Sound — 8
After a more experimental, at least for this outfit, production on The Dead Eye, The Haunted opted to record live with Tue Madsen, who is turning into one of the more prolific metal producers out there. The result is a heavy, aggressive and raw, yet well defined production that fullfills what the band needed for this particular album. One can't accuse the band for making any mistakes in the production of the album, and it's another job well done for Madsen. What I like the most is that the guitar sounds are easily distinguished from each other, and as things are, all the instruments sit very well in the mix.
Lyrics — 8
Peter Dolving - you love him or hate him. I most certainly belong to the former. In most cases there's a thin, fine line between 'great' and 'crap' but rarely does that ring more true than when the lyrics are angst-ridden and often downright depressive. Even though Dolving has toned it down a bit since some of his contributions on the past two albums, there're still some glimpses of that tortured soul which he puts on display for us all to love or loathe.
The charm with Dolving has, at least for me, been his brutally honest I'm giving this all I got 'cause I'll be dead in a minute anyways-style. As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to screamers, there're only a handful who can top him when he's on form and pissed off. And, color me unsurprised, he's still in a pretty bad mood. Moronic Colossus is riddled with catchy lines, as well as some lines from a movie or two. I tend to disagree, my diagnosis, it will definitely and Sick-sick-sick, I'm only speaking my mind and here goes stand out, and especially the latter since the first three repeated words are whispered, thus making it sound like a certain number often associated with the guy downstairs. Social criticism mixes with lyrics about people he knows, or maybe wishes he didn't know. Even though the man himself didn't say it out loud, Iron Mask is most likely about his divorce from a few months ago. Iron Mask would also have to claim the prize for best lyrical moment, not only because it's very well written, but because of, again, Dolving' honest and emotional (in the angry, bitter sense) delivery.
As far as how the vocals stand up compared to their previous work, it's most certainly related to what they did on The Dead Eye, mixing in more clean vocals and harmonies, but not nearly as much. Overall, The Haunted take a welcome step back in time to a more raw and aggressive period.
Overall Impression — 6
Versus is one of the more solid albums you'll come across, 9-or-so months into 2008. There're no obvious mistakes in the execution of their vision - production, lyrics and music come together well in a good, slab of metal. There're quite a few songs that'll gel well with their live repertoire, such as Moronic Colossus, Pieces and Faultline. The outfit also avoid the most common trap these days - outstaying their welcome. Add three or four songs in the same vein and this would have been a lesser listen. Clocking in a 39 minutes, it's just about right given the genre and style of these guys.
Also worth mentioning is that the album flows very well. A quick opener, some solid songs and then Skuld, with some lines in Swedish, comes along in the middle to slow things down and give room for a more somber mood. Things then pick up after that, and end with the somewhat peculiar and almost humorous Imperial Death March.
All is not gold though - while it's a very solid effort without any obvious flaws, it would've benefitted from having a new 99 or All Against All in there, a real hit if you prefer it bluntly. It's just 39 minutes long, so it's far from a chore to listen to Versus. It's just that while there're no clunkers, fillers or tracks that stand out as poor, there're also not enough songs that stand out as in-your-face-kick-a-s-metal. Worthwhile listening from one of the better bands around, but nothing that'll make critics or fans stand on their heads.