Being from a place associated with dehydration, venomous reptiles, carrion birds, and the sun-bleached bones of large mammals must translate to music that carries in its spirit that desolation, that brutality, that familiarity with death. When your natural environment is invested in your destruction, when you are surviving despite your surroundings rather than because of them, the art you create will reflect that against-all-odds existence. Arizona’s Bloodquest is music for remaining vibrant and powerful in defiance of the world’s hostility.
A devastating new addition to the Gatecreeper-christened sub-genre of “Sonoran Desert Death Metal,” one that may eventually include enough heavy hitters to be as broadly recognized as Swedish Melodeath or Norwegian Black Metal, Bloodquest joins the ever-increasing roster of bands who are drawing global attention to a region that, though bereft of water and greenery, is host to an abundance of talented musicians.
Though too good to be called a supergroup, Bloodquest boasts three members of bands who deserve a mention, if only because they should already be on everyone’s heavy music playlists. Also, knowing that this band draws from monstrous Arizona acts will help to contextualize its sound, which has clear roots in the old school death of drummer Matt Arrebollo’s Gatecreeper, the golden age metallic hardcore of vocalist Sam Abate’s Territory, and the grinding riff madness of guitarist Drew Griffin’s (and studio bassist Kiel Siler’s) Woundvac.
The EP’s intro, “Introquest,” sets the tone for the whole album, and tone is the operative word, as Bloodquest has tone for days. With the suffocating buzzsaw of Grave and Dismember, the band packs the opener with grooves and riffs that, for just about any other band, would surely be featured centerpieces. It is clear that Bloodquest is confident in their writing ability, and the following songs demonstrate that the confidence is fully justified.
While maintaining the coveted Sunlight Studio guitar, “World Turns Back” packs up the siege machines of “Introquest” and ventures directly onto the battlefield, answering the question, “What would Bolt Thrower sound like if they came out of the 2000s Boston hardcore scene?” With Abate sounding more like Justin DeTore, Brendan Radigan, or New Jersey’s Joey Southside than like any death metal singer, the band’s metal energy calibrates so that, like The Rival Mob, The Impalers, Trap Them, or Iron Age, Bloodquest should find equally gracious fans among elitist metalheads and patrician punks.
“To See Tomorrow” shoots into a breakneck gallop from the drop of the needle and never relents. It is the kind of song that inspires a too-fast circle pit that leaves any slow or weak concertgoers trampled under the feet of those with the bravery and the wherewithal to keep up with the furious pace.
“Delusions of Loyalty” is a shining example of Bloodquest’s songwriting skill. Its syncopation, tremolo-picking, and instrumental interplay all combine to create a song that is simultaneously technically brilliant and utterly ignorant in the best sense of the word. With some of the most memorable riffs and some of the most inventive drumming on any death metal release this year, the band’s ability to make great music combines with their confidence to eschew traditional genre tropes to conjure something especially great, especially malevolent.
The teeth-baring tension of the instruments’ understated cycling sections in “No Other Way” create the perfect atmospheric platform for wartime aggression of Abate’s voice. The drive of HM-2-soaked palm-muting over walking-tempo drums uplifts his urgent, vein-popping shout to that of a lieutenant colonel commanding the last surviving earthly battalion during the end-times. The song’s cystic pressure erupts finally into a magmatic solo and multi-barreled cannonade, an explosion that shows that these excellent musicians always have more in the chamber.
Closing and title track, “Bloodquest,” broadens the tonal palette further, combining the megaton heaviness of Obituary, the thrashing riff wizardry of Death Angel, and the runaway train melodic sensibilities of Backstabbers Inc. On an EP featuring songs that can each hold their own against whole albums released by other bands, this track is a fitting closer, one demonstrates that, even though this band is a trio of all-star musicians, the Bloodquest whole is still greater than the sum of its parts.
In a period when new death metal titans are emerging everywhere, Bloodquest is the young upstart who is ready to take them all on.
The members of Bloodquest shared some thoughts about the album with Cvlt Nation.
How did Bloodquest form? Was this project a quarantine-baby, or had you all been working on it before?
