Released: 2017, Century Media Records
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
The Haunted: a fairly big name in the Swedish metal scene. They may not be quite top tier in terms of widespread knowledge of the band, but big enough to have a 20+ year career and this, their ninth album. Yet despite being fairly well-known, they're also a band which never seems to get that much love. Most reactions range from tepid approval to outright scorn. It's this decidedly lukewarm reception which has kept me from really investigating the band properly until now. So I come to this as a relative newcomer: I have an idea of what most people think of the band, I've heard a song here and there, enough to have a general idea of their style, but I have no real opinion of my own.
The most striking thing about their sound is how it doesn't sit neatly in one subgenre, yet the components that make it up are easy to identify. We have a fairly even blend of Gothenburg melodeath, melodic metalcore and modern groove metal, and the styles meld together easily enough. This isn't really a surprise given the history: melodeath directly influenced metalcore's transition into the more melodic style we know of today, which in turn contributed to more modern forms of groove metal, as distinct from the older development of classic thrash. A lot of bands already straddle some of these genre divisions to at least some degree, and these are the bands that come most to mind listening to this: Lamb of God, DevilDriver, Soulfly, Chimaira and Arch Enemy. In fact, The Haunted's sound seems to represent a neat little composite of "modern metal" as a whole. Whether this intrigues you or makes you cringe will depend on your tastes.
Strength in Numbers is an aggressive little record, but always tempered with a hefty dose of melody. It's metallic hardcore, but done in that decidedly Gothenburg kind of way, forceful riffwork and strained, roared vocals, all peppered with lead work and breakdowns. The guitars consistently feel like the main driving force here, with Marco Aro's outraged roars serving as an angry icing on top. Unfortunately, the music only really has that one setting, and doesn't deviate from it or experiment much within it. The Haunted do their thing well enough, but a whole album of it becomes tiresome. Some bands can maintain this level of full-frontal aggression well and pull it off, but every time I listen to Strength in Numbers I find myself worn out half way through.
Still, there are some highlights, and the tracks do manage to forge their own identity to some degree. "Means to an End" is very Pro-Pain, a solid thrashy riff rhythmically giving way to vocal momentum. "Spark", with its opening riff and use of melody later on, bears a lot of resemblance to Shadows Fall. "Brute Force" and "Tighten the Noose" really bring out the melodeath side, while maintaining a distinctly Cavalera-brand explosive aggression. "Peachers of Death" has riffing straight from Lamb of God's book.
The opening track title "Fill the Darkness with Black" also gives me a chuckle, even if the band doesn't mean it to evoke Nathan Explosion calling for metal blacker than the blackest black times infinity.
The album isn't completely lacking in variety. It is fun enough during those tracks when the album really hits its stride, but it struggles to retain interest the whole way through.
As I said, I'm a relative newcomer to The Haunted, but this also feels strongly like well-trodden ground for the band; it feels like existing fans will get more of what they're used to and sceptics won't hear enough to sway them. This was my first proper experience with the band, and while it wasn't an unpleasant one, I don't think it'll lead to more unless I get another one to review someday.