“Chris Barnes Is Actually A Really Nice Guy”
Chris Barnes sounds really tired — like chronically fatigued, exhaustion-type tired, as opposed to merely burnt out from smoking twelve blunts a day. Fans of extreme metal masters Six Feet Under and Cannibal Corpse have witnessed the gradual thinning of Barnes’s esophageal lining (hey, that’d make a great song title!) over the course of almost thirty years, and the near-constant strain has really started to take an audible toll on his recorded performances. That statement is not really a criticism or any sort of comment on the quality of the music contained within Torment, Six Feet Under’s latest offering, but the album’s song structures tend to cast an unfortunate spotlight on Barnes’s increasingly pained growls. The excruciatingly slow “The Separation of Flesh from Bone” leaves plenty of room for listeners to notice the escalating level of physical strain creeping into Barnes’s quintessential guttural growls.
Barnes was able to skate by with his fading voice on his group’s past few releases, but there’s a mitigating factor at work on Torment: mainly that Six Feet Under’s revolving door of a backline has just completed its latest personnel revolution, resulting in a lineup that was only solidified in the last two years with guitarist Ray Suhy’s formal entrance. So, naturally, the current incarnation of SFU isn’t as instinctively tight and familiar of a unit as, say, any band that have been playing together for years. They’re not going to be able to effortlessly recreate the group cohesion of a death metal classic like Warpath — or even a reasonably high quality album like 2008’s Death Rituals, for that matter. Torment-era Six Feet Under are four dudes playing death metal bumper cars, indiscriminately barreling forward and bouncing off each other in different directions. Occasionally, through pure chance, there will emerge an interesting ricochet — certain sections of “Exploratory Homicide” house just enough syncopated snare hits to disorient the discerning, as well as some pretty intense two-handed bass tapping — but more often they seem to be throwing out tried-and-true death metal trappings at random, a brutal breakdown here, a lightning-faced chromatic riff there. “Knife Through the Skull” sounds like every mid-placed Florida death metal song ever written thrown in a blender and served over an over-cooked slab of suspicious-looking, unspecified meat.
But the material that breaks from tradition is less refreshing than perplexing. “Skeleton” opens with a military drumline march which is…kind of weird. The thrashing, groovy “Slaughtered As They Slept” is definitely the most old school of the Torment tracks, and, through no coincidence, is one of the record’s strongest. The moment Six Feet Under lock into the intro riff is a gleaming, all-too-brief break from the sonic waterboarding, and one of the few instances in which the band isn’t tripping over itself to pack every nanosecond of every song with acrobatics and ferocity and blasts and double kick patterns. Aside from the Sepultura-like “In The Process of Decomposing,” the rest of the album is a bombardment of disjointed sections and dissonant riffs, which may cause listeners to realize that even the best of Six Feet Under’s catalog can be described in this way.
Apart from the wear and tear afflicting Barnes vocals, Torment has neither a hint of imperfect, rushed performance nor blatant sloppiness, unlike most of the classic era Florida death metal albums (e.g. Glenn Benton). The latest incarnation of Six Feet Under is cumulatively skilled enough, but technical prowess has never been in short supply in the death metal community. The direction just isn’t there. Torment is listenable, but doesn’t really tout anything that death heads haven’t heard a billion times over — not that it seems to bother them.