I’ve always been a sucker for Six Feet Under’s lumbering, primitive death-sludge. There’s just something about the catchy simplicity of the arrangements, along with Chris Barnes’ patented zombie-vomit vocals that hits the spot, a spot that the hordes of overly technical fret-wankers currently comprising much of the death metal scene could never hope to so much as tickle. You see, when everyone and their grandmother is writing mind-numbing five million note non-riffs, piling them haphazardly on top of each other and calling it a “song,” Six Feet Under’s deep, memorable grooves and concise songwriting approach are a breath of fetid air.
That said, I have to admit that SFU’s formula was starting to get a little stale for me by the time 2008′s Death Rituals roled around; it seemed as if perhaps Barnes and Co. had taken their sound as far as it could go, resulting in an album that was competent if a bit tired sounding. Every long-running band is bound to stagnate at some point, but it’s always a bit disappointing when it happens to one of your favorite bands.
Fast-forward to 2012 and Six Feet Under are a very different-looking beast. On Undead, Barnes and longtime guitarist Steve Swanson are joined by drummer Kevin Talley (ex- Dying Fetus, Misery Index, Chimaira and roughly a trillion other bands) and guitarist/bassist Rob Arnold (ex- Chimaira), resulting in what is easily the best thing they’ve done since the mighty Maximum Violence. It isn’t that the presence of Talley and Arnold has drastically altered SFU’s sound, quite the opposite; it’s that the band once again sounds lean, mean and ready to subject every motherfucker in the room to a slow, painful death.
That’s the beauty of SFU’s attack; they’re not in any hurry to gut you from stem to stern. They’re methodical, skulking around in the shadows, stalking you before closing in for the kill, and when they finally corner you in some dark, trash-strewn alley and put the rusty, blood-stained blade to your belly, you feel every inch, every serration, every slow, innard-shredding twist of agony. Undead tracks such as “The Depths of Depravity” “Formaldehyde” and “Blood on My Hands” are textbook examples of the band’s willfully slow and deliberate assault.
While Undead finds SFU as a whole playing like they’ve been injected with a syringe full of Herbert West‘s re-agent, Barnes in particular sounds better than he has in years, unleashing a growl somewhere between a flesh-eating ghoul that just crawled out of the grave and Cujo at his rabid, teeth-gnashing gnarliest. The lyrics don’t stray from SFU’s tried ‘n’ true themes of death, murder and the supernatural, but Barnes’ sickening, highly rhythmic cadence imparts them with a gravitas that is enhanced by the band’s grisly, down-tuned trudge. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: death metal should sound like death, and Barnes’ hideous vocal stylings go a long way towards helping SFU achieve just that on Undead.
Six Feet Under have stuck to their guns with Undead, while at the same time creating an album that sounds fresh and memorable. The haters will probably still bemoan the band’s no-frills approach, but fans will be pleasantly surprised by an album that digs SFU out of their recent creative rut, standing toe-to-toe with their best work. In other words, Six Feet Under kills tech-death dead and then some with Undead, and I for one couldn’t be happier.