Let’s just be brootally honest for a moment, shall we? Six Feet Under is the worst “big” band in the entire death metal genre. Most of their releases are either below average or simply godawful, and after a seventeen year run, they can only boast two semi-good albums of original material. They’ve spewed platter after platter of groove-based, chuggy, simplistic death that only fellow neanderthal deathers Jungle Rot could fully appreciate (though they probably look down on them a bit too). When they’ve tried innovation, it was dubious at best (gangsta death metal with Ice T? really??). It speaks volumes that their Graveyard Classics series of novelty cover albums are way more entertaining than their original material. With such a dismal track record, I’m sure you’ll forgive Steel Druhm for having exceedingly low expectations for Undead, their latest foray into mining the lowest common denominator of metal. To be entirely fair, their last slab of original stuff, 2008’s Death Ritual, was one of their “best” to date. On top of that, they’re now functioning as a five piece, with some talented new blood. Maybe I’m in for a happy surprise after all.
Low and behold, lead track “Frozen at the Moment of Death” doesn’t suck as much as expected. It’s an energetic, ripping chunk-o-death, with more than a little Morbid Angel flavor in the riffing. Even Chris Barnes’s typically low-rent, cupped mic vocals don’t mess things up too much. Likewise, follow-up “Formaldehyde” is respectable and has some nifty, escalating riff patterns and a whammy-bar solo Kerry King would proudly put Jeff Hanneman’s name on (behind his back). More good riffs await in “18 Days” and by now, Steel Druhm is utterly confused. Who replaced these guys with a serious death metal band??
My confusion is short-lived however, and with “Molest Dead,” the REAL Six Feet Under reasserts itself. It’s generic death all day long, with stale riffing and nonstop vocals that go “mer ger her YAAAH.” “Blood on My Hands” tries for something akin to a melodic chorus and a somber, Finnish melo-death riff-style, but it falls completely flat. “Reckless” is a return to their early period attempts to combine AC/DC riffs with death metal, and it works not at all. In fact, Barnes sub-basement squealing alongside a quasi-rock riff is as silly as any of the Graveyard Classics covers. Other tracks Like “Missing Victims” and “Vampire Apocalypse” stomp right past with nothing to distinguish themselves and are instantly forgotten.
As with most of SFU‘s material, at it’s best it rises to the lofty level of serviceable. Most of it doesn’t even aspire that high. Sure, you can hear flashes of Morbid Angel, Death and old Cannibal Corpse in Steve Swanson’s riffing, but there’s so much mindless chugging, you get bored to death waiting for the next mildly interesting flourish. The inclusion of extra axeman Rob Arnold (Chimaira) doesn’t add as much to the sound as I would have expected either. Living down to low expectations, Chris Barnes spends most of the album sounding like a garbage disposal struggling mightily with the evening leftovers. His delivery is so totally incomprehensible, I feel lucky if I can understand six words per album. This time out, I’m pretty sure I heard him say “kill,” “dead,” “molest” and possibly “cucumber.” Even in a genre where vocal ability is quite limited, he’s at the bottom of the barrel, trying to dig his way deeper still. Even skilled new drummer Kevin Talley (Nothnegal, ex-Hate Eternal) can’t help things much and he’s given little to do on most songs.
When the material itself isn’t shooting them in the foot, the production does it for them. Here, it’s totally flat and nondescript. The guitars have little edge or power and things feel washed out and bland (which suits the music perfectly).
While there are a few above-average songs (especially by SFU standards) at the front-end of things, after that, it’s a tedious slog through the wasteland of Generica. By the back third of Undead, I was actually hoping Ice T would ride to the rescue and provide some entertainment value. He didn’t. With so much good death metal out there these days, I can’t see any reason to get this. It’s just too damn boring and uninspired. Now, how about a Graveyard Classics album covering the best of Krokus?