Six Feet Under
Metal Blade Records/Riot! Entertainment
Reviewed By Luke Saunders
Surprisingly energised new album from Chris Barnes and co.
Tireless death metal juggernaut Six feet Under continues to roll with the punches on Unborn - their 10th full-length album of original material. Regardless of where you might stand with this often maligned but incredibly popular and durable band there is no doubting Six Feet Under’s power as a relentless marketing machine of accessible, polished and groovy death metal. Despite numerous line-up changes and lukewarm critical reception, they continue to tour regularly and shift a hell-of-a-lot of albums with no sight of progression in their trademark style of gruff and simplistic mid-paced death metal.
With Unborn, Chris Barnes and co are back with another similarly paced collection of well-produced tunes that is unlikely to change anyone’s opinions about the band. The haters will continue to hate and the band’s loyal fans should find no reason not to enjoy this latest album. While I don’t harbour the extreme feelings of hate and disdain towards the band that some do, my feelings veer towards a rather indifferent view point. To these ears, Six Feet Under have always come across as an unremarkable, unexciting, and generally mediocre death metal band. However, with tight performances and some addictive yet patchy song-writing, Unborn is a surprisingly more enjoyable platter than what I was expecting.
The new blood in the band has seemingly given Six Feet Under a welcome rejuvenation. Ola Englund joins mainstay Steve Swanson on guitars and the pair dish-up a straight-forward variety of catchy, chugging riffs, occasional solos and some darkly melodic guitar lines. Mostly its meat and potatoes stuff but the playing is tight and energetic and there are some killer riffs to boot. Meanwhile Kevin Talley returns for his second album with the band. The accomplished drummer, who has spent time bashing the skins for the likes of Dying Fetus, Misery Index, Daath and Chimaira (amongst others), puts in a typically tight and varied performance. However, after making his name through his highly technical chops with Dying Fetus and Misery Index, you get the feeling he must be running on auto-pilot here. Still, he adds some nifty fills and variation to compliment the straight-forward structures. Controversial frontman Chris Barnes continues to bark-out his gruff, one-dimensional vocals. His reputation and longevity speaks for itself but the bottom line remains that he’s not a particularly great vocalist, especially within the modern landscape. Deficiencies aside, Barnes keeps the Six Feet Under machine chugging forward and he still sounds like he enjoys his work.
The thick, robust production sounds sonically powerful but the opening couple of tunes don’t offer a great deal of substance or compelling material. The super catchy riffs of ‘Zombie Blood Curse’ livens things up significantly, creating a dark, sinister mood in which to launch its chunky grooves and gruff hooks. ‘Alive to Kill You’ benefits from a speedier, aggressive approach without ignoring the catchy, groove-based aspects of their formula. Elsewhere, the short and more varied chug and groove of ‘Decapitate’ and ‘The Sinister Craving’ are other solid tunes. The sinister melodies that snake their way into parts of the album, as well as the occasional foray into faster, aggressive territory adds much needed spark. If only they stepped outside their formulaic trappings and trimmed the blubber weighing down chunks of the album we might have something far more substantial on our hands.
The nagging downside to Six feet Under’s simplistic approach is if the riffs fall short in quality the reoccurring mediocrity of their song-writing is laid out bare. While other bands might compensate for the occasional lacklustre riff by jacking-up the technicality and creating more interesting structures , Six Feet Under don’t have a ‘Plan B’ or many surprises in their playbook. And despite the fact Unborn is one of the better Six Feet Under albums I’ve come across, it is still marred by inconsistency and lacklustre moments.
Nevertheless Unborn is not without its merits and we all should be thankful the band has not created a new addition to their ill-conceived Graveyard Classics collection. Following the basic template of previous Six Feet Under albums, Unborn pushes forward with greater urgency and focus, delivering a flawed yet surprisingly solid example of simplistic riff-driven, groove-based death metal that will be a no-brainer for fans of their unwavering style.