When the legendary Swedish metal band At the Gates broke up in 1996, they were at the forefront of the melodic death metal scene. Having just released their 1995 masterpiece and magnum opus Slaughter of the Soul
, the band embarked on a lengthy tour, which spanned throughout numerous continents and saw the bands already massive popularity sky rocket even more. Upon their arrival back home, Anders Bjorler (lead guitarist and primary songwriter) informed that rest of the group that he and his brother Jonas (also a primary tune craftsmen) were leaving the group. Within days, it was announced the band was breaking up, and the members going their (somewhat) separate ways. Perhaps it was rather odd for the Bjorler twins to announce the bands' demise just as the were riding the crest of the wave. It is even more perplexing as to why they would disband the group, only to form another one soon after; one consisting of three of the five former At the Gates members. As the band was under its' more primitive and evolutionary stages, they were obviously the subject of intense scrutiny and deliberation by fans and critics alike. The new band would eventually coalesce into a fine-tuned metal machine, and their christened name? The Haunted.
But something wasn't quite right. The world was not in total harmony with this new outfit. Blazing, melody-driven death metal had catapulted and defined At the Gates' sound, and that was a sound that was utterly alien form the one that resides throughout the groups' 1998 self-titled debut. Gone was the high-registered rasping of frontman Tomas Lindberg. Instead, we got the more hardcore influenced Peter Dolving of Mary Beats Jane fame. Instead of Dark Angel inspired riffing courtesy of Martin Larsson, the listener found themselves the audience of former Witchery guitarist Jensen. These changes were not the same, but that did not make them bad. As a matter of fact, the band gelled surprisingly well, and went on to be the toast of 1998, gaining widespread praise and attention for their aggressive and relentless debut which featured such staples as Chasm
and In Vein
. Sure, Dolving was a completely different voice to match with Anders blazing riffs, but as Anders had opted for a more thrashy style this time around, all seemed well off.
This, however, is where the problems began, and as such this is where the seeds that would eventually bloom into this album, The Haunted Made Me Do It
were sown. After the releasing of their debut, Peter Dolving left the band due to personal reasons. He was replaced by a guttural growler by the name of Marco Aro, who tended to favor the more traditional death metal style and influence. Also opting to bow out was Adrian Erlandsson, who had been drumming with the band since At the Gates' (with whom he also served a tenure) demise. After a rather smooth breaking in period (and recruiting a new drummer by the name of Per Moller Jensen), the band was ready to record. This is, of course, ancient history. To reward you for your patience, I do believe my musings should get underway.
Upon hearing the bands' 2003 release. One Kill Wonder
, I made up my mind that The Haunted were a band I was going to have to invest a little bit more time into. While the album hadn't been completely amazing, I was definitely expecting quite a bit from its predecessor based on its' merits. I had heard good things concerning the album, and had every reason to believe it would be as heavily rooted in melodic death metal as its follow-up. Reviews I had read praised the album for its originality and its melodic touch; a gentle touch that didn't sacrifice or undermine any of the groups' savage attack. The funny thing about that is, I don't think I've ever been more wrong about an album. Seriously. I was expecting Goliath, and I got David. Not the
David who's clever enough to whoop some ass
via slingshot, but fat, lazy David; the kind of David who complains about excersize and appears to be borderline neurosis. Why such harsh judgment? Allow me to clue you in.
A heavy song is a great way to start a death metal album, you know? Perhaps it was kind of a tease as far as the introduction to the newbie of the group, as the minute and a half song Dark Intentions
is an instrumental. For all intents and purposes, this songs main function appears to be to provide the listener with a heavy introduction that they'll appreciate; perhaps to prepare them or offer them a sample of what is to come. And what a great idea that would be if a lot of the songs following it were actually heavy. Sure, the riffs that are played are pretty metal, and Marco Aro, the new vocalist is grunting away, but there's something about the album's production and even the vibe that undermines the over-all shred factor, and makes the guitars and drums sound rather stagnant. As for Marco, there are genuinely times when he kicks some Dolving ass
. The problem is in his attempted diversity. In one song, for instance the thrashy and overall intriguing Bury Your Dead
, his tone consists of lower, more refined screaming (oh irony), and in the very next song, Trespass
he can be heard screeching away, as if puberty has hit him tenfold in the middle of recording. More often than not when attempting this diversity he just fails, and often at the expense of the songs.
