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In the two years of touring and writing that Six Feet Under busied themselves with after the release of “Haunted”, you’d imagine that somewhere down the road they would assess their strengths and weaknesses. The second album, like a third recording, is the time when a band needs to prove itself as an entity worthy of continued praise and support. With the financial and promotional aide of Metal Blade Records to hold down the fort Six Feet Under did indeed have the support angle in their favor, the praise not so much. “Haunted”, despite its actual good sales numbers, wasn’t the thing people bragged about liking, other than in that jokingly, not-so-serious manner as in: “it isn’t that bad!” So, when “Warpath” was announced all eyes were on Chris Barnes and company to deliver their ultimate statement, the record to prove that Six Feet Under was a genuine band that could stand on its own two feet. Was this the case? Well, no. Not really.

The air sirens that introduce ‘War Is Coming’ at least attempt to inject some life into this Obituary retread. A retread is precisely what this sorry waste of time and resources is. “Haunted”, for all its work-in-progress faults and shortcomings, was excusable in the sense that it was a one-off side-project, and not a very serious one at that. “Warpath” on the other hand was the result of a two years gestation period, where the band had time to test their new and old material in the live arena. “Warpath” largely follows the same template as its predecessor, but there are a few notable differences.  I wouldn’t call these differences improvements, but at least there are differences, superficial as they might be.

tumblr_np1awlljTZ1u2hlzto1_500Barnes’ growl vocals start their deterioration with this album. There are instances of spoken passages and an increase of his shrieks. I know not what happened to Barnes in between “Haunted” and this session, but it is safe to assume that the rabid consumption of ganja had shredded most of his vocal range, as limited as it was. Barnes here sounds more throaty, exhausted and downright poor in parts. West still pillages the Obituary well for all its worth, and there’s an almost punk/hardcore immediacy to a good deal of these cuts. The material is rapidly losing whatever little death metal edge was present and is fully going into that maligned stomping and stuttering dudebro groove metal territory that is widely despised for reasons I will not expand on here. Greg Gall is his usual boring and uncreative self, going into full hard rock drumming mode. Terry Butler is content to follow whatever one-dimensional riff West gives him, and despite being solely responsible for the rumbling low-end and overall heaviness quota, his playing is underachieving in the most vile way imaginable. Why these untalented folks again?

Another important thing to note is that Six Feet Under’s love for cover versions comes into full swing with “Warpath”. For this session the band chug and growl their way through Holocaust track ‘Death Or Glory’. Apparently this must have been some kind of resounding success because based upon the presence of cover tracks on this album and the one to follow, Metal Blade and Chris Barnes decided to make a cotton industry out of that. The results? The absolutely appalling and widely panned “Graveyard Classics” sub-brand of releases. Not only do these interpretations add nothing to the originals – why are these songs part of the band’s main releases in the first place? Also, when the cover tracks are the best material present on a band’s record, it is time to take a look inward and re-evaluate whether or not the band’s continued existence is worth all the trouble.

With “Warpath” Chris Barnes branched out lyrically away from the exclusive gore and horror themes, and it is the first Six Feet Under album to include political content. ‘War Is Coming’, ‘A Journey Into Darkness’, ‘Manipulation’ and ‘Caged and Disgraced’ are the political songs, while others dabble in more interpersonal subjects, such ‘Nonexistence’ and ‘As I Die’. A special mention must, of course, go out to the entirely awful ‘4:20’ – the band’s incoherent ode to marijuana and weed. This wasn’t very special given the time in the ‘90s when this album was released. In the mainstream there were several bands proclaiming their love for the leaf, whether they were Cypress Hill or Tom Petty. In the metal underground bands as Exit-13, Murphy’s Law and Cephalic Carnage were talking about pot legalization to its audiences. Six Feet Under cashing in on a trend? How novel.

“Warpath” is, above all else, a testament to ineptitude, stupidity and laziness. There’s no progression here, but regression has its hooks sunk into everything. The songs are zoned out, smoked out regurgitations of already reiterated songs that Obituary wrote a couple of years prior. Barnes’ vocal performance is nothing short of laughable. His grunts are weak and powerless, his clean singing is embarrassing and his shrieks impose fits of laughter. It’s hard to believe that this man led Cannibal Corpse through its classic era. Allen West retreads familiar ground yet again, and doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to differentiate Six Feet Under from his main band. Terry Butler boldly soldiers on in doing what he always has done: doubling the guitar riffs ad infinitum ad absurdum. Greg Gall, the least talented member of this band outside of Chris Barnes, lays down standard rock beats in the most unimaginative and least offensive way possible. These tracks are even simpler in construction and format than the ones that came before. Groove has taken over operations completely, and no amount of posturing is going to change that.

Does this surprise anyone? No. Just take a look at the cover artwork, a term used very loosely within context. It has the, admittedly instantly identifiable, SFU sigil that is superimposed over a daft and uninteresting looking band photo. The band had used excellent movie cover art for their preceding album just two years prior, yet here they are content with a band picture and a band sigil drawn by Barnes? Instead of having actual cover art and using the photography for the booklet, they go for the path of least resistance. Was Brian Slagel too busy counting money and calculating potential profit to care about product presentation? Was he so obsessed with rushing out this product to the fans that even he couldn’t bother to allocate an artist to craft a fitting album cover? Just to illustrate, the lack of standards and attention to detail begins here. A hatchet job on part of all involved, and no amount of media attention was going to mask that.

