For Fans Of
When you think about New Zealand heavy music, what bands do you think about? For hardcore and metalcore lovers, Antagonist A.D immediately comes to mind. For rock, there’s the mighty Shihad. Or there’s Alien Weaponry, whose groove-metal brings traditional Māori culture and language to the foreground. There are obviously other bands I’m forgetting or skimming past in this assessment, but one more extreme-metal NZ act to be aware of is the wordy Blindfolded And Led To The Words. A band who some may even remember from this old appearance on The Erin Simpson Show.
On third album ‘Nightmare Withdrawals,’ Blindfolded And Led To The Woods (who I’ll refer to as Blindfolded from here on out) really come into their own. The bedroom-boomy production of 2017’s ‘Modern Adoxography‘ is long gone, replaced by a smoother and tighter sonic sheen that elevates their virtuosic prowess, thanks to mixer Samuel Sproull and prolific masterer Alan Douches. Another major growth has occurred with the tech-deathcore of their overly generic 2014 debut LP, ‘My Vaseline Diaries,’ which has since morphed into a terrific, progressive behemoth. A hulking beast of blackened technical death metal and dissonant grind that even has a prog and personal edge residing beneath the confronting surface. Ultimately, this is their best album.
On their Bandcamp, Blindfolded describe their approach to riffs as “sinuous” and that’s a perfect descriptor for not only the band’s erratic, finger-twisting guitar acrobatics, but also their overall songwriting vision. For everything here is alive and moving, the quintet aiming to make the most of each musical limb as best they can. The underlying tone, general feel and timbre of these ten tracks are just outright demented. Sickening, even. Which is wrecisely why it all works so well. It’s all over the place, yet so glued together; still so cohesive despite its sheer dizzying intensity. I’ve heard metal albums as heavy, as busy, and as fast as ‘Nightmare Withdrawals‘ many times before, but very few that were quite as poignant, rousing and memorable as Blindfolded’s latest.
Capturing the sleep-deprived moods and nightmarish imagery of both prog-death Aussie outfit Growth (whose 2020 debut LP, ‘The Smothering Arms Of Mercy‘ was genuinely fucking phenomenal) and U.S. noise-metallers KEN Mode, as well as the crushing heaviness of your Ulcertate’s, Blindfolded address raw emotions and deep-seated traumas here. Just look above to Agreatmass’s abstract water-colour artwork: this pinkish, grey creature with its head dissipating into smoke and fog. A very clear metaphor for the restless, shapeless monsters – whatever they may be – that reside in our heads and stalk us relentlessly. Whether when awake or in the depths of sleep. If the album’s lyrical subject matter, matched with its bleak tones and gear-grinding vehemence makes you feel uncomfortable, good. That’s the desired effect. Blindfolded aren’t acting as an authority on these matters, and while the songs are written in first-person, I’m unsure how literal or figurative this album’s theme is meant to be taken. However, either reading that you take it as, the band, quite thankfully, aren’t using this topic just to shock the listener. There’s honesty and seriousness behind it all.
‘The Inevitable Fate Of The Universe‘, a universe-sized metaphor for one’s ability to change versus who they’re “fated” to be, is a break-neck track of lucid blast beats, volcanic riffage, a gruff mid-song breakdown, and even a tasty little divebomb hooked in right at the end. Dissonant tapping and prog-metal heel-turns push and pull the burly ‘Black Air‘ along, painting a portrait of apocalypses; of one force or entity consuming another, whether it be historical or personal. The lengthy but crushing ‘…and You Will Try To Speak‘ is one of the record’s largest beasts, a bitter and blackened death form about our scars defining us, and how “misery is the world’s only true currency.” The truly torturous-sounding growled “You are not meant to see me. For I am not for your eyes” part, one of the song’s heaviest moments, fades into a serene and dynamic instrumental passage of clean licks, swirling ambience and snare-rim clicks, before the death onslaught returns just as quick and twice as fast. Such a great dynamic!
These sometimes quite sudden and short-lived progressive detours are a wonderful change, melodic breaks that slice right through this album’s all-encompassing level of darkness. The instrumental sections that crop up across the LP are a welcoming touch of melodicism and dynamism from a group so often hell-bent on producing destructive forward momentum at every step. I’d love to see them expand and further develop their implementation of these parts moving forward, as they’re a big part of why I think ‘Nightmare Withdrawals‘ has such a gripping effect. Well, that, and the album’s insane performances.
