It’s no secret that I have become incredibly invested in Phlebotomized ever since I found Immense Intense Suspense/Skycontract back in 2017. So much so that when I requested to cover their demo Devoted to God (context) last year, I did it with the specific intention to prepare myself for their, at that time, impending new album Clouds of Confusion. This is a band who continues to play with the 90s death metal aesthetic and inject every single ounce of weirdness seemingly for the fun of it. Will their blend of avant-garde death metal truly pay off where old school death metal rules supreme? Let’s discuss.
Inspired by guitarist Tom Palms’s wrist surgery and recovery, Clouds of Confusion is an album that, first and foremost, is all about the details. For every song that sounds like straightforward death metal, you get one that sounds like the amps blew out. It’s equal parts heavy and melodic as hell with an inescapable sense of dread that only heightens its oddness and uneasiness. Even its production sounds confusing: the guitars are always a little too loud, the synths are always slightly higher than they need to be, and the vocals sound like they were recorded through the sound of running water. Everything feels blown out and lopsided, confusion marring your entire listening experience as it feels like wading through a viscous pool of syrup. However, that is the fundamental appeal of Clouds of Confusion; it’s supposed to be confusing and disorienting. This disorientation allows for full immersion, as you can’t help but be impressed by the different juxtapositions and musical textures Phlebotomized has created here. First track “Bury My Heart” is an introduction of what awaits the listener when first diving into this album, only for then to be blown away by second track “Alternate Universe.” Here, the theme of the first track becomes prevalent, highlighting that dichotomy of avant-garde tendencies and strait-laced death metal.
Now, throughout most of Phlebotomized’s music there has always been this prevalent religious tone to it, as if showing reverence to whatever topic or theme they are exploring on an album. While it does not take away from the overall musical focus, it does give the music a cinematic feel similar to a film score. Given how Phlebotomized tends to structure and layer their music it works on their behalf showcasing range across their songs.
However, despite its vast musical palette and interesting production choices, Clouds of Confusion does suffer from the weight of its own details. If you are familiar with the band up until this point, the way they can seamlessly shift between different musical cues will come as no surprise. But those who are barely getting into the band for the first time will find it extremely indulgent and somewhat repetitive. Although the different tones and themes culminate with final track “Context Is For Kings (Stupidity and Mankind)” – one of the most death metal-like tracks on the album – it is a slow burn, and I have a feeling that most first-time listeners will start to jump around from track to track before settling on any favorites. Patience can only go so far, and while I enjoy the band’s eccentricities, its mileage might vary for other people.
Although Clouds of Confusion may not be an album for everyone who likes death metal, you cannot deny that Phlebotomized has clearly succeeded with their blend of avant-garde death metal. This is an album that truly requires patience, and it can be extremely rewarding if you decide to go all in. I also have a feeling that Clouds of Confusion will end up ranking high at the end of the year. In the meantime, I am excited to see where Phlebotomized goes next, and I am hopeful I am going to enjoy what else they decide to create.
Clouds of Confusion will be available May 26 on Hammerheart Records. For more information on Phlebotomized, visit their official website.