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Artist: Brand Of Sacrifice

Album Name: Lifeblood

Release Date: 5 March 2020

Country: Canada/USA

City: Toronto/Manhattan

Anime and metal music. Two completely different mediums of entertainment with subcultures that almost seem to be the complete polar opposite of each other. Anime is bright, flashy, colourful, and, for almost over a decade now, seems to place more of an emphasis on being ‘kawaii’ or ‘cute’ to put it into it’s English translation. Metal on the other hand, is all about being heavy, dark, somber, serious, and horror. At least, that is what anyone would think if they looked at both of these subcultures from a glance. However, anime and metal have crossed over many times with many mangakas (the Japanese equivalent of comic book artists) taking inspiration from the genre and even making references in their work whether it’s the nods to White Zombie in Rei Hiroe’s Black Lagoon to Hirohiko Araki’s iconic series Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure having the main antogonist being named after the legendary Ronnie James Dio, metal has always been a part of the anime fandom. However, it wasn’t until Finnish power metal titans Battle Beast and Beast In Black came along in the latter half of the 2010s and made it popular to base your entire band’s brand and aesthetic on anime and manga after decades of having it only relegated to the doujin metal scene in Japan or classic anime theme song cover bands like Animetal and Animetal USA.

Enter Brand Of Sacrifice, a Canadian based technical deathcore band that has been making waves in the metal scene ever since their EP, The Interstice, first dropped in 2018. Brand Of Sacrifice take their name and lyrical inspiration from the dark fantasy series, Berserk, which is written and illustrated by the legendary Kentaro Miura, of whose art is worthy of being the cover to any and all metal albums and whose writing is on par with literary greats like J.R.R. Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, George R.R. Martin, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clive Barker. Lifeblood is their second full length album and is a follow up from 2019’s spectacular masterpiece, God Hand.

Unlike most deathcore bands, Brand Of Sacrifice bring something fresh to the genre that is not just limited to the fact that they take their inspiration from anime and manga. Their sound and the way that they write, compose, and produce music that not only sounds unique, but, manages to combine technicality, catchiness, and a strong cinematic atmosphere into one, compact, and ferociously aggressive and heavy package.
In a recent interview on the KNOTFEST YouTube channel, Kyle Anderson, the band’s vocalist, said that for Lifeblood the band wanted to take all the best elements of their past two releases, build and expand on them, while incorporating a lot of new influences that could bridge the gap between deathcore fans and metalcore fans. Kyle also cited the fact that they got the idea after observing the reactions of the crowds at their shows to certain songs or parts of songs and of course by taking inspiration from things like anime and video game scores. This is very evident and, as a die hard fan of the Berserk manga myself, I am happy to report that Kyle and the rest of the band did the source material justice with this album.

One thing longtime listeners of the deathcore genre will notice with this record is the guitar tone. While most bands perhaps try to imitate the sound of the MySpace era bands that propelled deathcore into the spotlight, experiment with either djent, symphonic, or black metal elements to give it a more technical or atmospheric effect, or thrown in some slams or beatdown elements, Brand Of Sacrifice have instead created a unique soundscape that, when combined with the way they write their riffs and breakdowns, remind one of more industrial and electronic inspired artists like Celldweller, Mick Gordon, and Tetsuya Shibata mixed with their signature metalcore elements from their days as The Afterimage. This is of course combined with epic synths that would make the likes of Susumu Hirasawa, the composer of the 1997 Berserk anime score, proud. This is a consistent element throughout the entirety of Lifeblood and it only gets better and better with each track.

We start off with the track Dawn, which combines a lot of rewinding vocal effects for the intro before piercing your ears with breakdowns that contain screeching guitars to imitate the sounds of should being tortured in the lowest pit of hell. Kyle then proceeds to decimate your ears with his beastly vocals and we get a tease of almost every element that is to come from this album from blast beats to bouncy djent moments to breakdowns to electronics all in under two minutes.

Dawn transitions nicely into the first single from this album, Demon King, which is themed around the Dread Emperor, Ganishka, one of the many demonic antagonists in the world of Berserk. Demon King is a truly spectacular and bombastic track that wastes no time jumping right into high velocity speed and sheer brutality along with Kyle’s insane vocal range. This track manages to keep a standard intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, outro structure while keeping things interesting with a clever use of build up before the main breakdown, plenty of slight changes to the melody in each verse, and epic choir synths that really create an apocalyptic sense of dread emphasizing the danger than Ganishka poses to humanity in the world of Berserk. Not to mention the mid section during the breakdown where Kyle just goes ape shit with his vocal range really adds that ‘Wow!’ factor after hearing this song.