The sweet divebombs, sprinting taps, diminished runs, wasp-buzzing tones, diabolical chord patterns, and the downright demented riffage that Ben Atkinson and Stuart Minchington storm out of their guitars is impressive. As is the rest of the band’s technique-hopping play-styles; whether it’s the various hardcore breakdowns or jazz-adjacent interludes, the furious heel-toe double kicks of drummer Tim Stewart, Nick Smith’s punchy six-string bass smacks or ring outs, or vocalist Stace Fifield twisting and contorting his wicked voice into multiple different registers. Blindfolded have always been a talented group, but ‘Nightmare Withdrawals‘ is a record that’s, finally, fully worthy of this Christchurch group’s abilities.
On the tempo-jumping, “death machine” ode to people’s hard-woven love of conflict in ‘Atop the Wings of a Magpie,’ Nile’s Karl Sanders lends his talents to the wicked disso-death assault. (The harmonic solos near the end of ‘Atop The Wings Of A Magpie‘ soar like said member of the Corvidae family.) Elsewhere, during the excellent ‘Lucid Vissitations‘, multi-instrumentalist Callum Gay of fellow New Zealand act, Spook The Horses, also appears. Neither feature is particularly mind-blowing or revolutionary, but they are fitting additions from one band that the Blindfolded camp clearly look up to and one from a fellow, very talented close peer of theirs.
One of my favourite songs off this fiendish record is its shortest cut, the harmonies-into-blasts-into-down-tempo brutality of ‘The White Of The Eyes.’ This is Blindfolded’s disorientating horror movie, a deep dive into fear and dissociation. With ‘Lucid Visitations‘, the band light some candles, pour some chardonnay and sit by the fire with a good book about lucid dreams, mental escape, and our human fragility trying to make sense of a nonsensible world. Making for one of the most emotional, atmospheric and impactful songs off ‘Nightmare Withdrawals.’ Speaking of, the titular piece is a short, face-paced death metal dosage, tackling formless family demons only seen in dreams, created by the trauma of the past grappling with the present, all feeling like prey to these dark thoughts.
The murky guitar intro of ‘The Obscured Witness‘ begets what is the most straightforward death metal track of the ten but is one of the most satisfying. A fine example of the band’s blackened moments, their two guitarist’s tremolo picking and Tim’s triplet fills and gravity-snare action. It is absolutely generic but is executed exceptionally. It lyrically plays out as a glimpse of some Biblical end, and its final breakdown is a moshable but techy affair – no small feat. ‘Rorschach and Delirium‘ is a gruesome track, one of my favourite metal compositions of the year, about the age-old philosophical debate about physicality and consciousness. About which one is the real us; the psychology of trying to understand and give meaning to the corporeal, to memories, consciousness and unconsciousness. With a beautiful progressive outro, featuring subtly whispered singing (vocals I would’ve liked to see go further) ‘Rorschach and Delirium‘ comes out as one of Blindfolded’s finest tracks.
With a flowing drum intro and the droning instrumental build-up, the grumbling ‘Sic Mundus Creatus Est‘ – Latin for “Thus the world was created” – is a meditation on creation and human force and will. I mean, shit, Blindfolded even get their esoteric hats on, quoting lines from the ancient Hermetic text, The Emerald Tablet, where the popular phrase “as above, so below” originates from, during the second half. It’s one of those Alpha-Omega songs; big, dramatic, dense and heavy as all fuck, with plenty of math-metal parts, subtle virtual string chords rising it all up, prog instrumental moments, darkened atmospheric passages, and some brief but eerie light singing. (Singing that, again, could probably use some more work next time around to become further prominent and amp up the band’s songwriting tension and dynamics.) ‘Sic Mundus Creatus Est‘ really is an interesting, succinct musical summarization of the larger LP you’ve just experienced; it’s grinding tech-death genesis and now its ominous end.
Even with their heavy application of disturbing dissonance, progressive-metal detours, and an “outsiders” approach to death and grind, Blindfolded And Led To The Woods don’t necessarily reinvent the contemporary nature of these genres. Though they didn’t set out to do so, did they? While perhaps a little longer than was necessary and with the occasional haunting singing section needing some extra development for my tastes, this talented New Zealand act never needed to completely upheave these various styles with their stellar third LP. Instead, they’ve made their finest and most polished record yet, coming shy of mastering these sounds, nonetheless resulting in one of death metal and grind’s most arresting records of 2021. ‘Nightmare Withdrawals’ is nightmarish, confronting, traumatic in its heavy thematic tone of introspective nightmares, personal growth and mental illness, and is just awesome in its extreme musical delivery.
1. The Inevitable Fate of the Universe
2. Black Air
3. …And You Will Try To Speak
4. The White of the Eyes
5. Atop the Wings of a Magpie (feat. Karl Sanders)
6. Lucid Visitations (feat. Callum Gay)
7. Nightmare Withdrawals
8. The Obscured Witness
9. Rorschach and Delirium
10. Sic Mundus Creatus Est
Stream ‘Nightmare Withdrawals’ below: