Six Feet Under
Metal Blade Records/Rocket Australia
Reviewed By Andrew McKaysmith
Seven string bassist, guitarist, and all round wunderkind Jeff Hughell ups the ante to help Chris Barnes release an album that sounds like it could be his best since the eminent '95 debut, Haunted.
Torment is actually a very difficult album to critically dissect and presented numerous challenges when I went to pen this review. If the reader is to take the album on the music alone, if that's all you want to know... if the album is any good and worthy of any heavy metals fans' attention, then yes, it's fantastic. It's a death metal release you'll come back to time and again provided you can overlook the raspy husk of a bark that is Barnes's vocals.
I'll be direct with the reader and confess that I do not rate Chris Barnes as a vocalist or front man. He has never been anywhere near the pantheon of great, if not merely solid death metal vocalists. Cannibal Corpse went on to become the sustained goliath of the genre after his exit as Corpsegrinder assumed the mantle as apex predator of the genre's food chain. SFU have relied on a bizarre covers album series (Graveyard Classics I-IV) that lurch from the bizarre (Bachman–Turner Overdrive?) to the unnecessary (Volume II is completely Brian Johnson era AC/DC cover tunes), all have veered perilously close to artifice.
Barnes comes across as sincere and genuine in interviews, so believe me I am not trying to offend the man or any one of his many fans. I will avouch that he is a smart fella, a judicious judge of talent. He has both the cache and man management skills to have attracted former members of Death, Obituary, Chimaira, and other prominent groups to SFU at various stages of the bands recording career. It is crucial then for the sake of this review that I listened to Barnes discuss his song writing technique during an interview with Scion AV a few years back. It turns out much of the actual song writing is done by the musicians and then presented to him after the fact, meaning he is effectively as good as the musicians he surrounds himself with, and in Jeff Hughell, Barnes has struck serious gold.
Hughell is a bassist first, guitarist second. There are a dizzying array of videos on YouTube demonstrating his prowess on the seven string bass, almost all of his output sounding tuneful and melodic. If it is indeed Hughell that has penned the music, as it certainly appears to be the case, he has studied the very best of the SFU sound and given it a serious kick up the arse. Opener "Sacrificial Kill" sounds like vintage SFU, with a nod to early Cannibal. This is followed by the determinedly nasty "Exploratory Homicide". It is on this track that Hughell gives Cannibal bass gymnast, Alex Webster, a run for his money. Hughell's method of playing the bass is effectively inimitable, much of his playing is carrying both the melody and the rhythm. This is the first time I've really heard that to the extent it is deployed on a death metal release. Its Gallien-Krueger amps at 20 paces... the guitars (which Hughell also recorded) occupy a prominent position as one does expect with this genre, but it's not at the expense of the bass. As it is on so many SFU albums, there are few if any real guitar solos allowing the focus to stay on deep groove of Hughell's playing.
Deep album cuts "In the Process of Decomposing", "Obsidian", and the vulgar "Bloody Underwear" contain riffs that a demonic alternate dimensional Daniel Johns would have been proud to use on Frogstomp or Freakshow. Don't laugh... I'm not a particularly avid fan of Johns or his former band however both albums have some serious riffage that owe far more to Sabbath than anything from Seattle at the time they were released. It's a compliment to Hughell that he can blend canorous riffs with the outright brutality that death metal fans expect.
Overall Torment is a thoroughly enjoyable album. Only time will tell if it is a landmark release for SFU but all the ingredients are there. I still spin Haunted regularly and consider it an essential '90s offering by any band from the genre, those that recall its release will remember that it promised so much and Barnes vocal is as near to legible as he ever would be throughout his almost 30 year recorded career.
On Torment, Barnes leans on Hughell to produce an album that easily sits near to the outstanding debut.