Six Feet Under - 13 - Metal Blade Records 2005
Running Time: 35:55
After eleven albums in the past ten years, you'd think Chris Barnes would've gotten it right at least once or twice. Sadly, the majority of SFU's output has found itself either simply unimaginative at best or outright sucking at worst. Still and all, after hearing the pre-release sampler sent to me by the fine folks at Metal Blade, I actually found myself giving the band a little credit for managing to make two of the three songs featured listenable. I thought that maybe Six Feet Under had given us an at least decent, if shoddily produced album of American death metal with 13.
'Decomposition Of The Human Race' bore those hopes almost ably, a meaty main riff and competent drumming propelling SFU into the lands of "decent death metal" for the first time to my ears. Now for the "almost"...the production. Whoever thought it was a good business decision to let Barnes produce this album should be spot-welded to a steel wall and pelted with Stuck Mojo CDs for all eternity. Now, I fully understand that Six Feet Under is your baby, Chris, and that the money you saved by producing 13 yourself will keep you in better weed for another year, but is it really worth it? The exercise in blandness that is 'Somewhere In The Darkness' at least does the job of making the Neanderthal riffwork of 'Rest In Pieces' seem legitimately good. It's not a bad song, really, is 'Rest...', but the drums sound like they were covered with old Cannibal Corpse tour merchandise, then recorded while positioned roughly 666,243 miles from the mics. 'Wormwood' has a typical chord structure in the verses, but Steve Swanson does actually burst out with a pretty decent lead here and there throughout 13, and this is one example. One of the most frustrating things about SFU is that the members aren't musical idiots. They can write a surprisingly catchy riff now and again, and Barnes has flashes of lyrical tolerability, they just lose it in production and song quality every damn time. The title track of an album should, above all else, be where everything comes together. It should be "the" song people take away, even if they forget that there was anything else on the damn disc. Well, let's hope that doesn't hold true for '13', the worst musical experience thus far in the album. Thankfully, 'Shadow Of The Reaper' picks up the scraps and blends them into a quite effective thrash/death attack, recalling a more chronic-enslaved Exodus musically. I'm not really sure what to think of 'Deathklaat', and to be honest, the lack of impact it makes almost speaks more than any sort of definite reaction. Of the three songs on the pre-release sampler, 'The Poison Hand' was my least favourite, and it disappoints me no less hearing it on a full-length. If you're going to play a slower than midpaced riff, and stick with it for the whole of the song, then you damn well better make sure it's interesting enough to hold people's attention. The same unfortunately holds true for 'This Suicide', which comes off sounding like current Metallica aping Entombed's Same Difference album. And now on to the shocker of 13, 'The Art Of Headhunting'. This was the last song on the sampler, and I fucking loved it from jump. Sure, the riff is about as technically proficient as a caveman banging sticks on a rock, but it's damn catchy, and will stick in your head for days. Recalling (again), 'Toxic Waltz'-era Exodus in structure, the only downfall being a phoned in lead from the otherwise capable Swanson. Ending with 'Stump', will (I'm sure) leave SFU fans wanting more. It just left me glad the album was over.
On the plus side, Six Feet Under are one of the most steadfast bands in the death genre, and reliable in that you know just what you're getting when you crank up an SFU album. The shame lies in the fact that - even with 13 - good songs are rendered stale by sub-par production, and paint a sad picture of a possibly decent band held back by it's leader's refusal to let someone else take the reins. In case you do decide to look outside yourself for production duties on the next album, Chris, I know where you can get a pretty capable chimp who'd do the job cheaply.