Death Metal is a hard hustle. One step in the wrong direction and you go from the genius of a band like Death to the dark abyss of boredom that is so much of the genre. I suppose it would be wrong to call Six Feet Under one of the best Death Metal bands around since it’s really a super group. Seriously, when you have Chris Barnes of Cannibal Corpse, Allan West of Obituary and later Rob Arnold spearheading the songwriting, how much better can it really get? Up until 2011 the band stayed a tight unit, with Obituary/Massacre bassist Terry Butler and Greg Gall on drums. Post 2011 the band saw a few variations to the lineup.
Enter 2013. Six Feet Under return with two new members, guitarist Ola Englund and bassist Jeff Hughell and a new album titled Unborn. It’s been twenty years since Six Feet Under unleashed their supergroup version of Hell and if Unborn is any indication, the creative well has yet to run dry. There’s a reason Six Feet Under accomplish records that stand above their peers. They understand songwriting. Death Metal isn’t just crushing heaviness and blast beats, there’s an art to it. Chuck Schuldiner knew it and so does the Six Feet Under crew.
Most death metal albums explode out of the gate. Instead, Unborn opens slowly, almost thoughtfully, with “Neuro Osmosis”. This is instantly a standout because it so diametrically opposed to standard Death Metal or even Six Feet Under. The riff is lumbering; it evolves slowly and deliberately from a dark acoustic intro. Lead guitars squeal through parts and then open into a space prog rock solo feel. “Neuro Osmosis” is parts doom; parts prog-metal and then full on grooving Death Metal riffage.
“Prophecy” shows that Six Feet Under can still lay down the heavy head banger jams with the best of them. “Prophecy” is pure power, all aggression. “Zombie Blood Curse” is a throwback to the world of thrash metal, “Incision” calls into mind the era when hardcore and metal combined. It’s got that slow mosh-riff, the kind that forces you to hit the floor hard and knock people down. Six Feet Under never betray their sound, but they keep the songs varied enough to be interesting. Beating fast riffs to death gets boring. I’m not sure why only a limited amount of Death Metal bands understand this concept.
Outside of the bands almost unsettling ability to write a great riff, several elements help Unborn rise above. Ola Englund seems to fit right in. He solos and chugs his way around what Steve Swanson is doing and the two of them play off each other nicely. I also like that Kevin Talley refuses to give in to the blast beat rule of Death Metal drumming. Sure he can attack the double bass savagely, but he also knows how to groove and lay in those rare tasty moments. It’s these little additions to the fundamentals of Death Metal that allow Unborn to be so enjoyable.
Really the only issue is the vocals, which is a more a personal gripe than a flaw. I dislike Death Metal vocals; to me the whole cookie monster growl thing is silly and adds a layer of comedy the genre doesn’t need. With so much great work and so much involved with Unborn bucking Death Metal trends, why allow the vocals to remain so lackluster?
Vocals aside, Unborn is further proof that the best way to make great Death Metal is to try and not make Death Metal at all.