Six Feet Under – Nightmares Of The Decomposed
Metal Blade Records
Release Date: 02/10/2020
Running Time: 43:57
Review by Dark Juan
Good afternoon, my dear friends and lovers of all things dark and gloomy. The weather at Dark Juan Terrace is inclement to say the least, to the point where the hellhounds are refusing to go for walkies and the Dread Lord Igor Egbert Bryan Clown-Shoe Cleavage-Hoover is wearing a most fetching Halloween jumper, mainly because he’s a spoilt little fucker. Mrs Dark Juan is sitting opposite me as usual, fabricating a Krampus mask (as you do) as I sit in my little darkened corner of West Yorkshire listening to some heavy metal music for your edification and interest. Obviously, the weather has prevented any subverting of God’s word or proselytising, and frankly day time TV is a bit shit unless you want to watch a pity party every commercial break.
Having dragged myself away from the painfully slow fermentation of the IPA I am brewing in my cellar, I instead have decided to utilise my time in a profitable manner and share with you my thoughts (disjointed and perverse as they are) on the latest platter of splatter from death metal legend Chris Barnes and Six Feet Under. This review is fuelled by fried egg sandwiches and copious amounts of coffee.
Album opener ‘Amputator’ kicks things off with a sinuous guitar riff before crashing into a speedy, classic DM song – indeed this could be a product of the Morrisound era of classic death metal, until Chris starts to vocalise. Note I don’t use the word sing. Singing is not what Chris Barnes does. His voice resonates in lower registers and vibrates internal organs to frequencies that turn them to chunky salsa. It’s a worthy, if unimaginative opener, one that’s perfectly listenable but does nothing new for the genre.
The second tune, ‘Zodiac’, is where it falls apart somewhat. Whilst laudable in its effort to do something unusual with the classic DM sound, SFU elect to mix death metal with groove. And while the music is satisfyingly both groovy and chunky and played with vim and vigour, Chris’ vocal talents are sadly lacking. During the points where there is just silence and his voice, it does unfortunately sound like Six Feet Under are fronted by a tone deaf, horrifically stoned and mutilated Muppet.
The third song (entitled ‘The Rotting’) is somewhat better although Barnes appears to be leaking at some points in it, where there are odd little bits of high-pitched squeaking. It’s a shame because it starts and fills the middle eight with a fucking magisterial riff of complexity and splendour and a skin flaying solo that every death metal guitarist would have given several appendages to have written.
The bizarre squeaking continues on track four at the end of several lines. It’s almost as if Chris is trying too hard to vocalise in the register he normally employs. In fact, throughout the whole album, it appears that Chris is struggling with his voice – gone is the sepulchral, deep throated roar that graced the finest of his work with Cannibal Corpse, replaced with a scratchy, painful sounding grunt that detracts mightily from the listening experience. He sounds short of breath as well.
This is a crying shame because Six Feet Under as a band serve up some of the grooviest death metal this hellpriest has ever heard. Dialling down the savage speed a few notches has enabled the music to breathe and allows the tiniest bit of melody to creep in. The production on the album is also bang fucking on. The drums are all perfectly audible, and the bottom end heavier than your sister in plutonium panties, the bass guitar thunderous and the bass drum (which normally sounds like men machine gunning dead rats against taut stretched shrink wrap on death metal) resonant and bowel shakingly present. The cymbals (DM drummers are beloved of the bell on the cymbal – lamentably less so of the cowbell) are arctically clear and pure and cut through the mix perfectly. The guitars are well produced and meaty and the solos effective and deadly.
‘The Noose’ is another song where the musicianship outstrips Chris Barnes’ vocal. His limitations are once again laid bare during quiet moments and the odd strangled squawk he’s employed liberally throughout the record is back. It’s a shame because the music on this tune fucking slams, the band is tighter than a gnat’s chuff and it’s a mightily effective slab of metal goodness.
‘Blood Of The Zombie’ is a fucking mighty tune, bass led and groovy as fuck, with lacerating solos and death march paced chugging from the guitars, and a subtle electronic undertone lending a menacing ambience normally lacking from DM. Thankfully, Chris stops doing mynah bird impersonations on this one and grinds out a meat-mincing growl instead.
By far the weakest song on the record is ‘Dead Girls Don’t Scream’. The band dissolve from inventive, groove metal influenced death metal to simply chugging their way through a number devoid of all inspiration and excitement apart from more ferocious soloing on the guitar. ‘Drink Blood, Get High’ is another weak link in the record – more mid tempo standard chugging along before an interesting middle eight and Chris Barnes just barking “Drink blood, get high”, swapping the lines around and repeating this ad nauseam does not a good song make, no matter how cool the key they are playing in is. And then it peters out before coming to a clattering, unresolved end.
The closer is ‘Without Your Life’ and suddenly SFU remember they are a classic DM band again. The tempo is punishing, the riffs fast and lethal and the vocal much more fitting to the music. Even though it ends abruptly, as if the song was chopped roughly in half.
In conclusion then – A damned fine amalgam of death and groove metal marred by a vocalist who either can’t cut it anymore or was trying far too hard. It leads to some unintentionally humorous moments when the scratchy, unpleasant grunt turns into mental squeaking. When you have the likes of contemporaries like The Black Dahlia Murder taking death metal further into experimentation and exploration, you have to hand it to Six Feet Under for trying to update the blueprint of classic death mental without straying too far away from the purists. My problem is that this record and the quality of the musicianship and the arrangements would benefit mightily from the vocal of someone like Trevor Strnad, who encompasses a vocal range able to convey light and dark, from gut-churning growls through to icy, cold screaming. I hate to say it, but Chris Barnes has become a liability for Six Feet Under. His vocals are tortured, and not for the right reasons. Even legends need to stop sometime. Perhaps it’s Chris’ time, and that’s sad because he was my gateway into death metal.
The Patented Dark Juan Blood Splat Rating System is very disappointed in Six Feet Under right now. It was expecting magnificence, and all we got were flashes of inspiration. 6/10 for a record that could have been utterly monolithic. But isn’t.
03. The Rotting
04. Death Will Follow
06. The Noose
07. Blood Of The Zombie
08. Self Imposed Death Sentence
09. Dead Girls Don’t Scream
10. Drink Blood, Get High (Medical note: Do NOT do this. You won’t get high. You’ll need to visit the lavatory a lot because blood is a diuretic…)
11. Labyrinth Of Insanity
12. Without Your Life
Chris Barnes – Vocals
Jack Owen – Guitar
Ray Suhy – Guitar
Jeff Hughell – Bass
Marco Pitruzzella – Drums
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