Century Media Records
Reviewed By Luke Saunders
Fiery but inconsistent effort by rejinked Swedish veterans
Boundless success aside, Swedish thrashers The Haunted have certainly earned their share of detractors and division amongst their own fan base. The band that once rose from the ashes of the seminal At the Gates has had a rather uneven career to say the very least since their mostly successful Peter Dolving fronted Revolver album dropped way back in 2004. Of course kicking off their career with the hateful shitstorm of Swedish thrash mastery in the shape of their much lauded self-titled debut in 1998 set a high bar from the get-go, with much of what has followed struggling to recapture the glory, despite some solid to very good albums released along the way.
Since their rather forgettable 2011 effort Unseen, which was guilty of some ill-advised experimentation and commercial pandering, The Haunted has undergone significant line-up changes. Charismatic and controversial frontman Peter Dolving has been replaced by the returning Marco Aro (Made Me Do It, One Kill Wonder), lead guitarist Anders Bjorler has also left the band after his lengthy tenure, with talented Feared axeman Ola Englund taking over. Meanwhile long-time drummer Per Möller Jensen has departed and been replaced by the phenomenal Adrian Erlandsson. Long-serving members, Jonas Bjorler (bass) and Witchery guitarist Patrick Jensen, round out the current line-up.
Pleasingly for fans jaded by the band’s watered down incarnation in recent years, eighth album Exit Wounds is somewhat of a return to their thrashier roots. Marco Aro is a solid enough vocalist despite his lack of range, and his angry energised delivery gives the album a welcome shot of adrenaline. Likewise on the addition of Ola Englund to The Haunted's ranks. Taking nothing away from the legendary Anders Bjorler, Englund’s arrival has helped recharge a line-up that had become stale on recent releases. This has resulted in a much stronger album in the riff department, as rejuvenated thrash riffs are framed by melodeath influences and topped off by Englund’s soulful, sweeping solos. His work on the blistering “Temptation” and feverish intensity of “This War” recalls the feistier days of their early career.
Unfortunately Exit Wounds is hamstrung by significant filler that adds unnecessary fat to an album that hits surprisingly hard during the leaner, fully fleshed cuts. The stretched out scene setting instrumental opener “317” feeds into the straightforward modern thrash attack of “Cutting Teeth”. Bursting forth with feisty aggression and catchy hard-hitting riffs, “Cutting Teeth” serves as a potent reminder of the band’s strengths. A couple of by-the-numbers tunes flash by without leaving any real impression, with the ripping moments on “Psychonaut” flattened by a dull chorus.
Then, Exit Wounds splutters through a rather uninspiring mid-section that threatens to cripple any forward momentum gained. Pedestrian metalcore-ish grooves, tough guy posturing, and some laughably bad lyrics combine to derail ”Trend Killer”, arguably a career low point. Stockpiling the mid-tempo, groove-laden cuts in the middle of Exit Wounds also proves detrimental to the overall flow and momentum of the album, particularly when the likes of “Time (Will Not Heal)” and particularly “All I Have” are light on interesting musical ideas and riffs.
Thankfully the later album tracks spark up the adrenaline once more, largely concluding Exit Wounds on a strong note. “My Enemy” is a particular standout despite, or perhaps because of its brevity, as the band cram an enormous amount of energy, aggression and killer riffs into a mere one minute timeslot. Elsewhere, other strong cuts such as ‘Kill the Light” and ‘Infiltrator” finds the band firing on all cylinders, delving out catchy and dynamic modern thrash numbers that make the weaker tracks stick out like sore thumbs.
The Haunted would have been wise to leave a handful of the weaker tracks on the cutting floor to create a more impactful, consistent listening experience. Nevertheless, Exit Wounds marks an interesting turning point in The Haunted’s long career. All of a sudden The Haunted’s vital signs are looking a lot healthier and despite its notable misfires, Exit Wounds is a solid return to form where the positives mostly outweigh the negatives.