Review Summary: So-so band release a so-so album
Six Feet Under have essentially been trotting down the path of monotony since their inception, consistently releasing poor to slightly above average albums every few years or so. The issue Six Feet Under face after what is now 20 years since Chris Barnes’ founded the project, is that after a run of consistently unremarkable hogwash, they barely even register of the radar anymore. Sure, in terms of commercial success, these guys are up there with some of the best, but their lack of relevance in today’s death metal scene couldn’t be overstated, and they only have themselves to blame for it. The good news however, is that now on their tenth album, Unborn
, they actually appear to be trying to release something worth listening to.
The album is heavily centred on groovy and infectious riffs, which could have been nicely complimented by vibrant performances from the bassist and drummer in adding a much needed dynamic element to the music. But unfortunately the bass is practically inaudible, and when it can be heard, the performance of Jeff Hughell is incredibly pedestrian, aimlessly blending in with the guitarists as if he weren’t even there. The drumming follows in the same vein as the bass, while competent, it’s also repetitive and ever so slightly uninspired, falling back on mid-tempo double kicking and recycled fills a little too often. The strongpoint of the album is the groove-soaked mid-tempo riffing of Steve Swanson and Ola Englund. Their musicianship will hardly set the world alight, but the riffs are undeniably catchy and have some hefty staying power, sometimes trickling back into your head hours after the album has ended. Unfortunately, Chris Barnes’ vocals drag the whole experience down a notch. They essentially lack range, audibility, projection and are - to put it bluntly - quite dull. For almost the entire album, Chris spits a barely decipherable mush of forced mid-low growls, baring no resemblance to the vicious delivery that characterised his Cannibal Corpse days.
While the individual performances of the musicians on this album aren’t exactly impressive for the most part, the production effectively assumes the role of damage control. The mixing greatly favours the guitars, and while the bass can’t really be deciphered, it does provide a nice lower end for the riffs, giving them a clear but also deep and crunchy sound. This devotion to the guitars basically relegates the performances of the other members to being part of an unobtrusive backdrop. They provide neat little aesthetic touches to the overall sound, but aren’t distracting, nor do they feel out of place. Being Six Feet Under, the song-writing on display here is obviously formulaic, but it works. Most of the tracks are surprisingly easy to distinguish despite a lot of them appearing identical in terms of composition. Across the album, the riffs are diverse enough set individual tracks apart with relative ease, and due to said composition, the album is very consistent in terms of quality. Sure, it is the standard verse-chorus affair we’ve all heard a million times before, but the strength of the riffs themselves and the simplicity of their implementation do make for an enjoyable listen.
Unborn is obviously not going to change the opinions of purists or vigilant detractors of this band. In fact, at this point, I don’t think Six Feet Under are ever going to release something that genuinely defies expectations as a much maligned act within the death metal community. It may be too late to undo the damage done by their previous output, but at least these guys have appeared to make an effort on Unborn, crafting something simple and enjoyable for even the most casual metal fan.