The third track and also the third single, Animal, is one of my all time personal favourites from this band and is by far the greatest song they have ever put out. The songs lyrics are themed around the protagonist of Berserk, Guts, and his struggle not just to survive, but, to suppress the Beast Of Darkness that dwells in the core of his being, threatening to take over his soul completely and destroying everyone and everything, friend or foe, that gets in his way of revenge against the man who took everything from him. This song really borrows from the epic factor of a genre like power metal without being power metal. This track makes the most use out of the band’s signature style choir synth plugins and it is used sparingly and cleverly so that it doesn’t feel like a generic symphonic deathcore track. The intro is hauntingly beautiful and melancholic while the chorus melody is grand and arduous which means it really packs a cinematic punch to the gut when it hits your ears. Not only that but the screeching whammy pedal effects, ferocious riffs, and brutal breakdowns really makes Animal live up to it’s name by tapping into a primal and animalistic urge to wreak havoc around you (just make sure you keep any valuables out of the way before you destroy your room). This song manages to capture the essence of the chaos, agony, and tragedy that is Berserk’s protagonist and is arguably the best musical depiction of the character since his own theme song from the 1997 anime soundtrack by Susumu Hirasawa. Whether or not my fellow Berserk fans will agree with me on this one is entirely up to them, but, don’t even bother trying to change my mind.

Altered Eyes is arguably the most video game score sounding track on Lifeblood. Hell, the track is littered with synth plugins that sounded very reminiscent to Mick Gordon’s work on Doom and the subtle nu metal styled turntable effects really had me thinking back to my days playing Devil May Cry on weekends during my early high school years. What I also appreciated a lot about this track was the fact that it had a lot more bounce to it and relied a lot less on breakdowns and slams to get it’s point across. Also the more scarce use of the choir synth really made those moments feel more special when they hit and the more tech death style drumming and riffs certainly made this song a truly remarkable experience and I hope to see more like it on future albums.

We then dive into the track, Prophecy Of The Falcon, which features Frankie Palmeri of Emmure as a guest vocalist. I had to listen to some of Emmure’s songs before I could think of anything else to say about this track as I have never actually listened to their music or heard Frankie’s vocals long enough to recognize it, but, sadly, I could not distinguish his parts from Kyle’s other than the fact that he doesn’t do gurgly gutturals or pig squeals. The brief moments where I did pick up a semblance of his voice were far and few between, but, regardless, both vocalists do an excellent job on this track. What I really loved about Prophecy Of The Falcon was it’s use of industrial metal melodies, many of which harkened me back to Celldweller’s first album, and even some of Voicians early material like his cover of Celldweller’s The Last Fistborn. That and the fact that it sprinkles in a lot of early Fleshgod Apocalypse style technicality and speed in between the choruses and I really loved the electronica synths during the middle segment which enhanced the djenty and jittery feel of the breakdown. Finally the song ends with another breakdown which, like the breakdown of their breakout song Eclipse from The Interstice EP, really makes it more impactful and memorable.

We then have a brief, but, somewhat forgettable interlude in the form of Perfect World, which, while being a needed rest before the next bout of brutality, is kind of sad since the band are normally so good in making their ambient moments stand out in their material, but, this one just comes off as rather generic like a lot of modern movie trailer music. That’s not to say it sound awful. It’s just that it felt like kind of a missed opportunity to showcase what they can really do with the synths on their own with no guitars, drums, or anything else accompanying it.

This interlude then transitions into what is my second favourite track, Mortal Vessel, featuring the one and only Ben Duerr of Shadow Of Intent. This song manages to take everything the band did on the previous tracks, slap it all together, and end it off an a high note by allowing Ben do just go berserk (no pun intended) during the final part of the song. Ben’s vocals really fit with Brand Of Sacrifice’s sound and I do hope to see him feature on more albums as the band continue their career. What really stood out to me on this track was the way in which the band used the choir synths. Unlike the previous songs in which they were used sparingly, this track features them almost throughout the whole track. However, the band opt to use a more horror movie style of choir effect while letting hang ominously in the background giving a more eerie and dread fueled atmosphere in comparison to the more ‘uplifting’ style that we have come to expect.

Foe Of The Inhuman is another track featuring a guest vocalist of a band that I am sadly not familiar with once again. This time we have Eric Vanlerberghe of I Prevail and, once again, I really battled to figure out which parts were his and which parts were Kyle’s. Eric has done gurgly vocals based on what I have heard in some of the I Prevail tracks that I checked out and his mids and lows are somewhat similar to Kyle’s. However, there was a brief moment during the second half of the track where I heard his more fry, metalcore styled, high screams and they really added a cool dynamic to the riff in that section so, just like with the Emmure feature, it still works out in the end, even if you are completely ignorant of the material from the guest vocalist. Foe Of The Inhuman is a pretty layered track, jumping between breakdowns, electronic drops, jittery djent segments, Doom styled electronic drones, epic choral synths, and so much more. Every part of this song, including it’s bombastic and catchy chorus, really get your body movement and will definitely be a highlight song to hear live and I do hope that when concerts return, I get to witness this track in person. This track is meant for everything from moshing to hardcore dancing and it really carries a lot of energy and adrenaline about it.

