Monday, September 26, 2016

Six Feet Under - Haunted (1995)

Six Feet Under is a horrible pseudo-Death Metal band that was originally conceived as a side project of members of Cannibal Corpse and Obituary. They even recruited a former member of Death and Massacre. When the idea first came about, supposedly in 1993, this might not have been such a horrible idea, though the sub-genre was either dead or dying by this point already. It took them about two years to finally release their joke of a debut album, Haunted

I remember getting this pile of filth when it came out. Metal Blade promoted the hell out of it, as if it was something special. That was not to be the case. Everything about this is dumbed-down and designed for simple-minded sheep. Chris Barnes seemed to have run out of steam after The Bleeding, as his lyrics were becoming rather redundant by this point. There were a few mildly interesting ideas, but most of this is just really tame and generic. The vocals are also quite dull when compared to the previous year's Cannibal Corpse release. His performance sounds very uninspired and phoned-in for much of the time. Then again, when one examines the boring and often tedious songwriting that he had to work with, it may also be the fault of Allen West. 

Musically, this has to be one of the most stale albums to ever be vomited forth at the feet of unsuspecting listeners. I absolutely despise "groove Metal", and this record is full of it. Haunted features nearly 40 minutes of mid-paced trash that would have been better off in the rubbish bin. Even worse, the album includes a few stolen ideas from West's primary band, Obituary, and not even good ones at that. He lifted some riffs directly from the equally terrible World Demise L.P. Not only are the riffs mundane, but the song structures, combined with the formulaic lyrics and vocals, make this entire endeavour all the more tiring.

While Haunted may be the 'best' thing that Six Feet Under ever released, that is not saying much. Seriously. This simplistic garbage is a mere parody of Death Metal. There is not one shred of darkness or any hint of morbid atmosphere to be found within any of these eleven(!) songs. Something like this may serve as a gateway band for kids that haven't graduated beyond the likes Pantera, but true Death Metal this absolutely is not. Avoid this farce, by all means. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Death - Individual Thought Patterns (1993)

In June 1993, Death returned with their fifth full-length, Individual Thought Patterns. This album just further solidified the fact that Chuck Schuldiner was more interested in honing his technical skills, to the detriment of the actual songwriting. There is absolutely no Death Metal atmosphere to be found here. Between the terrible songwriting and the horrible production, the end result is a pathetic and limp album that serves more as a masturbatory endeavour than anything else. Everything about this is the opposite of the classic albums that made this band so legendary in the first place. 

The inspiration to create something dark and evil had long ago faded from Chuck's being. Listening to what he had to say in interviews around the release of this abomination, he was again going on about how he wasn't "anti-life" and how Death was "just a name". The idea that anyone might associate him with anything dark truly seemed to bother him. That's rather clear from the "Life Metal" lyrics that further destroy any possibility for this collection of weak and non-threatening tracks to have any real Death Metal vibe. As with Human, he said that the lyrics were written with hopes that "people can relate to them". The musical influences that he cited included Queensryche and Watchtower and so on. Listening to this pathetic offering, it's difficult to imagine that these musicians were involved with such albums as Scream Bloody Gore, Darkness Descends and Illusions. Even the faster parts feel so contrived and disingenuous. The riffs are utterly generic and fail to create any kind of feeling at all. Hoglan's drumming is incredibly overactive, but it's not as if his performance takes away from anything since the songwriting is so uninspired. Schuldiner's ability as a guitarist has definitely developed over the years, yet he is still out-classed by King Diamond guitarist Andy LaRocque, whose solos are probably the best parts of the whole album. Even the vocals have deteriorated from the late 80s, sounding more like a girl trying to imitate a Death Metal vocalist than the possessed ghoul from Scream Bloody Gore and the old demos. 

One could lay some of the blame for this atrocity at the feet of Scott Burns, the dimwitted producer that is responsible for the incredibly sterile and plastic sound that afflicts Individual Thought Patterns (and so many other records). Even if Chuck had written a authentic Death Metal classic, the despicable Morrisound production would have rendered it dull and lifeless. The guitar tone on this album is typical of the time period, possessing no edge or heaviness. It's as smooth as can be and, coupled with Schuldiner's weak material, the guitars end up sounding quite fragile at times. The bass is too high in the mix and gives a soft and cartoonish feel to the music. The drumming is just a mess of clicky double-bass that pollutes the whole album, as much the fault of Hoglan's style as anything. 

