Sound — 7
Death metal is in a bit of a weird state these days. The genre is bigger than it has ever been, with more bands than you can even count continuing to deliver extreme sonic brutality. But so many of these bands belong to these splinters of subgenres, ranging everywhere from melodic death metal to progressive death metal to deathcore and grindcore and blackened deathgrind and crabcore and... so on and so on. A good harsh vocal, though, is not hard to find in this day and age, and surprisingly, there are still bands from the very inception of death metal still going out and doing their thing.
One such band is Six Feet Under, originally a side project of former Cannibal Corpse vocalist Chris Barnes, who made it his full time project after his ejection from the band in 1995. This time, the band features a lineup of Barnes on vocals, Jeff Hughell on guitar and bass, and Marco Pitruzzella making his Six Feet Under debut on drums. The other two members have been in a variety of projects and bands including Vile, The Faceless and even performing together on Brain Drill's "Apocalyptic Feasting" (an absolutely WICKED album, definitely a recommendation I'd make).
And sonically, the album is very much a stripped-back death metal album. No bullshit keyboards or symphonic elements, no choral vocals, no clean pretty sections, not even a single guitar solo. Just riff after riff. The production is actually quite good on this, with the album not being so incredibly dense that it's impossible to sit through. In fact, I dare say this is one of my favourite extreme metal albums in a long time from a production standpoint. Everything sounds so alive and crisp and clear on the album. The bass and drums are loud and punchy, but never dominate the mix so much that they choke the guitars or vocals. The guitar tone is sludgy as hell, but still tight enough to give the bass and drums the clarity and definition they need.
While the production is as tight and professional as possible, the album's downfall, I find, is the songwriting. Like I mentioned, this is a very stripped-down album, with basically a large emphasis on riffs and slower tempos, but there's a really distinct lack of variety on the album. There are a few bits where the band does something interesting, like the bass tapping solo in the blistering intro of "Exploratory Homicide," one of the album's faster and more mosh-inducing numbers. Some of the riffs in that song and "The Separation of Flesh From Bone" almost border on tech-death territory (probably a last vestige of Jeff and Marco's time in Brain Drill), but after a few songs into the album, everything seems to just kind of blend together and you start to hear a lot of the same riffs kind of reconfigured in many different permutations. In fact, I'm not sure I could tell "Skeleton" from "Roots of Evil" in a blind taste test. And a lot of the riffs seem to end with either both guitar tracks or the guitar and bass sliding to a minor third apart. Seems to happen in quite a few songs on the album.
Many of the songs featured here are just very monotonous. When listened to on their own, many of them are actually quite enjoyable, but to sit through the entire album, it really does start to plod and drag along after about four or five songs in. Most of this is probably due to the band's reliance mainly on slower tempos than the typical death metal band (seriously pushing into groove metal territory on many tracks), and keeping the blastbeating to a minimum. The playing, despite the lack of guitar solos or other flashy flourishes, is actually pretty on-point, though. There's no denying that Jeff and Marco are superb musicians. There's just not enough variety on the album to keep it interesting.
Lyrics — 7
Much like a lot of these classic death metal vocalists, Chris Barnes' style is very much a love-it-or-hate-it affair. Lyrically, "Torment" is very much a typical Chris Barnes release, with plenty of gore-filled, violent imagery. "Sacrificial Kill" opens the proceedings in the expected fashion with the strains of "A slight cut to your femoral artery, all it takes is a few minutes to die/I stalk my victims in the midnight/No protection from my slice/No remorse/A deep cut to your crushed wind pipe/All it takes to stop your frightened breathing quickly/Captured you for my sick pleasure/No escape I own you now/No return." This is pretty much the style through the rest of the album, though good luck getting through it without a lyric booklet, because Barnes' vocal style is a bit on the unintelligible side.
Perhaps being the epitome of "cookie monster vocals," Barnes gurgles and gargles his way through the songs, his guttural vocals completely unchanging throughout the album's 47 minute length. It's not a style I'm particularly fond of, even at the best of times, and the complete lack of any variety in the vocal style is something I feel to be a strike against it. And I find the vocals just a bit weaker than they were in his "Hammer Smashed Face" heyday. Perhaps it comes down a bit to the production, but his performance isn't all that great on the record.
Overall Impression — 7
Despite some criticisms of the album's monotonous songwriting and my own personal misgivings about the vocals, the fact that this band is twelve studio records into their game, and are counted as the fourth best-selling death metal act in history speaks a lot to their legacy. Their albums are not always going to be perfect, but if there's one thing they are, it's consistently solid. And this album may not be an easy sit-through for someone like myself who appreciates more variety in their sonic palette, and I'm still not entirely sold on Chris Barnes' vocals, but this album is incredibly consistent and solid. While the album can be a bit bland listening to it as a whole, there really isn't a moment on this album that's any worse than any other, and each song is a pretty good individual snapshot of one of death metal's longest-standing and most consistent bands out there.
Overall, this is a fairly decent album, and if you long for more classic-sounding death metal that relies more on slow grooves than straight up speed and sonic brutality, this is probably the perfect album for you. Otherwise, there are still a good number of solid tracks, and it's quite likely that any one of the songs on this album will be a great part of a death metal playlist.