Vengeance, out of all the songs on Lifeblood, is the most accessible, not just for metalcore fans looking to come into deathcore, but, for fans of metal or rock themed video game scores to enjoy. The song features Jamie Graham of Viscera, another band I am not familiar with, but, unlike the other two tracks, Graham’s vocals were quite easy to distinguish and really complimented Brand Of Sacrifice’s sound in a way I never thought possible. Jamie’s style of vocals reminded me a lot of Johnny Plague’s vocals during the early days of Winds Of Plague mixed with a more gruff singing style that adds a very harmonic and almost ethereal feel to the chorus. What also stood out about this track was it’s very Combichrist styled tone of droning and static effects on the synths and even certain guitar rhythms. I honestly would not be surprised if the soundtrack Combichrist did for Capcom’s attempted reboot of the Devil May Cry franchise had some kind of influence on the band’s decision to write this song, but, even if that isn’t the case, it would feel right at home on any of Devil May Cry’s scores. While there are breakdowns, tasty djent moments, and the signature shrieking whammy effects, they are arranged in a more simplified and catchy way and easily make this the most melodic track on the album.

The final track to feature a guest vocalist is Ruin featuring Tyler Shelton of Traitors. Again, I know this might sound like blasphemy to a lot of people in the core scene, but, Traitors is yet another band whose music I am not familiar with. Thankfully, just like with Vengeance, Tyler has his own unique vocal style and also stood out during his moments in the song instead of blending in with Kyle and his range. Tyler’s vocal felt like a combination of of Dustin Jamal Mitchell of Filth and Mattia Maffioli of Defamed. This track felt like a continuation of the song, The Branded, from the God Hand album, but turned up to eleven. This track focuses mostly on speed, ferocity, heaviness, technicality, and slams. Not only that but Tyler’s vocals added a lot more depth to the heavy moments and really brought and interesting dynamic to the flow between his parts and Kyle’s. This song exists purely for the moshing and crowdkilling experience and while it does still contain cinematic moments here and there, I do believe this track was written with the purpose of making the crowd go wild at a live show and holy shit does it do the job.

The second last track is another interlude track called Corridor Of Dreams and, unlike the first interlude track, is a lot more memorable really gives the synths a chance to shine. This track starts off slow, atmospheric, and ethereal and really gave off a lot of Hans Zimmer vibes with a little bit of Vangelis and even Enya aspects thrown in before it builds up to an epic conclusion that segues right into the final track, Lifeblood, which is also the title track of the album and a reference to Chapter 84 of the manga during the famous Eclipse scene.

The song wastes no time at all getting started. Although, unlike most of the tracks which started out fast and agressive or atmospheric or catchy, this song prefers to go for a much slower tempo and places a lot more emphasis on the choir synths to create a sense of dread and fear throughout the course of the song. Lifeblood then proceeds to move on to more mid-tempo chugging riff for the first verse while adding in slight fast elemets from time to time like a blast beat section on the drums and a very djent inspired break up filled with screeching guitars before leading in to the first chorus which continues the main theme of the intro riff. Following the first chorus is an amazing riff that constantly shifts between tech death and metalcore style elements in tempo and melody before being greeted with another helping of screeching guitars and transitioning into the second chorus. The band then proceeds to play around with various other elements before transitioning into a freakish hell choir on the synths before bringing in an epic breakdown that really changes the tone of the main chorus completely. Simply put, this single really showcases that Brand Of Sacrifice aren’t just writing brutal songs to be heavy and brutal but, they also manage to bring an element of atmosphere and technicality like no other band in the deathcore subgenre. They clearly wanted to tell a story with this song and it definitely gets the job done.

Lifeblood is a purely stellar work of art. It manages to reinvent many styles of metal and other genres of music all while keeping within it’s deathcore roots. This album can easily be enjoyed by both longtime metal fans and newcomers to more extreme styles of metal and manages to be catchy, technical, and atmospheric all in one. The music absolutely catches the dark and brutal aspects of Kentaro Miura’s manga and should definitely be listened to by any fan of the source material. Most importantly, this album is a fun and exciting experience and that is what makes it album of the year material in my books. Lifeblood strikes the perfect balance between extreme metal and anime/video game soundtrack compositions and is absolutely worth every minute of your time. Go and listen to Lifeblood now!

Rating: 9/10

Written By: Russell Gainsford