How do you like your death metal? Do you like your vocalist to sound so out of touch with what quality death metal sounds like that it sounds as if it was recorded in the mist of a hellacious bout of strep throat? Do you like music so tepid and bland that the most intriguing part is thinking about just how low that bass is tuned (is he playing in drop z???). How about riffs that, while groovy enough to cause a minor shake of the head, maybe while driving on the highway, sound like they’ve been recycled from virtually every other album in this particular genre, haphazardly thrown together to fulfill the need for guitar? Do you even care about the drumming? Well, here’s the thing: if you answered yes to most of these, you’ll love the new Six Feet Under.
A quick disclaimer: I am not, and have not ever been, a fan of Chris Barnes. I was only 6 when Hammer Smashed Face became a “hit,” and even to this day, I just can’t get behind it because of his vocals. And that was when Barnes was in his prime, as it were. After George Fisher took over (a far superior vocalist in every conceivable way), the new Barnes project was Six Feet Under. It’s 2017, and as a non-fan, I was actually excited to hear this, as my openness to new music has skyrocketed in the last couple of years. Within a minute, the excitement was gone. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of Barnes’ incomprehensible delivery, but my surprise was just how awful it sounded. Not one iota of effort appears to have been put forth, and even on those occasions when some actual words can be gleaned from his guttural vocal spasms, the lyrics are the typical, generic violent death metal variety. Honestly, death metal lyrics don’t affect me, but when they are delivered like this, cringing doesn’t even seem appropriate. If this is what Barnes considers to be his best effort at this stage in his career, it’s definitely time to stop: at no point during this 40+ minute abomination is it enjoyable to listen to Chris Barnes, to the point that it is almost literally painful to hear his uninspired grunts and know that someone thought this sounded like a finished product worth releasing. This performance makes George Fisher sound like Freddie Mercury.
Nonetheless, on occasion, even with awful vocals, sometimes an album can have a modicum of enjoy-ability if the music is up to the task: unfortunately, that falls flat here as well, as the best part of this album is the bass. As a man who enjoys a great bass performance (see First Fragment, Dasein), disappointment abounds with how little was really done with the bass in this album, but pleasure rears its head as it is actually audible in every track, something far too infrequent in music as a general principle. In the case of Torment, the bass is tuned so goddamned low it’s easy to picture the strings looking like limp spaghetti as the bassist does his damnedest to make sure they don’t fall off. Oftentimes, the bass is perfectly in line with the guitar which, given the lack of memorable riffs or solos or technicality, can cause the aforementioned head bobbing when driving and listening, and ultimately create the most “memorable” moments on the album. Possibly the best example of memorability is the second track Exploratory Homicide, which feels as close to a complete track as can be, with great blasts and a menacing groove, albeit with atrocious vocals. This song probably sticks out because it immediately follows Sacrificial Kill, one of the worst opening tracks I’ve ever heard on a death metal album.
Honestly, if the vocalist seemed to give even half of a damn, there was a chance this could have been a passable death metal album with a couple of tracks to spin every now and then.
But he doesn’t, and it isn’t. This reviewers first foray into Six Feet Under will be the last: nothing on this album has made me believe that any of their previous albums is any better. Death metal should not be boring: Six Feet Under, in creating Torment, have done just that, and made good on their promise: we are tormented, and damnit, we are bored.