Written by Kep
Blindfolded and Led to the Woods – Rejecting Obliteration
> Avant-garde death metal
> New Zealand
> Releasing May 19
> Prosthetic Records
When you think about unique career trajectories, certain bands stand out. There’s Ulver, starting out as a black metal band and eventually morphing into an ever-weirder experimental electronic outfit. And you’ve got bands like Opeth, making their name in heavy music and then mellowing into something less aggressive but no less well-crafted. Even legends can begin life in a style far different than the one they rise to fame in; Vader, for example, played speed metal before they turned to death and established their place in the chapters of metal history. Similarly, New Zealanders Blindfolded and Led to the Woods kicked their career off back in 2011 as a deathcore band, and it wasn’t until 2021’s Nightmare Withdrawals that they really came into their own playing a unique brand of uneasy avant-garde death metal.
Truly, if I played you their first EP Armed to the Teeth with Jellybeans and then gave you a taste of Rejecting Obliteration, you probably wouldn’t believe it was the same band. The world was theirs for the taking after Nightmare Withdrawals landed them a record deal with Prosthetic, and now Rejecting has focused everything that made Nightmare great even further. Their sound is the machinations of a broken mind, mixing mania with regret, frenetic energy with nostalgic reverie, and horrifying brutality with angry self-loathing. Their songs surge forward with aggression before twitching spasmodically into tense spiraling blackness, then drift into warm dreams of contentment or terrifying psychedelic hallucinations. It’s a unique voice in the metal scene; no one sounds quite like these guys.
The five-piece (including former drummer/percussionist Tim Stewart here, who’s left the group and been replaced by Anthony Coota since recording) builds their sound on a foundation of scorching triplet blasts, jumbo bass, and oddball riffs. Seriously, if you Google “weird fucking death metal riffs” you’ll just find Blindfolded and Led to the Woods’ band picture, because their style is so singular and off-kilter. Those tense little speedy whirls and whorls that sidewind chromatically at the beginning of lead single “Methlehem” are a great example—they feel paranoid, frenzied even—as are the coked-out running sixteenths a minute or so into “Hands of Contrition”, lines jagged as a barb wire scar and breaking into boldly dissonant harmonies. The blistering angular dual guitar action that opens “Funeral Smiles” has such a nasty prickly edge that it’s like needles jabbing into your skin. The feeling that marks their songs is unease: even though the music periodically settles for a time into something like a groove or a restful moment, if rarely feels comfortable. An undercurrent of unease, full to bursting with barely-contained violent energy, flows within nearly every moment.
A captivating vocal performance from frontman Stace Fifield, delivering a slew of thoughtful cutting lyrics courtesy of himself and guitarist/vocalist Stuart Henley-Minchington, focuses the jittering, restless riff material on personal battles and the struggle to rise above. It’s easy to appreciate the transition between the oppressive haze that covers the opening lyrics of “Wraith” and the brutal chug and searing rising tremolo that follow it when you take in the lyrical transition as well: from “I’ll never know if it was too much / But it was too late” to “I fled the scene, your body / Drawn in white silhouette”. The deliberate funereal descent of the following passage is all the more vivid, too, and the monstrous, earthshaking riff of the final stretch carries even more weight because of the brutal, impassioned delivery of some of the deepest and most personal lyrics in metal this year:
“As the timbre of your voices
Fades into whistling leaves
Your wraith gently guides
These broken hands”
Fifield runs the full gamut of sounds across most songs, from high Trevor Strnad-like screams to shouts, bellows, and stygian death growls.
In passages like that closing section of “Wraith”, including moments of “Methlehem” and “Cicada”, you’ll note Blindfolded and Led to the Woods dip back into the -core pool for a splash of that good mean shit. It’s an extra punch that they love to add to important moments: a breakdown-esque rapid chug with deep chest roars here, an extra dose of shouted vocal swagger on a simpler pit-churning riff there. For the most part the record reads as progressive and heavily technical weird death metal, but in those moments there’s a vicious little edge that really pops. That opening section of “Cicada”, for example, juxtaposes a dense blast-based figure that would be comfortable in plenty of black/death metal with a hefty stop/start -core rhythm that nastily punctuates Fifield’s first vocal entrance, and does so seamlessly. Great lyrics there, too, for the record: “The cicada screams from the mouth of the bird / But one mustn’t dwell / For suffering is an essential cog”.
Guitarists Henley-Minchington and Ben Atkinson deserve a heaping of praise for their inventiveness on Rejecting Obliteration. Even their ideas that aren’t necessarily brand new concepts—you can name songs by other bands that do things similar to the syncopated triplet riff of “Hallucinative Terror” and the neverending staircase of flying sextuplets that leads to its magnificent closing daydream, for example—feel a bit more daring, a bit less safe, and a dash more unhinged than in their predecessors. Harrowing closer “Caustic Burns” swirls mesmerizingly like Ulcerate in spots, but their quirky calls and searing manic energy on those dissonant lines draw something wilder from them. Bassist Nick Smith also absolutely kills it across the record; that enormous tone could swallow you whole. His agile bottom end is a huge, weighty presence that looms like a swollen thundercloud beneath the entire affair, and it grounds the songs while also making them more intimidating.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There’s no questioning it: Blindfolded and Led to the Woods have definitely found their voice, and Rejecting Obliteration is a testament to that. Filled with carefully-crafted riff eccentricity, brutality, disquiet, and thoughtful lyrics, it’s an album that stands alone, a singular listening experience in the metal scene as we know it. I recommend it highly.