Rejecting Obliteration by Blindfolded and Led to the WoodsRelease date: May 19, 2023
Label: Prosthetic Records
You know what gets my undies in a bunch? When writers assume far too much knowledge of the reader, either through ignorance or (more probably) to make themselves appear clever. Like when sports stories mention “false nine” or “zonal marking”, or business articles throw in “stabilised macro-outflows”, like we are supposed to know what they are talking about.
The plague infects music writing as well – indeed, I am probably guilty of it – especially when you delve into niche genres. Like this new album from the phenomenally named Blindfolded and Led to the Woods. I could chuck out phrases like “redolent of Coprafago” or “harks back to the glory of Cephalic Carnage” and assume the reader will swoon in reverence, where in fact they will be thinking “what the fuck is he on about?”
And the simple answer is I don’t know. I got those two band names from Wikipedia, I have never heard them before in my life.
So I’ll be straight. This album is brutal, loud, menacing, complex and well worth your hard-earned money. It sends shivers up your spine, in both frightening and awe-inspiring ways. It is technical death metal in the best way possible. That is, it has thundering roars, riffs to get lost in, a bass tone that will register on the Richter scale and technical ability to blow your bloody socks off. And of that technical wizardry, none of it is superfluous. But it is more than that; it has breathing space, an ethos of resilience in adversity, plus moments of sheer melody.
Blindfolded and Led to the Woods have been together for over a decade. They are from the New Zealand city of Christchurch, a conurbation with more than its fair share of challenges, both from nature – the city is yet to fully recover from the 2011 earthquake – and the people. Put succinctly, there is a nasty racist minority there, which showed its ugly face to the world in 2019 with a mass shooting on two mosques.
And this album has clearly been shaped by the band’s surroundings and their methods of dealing with society’s ills, not to mention the trials of a global pandemic, in which New Zealand pretty much shut up shop for two years.
And through this adversity, this album has formed. And it is bleak. But at the same time, if you’ve ever felt lost, helpless or plain pissed off, there is solace here – if you like your solace delivered with a healthy slab of atmospheric blast-beats.
Musically, it is difficult to describe in detail because it is so complex and dense. At the risk of going back on what I said in the opening paragraph, I could compare it to compatriots Ulcerate, but with more pauses for breath (there’s a trumpet in the middle of ‘Hallucinative Terror’!) and a lot less claustrophobia. But if you like Ulcerate, you’ll like this. And if you’ve never heard of Ulcerate but like brutal music, listen to them.
Sorry, I digress. I remember reading an interview with Blindfolded and Led to the Woods, speaking about their frankly bizarre appearance on a kids’ TV show (look it up). It was put to them that their name was a red flag to the producers, but they said something like it wasn’t clear why the person was blindfolded. It may have been “for a kid’s party with fairy bread”, they offered.
And this interview came to mind during my umpteenth listen of ‘Waves’, which begins, as many of these songs do, with a caustic guitar line and a terrifying roar over shuddering, frantic drums. But then things get all jazzy and mellow, like a shaft of sunlight during a hurricane. And when everything goes brutal again, with vocalist Stace Fifield roaring “Why. Must. I Search!” there are bongos deep in the mix. In the first few weeks of listening, I hadn’t noticed them. It is almost like the band are playing with us, but at the same time offering morsels of respite in the maelstrom.
If you were to play a single song from this album to the most noise-tolerant of metalheads, even they may recoil with a remark of “oof, that’s harsh”. But when listened to as a whole, it is different (the brief violin intro is a help). It is an experience that is, if I am honest, exhausting. But it is cathartic and at the same time gives a glint of hope. Y’know, gutters and stars and all that. Or in words of one syllable: It’s loud and great.