Sound — 5
I recently took a break from listening to extreme metal for a few days, partially because I had a sudden urge to listen to "Koi No Yokan" despite never really having listened to who the Deftones catalogue before (a few songs here and there, but it's a pretty fancy frickin' album, by the way) and it got me thinking. "Koi No Yokan" is an album that shows a lot of passion, purposeful musical evolution and is just generally a good improvement of a band's sound.
"Crypt of the Devil" isn't really any of those things.
Even if you have only the vaguest inkling of who Six Feet Under are, you've probably gathered (or already knew) that they're a death metal band, a well-seasoned, rather popular band (as far as death metal goes) featuring the Cookie Monster King himself, Chris Barnes, on vocals. SFU have their own particular brand of death metal: it's less up-tempo, has more grooves, more riffs, angular song strong structures typical of the early days in the DM genre where everyone just wanted to steer clear of whatever it was that defined "generic song structure" of the early '90s... it's somewhat distinct, is the point.
The problem is, since the '90s, every metalhead and their (possibly) ultra-conservative mothers have made a death metal band that do exactly the same things, with detailed twists, I'm sure, but the base concepts remain the same. I'm forced to recount SFU's previous album "Unborn," the only album with Ola Englund as a member. That album showed a serious shift away from what I've heard previously from SFU. More atmosphere, denser production, strong 7/8 string riffs and actual melody that felt like an interesting spin on the original style of the band. And this album just acts like "Ola who?": A complete turn around from the previous release.
That's not to say it's a terrible album, or a badly made album, or a politically disagreeable album, or anything that suggests that it might be subject to the "all press is good press" adage. It's just incredibly bland. Even the few tracks that actually stand out still have the trappings of "been there, done that" all over them. But speaking of those tracks, there's two that I'd go so far to as to say "Yeah, I like these and think others would probably like them too.": "Gruesome" and "Stab." "Gruesome" starts on an incredibly strong set of riffs, fairly intricate, layered, groove focused, accented and a bunch of other tasty details similar to modern tech-death. And it progresses really well, despite never settling on a particular groove for more than a minute. The lead playing also is a glistening cherry on the butchers hacked organ cake, so to speak.
"Stab" also has the sort of urgency that makes a memorable death metal song particularly gripping. The riffs are strong and build up the track really well, and it segues into this rather out-of-character, almost Entomed-esque dissonant break. Its actually very cool to hear that on such an old-school styled album. So yeah, I mean, try those two tracks at least.
Production wise, its.. Whatever you imagine a gritty death metal album to sound like, just in a modern setting. So everything sounds nice and clear. In fact, despite the old school connotation, it's rather refreshing to hear a nice clear mix (figuratively) on top of the well produced instruments. Not really a lot to comment on there. Although, lead guitar tone's pretty good as well, as are the performances of said leads. And the bass tone. Drums are a bit so-so.
Lyrics — 4
Chris Barnes, to everyone else, is defined entirely by the reputation of his death growls and actually making them a "thing." He is a well-respected vocalist, pioneer and (tangentially related) marijuana advocate that should always be kept in mind when thinking of the spirit of death metal. Mad respect for the guy.
A sterling reputation, however, does not stop one from just outright failing at times. "Crypt of the Devil" would be mostly unremarkable if only it didn't also showcase how most things do not really get better with age. Barnes' vocal style and tone may sound old-hat in this era, but that's the point of the genre, and it works despite it being a very typical vocal tone. The bad part comes from his overall performance. To bring back some context for this album, I re-listened to "Tomb of the Mutilated" as a reference point, an album I haven't listened to in years. Despite '90s budget production, Barnes is in his element, as is the rest of the band: you can hear that they were an on point ensemble.
Fast forward 20 years to now, and Barnes is all over the place, missing beats, really forcing out underwhelming growls and trying some sort of screaming technique but really, really not pulling it off in a convincing manner. Add to that the basic rhythmic patterns typical of old school DM and the album becomes vaguely cringe-inducing to listen to.
Lyrically, it's Six Feet Under, it's old school death metal. You know what that entails, or could probably guess with reasonable accuracy. If not, amazing and fabulous song titles such as "Broken Bottle Rape" and "Slit Wrists" will probably be enough to explain that I don't even need to explain whatever it is Barnes decides to re-write about on this album. Again, it contextually works for the genre, but it doesn't stop the whole shtick from being the bazillionth iteration of the same "slasher gore lyrics" idea. The lyrics are hardly the reason to listen to death metal in the first place, unless you're like, 15 and new to metal or older than 15 and just a bit of a weird person.
Overall Impression — 4
As a critic, its a solid if incredibly uninteresting release that fans will probably still like and non-fans will probably still be non-fans of.
As an avid death metal fan, I say, without question, just go back and listen to any of Barnes' old material, whether it's CC, SFU or anything else he's been in, "Crypt of the Devil" is just not worth the drudgery.
In short, listening to the new SFU album is like playing the annual "Call of Duty" release: if you liked the brand before, you'll probably like it now but if you want it to break its own mould in any way, don't expect much, if anything, to be different except in the way in which it's presented.
Songs to look out for: "Stab," "Gruesome," possibly "Compulsion to Brutalize" if you're really up for it.