If you're simply a fan of Schuldiner as a musician, you may not find anything wrong with Individual Thought Patterns. You'll certainly get a fair dose of his typical songwriting. However, judging this as a so-called Death Metal album, it fails miserably. This 'technical / progressive' garbage is a disgrace to the band that once created such classic albums as Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy. If Chuck no longer wanted anything to do with real Death Metal, he should have laid aside the name and continued to make boring Heavy Metal with a new project. Keeping a name that he didn't even like anymore, especially with completely different line-ups and a different musical style, was all about brand recognition and nothing more. Avoid this like the plague. In fact, I need to go listen to the Back from the Dead demo just to cleanse this filth from my ears...

Friday, September 9, 2016

Death - Human (1991)

Released through Relativity Records in October 1991, Human is the fouth L.P. from the legendary Death. Much had happened since the previous album, with Chuck backing out of a planned European tour and putting the remaining members in a tough spot. They went on to tour without him, and some other controversies arose from this that, ultimately, led to him kicking everyone out of the band and starting fresh. Unfortunately, he turned to his progressive/technical friends, Steve DiGiorgio and the two nancy boys from Cynic. The end result is a rather mediocre album that gets more praise than it deserves.  

Chuck had already been distancing himself from his musical past, even as early as the Spiritual Healing tour, playing only one song from the classic Scream Bloody Gore album. He was very vocal in interviews around this time, trying to dispel rumours (many of which turned out to be true). It was said that he wasn't really into Death Metal anymore, which is quite obvious by the changes that one can witness with Human. Musically and lyrically, Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy were just pure Death Metal in its truest form. What followed was a total 'wimp-out', with Chuck choosing to write about "real life issues that people can identify with". Right, because that's what Death Metal is supposed to be about... He even kept pushing the fact that Death was just a name and had no meaning, citing that he was just a young kid when he chose it. This effeminate and weak creature cared way too much regarding what people thought of him, going out of his way to make sure no one thought he was evil because he played in a band with such a name. Gone were the days of zombie rituals, unholy graves and open caskets. With song titles like "Flattening of Emotions" and "Lack of Comprehension", one has to think this is a prime example of what Euronymous was talking about when referring to "life metal". 

Human was a statement against those that claimed that Schuldiner no longer wanted anything to do with Death Metal. The thing is though, if the aggression found here is merely a response to critics, is it still genuine or is this yet another way to corrode the artistic integrity of a band? Doing something just because it is expected or to prove that he could doesn't give the impression that he had a passion for this style, more that he had a reputation to try to clean up. But moving beyond that, what does this record have to offer, musically? 

There are absolutely some great Death Metal riffs, here and there. Whatever his motivation in writing them, the more intense parts are quite good. The songwriting is quite solid, yet this doesn't do enough to combat the many flaws with this outing. Firstly, Human was recorded at Morrisound, meaning that it has that same bland and non-threatening production that was the trademark of scumbag Scott Burns. The guitars have a rather dull tone, too modern and slick for my tastes. Then, of course, a Morrisound production job wouldn't be complete without the annoying, clicky bass drums. The raw and primal vibe of Scream Bloody Gore was long a thing of the past by this point. The primitive feeling is completely gone, exemplified by Reinert's overactive drumming. Chuck described in interviews how he wanted the album to reflect their developing skills, in order to display what they were capable of as musicians. 

No. No, no, no. Making an album is not about everyone having a wank and patting themselves on the back. The purpose is to create, not to show off how technical one can play. Only if it serves the music should one do such a thing. If the atmosphere of the album requires someone to hold back from demonstrating everything that they can possibly do, then that is a sacrifice that must be made for the purity of the music. Just look at Fenriz's performances after Soulside Journey; he could clearly play just as technically sound as the next drummer, but he realized that the style of music he was playing demanded a different approach. Personally, I am not a fan of so-called progressive or technical Death Metal, as I feel that the raw and primitive vibe is an integral part of what makes it Death Metal in the first place, along with the lyrics and the imagery. Human is lacking in all regards. That is not to say that it doesn't have its moments. Again, there are many good riffs and the solos are well done and even Chuck's vocals sound better than the effect-laden performance of Spiritual Healing. It's just too bad that he's whining about personal issues and not exploring darker themes. 

If looked at with less scrutiny, Human isn't a terrible album. In fact, most fans of Death will probably find little or no fault in it. In that respect, it can be enjoyable. The thing is, it's not what it could have been. A gritty production, toned-down drumming and lyrical themes that actually were suited to this kind of music would have made all the difference in the world. Death Metal is not supposed to be so slick and professional and modern, and it certainly should not be polluted with these weak and pathetic lyrics. If "Evil Chuck" was so afraid of being associated with anything dark and had lost the passion for Death Metal, he should have put the band in the grave and gone on to do whatever progressive, melodic garbage he wanted, just under a different name. In my book, Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy are the only essential releases from Death. The rest is negligible.