Bloodbath’s Tomas Akvik on stepping up and inaugurating his whammy bar for the death metal supergroup’s sick new album

Tomas Akvik
(Image credit: Mathias Blom/The Happy Creative)

“I like death metal to be brutal and fast, so I usually write those kinds of tracks.” Bloodbath guitarist Tomas Åkvik is matter-of-factly getting into why his three compositions on the long-running death metal supergroup’s new Survival of the Sickest full-length (Zombie Inferno, Malignant Maggot Therapy and Environcide) arguably push the speed-barrier more so than his bandmates’ nevertheless grotesque contributions. 

“I’m a raging person,” he chuckles when Guitar World presses him on the point. What’s most surprising about this ferociously paced feat, though, is that Åkvik even brought the songs to Bloodbath in the first place.

While the Swedish guitarist has been riffing with Bloodbath as their live guitarist for more than five years, when the group formally asked him to join full-time – following the 2017 exit of Per “Sodomizer” Eriksson – he initially declined. The decision was dumbfounding, even to him.

“I don’t know what got into me, but I was already playing in too many bands, so when they asked me to join, I was like, ‘It’s not the right time,’” Åkvik – who also leads Swedish metal force Lik – says. “It sounds a bit cocky [to have declined], but [I was] very honored that they asked me. I just didn’t want to disappoint them by not being able to commit.”

That Åkvik appears throughout the ruthless Survival of the Sickest means he obviously carved out time for Bloodbath; the pandemic helped with that. Also, while 2018’s The Arrow of Satan is Drawn lurked in the blasphemous mire of black metal, founding guitarist Anders Nyström told Åkvik that Survival of the Sickest would bring Bloodbath back to their roots: gore-obsessed, old-school death metal. 

The premise intrigued Åkvik, even reminding him of his teenage years taping international broadcasts of MTV’s Headbangers Ball to discover the metal extremists of the ’80s and early ’90s.

We all sat in the recording studio, thinking out ideas on how to create the solos. Like, ‘bring out the whammy bar guitar – there should be a dive bomb here!’

Though Bloodbath’s metal pedigree includes past and present members of Katatonia (Nyström and bassist Jonas Renske) and Opeth (drummer Martin Axenrot), it’s clear that Survival of the Sickest is a blunt-force homage to Florida-based legends like Death, Morbid Angel and Obituary, who had tracked genre-codifying classics at Tampa’s iconic Morrisound studios. 

Or, in the case of Åkvik’s relentlessly thrashed, dive-intensive Zombie Inferno – in part inspired by Sepultura’s Beneath the Remains – records that were at the very least engineered by the studio’s formidable Scott Burns. 

That said, Bloodbath took a modernized approach to their tone-sculpting (“Clear and gritty – it’s brutal, but you can also hear what all the notes are,” Åkvik says). Producer Lawrence Mackrory would re-amp DI signals with a Peavey JSX and various plugins, while occasionally stomping on an old Boss Metal Zone pedal. 

Survival of the Sickest features remote-recorded performances, but the leads were mainly ripped out as Nyström, Renske and Åkvik passed a guitar around in the latter’s rehearsal room/recording space in Stockholm. “We all sat in the recording studio, thinking out ideas on how to create the solos. Like, ‘bring out the whammy bar guitar – there should be a dive bomb here!’”

Bloodbath

(Image credit: Napalm Records)

To that end, the record’s blitz of whammy-driven leads came as a surprise to Åkvik. It’d been years since he’d owned a trem-arm-assisted six-string, an Ibanez RG he only had for a couple weeks before giving up on tremulous aesthetics. “I had never played whammy bar [on a record] until now,” Åkvik says, adding, “The reason is I’m lazy, and I don’t like to change strings on a Floyd Rose.” 

It was Fabian Brodén, vocalist-bassist for Swedish unit Katakomba, who loaned out an Alexei Laiho Jackson for the cause. Paying him back in kind, Åkvik added guest grunts to Embalmed in Concrete, off Katakomba’s new full-length.

Slow-mosh Bloodbath monstrosities like Carved hit the bar hard, but Survival of the Sickest goes through various distressing mood swings: a blur of arpeggios bristle through the double-time crustiness of Putrefying Corpse; Nyström brings delay-decayed, Katatonia-styled ambience to the blast finale of Malignant Maggot Therapy; To Die offers a mournful, pinch-spiked lead from Renske (“It’s really sad and dark, that solo,” Åkvik praises the latter’s six-string spotlight).

Thematically, the album also re-awakened Bloodbath’s love of the macabre – outside of the eco-conscious Environcide, it’s an entrails-ripping smorgasbord of zombified storytelling. “I don’t read that much, but when I do I like horror and fantasy,” Åkvik says. “I wanted that to be the feeling in the lyrics of [Zombie Inferno]. There’s just a swarm of zombies coming in, you know?”

From flesh-rending riffs, to viscera-dripping lyrics, Survival is proof positive that there’s still plenty of putrid mass to be pulled off death metal’s ever-gangrenous corpse. Despite this, Bloodbath recently phased out one of the most vicious parts of their legend: dousing themselves in stage blood before every performance.

“I guess there was a lot of sugar in it, because it’s very sticky,” Åkvik recalls. “It was fun, but I won’t miss it. Also, this album is going back to [Bloodbath’s] Breeding Death EP [from 2000], and [the band] didn’t have any blood on them back then. It’s skipping all the blood and going [back to] blue jeans, which is great!”

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Gregory Adams is a Vancouver-based arts reporter. From metal legends to emerging pop icons to the best of the basement circuit, he’s interviewed musicians across countless genres for nearly two decades, most recently with Guitar World, Bass Player, Revolver, and more – as well as through his independent newsletter, Gut Feeling (opens in new tab). This all still blows his mind. He’s a guitar player, generally bouncing hardcore riffs off his ’52 Tele reissue and a dinged-up SG.