Drew: Matt approached me in the summer of 2018 wanting to start a side project where he could have more influence over the songwriting part of things. We talked about various lineup possibilities, but ultimately they fell through. It ended up being the two of us putting the songs together before Sam came into the studio to round things out on vocals. I immediately knew Matt was onto something when he suggested linking up. He is a super meticulous machine on drums, and I’m a bit more chaotic and rough around the edges. I figured maybe his groundedness and my frantic guitar riffs might make for something different, or at the very least rein my style in a bit.
Matt: Yeah, as Drew said I was just looking to stretch out a bit and do something else in my down time in between tours/recording with Gatecreeper. I have always admired Drew’s work in Woundvac and I knew I wanted to collaborate with him. I figured the rest would just fall into place, as it did. We had been working on it for a while before quarantine, but the project was completed and released during quarantine.
Sam: Early last year, Matt talked to me about doing vocals for Bloodquest. They sent me the songs, and I started working on lyrics and vocal parts. Then the pandemic hit and it delayed recording the vocals a bit.
Is the name a Warhammer reference? If so, what is the connection? If not, where does the name come from?
Matt: Bloodquest is the title of a graphic novel set in the Warhammer 40k universe, but I’ve never read it. I am a fan of Warhammer, but I’ve always been more into the fantasy side of things. I was trying to think of a name that brought to mind the constant state of violence and unrest that this world seems to be in. It often seems like the world we live in is on a perpetual quest for blood. Hence, Bloodquest. As is often the case, I found out later the name was already in use by another piece of art/media. In this case, I’m happy about the connection, though.
With the three of you coming from bands from pretty different styles, what was the initial artistic vision/goal?
Drew: Honestly, just to do something different. Matt lives and breathes death metal, and I think he wanted to have more of a hands-on approach on the writing process. For me, coming from more of the grind/punk side of things, I wanted to challenge myself to write in a different way. I get writer’s block a lot when it comes to writing Woundvac songs, but any time I have stepped away to do something different, I find I’m way more focused. This was a perfect opportunity to do that while also working with people I look up to. When Matt suggested getting Sam from Territory to front the band, I was way on board. He’s a beast, and his delivery is always on point. It would give an element of hardcore to the vocals which would set it apart from other death metal bands. Ultimately, forming Bloodquest was to make something sick that we’d be proud of, and I think we accomplished that.
Matt: The vision was originally to rip off BT as much as possible, but as time went on, and as Drew and I refined and reworked these songs, it seemed to become more of its own thing in my opinion. The addition of Sam on vocals brought it further out of the realm of death metal than I had originally anticipated, but I’m happy about it. His vocals add a lot of aggression and savagery that I think would have been lost with a more traditional death metal approach. Ultimately, as all the elements started to come together, I just wanted the band to be a vehicle for everyone involved to express their visions to the fullest extent.
Sam: Initially, I wanted to do more death metal vocals, but more aggressive and urgent than typical DM vocals. Realistically, I don’t have a DM voice haha, so it ended up sounding a lot more like a lot of the metallic hardcore bands I love and more akin to the stuff I’ve done in Territory. Human Furnace and Vogel are probably my biggest influences.
What are the primary musical inspirations? What about lyrical inspirations?
Drew: Going into this project Matt and I used Bolt Thrower’s War Master as a sort of starting point. The nastiness of the riffs and chaotic feel on that album were a good thing for us to emulate in the beginning and we slowly built off that. The final product is definitely inspired by Bolt Thrower, Integrity, All Out War, Victims, and the death metal bits of Napalm Death.
Sam: The lyrics are mostly about vengeance and violence, basically Bloodquests.
Can you describe the writing process? How did you all approach writing specifically for this as opposed to writing for your other projects?
Drew: After a lot of discussion and throwing band inspirations back and forth over what the tone of the project would be, I came to him with about 30-40 riffs for us to have a wide range to choose from. We’d jam on an idea and keep the ones that worked and axed the ones that didn’t. It was a different approach for me and what I do in Woundvac. Usually, I will come in with a song 80% finished and have the other guys in the band help me put the finishing touches on it, but with Bloodquest I came loaded up with ideas. If, after 5 -10 minutes of working on it, a riff didn’t jive, we would just move onto the next one. After a few months of writing like this, it became easier to see what the overall feel of the band was going to be like, and I would write more in that vein.
