an exciting new era for the Polish band.

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