Barnes & Der Club of Gore
Whether he likes it or not, Chris Barnes will forever bear the infamy of being ejected from Cannibal Corpse. It is a heavy metal exile story as full of sweeping drama as Dave Mustaine and Metallica, or Max Calavera and Sepultura. Barnes is also infamous among metal fans in the know – as well as concerned parents and activists – for writing and delivering some the most gory, depraved heavy metal lyrics in the genre’s relatively brief history. “Virgin / Tied to my mattress / Legs spread wide / Ruptured bowel, yanked / From her insides / Devirginized with my knife” goes one passage from Cannibal Corpse’s 1992 song “Entrails Ripped from a Virgin’s C**t.”
Heavy metal culture is a unique place. While it’s somewhat uncool to saddle the genre with the baggage of shameless degeneracy, it’s definitely more uncool to judge any artist within for even the most senseless fantasies. And so Barnes is a respected figure in metal. Apparently he’s a pleasantly mellow, pot-loving, dreadlocked guy who uses his lyrics and vocals as an outlet for extreme scenes of psychosexual torture-murder. Once his time with the Corpse ran out in 1995, Barnes needed another outfit, and thus devoted his attentions to Six Feet Under, which he started with guitarist Allen West in 1993. Since then, Six Feet Under has changed lineups repeatedly, but remained steady with their releases. Crypt of the Devil is their 14th full-length album, including cover albums.
Crypt of the Devil is a name that is easy to imagine in slanted, metallic text on a weathered VHS box. It is generic and it speaks to genre. The genre in this case is death metal, no more and no less. Picture any death metal album you have ever heard, and this is it. That is not to say that it isn’t written carefully or executed well, but there is absolutely nothing new or unique here.
We like to pretend that our favorite musicians don’t age, but they do. Whether from the years of growling and pot smoke, or just the march of the years, Barnes’ voice sounds ragged around the edges. This could have been turned into an asset – imagine Barnes conjuring his inner Tom Waits or Ice Cream for Crow-era Captain Beefheart for a bizarre death blues romp; wouldn’t that be a trip? Alas, as it stands, Crypt of the Devil is an unremarkable vehicle – a windowless white van as it were – for Barnes’ macabre concepts. With songs like “Open Coffin Orgy,” “Broken Bottle Rape” and “Compulsion to Brutalize,” it seems that he is using a corroded hammer to beat a putrefying horse.
The more convincing the art surrounding a controversial set of lyrics, the less obscene they seem. Catchy summer radio hit “Pumped Up Kicks” points lyrically toward a school shooting, and it’s easy to imagine there were those who admired the subterfuge once they found out. Tacking closer to metal,Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats achieve absolutely hair-raising creepiness via their period-perfect sound and unapologetic inhabitation of the spot right behind the swastika on Charles Manson’s forehead. Pig Destroyer arguably achieve a twisted pathos by imbuing their torture songs with unforgettable poetic imagery. From “Deathtripper”: “Your ribcage is open / like a great white’s jaws / your legs / look so sexy out of context.”
Barnes meanwhile sounds like a strange man artlessly pushing grisly horror images on you. He’s not quite roaming the subway yet, but damn if he isn’t at risk. For those inured to these kinds of ideas, boredom may be the reaction that follows – after all, these songs are not tongue-in-cheek enough to laugh with (check out Cannabis Corpse for that), nor are they challenging or subtle in any way. Because of this, Crypt of the Devil looks for all the world like a wince-worthy dispatch from a vanity project facing diminishing returns. This is not to say that the album is not competent or even mildly enjoyable, but to ignore all of the other dark and gory death metal out there in favor of these tired dissections would be a torture that is genuinely self-inflicted.