It’s quite hard to believe that Six Feet Under have been going for nearly two decades.
Originally starting life as a side-project for vocalist Chris Barnes while he was still a member of death metal mainstays Cannibal Corpse, Six Feet Under became a full-time concern once Barnes was given the heave-ho from that band and have carved themselves a niche playing a more mid-tempo, groove-oriented take on the genre, releasing no less than eight studio albums, three covers albums – one of which being a complete re-working of AC/DC‘s Back in Black – and a live in-concert DVD; not bad at all.
Undead – the band’s ninth studio album of original material – sees the introduction of new members Rob Arnold (guitar, ex-Chimaira), Kevin Talley (drums, ex-Chimaira/Dying Fetus) and Matt DeVries (bass, ex-Chimaira), who has since left the band to join Fear Factory. As is usually the case when a band gets an injection of new blood the album sounds more energised and fresh, and if truth be told, a little more musical than before. Not that they’ve gone all Emerson, Lake and Palmer but tracks like ‘Frozen at the Moment of Death’ and ‘Missing Victims’ have a bit more going for them than the simple, buzzing grooves that the band have made their own over the course of their career. Not technical in the Death sense of the word, but certainly a leap forward in terms of technique and style.
Of course, the bulk of the album is made up with those mid-tempo, swaggering grooves and it isn’t until track seven – the surprisingly catchy ‘Reckless’ – that the pace picks up and stays that way for the whole song. There are bursts of speed here and there but the band never linger on the faster tempos for very long, making the first half of the album quite one-note, although it is a note that the band do well. A little more of the faster stuff in the first few tracks, just to break it up a bit, may have been a bit more welcome as it is the middle section onwards that definitely sees the band reaching new peaks with regards to songwriting.
Produced by Deicide/Devildriver producer Mark Lewis, Undead sounds fantastic and totally streamlined despite the added musicality. Chris Barnes still sounds like a corpse gargling with broken glass, and Kevin Talley’s performance certainly adds a dynamic to the music that the band never had before and gives the album a solid backbone. Rob Arnold and long-time guitarist Steve Swanson lock themselves together like they’ve been a duelling guitar duo for years, and the energy of the playing has certainly provided the band with the proverbial boot up the backside.
Although Undead isn’t a radical reinvention of the Six Feet Under sound – in fact, to the untrained ear it probably sounds as brutal and chaotic as anything else they’ve ever done – there are enough subtle tweaks in there to mark it out as a step up in quality from earlier releases. More focus, more drive, more precision and an overall feeling of greater confidence make this one for the death-heads to get very excited about and is hopefully the start of an upwards trend for the band.