The album's highlights are without a doubt Anders and Jonas Bjorler. The twins continue their reign of writing overall cool riffs, and are without a doubt the life and soul, heart and mind, and John and Paul of the band. And technically, they really do shine. Anders lead breaks are tasteful, rather similar to how David Gilmour would sound in a metal context in a way, and Jonas provides some interesting counter-melodies to what Anders and Jensen are doing on guitar. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that you can actually hear Jonas at all, and not only can you hear him, you can hear him perfectly. Unfortunately, the band apparently decided to eliminate this groundbreaking new idea for their next (and overall better) album One Kill Wonder
. Even as Marco is clamming up a hurricane, the twins usually pull the group on, and besides the substandard production, are often the only part of a given tune worth listening to. Of course, this isn't to say the band members aren't talented. It's more as if the choice of material simply didn't suit their skills, like the type of album they were branching out and attempting to put together was just way beyond (or below, as it were) their capabilities.
Another standout on this travesty is Per Moller Jensen, the drummer who took over for the aforementioned Adrian Erlandsson. Not a better replacement could have been obtained, as Per pretty much outshines Adrian in every conceivable way, from talent and originality to just laying down a groove. Perhaps the best display of this is on Hollow Ground
, which in itself is a very ambitious tune. Anders and Jensen (the guitarist, not our beloved drumming protagonist) provide an insanely catchy chord figure, consisting of broken and suspended chords and tasteful single note riffs. Meanwhile, Mr. Per is simply slaying the song, not only completely owning the beat, but actually making the song much better than it would have been with almost any other drummer. So what kills this song? Unfortunately, it's none other than Marco, who insists on changing his vocal styles every other verse from his specialty (mid-range to low) to piercing high screams. Someone also had the bright idea of putting a "bubbling" effect on his voice for the chorus, which not only completely undermines the purpose and feel of the song, but just sounds ill-conceived and stupid. Then there's the clean singing at the climax, which quite frankly was a horrible idea, as Marco can't sing. At all.
I don't want to imply that all the blame for this album being a disaster belongs solely to Marco, because that would be a bold-faced lie. While perhaps the vast majority of the problems and under-mining revolve around his horrid attempts at stylistic diversity, the Bjorler twins are just as much to blame for some of the more pretentious and overly ambitious ideas. There are some songs that were just a bad idea from the start, such as the minute and a half long thrash epic Revelation
. Perhaps the clean breakdown in The World Burns
wasn't too bad of an idea, but following it up with a suspiciously familiar guitar refrain was. What is it similar to, you ask? To my humble ears, it sounds like a copy of Metallica's famous Orion
intro riff sequence. Whether or not the band decided to knick the riff (and for some reason I don't think they did), it does much to destabilize a bands' credibility and excellence when you can't quit thinking of someone else's song when you're listening to theirs.
So. Those dastardly bastards in the Haunted thought that they could pull a fast one. Perhaps it may be a bit unfair of me to be as horrifically critical of this album as I have been thus far. After all, it was a new line-up for the band. Yes, it was indeed a new line-up for a band that had already released a hit album. However, said band happened to contain two of the best heavy songwriters in years in Anders and Jonas Bjorler, both of whom should have truly known better than to attempt some of the things they tried to pass of here. As for Marco, as mentioned, throughout the entire album he screws up in countless ways, be it with his attempt at reaching the strained resonant heights of a cat on fire or be it the absolutely dreadful and painful vocal effects, perhaps featured at it's most painful in the second to last track called Under the Surface
. Technically, all of the instrumental band members are in top form, tackling complex rhythms and riffs with ease, and harmonizing for tasteful, proficient solos. But those valiant and noble efforts can't save an album that was destined to suck to begin with. And like all things living or spawned by such, it fulfills its' destiny.
Anders' guitar work
Per Moller Jensen and his wacky drumming
The Not So Ups
Sub-par compared to other endeavors by the twins.
Abundance of effects on vocals