Last year, Six Feet Under proved that their was still life left in their patented brand of sludgy, simplistic death metal with Undead, easily their best album since 1999’s classic Maximum Violence. With a re-tooled lineup centered around founding vocalist Chris Barnes and longtime guitarist Steve Swanson, SFU shook off the stagnancy that had set in over the course of their last several releases and proved that they were still a force to be reckoned with. I’m happy to report that this was no fluke, as the band’s tenth full length (not counting the Graveyard Classics covers collections) Unborn is even better than Undead, cementing Six Feet Under’s status as a death metal stalwart reborn.
The similar album titles and cover art might lead you to believe that Unborn is comprised of nothing more than lukewarm leftovers from the Undead sessions, but you’d be dead wrong. If anything, tracks like “Neuro Osmosis” and “Fragment” step up the aggression and heaviness Six Feet Under recaptured with their previous album and push it into the red. Of course, SFU will never be as brutal as say Defeated Sanity, they’ll never be a fast band, and they’re about the furthest thing there is from a technical band, but the way they slowly and deliberately pummel you into the ground is every bit as devastating. Besides, being purposefully and methodically beaten to death will always be far more horrific, not to mention excruciating, than having your throat cut and bleeding out instantly.
For Unborn, Barnes and Swanson have surrounded themselves with some sickeningly proficient musicians in the form of über-drummer Kevin Talley (ex-Dying Fetus, Chimaira, etc) bassist Jeff Hughell (ex-Brain Drill) and relative newcomer guitarist Ola Englund, and once again it’s all about the injection of fresh blood acting as a death metal version of Herbert West’s re-agent here. Ben Savage of Whitechapel and ex-Chimaira guitarist Rob Arnold also contributed to the album, and one must give credit to Barnes for being willing to embrace metal’s younger generation of artists in order to reinvent himself. This happens all the time in mainstream music (see Carlos Santana’s Supernatural as a prime example) so why not in the underground? It would be one thing if these collaborations resulted in an abrupt change in style or sound, but quite the contrary, Unborn is still Six Feet Under through and through, but with bigger muscles and an even worse attitude. Put it this way; it’s the difference between having the shit kicked out of you by your average street thug and having your neck broken and your spine shattered by Bane. The first one happens and you’re hurt bad but you’ll ultimately recover, the second one happens and you’re completely, utterly fucked up beyond all recognition.
Just as on Undead, Barnes sounds the best he has in years on Unborn. The man appears to have completely recommitted himself to creating the most grotesque vocalizations possible, bringing back the deep gutturals and vicious streak that made him one of the most influential throat-shredders in the business. I’m not just talking about old school SFU level vocal brutality here, I’m talking classic Cannibal Corpse. In my review of Undead, I referred to Barnes’ vocal stylings as “somewhere between a flesh-eating ghoul that just crawled out of the grave and Cujo at his rabid, teeth-gnashing gnarliest,” and that still holds true here, but that flesh-eating ghoul is now even more rotten, and Cujo is even more bloodthirsty. Simply put, it’s a defining vocal performance at this stage for Barnes, putting most growlers half his age to shame with both passion and putrescence.
Against all odds, Six Feet Under have released not one but two killer albums in the past two years, and being a long time fan I hope they can continue this blood-soaked late career renaissance. SFU has been unfairly maligned for far too long, and with Unborn they’ve got a set of songs on their hands that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt what some of us have known all along; that they’re still one of the deadliest units in death metal when they want to be. Haters can eat shit, die slowly and get the fuck out of the way.