Released: 2012, Metal Blade Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
SCENE: Chris Barnes’ bedroom. Barnes slowly awakens from a dreary sleep, opening his eyes to find Metal Blade Chief Brian Slagel longtime guitarist Steve Swanson is at Barnes’ bedside.
Barnes: “Oh man, I just had the weirdest dream. It was so real, it was like I’d spent the last ten years recording farts into a microphone and slapping Six Feet Under on the album cover.”
Slagel: “Well, actually…”
Barnes: “And Steve, you were laying down rehashed death metal riffs on every album, but the kids didn’t know any better. The albums sounded like shit, but they kept buying ‘em!”
Barnes: “And it got really freaky towards the end. We’d put out not one, not two, but THREE equally ridiculous cover albums! Seriously, I farted the entire BACK IN BLACK album! Can you believe how insane that was?! I seriously FARTED THE ENTIRE BACK IN BLACK ALBUM! With my ass!! Into the mic! Hahahahah!”
Slagel: “Chris - I hate to tell you this, but uh, all that actually happened. You’ve been bilking fans for years with craptastic records. The tweens keep coming though, because you look scary and you used to sing about cumming blood.”
Barnes: “But it had to have been a dream, how long have I been asleep for?”
Swanson: “Only about an hour, Chris. You smoked a joint, ate an entire bag of Doritos and passed out. We were actually on the way to a writing session for the next album when you zonked.”
Barnes: “This is a sign Steve, this is a sign. We need to make some changes in our lives. It’s totally like a Charles Dickens story, but with more weed. To the studio!”
I have no actual proof that the preceding events actually happened, but that’s how I’d like to imagine it. I don’t know what the catalyst for change was, but UNDEAD is actually a pretty good record. I never thought I’d say that about a Six Feet Under record, but it’s true. Part of its due to the addition of ex-Chimaira alumni Kevin Talley and Rob Arnold, but the big sell is Barnes’ vocals. The dude promised a vocal throwback and the dude delivered. It’s still plenty gruff and brootal, but hearing actual enunciation and intelligibility reminds us all why he killed it back in the day with albums like THE BLEEDING and even SFU’s own HAUNTED. The end result is a traditional death metal album with all the color and character that you’d expect from this lineup.
For the most part, UNDEAD is rooted in mid-tempo riffs that explore various dynamics within that context, but the band doesn’t shy away from skull fracking speed. “Blood on My Hands” and “18”both have a dreary doom vibe, while “Frozen at the Moment of Death” and “Formaldehyde” are all about old school speed. Tunes like “Molest Dead” and “Reckless” are more in line with the band’s more recent death groove offerings, but it’s more complex tracks like “Delayed Combustion Device” and “The Depths of Depravity” that make you wonder why Six Feet Under hasn’t been writing songs like this all along?
As for performances other than Barnes’, you can definitely tell that the bar has been set a little higher this time. While Steve Swanson has never been a slouch, I think having a capable second guitarist to play off of provided some much needed inspiration. New bass player Jeff Hughell gets lost in a very bottom heavy mix, which is too bad because from what I can garner the guy’s got some skill. Collectively though the new lineup appears to have gelled effectively, as UNDEAD is a successful reboot for Six Feet Under.
SFU isn’t trying to rewrite the book of death metal history here, but they have written a new an invigorating new chapter in their own history, one that hopefully will continue on with subsequent releases. As much as I've been openly critical about much of this band’s catalog, UNDEAD is more than I ever could expect Six Feet Under to deliver. UNDEAD is available now through Metal Blade Records.