Released: 2008, Metal Blade Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Six Feet Under has made a successful career out of staying on the straight and narrow, giving fans what they expect and never deviating far from that. On DEATH RITUALS, the band’s ninth studio album (I’m not counting the two GRAVEYARD CLASSICS cover albums), it is once again more of the same but Six Feet Under has gone out on a limb by adding in quite a few atmospherics and ambient introductions to the songs. Nothing stark or profound enough to turn off the band’s fans who praise the groove-oriented, stock-in-trade death metal Six Feet Under has been practicing for thirteen years but there is definitely something a little different this time. Backed by Chris Barnes’ trademark growls, Steve Swanson’s swirling guitar solos, the inimitable, thick-as-molasses rhythm section of Terry Butler and Greg Gall and the dense, gauzy production, DEATH RITUALS remains a tried-and-true Six Feet Under record.
The creeping, clean guitar intro of “Death By Machete” quickly transforms into an ass-kicker of a death metal groove. Chris Barnes’ visceral growls have never sounded more disarmingly guttural or his splatter-themed lyrics more ghastly. “Involuntary Movement of Dead Flesh” settles into a speedy tempo but Steve Swanson’s riffs are especially commendable here, taking on a sinister but simple pattern. “Eulogy For The Undead” showcases one of Greg Gall’s finer moments to date, utilizing some excellent fills, great cymbal work and a pummeling battery of bass drumming. The lock-step march of “Seed of Filth” is wrapped around Swanson’s blazing, shredded solo and a gang-style chorus. Terry Butler’s short bass intro to “Into The Crematorium” evoked memories of Cliff Burton’s playing on Metallica’s “Anesthesia” but as far as noteworthy intros go, Iggy Pop’s voicemail that kicks off “Shot In The Head” sounds like a letter from a serial killer, taunting his victims and police. Six Feet Under has never had a catchier groove, either, than on this track, highlighted by Gall’s subtle nuances. A truly unique piece that makes great use of atmosphere and mood is “Countdown To Armageddon,” with Barnes handling all instruments himself (well, a drum machine anyway) and forsaking his trademark growls for a whispered vocal delivery that is just off-putting and creepy. Coming from out of nowhere, “Ten Deadly Plagues” possesses what is arguably Six Feet Under’s most melodic and memorable chorus to date. Crafted with nearly (I stress, NEARLY!) decipherable lyrics from Barnes, this could be among the band’s best-written songs overall. Also noteworthy is the inclusion of an instrumental for the first time on a Six Feet Under record. “Crossing The River Styx,” penned exclusively Swanson (one of metal’s most underrated guitarists), is nothing flashy but still a good showcase for Swanson’s style without all the accompaniments.
What is sure to grab plenty of attention, though, is the cover of Mötley Crüe’s “Bastard,” originally found on 1983’s SHOUT AT THE DEVIL album. As they did with AC/DC’s entire BACK IN BLACK album on GRAVEYARD CLASSICS II, Six Feet Under produces a nearly note-for-note version of the original but with a slightly slower tempo and Barnes’ not even making an attempt at Vince Neil’s crotch-wrenching wails. Lyrically, “Bastard” could easily be misconstrued as an SFU original but the guitar riff is immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with the Crüe’s sadly overlooked album cut. This one is actually one of the band’s better stabs at covering other people’s songs, though, admittedly it took a few spins to really take on a personality of its own.
People typically have a love/hate relationship with Six Feet Under and while injecting some fresh twists into the band’s formula, DEATH RITUALS isn’t likely to change any minds. The leaden death metal pacing that has become synonymous with their sound since TRUE CARNAGE continues but for fans (like myself) who found 13 and COMMANDMENT, while still excellent entries in the band’s catalogue, sounding like the well of ideas was beginning to run dry, DEATH RITUALS might just prove that you can teach these old dogs some new tricks.
KILLER KUTS: “Death By Machete,” “Involuntary Movement of Dead Flesh,” “Eulogy For The Undead,” “Seed of Filth,” “Shot In The Head,” “Ten Deadly Plagues”