Matt: Yeah, the writing process actually was spread over a lot of months, maybe almost a year and a half. Just as Drew said, we workshopped riffs, felt what was good and just kept trimming the fat until we got to a point we felt ready to enter the studio. For me personally, there were a couple times when I was very challenged by Drew’s riffs. He is for sure into a lot more complex stuff than I have been into lately, and sometimes I needed to take some time to wrap my head around some of his riffs. But it was ultimately very rewarding. I’m ultimately very pleased with the way the EP came out.
Sam: The writing process was a bit different for me, I was brought in after the songs had been recorded, and because of the pandemic and schedules, I was never able to rehearse or jam ideas with the guys. I wrote my parts at home and went into the studio. It was a little trying at first, I’ve always written the more traditional way: go to band practice and try stuff out. Some of the parts I had written in my head really didn’t work, and I did a lot of adjusting in the studio. More and more bands write and record material while in different cities, never once playing together before recording. I think it’s great, but it was new to me.
Drew: Rippy is the absolute man and one of the most underrated studio engineers around. He’s patient and yet still has the ability to push you to do your best work in a studio setting. Now with the Grammy nomination for working on the Power Trip album under his belt, I feel like people are finally going to take notice to what he’s been doing and what he has the potential to do in the future. I just hope I’ll be grandfathered in at the rate I’m paying him now since down the line he can, and should, be charging what he’s really worth.
Matt: I have a lot of history with both Zach and Ryan. Ryan has tracked almost every band I’ve been in since around 2009 or 2010, and Zach has been doing live sound for Gatecreeper for several years. Both of these guys just know what it takes to make an extreme heavy band sound good. To be clear, Zach tracked all guitars and drums with Drew and I up in the Phoenix, and Ryan tracked vocals down in Tucson with Sam. Zach also mixed and mastered the songs. Both Ryan and Zach were professional as always, and the results speak for themselves.
Sam: I have played and recorded a lot of music with Ryan and I love working with him. I demoed some of the vocals with Rippy and that was awesome. I love both those dudes.
What do you love about metal right now? What should change?
Drew: Because of the pandemic it’s hard to say where things are at and what might happen in the future, but recently I’ve been loving all the mixed genre shows that seem to be the new thing. People that are into heavy shit kind of like all the heavy shit to some degree when it comes to punk/metal/etc., so putting together shows that have a wide range of bands always feels cool to me.
Matt: I’m also happy to see a lot of different subgenres of metal coexisting. There seems to be room for everyone to do whatever they want and excel at all these different styles.
Sam: I totally agree with Matt, so many genres of metal are coexisting and a lot of bands are combining lots of different influences. There are always certain sounds that get a wave of popularity. This creates a lot of clones in metal (in most music), but I don’t ever blame people for wanting to emulate the music they like. Just do a good job and add your flair to it.
Can you describe the AZ metal scene?
Drew: The AZ scene has a nice variety of stuff going on. I feel like in the past it used to be pretty segregated into genre scenes, but now you’ll catch a show that has a bit of everything on it. Some heavy hitters around the Phoenix area to keep an eye out for if you haven’t already are Thra, Saintbreaker, Pig City, Intent, and Sorxe.
Matt: The scene in AZ is thriving right now, and there are so many good bands it’s tough to keep track of all of them. The scene has come a long way in the past few years, and right now it’s producing a lot of great players and bands that are motivated to push beyond the sort of “local band” mentality and take their music to a higher level. A couple of my favorite Arizona bands right now are Exsul and Moribund Dawn.
What should people know about Bloodquest?
Matt: People should know that physical copies of our EP will be available soon, or may already be by the time this interview sees print. The release is handled by King of the Monsters and Protagonist Records, another important part of the Arizona music scene and a label we’re proud and honored to work with.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Matt: We’d love to make more music in the near future, as schedules allow and the world re-awakens. Also Drew, congratulations on your nuptials!
Drew: Stay tuned. If people are into what we’re doing we’ll have to make more
Bloodquest instruments were recorded, mixed and mastered by Zachary Rippy at Sound Signal Audio.
Vocals were recorded by Ryan Bram at Homewrecker Recordings.
The album features Kiel Siler on bass guitar.
Art by Tombtower.