Holy Rotten Blood
Review by Rosh on December 11, 2022.
There's no use in me denying that I'm a considerable fan of Justin Stubbs' music, especially because "you bet I own nearly every Encoffination and Father Befouled release!" is a hilarious thing to enthusiastically decalre to people well-versed enough in the 2000's OSDM revival to understand why that's a little too niche even for the niche. Who cares about random-ass Incantation clones after all? Admittedly me to a slightly higher-than-average extent, but Father Befouled is a more special project than most bands in that realm at any rate. Just based on 2010's marvelously oppressive Morbid Destitution of Covenant, they come to mind as the most respectable group delivering strikingly similar-sounding material to the acclaimed Craig Pillard-era of Incantation. One caveat narrowing down the candidates for this badge of abomination, however, is that the band must strictly want to sound like Incantation, without also having their own, highly distinctive approach to death metal songwriting underscoring their "cavernous" sound.
Now, to elaborate on the latter point, I should follow up by saying that I adamantly exclude the more visionary songcraft of Dead Congregation, the filthier/Finn-like attack of Funebrarum, the extremity-envelope pushing of Ignivomous, the Immolation-adjacent inspiration of Drawn and Quartered, and so on, from being labeled as "Incantation clones" - ultra-deep, reverberating growls and slow-paced tremolo riffing is an overall death metal motif that never was exclusive to John McEntee's camp. Nonetheless, there are still numerous so-so imitators sitting far below the leagues of the aforementioned titans, outfits that Father Befouled simply walked all over with their first three full-lengths, and other material preceding 2017's Desolate Gods.
Of course, their fourth album still delivered in all the fundamental befouling respects, but does represent a noticeable cut-off point for Stubbs and co., because with ending the roughly 5-year album gap came a retouched sound that mildly deviates from the strictly Onward to Golgotha/Mortal Throne of Nazarene-template of their earlier years. The growls were a little bit clearer in the mix while still having that signature ghastly echo to them, so the result was that they still sounded extremely low, just less "massive." Stubbs was also still managing to conjure up riffs as eerie as McEntee himself would write in the early 90's, but this time with a touch more melody that was particularly apparent during the slow, doomy sections. With that said, none of this is enough to make it so that FB no longer "count" as an (excellent) Incanation clone - trust me, it would be a cold day in hell when Justin would be ok with that. That is exactly why, however, the subtle changes to the sound heard on Desolate Gods and its 2019 follow-up EP, Holy Rotten Blood, are more noteworthy than they otherwise would be.
This EP consists of probably the most mature material Stubbs has ever written, honing the "Mk. II" Father Befouled sound in such a way that the atmosphere of the music benefits. The more whisper-like character his vocals are given in this era shines more than it did on the 2017 full-length due to a fuller production job and meatier distortion, as well as the presence of two instrumental tracks that prevent the listener from growing desensitized to one-tone gutturals. In fact, the first instrumental here is better than you'd expect for a two-minute death metal dirge-piece. It gains a sense of direction from that increased guitar melody the band has introduced, sitting just before the doorstep of the bare minimum melody required to separate actual death/doom from slow death metal. It should come as no surprise, then, that the EP's title track is a skull-crusher right off the bat, as the centerpiece of a release such as this should be, while "Christ's Iniquity", although overall a more average song for these guys, does reach an almost Autopsy-like crawl midway through (further substantiating that FB have improved with writing in the slow/doomy vein).
With material like that after opening with one of Father Befouled's best-ever songs, the apocalyptic "Deracination of Holiness", it's safe to say Holy Rotten Blood not only further cements these guys' status as the "best Incantation clone", but also feels like a dark and suffocating 23 minutes of death metal that can stand all on its own. This is one thing that perhaps explains my liking for a supposed "clone" band more than just saying what amounts to "they do it really well" - Father Befouled are at the point now where it seems like they could be brought up as a decent companion outfit to other old school pioneers of the American extreme metal underground as well. Perhaps shuffle them in with a bit of Imprecation here, some Goreaphobia there, a Crucifier track on the fly, and you've got a lifetime supply of blasphemy.
Rating: 8.6 out of 10545