Six Feet Under
posted on 5/2012 By:
Listening to Six Feet Under, particularly during a year in which Cannibal Corpse has also released a new album, is a bit like making a political statement: It comes down to an intensely personal calculus, but ultimately it doesn’t matter and no one cares.
Chris Barnes and assorted company have been slogging along with Six Feet Under for long enough to have suffered all the outrageous slings and arrows of indignity and critical disdain; after all, Haunted is damn near old enough to vote. But of course, they remain a selling proposition, and to suggest their fan base is anything less than genuine would be dickish in the extreme. Their grooving and unfortunately pedestrian interpretation of death metal has changed little over the years, and while that consistency can provoke equal measures of condemnation and grudging admiration, truth be told, the band (and its work on Undead in particular) deserves neither the endless scorn nor the revisionism-smacking praise that it has so far accumulated.
As always, one’s appreciation of Undead will hinge on one’s tolerance of the vocal antics of Chris “Is he suffering a hernia at this very moment?” Barnes. Even if one enjoys his tone(s) - full disclosure:Tthis particular reviewer does not - the fact that the majority of his vocals are delivered in an unwavering quarter-note rhythm is endlessly irritating. (See “Missing Victims” or the verses to “Molest Dead” for a few examples.) Given that Six Feet Under has always existed as a vehicle to showcase Barnes’s vocals, those limitations are a key factor in the band’s maddening ability to always exist on the very knife-edge of ‘almost interesting.’
Nearly every time the band builds up a crescendo of speed or energy, they almost invariably use it to transition into a mind-bogglingly simplistic groove stomp. See, for example, the attention-grabbing introduction to “Delayed Combustion Device” which, instead of spilling over into an even higher intensity section, traipses back into a jump-roping head-bop. Even where the compositions themselves are not necessarily at fault, so often when the band seems to want to surge onward into something more intricate or energetic, Barnes’s metronomic gargling weighs them down; this is not a band with much spring in its step.
Journeyman drummer and new recruit Kevin Talley’s performance is powerful and inventive throughout Undead, but it has the rather unfortunate effect of highlighting the frequent drabness of the songwriting it attempts to enliven. The album opens, however, with a highly promising tandem of songs. Barnes’s glower is effective on the darkly melodic chorus to “Frozen at the Moment of Death,” and “Formaldehyde” is probably the best song of the album, also serving as at least one example of exponential songwriting: following an intensity-building, squealing solo section, the band drops back into a breakdown that teases at a dreadful slowdown but actually moves things forward in an unexpected way. That slyness, however, is sadly neglected for most of the remainder of Undead’s twelve safe, choppering bruisers.
The knotty groove of “Reckless” is another highlight, although I suspect Barnes may not have intended for his line “OOH! It’s you, motherfucker!” to elicit such hearty chuckles. Duller heads prevail most of the time, however, whether in the terrible slog of “Blood On My Hands” or the egregious cases of momentum-sapping chug and churn in “The Scar” and “Vampire Apocalypse,” which sadly help ensure that Undead exits in a much less promising fashion than it entered.
Still, if Six Feet Under’s biggest sin is to be pretty boring, so what? Loads of bands are pretty boring. For longtime fans of the band, Undead does what it should, and maybe even a bit better than before. One could certainly get a bit of mileage out of calling Six Feet Under lowest common denominator death metal, but that seems a bit unfair to fractions. To these ears, Undead sounds more like death metal as assembled by a market research firm. The pieces are there, and the machine can crank out some great, glossy copy. The product, as always, is secondary; or, rather, the product is the copy.
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