It’s strangely liberating to write about a high profile record after its official release when, presumably, all those interested in hearing it have done so and made their decisions on its merits or lack thereof. Such is the case with The Haunted’s new record, Strength in Numbers. Those who are longtime fans will already be enjoying their disc or LP, and those on the fence will likely not be swayed in their opinion by the prose of a halfway decent writer on the Internet, but instead by another run-through on Spotify. The upshot here is that I can neatly avoid the question of “should you buy or listen to this?” and try instead to describe various aspects that intrigued me throughout my numerous spins of the Swedish supergroup’s ninth record.
Let’s begin with honesty: I own every single one of The Haunted’s full-lengths, including the notorious Unseen, and enjoy each one of them. Each one has its own unique aspects that make it enjoyable and tends to sound different from the preceding records. Strength in Numbers sounds the most like its predecessor than any consecutive pair in The Haunted’s history, the return to an older mixture of forms (Revolver meets Made Me Do It) of Exit Wounds. Being introduced to The Haunted as “the Swedish Slayer” by a source long forgotten, this has always been my conception of the band. Being forced to engage with Strength in Numbers beyond enjoying it loudly and often, I was forced to engage also with that old preconception and came to the conclusion that The Haunted isn’t the Swedish Slayer but rather the Swedish Lamb of God; that is to say, a band that aims to be the dominant force in modern metal, at once abrasive and accessible.
Like Lamb of God, The Haunted have their immediately identifiable signature moves, of which there are two. The first is a typically Swedish alternate-picking riff revolving around an instantly recognizable sequence of notes, peppering “Bury Your Dead” and “Hate Song” as much as “Cutting Teeth” to this record’s ripping “Tighten the Noose.” The second is a consonant yet energetic and slightly belligerent sense of melody that characterizes songs like “In Vein” and “Hollow Ground” along with Exit Wounds‘ excellent “Infiltrator” and Strength in Numbers’s “Preachers of Death.” The potent combination of these two essential factors along with rhythm guitar extraordinaire Patrik Jensen’s almost absurdly good ear for supremely effective chugging put the modern metal throne within the grasp of The Haunted, as it makes for songs that are memorable, effective, affective, and sometimes anthemic.
The success of any The Haunted record depends on how well these aspects are merged together into a seamless whole, and Strength in Numbers, like Exit Wounds before it, plays it fairly safe. It’s hard to imagine any fan of The Haunted not finding glee in “The Fall,” a masterclass in how to use simple song structure to achieve maximum effectiveness. The gut-punch of its chorus merges expertly with its chugging, thrash-based verse, culminating in a half-time bruiser of a riff that acts as a strange yet satisfying climax. Likewise, the Revolver-esque “Means to an End” batters effectively and emphasizes the melody of the guitars in its chorus, as Marco Aro was never much for clean vocals. As a blunt rhythmic instrument here, though, his performance is spot-on in this track.
The safe nature of Strength in Numbers has produced another standby record like Exit Wounds that’s a solid spin but won’t be anyone’s favorite The Haunted record. It’s not that it’s missing any essential elements, but it seems content with sticking to what works without imbuing it with a new punishing vitality as they did on One Kill Wonder or a stunning sense of melody as they did on The Dead Eye. This is more in the vein of Revolver and, as stated repeatedly, Exit Wounds, which isn’t a bad thing because the enjoyment, riffs, and quality are still there, but like those records Strength in Numbers takes the overall spirit of The Haunted and restates it forcefully instead of keeping the essence but focusing on and emphasizing one aspect of their sound. If you’re to only buy one The Haunted record, it definitely won’t be Strength in Numbers. That said, if you’re only going to buy only one “modern metal” record in 2017, The Haunted have made a convincing and riff-filled argument as to why it should be Strength in Numbers.