Let’s face it, regardless of what Six Feet Under do or don’t do, your opinion of them is most likely made up and has been so for some time. Having been steadily active for the past seventeen years, the band has made a style of playing no frills, bare bones death metal. The problem is that with eight previous studio albums under their belt, only three would I deem worthy of owning, i.e. Haunted, Maximum Violence, and 2008’s Death Rituals.
Personally, I’ve maintained the opinion, through the last dozen years, that SFU needed to either light a fire under their collective asses, or instigate a line-up change by adding and/or replacing some members. Surprisingly, that is exactly what happened last year when longtime members, Greg Gall and Terry Butler, left the band. The band quickly replaced Gall with none other than Kevin Talley (Dying Fetus, Misery Index, Chimaira, and Daath), who brought along Chimaira guitarist, Rob Arnold and Matt DeVries, to fill in the role of bassist, joining Chris Barnes and longtime guitarist, Steve Swanson. It is worth noting that DeVries left before the recording of Undead, leaving Arnold to handle bass duties as well. The new additions the band was now boasting sparked an exciting and increased interest in SFU, causing fans and critics alike to wonder where the new material would lay. So, is Undead, the ninth full-length album from Six Feet Under, everything and more that SFU fans have hoped for? Is it their best material ever? Will this release silence their critics forever? Well, yes and ultimately, no. Get the full explanation here.
Right out of the gates, it appears that Undead is going to be stepping things up a bit. “Frozen at the Moment of Death” starts things off with a nice old-school, Floridian death metal vibe, a la Morbid Angel. The guitars swirl with lethality, while some well-placed pinch harmonics add nicely to the flow. Talley definitely brings a more intense drum performance than previously, adding blasts, quicker footwork, and some speedy fills that supremely help in enhancing SFU’s songwriting. Even Barnes sounds slightly better than usual, decidedly sticking to his less strained, lower register, not only on this track but through much of the album. Throw in a ripping solo, courtesy of Swanson, and Undead starts out with quite a bang.
“Formaldehyde” chimes in next, and finds SFU continuing the stepping up of things, by offering what is arguably the albums best track. Charging forth with the most technical song SFU have ever produced, “Formaldehyde” simply kicks ass with its Cannibal Corpse style and pounding rhythms. Even the lead work is very much Corpse influenced, and the song should satisfy a bevy of death metal fans. “18 Days” follows with a mid-tempo groove and more of the aforementioned Cannibal Corpse fortitude, helping establish the fact that we are dealing with a new Six Feet Under.
Unfortunately, the remainder of Undead doesn’t seem to surpass these first three songs. To the band’s credit, the following tracks are all pretty good, and every single one of them has something that will get your head moving, but the proverbial wad has been spent early on. “Molest Dead” is a much more traditional SFU song, but contains an increased energy driving it forward. “Blood on My Hands” has some quality doom elements running through it, mixing well with the song’s speedier parts. The simple, yet effective finger-work and slides add a nice touch to the songs groove, while Talley’s footwork lends a nice flair, leading out of the song.
“Missing Victims” and “Reckless” are good, but overall standard material for SFU. The latter starting off with a quasi rock riff that oddly works well within the song. While “Reckless” feels to be standard on the album, I can actually see it going over terrifically in the live setting. “Near Death Experience” features some good old-fashioned death metal riffing, with Talley’s drums pushing the song forward. Wisely the song fades out early before becoming stale. Unfortunately, Arnold’s solo can barely be called that, and leaves much to be desired.
“Delayed Combustion Device” is overtly another standard track for SFU, yet again Talley’s drums help to bring a refreshed energy that seems to propel not only the song, but the rest of the band’s performance as well. “The Scar” and “Vampire Apocalypse” end up being too standard/familiar for their own good, and while being good tracks in their own right, they tend to bog down Undead in the end. The “Depths of Depravity” closes out the album and seems to pick up the songwriting a bit from the last few mentioned tracks, but sadly, the song could have been fleshed out more and overall doesn’t live up to it’s full potential.
Revamping SFU’s line-up has brought a needed re-energizing to the group, and has resulted in a marked improvement to the band’s sound. Even though Rob Arnold is credited with being the sole songwriter on Undead, the new material still retains the feel and style that make Six Feet Under. Personally, I would have liked to have seen a collaboration between Arnold and Swanson. While obviously, Arnold’s songwriting is a slight step up from the usual SFU releases, Undead could have benefited from a little of the melody that Swanson started to let creep in on Death Rituals, especially in the lead-work. While Death Rituals had some tasty solos, Undead only sports four songs containing any leads.
I’m curious to what lies ahead for Six Feet Under. After the recording of Undead, it was announced that former Brain Drill and Vile bassist, Jeff Hughell, had been added to the fold. While just recently, Arnold announced that he was retiring from touring/playing live. The band has already recruited Ola Englund to take over Arnold’s position, yet have stated that Arnold will still be involved in future releases.
There aren’t many fence sitters when it comes to Six Feet Under. As stated before, most people’s minds are firmly rooted in their opinion about these purveyors of the primitive, producing an either like ‘em or hate ‘em mentality. Depending on what side of the fence you’re on will determine how you feel about Undead. If you’ve never been a fan, then you still won’t be. If SFU is a band that you stand by, or even if they just occasionally satisfy that back to basics groove for you, then by all means, pick this latest treat. It is clearly their best effort since the turn of the century, and is exactly the kind of follow up needed after the solid Death Rituals.
In an age where bands try to push the boundaries of being avant-garde, blacker than black, or try to cram more tech than ITT into their songs, Six Feet Under’s bare bones mentality can hit just the right spot when all of the band’s spark plugs are firing. Fortunately for us, Undead is such an album.