Bleeder is an amalgam of aggressive stylings, unabated aggression and technical acumen.
Listening to Mutoid Man’s first full-length effort, it’s easy to make some judgments. To Converge fans, the destructive potential of Ben Koller’s drum work is obvious. The same can be said about Stephen Brodsky’s work with Cave In, the band where the vocalist and guitarist has spent much of his time. With that in mind, Bleeder seemed like it would be a fun but familiar sonic romp. That’s not wrong. But it’s not exactly right, either.
Bleeder begins with “Bridgeburner,” a stylistic introduction to the world where listeners will spend just over 30 minutes being tossed about. The track’s droning opening seconds shift seamlessly into a Southern-grit riff accompanied by simple lyrics infected with sticky melody. The track then shifts again into a blistering half-time thrash that shows off both Koller’s prowess, and Brodsky’s skill in making complex guitar work sound simple. This microcosmic teaser is excellent preparation for the remainder of the album. The elements of progressive metal, thrash, southern rock and grindcore aren’t simply revisited later on, they’re shuffled and reshuffled to make each track stand alone.
“Reptilian Soul” is the most accessible offering to the uninitiated listener. While it maintains a discordant nastiness, it does so in such a way that won’t alienate someone looking for a solid, heavy groove. This veritable break from the insanity doesn’t last long, however. “Sweet Ivy” offers an off-time stampede replete with wildly impressive vocal melodies, muddy guitars and an ending that will make any Converge fan feel right at home. As the album was, in fact, produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou, it goes without saying that he may have had some say in the matter.
Meanwhile, “1000 Mile Stare,” “Surveillance” and “Beast” make up the most intense section of Bleeder. Their ferocity makes the earlier tunes feel as if they were intended as appetizers before this assault. Jam-packed with a Black Sabbath level of sludge, frantic and mind-melting riffs and beats and a Southern grime peppering the whole affair with a sense of rowdy fun, these songs don’t leave much room for a drift in attention, or even a stolen breath.
This makes “Dead Dreams” a palate cleanser of sorts. Its mid-tempo death-march is nothing short of brutal. The track stomps away as Brodsky’s riff goes to unexpected places, culminating in a crushing ending of roared vocals and metallic rage. “Soft Spot in My Skull” and “Deadlock” return to the musical mash-up the band establishes early on. Unfortunately, despite the short running time of the album, exhaustion begins to set in right about here. These aren’t forgettable songs, and listening to them all by their lonesome helps their cause—but they do get lost in the aforementioned shuffle.
As “Bridgeburner” acts as the raging introduction, the title track “Bleeder” cools off the body of work for the finale. Its inclusion is welcome, but its placement is debatably problematic. The track is an exercise in restraint in comparison to the rest of the album, maintaining the aesthetically inherent grime but counterbalancing it with something that wasn’t present earlier. It’s quieter, slower, more controlled in its droning delivery. This track doesn’t deviate enough from the norm to merit its exclusion, but its placement at the end of the line does the song, and the album, a bit of a disservice. As the title track, it feels more like an unnecessary epilogue, or a B-side, than a logical conclusion to a record that could have been better served if the song were placed elsewhere.
Mutoid Man doesn’t reinvent the proverbial wheel, but Bleeder feels as if that was never the band’s intent. The record is an amalgam of aggressive stylings, unabated aggression and technical acumen. Style and craft were crammed together to create something exciting, challenging and, ultimately, a lot of fun. Yes, we’ve been here before. Yes, we’ll hear something similar in the future. But the record stands alone as it puts a new spin on well-worn material. Bleeder won’t soon be forgotten, but it also won’t leave you unable to pull your brain back together.