Phlebotomized is a band I can only describe as ahead of their time, one of the odder underground death metal bands that were already mixing extreme metal with violin and synthesizers before other bands started to catch on. In fact, no one seemed to take notice of this band’s legacy until they reformed in 2013 and released two compilation albums to solidify their return. Since their reformation, the band continues to release music that borders on the extremely avant-garde side of death metal, creating music that stays with you long after you stop listening. Their “death metal with a twist” schtick is one of the main reasons I became so invested in them when I first heard Immense Intense Suspense / Skycontact (context) back in 2017. Although I have only listened to their newer releases since then, I think it’s time we turn back the clock and see how this band got their monumental start with Devoted to God.
Before discussing the demo in its entirety, I wanted to highlight that there was a previous compilation released in 2013 called Devoted to God / Preach Eternal Gospels, back when the band reformed. While being able to listen to that compilation is important – it allowed many to experience Phlebotomized for the first time – listening to the demo as intended is important for death metal history. For almost 30 years, this demo was nonexistent; to have it available to us as both listeners and amateur historians denotes its importance in understanding how Phlebotomized potentially influenced other bands in the scene and how their novel (at the time) sound set a precedence for modern avant-garde and atmospheric death metal today.
Devoted to God is an album that oozes atmosphere, especially with how the synthesizer is used in order to give the music depth and texture. Although it might not be the easiest album to swallow on a first listen, Phlebotomized clearly knows how to pull someone in. For example, first track “In Search of Tranquility & Subtle Disbalanced Liquidity” starts off quite slow, with the sounds of acoustic guitar giving the song an air of reverence before the synths adds a layer of mystery. However, whatever expectations the listener has about devotion are quickly shattered when the death metal kicks in, giving the music an unholy quality to it. Listening to this track gives you the nuance that what you are listening to may be seen as blasphemous, almost as if you are accessing something that wasn’t the norm, and yet you can’t pull away. The music also flows smoothly from track to track, setting a pace that does not allow you to breathe. Devoted to God made me feel slow; while I tried to familiarize myself with the eccentricities of a track, the music would shift in an entirely different direction. By the time “Tragic Entanglement” started playing – the most death metal track on the album – there was nothing you could do except headbang along to the music. Phlebotomized has their grip on you, their music growing on you until you are fully submerged in it. The only way out of Devoted to God is through, and once you are through, you are going to repeat the album again.
Although the production quality on Devoted to God leaves a lot to be desired, the fact that the music is compelling and eerie is a testament to the band’s artistic integrity. They wanted to create music that still sounded like death metal, but also wanted to experiment with how bizarre it could get. It may not be the easiest listening experience but Devoted to God clearly had something to show to the world and it did despite its inherent limitations. Without this demo, bands like Hadit may not have existed. It’s hard to convey how essential I consider this demo to be as part of the death metal canon, but Devoted to God deserves to be looked at as one of death metal’s hidden gems, and one of the early progenitors of avant-garde death metal.