Until now I’ve no interest in what SIX FEET UNDER have been getting up to at all. Sure, "Haunted" is a decent album if you put it on in the background and don’t pay to much attention to it, and there’d be the occasional song such as “Deathklatt” that would come along and make me question my dismissal of the band, only to be strongly reinforced upon further investigation. Other than that I had completely written them off and entirely ignored any new release from the band, other than a quick listen of the "Graveyard Classics" albums just to affirm how terrible they actually are.
On the other hand, CHIMAIRA are probably my favourite band of modern times. Their four album run – from 2003’s "Impossibility Of Reason" to 2009’s "The Infection" – is absolutely flawless; offering up some of the best in modern Thrash/Groove Metal with a Progressive tinge. Their sound has remained cantered around lead guitarist Rob Arnold’s pummelling riffs, and as disappointed as I was with last year’s awful "The Age Of Hell," there was still plenty of decent riffage going on; most of this disappointment resting on the lacklustre vocal performance/lyrics of front man Mark Hunter.
Shortly after "The Age Of Hell" dropped, Arnold and fellow axeman Matt DeVries announced their departure from the band and, nearly immediately, their addition to SIX FEET UNDER (with DeVries handling bass duties), along with former CHIMAIRA skinsman, and all round drummer for hire Kevin Talley, who is responsible for laying down the drums on my favourite CHIMAIRA record – 2005’s self titled (narrowly edging out "Impossibility Of Reason"). Needless to say, the reuniting of the three people responsible for one of my favourite albums caused quite the stir of excitement, and made "Undead" one of my most anticipated releases of 2012.
DeVries didn’t hang around too long after the recording of "Undead" - having since left to join FEAR FACTORY - being replaced by Jeff Hughell, most notably of BRAIN DRILL. This is really only notable as a piece of trivia as, having listened to the album in excess of 10 times now, I’ve failed to notice any remarkable involvement of the bass guitar on "Undead" at all, and so DeVries or even the instrument itself can’t really be considered a contributing factor. Arnold’s presence, however is immediately felt – from the abrupt beginning of “Frozen At The Moment Of Death” to the last notes of “The Depths Of Depravity”, his trademark guitar tones and style are what characterises the album. Essentially: "Undead" is Arnold. No two ways about it. His presence, combined with Talley’s precise playing and the unprecedentedly, crisp production, has completely reshaped the sound of SIX FEET UNDER into a more refined, and focussed entity. And it is impossible to deny the whole CHIMAIRAness of the whole thing.
In fact, without the addition of Barnes’ gruff bark – which, given the extra production, sounds bigger, better and more threatening than it ever has - it would be hard to call this music Death Metal at all; heavy, certainly; brutal, maybe; but not Death Metal by any means. Songs like, “Formaldehyde”, “Delayed Combustion” and "The Scar" (moreso than others) sound as though they’ve been lifted directly from the CHIMAIRA canon. Even “The Scar”'s lyrics invoke Hunter to a tee. Unfortunately, mid-tempo manifesto of SIX FEET UNDER prevents the band from unleashing any of the faster, Thrashier moments the songs seem to be screaming out for; and thus lack the excitement faster sections provide. Talley, especially, feels restricted and under utilised, unable to launch into the pounding, double-bass sections that he used to give to MISERY INDEX.
On the whole, "Undead" is a decent record, easily eclipsing SIX FEET UNDER’s post-"Haunted" career (which really isn’t saying much). Unfortunately, it is a victim of its own aesthetic. The lack of variety on offer due to the cripplingly mid-temponess of the whole thing, as well as Barnes’s banal, monotone delivery of overly repetitive lyrics – seriously, “Blood On My Hands” amounts to three-and-a-half minutes repetition of roughly five seconds worth of music – neuters what, in essence, could have been the rightful heir to "Resurrection" and "The Infection," with a tasty, Death Metal twist; and a much needed reanimation (see what I did there?) of Barnes’s past glory. Although's it's not all bad, it’s never really that good either; remaining constantly dull enough to make it quite the struggle to keep listening past about track four. Which is unlucky, because, “Formaldehyde” aside, the better tracks are stacked towards the end of "Undead."
(Online May 2, 2012)