To be honest the enthusiasm going into the new album from death metal giants Six Feet Under was not at an all time high. This is a band that has not really lit any personal fires or imagination since their emergence leading into the mid nineties most predominantly from the dislike of the style of vocalist and founder Chris Barnes, something the attention to his previous band Cannibal Corpse also suffered when he was fronting them. It is purely personal taste and without any reason, just an aversion to his vocals as simple as that. This has led to only fleeting acquaintances with their previous eight albums until now. It has to be said Undead again did not cause any mass jubilation or a breakout of unbridled passion with the initial contact relatively underwhelming. But it is a sneaky little beast and given the deserved time and multiple chances to state its case the album proves to be a bit of a slow and persistent burner. It still does not have flags flying but it is a feisty little piece of pleasure that proves its worth even with Barnes as distinct as ever.
Released via Metal Blade Records, Undead is the first release with new guitarist Rob Arnold (ex- Chimaira), who we are led to believe also contributed the bass parts too as new bassist Jeff Hughell joined after the recording. Alongside Arnold and Barnes the album also sees long time guitarist Steve Swanson and drummer Kevin Talley (Dying Fetus, Misery Index, and Chimaira), also new to the band. The album has been quoted by Barnes as “…a rejuvenation, it’s a rebirth of Six Feet Under, and fans will definitely latch on to my excitement and how focused I am in the lyrics I’ve written.” Whether it is down to the energy and creative input of the new members or not there is certainly a freshness and intensity to the release that had vacated some of the previous albums. Arguably originality is still not in full force but allowed the attention and time to express itself the album is certainly rewarding and at times rather impressive.
The opening bomb that is Frozen at the Moment of Death from a first feeling of this is good but… evolves into something additive and openly hypnotic. With a groove that churns up the senses into a tight knot and riffs beating it around the ear the track grows more essential and striking the more it meets the ear. As assumed the vocals stoke up the expected personal preference immediately though once realisation that he sounds just like the Judoon out of Dr Who emerged there was an extra sense of fun attached. As said Barnes is a strong if unvaried vocalist with many others far worse around and it is merely personal taste involved but saying that as the album progresses even a warmth to him emerges or is it submission.
The following Formaldehyde is a blistering assault upon the ears whilst 18 Days with its striking waspish persistent groove sends sparks through the senses. By this point Talley has left nothing but an immense impression upon the music and thoughts, he is a literal machine but with organic instinctive passion and invention. The guitars of Swanson and Arnold too impress as they bustle and cut through the ear with fine play and intensive sounds to ensure each track is intriguing and gratifying, whilst Barnes is Barnes, you always know what you get with his brutish guttural delivery.
Whether the band have worn down the defences or there is a sudden vein of something new the best two tracks on the album by far step up to challenge and inspire next. Firstly the Molest Dead collapses on the ear like a juggernaut of death and destruction, its sprawling fetid breath soaking every note with an atmosphere of dread and violation. This is immediately backed up by Blood On My Hands, a song from an initial predatory crawl which envelopes its host in a soak of spiteful malevolence completes the malefaction with a scorched melodic entrancement and groove which blisters every surface it consumes.
It has to be said by this point and entering into the last third of the album one is hooked especially when the obvious but irrepressible and irresistible Reckless rumbles across the ear. With the most wanton of grooves and an insatiable infection the track rummages through thoughts and darkened corners with eagerness.
Undead is far from a classic but it is an album that in hindsight ignited a few more flares of passion than at first thought and the more times shared the hotter they become. Six Feet Under did arguably find a rejuvenating essence for the album and it turned out quite striking if not stunning.