Even Chris Barnes’ many detractors cannot deny the fact that he sticks to his guns. Despite the heavy criticism flung at Six Feet Under’s GRAVEYARD CLASSICS series of covers albums, Barnes keeps chugging onward with interesting song choices to lay his gurgled vocals over. Now into its fourth chapter, the cleverly-titled GRAVEYARD CLASSICS IV: THE NUMBER OF THE PRIEST devotes the first five cuts to Judas Priest and the last six to Iron Maiden. Fans (and critics) will know exactly what to expect here as””good or bad””the formula remains unchanged from the previous three entries in the series.
Kudos must be given to the fact the obvious choices were not made. Rather than roll out the umpteenth cover of “Breaking The Law” or “Run To The Hills,” Six Feet Under delves deeper into the Priest and Maiden catalogues. “Invader” (featuring guest vocals by Fates Warning singer, Ray Alder) and “Never Satisfied” are rare gems taken from 1978’s STAINED CLASS and 1974’s ROCKA ROLLA, respectively, that Judas Priest haven’t played live in years. In fact, with the exception of “Night Crawler” from 1990’s PAINKILLER, all the Judas Priest songs found here are taken from that band’s first four albums, which are now over forty years old. Likewise, the Iron Maiden covers are not the obvious choices, either. “Total Eclipse,” a song which only appeared as a b-side to the 1982 single for “Run To The Hills,” and “Flash Of The Blade,” a deep album cut from 1984’s POWERSLAVE, are rarely heard tracks from the Maiden catalogue, so they sound fresh in their own way and deserving of interpolation by another band.
The question remains: is Six Feet Under that band. No surprise here, but what immediately stands out is that Chris Barnes’ voice still sounds like he is struggling for air and singing underwater. The deep, gurgles are the direct opposite of the soaring vocal styles of Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson, two of the most accomplished and respected singers in heavy metal history. At no point does Barnes attempt a piercing wail or operatic scream, nor does he apologize for it. As with the three previous GRAVEYARD platters, Six Feet Under simply plays downtuned versions of the original songs with Barnes growling the lyrics in his typical unintelligible manner. It’s doubtful the band is scouting new fans based on these songs, nor is the label sinking a ton of money into the recording and promotional side, either. In other words, Six Feet Under has no reservations about their treatment of these tried-and-true classics and is simply paying homage to personal favorites. Having said that, these versions””like those covers before them””are just not good, coming off more as a novelty than anything else. Even the most die-hard fan of Six Feet Under probably gives these GRAVEYARD albums a listen once and that’s that. Barnes treatment of the chorus on “The Evil That Men Do” is laughably bad but Ray Suhy and Josh Hall nail the infectious gallop perfectly. “Prowler” and “Never Satisfied” also fare well, at least in a musical sense. The best of the bunch, though, is “Stranger In A Strange Land.” Suhy captures Steve Harris’ bassline intro and even the vocals somewhat work here. But overall, this will be a tough sell outside the band’s loyal following.
Choosing Judas Priest and Iron Maiden would be ambitious for anyone, let alone one of the founding fathers of guttural death metal. Taken for what it is, GRAVEYARD CLASSICS IV: THE NUMBER OF THE PRIEST is another excuse for Chris Barnes and his latest band of misfits to have some fun in the studio knocking out cover versions of old metal songs. Results are mixed and one’s opinion will rest solely on the vocal style presented by Chris Barnes but at its root, this latest chapter once again serves as a curiosity for the fan and harmless fun for the band.
KILLER KUTS: “Night Crawler,” “Never Satisfied,” “Stranger In A Strange Land”
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Side A: Judas Priest
1. Night Crawler
5. Never Satisfied
Side B: Iron Maiden
6. Murders In The Rue Morgue
8. Flash Of The Blade
9. The Evil That Men Do
10. Stranger In A Strange Land
11. Total Eclipse