Released: 2017, Metal Blade
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
The last five years have been an incredibly prolific period for Six Feet Under, seeing four studio releases and the latest GRAVEYARD CLASSICS covers album hit shelves. In that same period, the various musicians Chris Barnes has surrounded himself with have stepped up the game of what was becoming a bit tired-sounding. Unfortunately, a stable lineup has also eluded Six Feet Under since 2010, as a revolving door of musicians have come and gone, albeit leaving behind a string of increasingly strong albums.
TORMENT is the latest entry of groovy death metal with Barnes once again at the helm, this time backed by the powerful rhythm section of Jeff Hughell and Marco Pitruzzella, both formerly of Brain Drill. On TORMENT, the technical aspect of the music moves up another rung, as Hughell—handling both bass and guitar—unleashes punishing riffs and speedy bass runs, while Pitruzzella contributes a flawless drum performance, which was reportedly done in one take?! Barnes’ vocals are…well, no surprises here: deep, guttural and gurgly. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em but he sticks to what he does and does it as only he can.
As usual, a mix of speedy songs sit alongside the slow, grinding tempo of others. Leadoff track “Sacrificial Kill” is one of the best the band has ever done, expertly mixing a slow chugging rhythm with a blazing middle section. Barnes barks over top of a wheedly riff from Hughell and Pitruzzella is simply on fire. “Exploratory Homicide” and “Schizomaniac” race along at breakneck speed, the former incorporating a quick little bass homage to “Hammer Smashed Face” and the latter locking into a nifty melodic chorus that positively swings. “Knife Through The Skull” is one of the most dynamic songs Six Feet Under has ever written. Slow and plodding through its first half, the pace picks up with a doom-y middle section before exploding into another groovy swing. Tempo-wise, things don’t get much more relaxed than the first minute of “Slaughtered As They Slept” but Pitruzzella’s double-bass attack quickly lays waste to any sleepy-eyed listeners. “In The Process Of Decomposing” showcases the rhythm section as Hughell and Pitruzzella lock into perfect timing, confirming these guys are the missing pieces Barnes has possibly been looking for.
What is immediately apparent is the improved production found on TORMENT compared with previous Six Feet Under albums. Hughell’s and Pitruzzella’s instruments are separated and crystal clear, rather than buried behind a muddy wall of sound and for a pair like this, it makes perfect sense. Hughell’s bass runs and quick-fingered shifts in tempo are allowed to shine, giving the songs a bit of an edge that is welcomed. Likewise, Pitruzzella turns in a performance that touches on basic rhythms all the way up to blasting flawlessly at inhuman speeds. Six Feet Under’s music has typically been presented in a thick, murky production with a lot of distortion but that has been left out here and the music benefits as a result.
No one will ever confuse Six Feet Under with high art but the band caters to its loyal fans and has secured its place in metal lore. Whether the recent frequent member changes is done on purpose to give each release a fresh perspective remains to be seen but Chris Barnes has been aligning himself with younger musicians over the past few albums and it has benefitted the music of Six Feet Under tremendously. TORMENT continues the upward trajectory of this veteran band adding some flair to a tried-and-true formula.
KILLER KUTS: “Sacrificial Kill,” “Exploratory Homicide,” “Schizomaniac,” “Knife Through The Skull,” “Slaughtered As They Slept,” “In The Process Of Decomposing”