Review Summary: *throws hands up in EEEEEEEEEEExasperation*
Is anyone an actual fan of Six Feet Under on the band's own merits? Seriously, whoever genuinely enjoys this band without saying "Chris Barnes was in Cannibal Corpse, therefore I like this too" please stand up and introduce yourself to the group, because I've never met one before. Barnes and his formerly-stable-but-now-rotating-cast-of-somehow paid well enough to do this stuff-collaborators have been plugging away at their own brand of downtempo, grooving death n roll for the past 25 years, and really, what do they have to show for it all this time later? It seems like there are infinitely more people in the metal world that consider this band to be a complete joke. That sentiment is not particularly difficult to understand or agree with when you remember that this band has released FIFTEEN albums, and out of all fifteen, only like two or three of them are thought of as being generally any good. Of all the SFU records out there, the only one that I personally find myself going back to is Undead, released in 2012 to surprised acclaim from the metalsphere. It was an ugly, gritty, pure death metal album, and above all else it was incredibly fun to listen to. Many thought it signaled the end of the never ending parade of insufferable slogs released by Barnes and co. dating back to the days of death metal's brief flirtation with the mainstream music industry. Alas, it was not to be, as Undead turned out to be little more than a massive fluke, an aberration on Barnes' part as Six Feet Under immediately went back to sucking and did not stop. Nightmares of the Decomposed is the endgame of that new streak of crappiness, as well as the culmination of over two decades of bad albums and deteriorating performances by our haggard frontman. It is, in simplest terms, a gigantic embarrassment of an album, one that would tarnish the name of Six Feet Under if they had any name to tarnish in the first place.
The title of track 4, "Migraine", is just about the most apropos title they could have given that song, as it is what will happen to the listener as they progress through the bong water swamp of Nightmares of the Decomposed. It is physically painful to listen to this album, and the key offender in that regard is, as anticipated through the pre-release tracks, the vocal performance of Chris Barnes, the eternal star of the show in Six Feet Under. The gradual weakening of his vocals has been well documented for many, many years, dating all the way back to the much rougher vocals he laid down on The Bleeding by Cannibal Corpse compared to the three prior albums he had done with the group, and now, after 30 years of neglecting his voice, growling improperly, and smoking ungodly amounts of marijuana, it can be very safely said in 2020 that his voice is 100% shot. On the previous album Torment, he still was able to do normal-ish sounding growls, so what in the world happened in three years to get him to this point? I actually almost feel some sort of pity for the man, as it sounds like he's in agony trying to sputter out the weak gurgles and hoarse rasping he puts to tape here. Even more distressing is that it actually sounds like his vocals are getting weaker and weaker as the album goes on, as if Barnes tracked all the vocals in one day, in order, with no breaks or rest periods or possibly even water to at least give his throat a chance to recover. It's especially apparent on the two fast songs here, "Amputator" and "Without Your Life", as Barnes noticeably loses his breath and sputters to a stop on some of the speedier vocal lines in those tracks. Not like he's saying anything worth hearing anyway though, as his lyrics are totally unspecial musings on death and gore and killing young girls and all the stuff he talked about way better when he was in a good band.
This is all to say nothing of his pathetic excuse for high screams, which are at their absolute worst in the entirety of the band's career. His highs have almost always been bad, going back once again to his time in Cannibal Corpse and through the earliest SFU records, but at least he used to be able to at least somewhat enunciate and make words sound like actual words. At this point in his life, his highs have been reduced to one simple, tonally stagnant "EEEEEEEEEEEEE", more reminiscent of the bleating of an ill goat, or the sound of tires screeching on asphalt when breaking suddenly at moderate-to-high speed to avoid hitting a group of geese crossing the road. His stupid "EEEEEEEEEEEEE" screech is in almost every song on the album, which makes me wonder if it wasn't a clandestine social experiment to try and see how many people listening to this album actually tried to deafen themselves permanently by means of whatever sharp object they could stab their ears with close by. It's insane to think that a vocal performance this bad, this instantly memorable in its awfulness, was considered acceptable by Barnes, producer Chris Carroll, and Brian Slagel in his role as the owner of Metal Blade Records and allowed to be put on an album and released to the world forever. I honestly would rather take that one horrible replacement vocalist Portrait had many years ago and have him do these vocals instead. He was at least funny in how bad he was. This performance from Barnes is just sad and depressing.
