BodyfarmDutch old school death metallers Bodyfarm are back with their third album ‘Battle Breed’. Their previous one – 2013’s ‘The Coming Scourge – was an impressive introduction for this listener, displaying a range of moods and punishing compositions to revel in. In fact these guys are so well thought of that back then they managed to get Stephan Gebédi of Thanatos/Hail Of Bullets to lay down a bit of guest solo work. For this new disc, Bodyfarm have managed once again to enlist help from a member of the HOB camp. So not only are they a death metal force to be reckoned with in their own right, their mates are old school incarnate. Just how much more death metal can you get?

Well no sooner has the filmic ‘Hell March’ intro passed, and we’re smashed right in the face by the up-tempo pounding death of ‘The Dark Age’. Production-wise it comes across like Asphyx’s most recent efforts although, as the band promises, the track changes tack between beautiful and brutal at the drop of a hat. From melodic guitar lines which burrow through your skull against a background of crushing, flesh tearing chords to the tasty lead work which sees out the opener, it’s a far from formulaic return to planet Bodyfarm. Perhaps most interesting is the guest appearance of Martin van Drunen(!), whose anguished tones add an extra dimension of urgency to compliment Thomas Wouter’s more conventionally harsh timbre. Beyond the impacting opener, an air of Unleashed infests the rampaging ‘Saxon Victory’ and the searing riffs of ‘Dawn of Defeat’. Alongside themes of battle and honour, Bodyfarm also injects pause for thought via the odd pathos laden guitar melody.

Such reference points of Scandinavian metal glory are reinforced as we go on: first in the vengeful ‘The Last Crusade’ which, despite its subject matter, recalls the likes of Unleashed or Amon Amarth advancing across the open sea; and then, in ‘Prince of Wallachia’ which rather appropriately employs a few black metal guitar embellishments to advance its tale of Vlad the Impaler. Due to their increased length, each of these tracks does on occasion lapse into less-than-captivating territory. Yet for the most part, the band does still manage to pull off contrasting moods with style – like in the heightened black metal eeriness of ‘Firing Squad’ or the sinister adjustment in vocal style that Wouters adopts to warn us of the “Wolfpack” in the musically great but lyrically underwhelming song of the same name. Strangest of all is how bonus track ‘Slaves of War’ proves to be an album highlight, recalling Slayer, Bolt Thrower and even Obituary in its destructive course.

There’s no doubting that ‘Battle Breed’ is a strong album and one which will, to my ears, appeal greatly to disciples of Johnny Hedlund’s marauding style – something which in hindsight its predecessor held in common. Then again, there’s evidence of a few bands that have greatly inspired Bodyfarm’s death metal throughout, and combined with the added nods to thrash and black metal, it’s sure to please anyone with a love for honest old school destruction. But as with ‘The Coming Scourge’, for all its excellent moments (and it is, once again, sonically brilliant) there are some less rousing ones dotted about which render ‘Battle Breed’ a good rather than a classic release.

(8/10 Jamie)