Ah, but lest we forget Barnes' backing band on this album, who deliver a collective performance just as soulless and devoid of passion as Barnes' vocals are scratched to all hell. All but two songs on Nightmares of the Decomposed are sluggish bores, comprised of the most banal chugging and laziest grooving rhythms you've ever heard in your life. I'm greatly amused and intrigued in how they managed to make an album full of songs mostly around 3 minutes long so uninteresting and feel so drawn out in a total runtime of only 43 minutes. It's similarly incredible how the actual musicians in this band are some of the most technically proficient and impressive on their respective instruments in modern metal, and you've never heard people more talented sound so bored and out of it in your whole life. There's no urgency, no excitement, no life to almost every single song on here. It all runs together after the first listen, with the entirety of the memorability coming from the horrible vocals. In one of the most boneheaded moves possible, the band also has a couple songs where the music actually drops out and only Barnes' vocals are doing anything. It's a recipe for disaster, as it draws attention to both the awful vocals and the extremely lazy songwriting. They also wrote two songs to stop dead in their tracks with no ending, as if they just got tired of trying to write and let it be, and it's just as confusing and sudden on "Dead Girls Don't Scream" as it is on "The Rotting". Special shoutout to "The Noose", which is probably the overall worst song of the entire bunch. It's one of the songs where the music drops out so the vocals are the only thing heard, but as opposed to "Zodiac", which at least had the slightest bits of variation thrown into the guitar work, this song has exactly two riffs that play for the entire song, and even then the second riff is just the first riff but up an octave. Two riffs and a guitar solo for the longest song on the album. They did write a couple fast songs, as previously mentioned, and they're the only songs on here with any kind of energy. Big surprise, I know, but even then that excitement is fleeting and shallow, as the actual riffs that make up the fast songs are no more special or headbangable than the most basic of Florida death metal hangers-on that the early 90s puked out (*coughMassacrecough*). Just bland tremolo riffs with no bite, and nothing more beyond that.
I am fully of the belief that Nightmares of the Decomposed is destined to become a legendary laughingstock of metal albums, a company comprised of such records as St. Anger, Lulu, The Unspoken King, and Illud Divinum Insanus. You know, albums that were such enormous musical missteps that it will taint their discographies forevermore. I think the ultimate difference between the bands behind those albums and Six Feet Under is that those bands were all at least very well enjoyed and respected by metal fans prior to their "Holy crap, what happened?" album (and Metallica, who are so ungodly successful that they're essentially incapable of failing, regardless of the fact that they were responsible for two of the worst albums ever made), whereas Six Feet Under have always just been kinda bad since they started. They don't have the cushion of a string of good-to-great recent releases to fall back on, or even one or two early releases universally loved and considered classics of the genre. They've sucked from the very beginning, with their few good releases considered by the masses to be pretty much on accident, and now we're at the point where they've got nothing to show for 25 years of work beyond some unintentionally okay albums, a bunch of crappy albums, and now this...THING. There is nothing redeeming about Nightmares of the Decomposed. It is a barren wasteland where talent and creativity go to die. It's not even bad in a funny way, like how The Unspoken King could be laughed at for Cryptopsy blatantly trying to cash in on the deathcore craze with bleh breakdowns and Linkin Park-esq clean singing, or Illud's painfully misguided attempts to incorporate techno and gabber influences into an album branded with the name MORBID ANGEL. There is nothing fun or funny about the awfulness of Nightmares of the Decomposed. It's not The Room, where you can find charm in the bad acting and obvious cheapness of the production. This is more like the 2019 remake of Disney's Aladdin. It's an insufferably bad, agonizing experience from beginning to end, and all you want to do is violently shake the people responsible for it and loudly ask them what in the world they were thinking making this garbage. Not like that'll do any good, as the product is already out there in the world, and there's ultimately nothing anybody can do except acknowledge that Nightmares of the Decomposed exists and that it's truly one of the worst metal albums of all time.
P.S. I legit threw up in my mouth writing this review while I had the album on in the background. My own body is trying to tell me to stop listening to this album, and the fiery aftertaste of tonight's dinner is my punishment.