4 years, two albums and an EP after forming Six Feet Under already reduced themselves to the laughing stock and absolute bottom level of the genre. I might point out that Deicide released the only mediocre “Serpents Of the Light” in the same year as this album, in 1997. That band was at least three years away from their its period of stagnation and creative inertia. Malevolent Creation put out “In Cold Blood” that, despite its savage nature and the presence of one Derek Roddy, was average at best. After this album Allen West would break ranks to join Obituary for “World Demise” and its subsequent world tour. In his stead Six Feet Under would enlist Steve Swanson, guitarist of one-hit wonder Massacre. It’s funny that Six Feet Under opted to enlist Swanson, especially when you consider the fact that he was not in any shape the songwriter or creative force behind Massacre. That always was Rick Rozz. As things stand, “Warpath” is a disappointment and terrible album on all fronts.

After falling so deep, the band could only go up. Whether or not they were able to redeem themselves remained to be seen…

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In the early ‘90s things started brewing in the Sunshine State of Florida. Cannibal Corpse had released the critically acclaimed “The Bleeding” and Obituary had just put “The End Complete” on the market, the logical culmination of their earlier sound, on the once-relevant Roadrunner Records. Massacre had already released their sole album “From Beyond”. That exactly these men would end up jamming together should surprise no one with even the most casual level of interest in the death metal genre and its players. All three had a footing in the more simpler downtuned form of the genre around this time. At least half the line-up was at the height of its commercial success and influence. The collective downtime that all three bands were experiencing around this juncture would lead their main creative forces to pull together in a side-project, Six Feet Under.

The original Six Feet Under line-up comprised of vocalist/lyricist Chris Barnes (Cannibal Corpse), Allen West (lead guitar for Obituary), Terry Butler (bass guitar for Massacre and Death), plus Last Rite drummer Greg Gall. Why that the band would hook up with Greg Gall (outside of his relation to bassist Terry Butler) is anybody’s guess? There certainly were better and more skilled drummers available in the area. Bill Andrews from Massacre, Steve Asheim from Deicide, Alex Marquez from Solstice or the many Malevolent Creation drummers residing in the area to name a number of obvious examples, could have added their own spin to this collection of material. Gall is just a gigantic bore on all fronts whose presence can only be rationalized through sheer nepotism, or the more obvious convenience – certainly not skill level or overall talent.

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The stoner rock influence is minimal on the record, although it is present in some form in a number of songs already. This aspect would not fully form and come to bloom until the follow-up to this debut two years later. What is clear is that Six Feet Under said everything they wanted to say on this one album. Anything after it is merely retreading old grounds, lyrically as well as musically. This band was never meant to be a full-blown touring and recording unit. The format is played out even before the last song on this album finishes. “Haunted”, for better or worse (mostly worse), was meant to be a one-off studio project among friends. “Haunted” captured a brief window in time. Nothing more.

Side-projects, at least in their intended form, are an outlet for different musical ideas that the musicians in question can’t use or write in their main outlets. The very idea of Six Feet Under sounding exactly like the sum of its parts is puzzling to say the least. Throw Cannibal Corpse, Obituary and Massacre into a blender, and you get exactly something like this. It could be argued that the scene needed a band like this, and that was in fact the case. Many bands were pushing themselves to play heavier, faster and more technically demanding material. The arms race in death metal started around this period, and Six Feet Under considered itself the cure to the common complaint. In being a counter-reaction to what the rest of the scene was doing. The band of choice for those with low attention spans and low standards, the band painted itself in a corner. Sure, it is charming in a shallow and very dim way – but how good exactly is this debut record “Haunted”? Being completely honest: not very – but that shouldn’t surprise anyone.

The thundering bass rumble and guitar feedback that introduces ‘The Enemy Within’ at least sounds a bit ominous, but the following drum roll and 4/4 drumming take down whatever little promise was created. The thing you’ll notice is that even on their first record Six Feet Under is already cannibalizing itself. The drum pattern you’ll hear in ‘The Enemy Within’ becomes an integral part of single ‘Lycanthropy’. Various riffs and chord progressions return at an alarming interval. Not to say that Allen West was ever a very varied or technically gifted guitarist, but even by Obituary standards “Haunted” is pushing into uncomfortable realms of repetition and regurgitation of its own material.

One thing must be said about Allen West. Despite the cannibalization of his own riffs and chord structures at least the guy could write and play a lead/solo when he set his mind to it. It’s no wonder “World Demise” would sound so much more urban, and hardcore-ish when you take this album in consideration. This is the Obituary album that Obituary never released. All West’s creative juices went into writing and producing “Haunted”, the fact that Greg Gall is a lesser drummer than Donald Tardy just happens to work with the admittedly lesser material he wrote for this session. This was a side-project after all, not their main outlet. Butler, despite his impressive resume of influential bands, doesn’t add a lot to the already mediocre material. Kind of like Obituary’s own Frank Watkins…

It’s hard not to notice the similarity between the songs here. ‘Silent Violence’ has its basic structure later re-used in its entirety in ‘Human Target’. The key drum parts of ‘The Enemy Within’ return prominently in ‘Lycanthropy’. ‘Remains Of You’ re-uses several parts of ‘Suffering In Ecstasy’. That there are a number of songs that don’t even reach the 3-minute mark should at least tell you something. Six Feet Under isn’t trying very hard to do something with their genre of choice, or something more ambitious than caveman grooves and one chord/one riff driven “songs”. For a moment not considering the inter-song recycling of tired ideas and concepts, there are probably a handful of Obituary songs that I could name that forms the basis for the majority of these tracks. Six Feet Under was never particularly good, even in their best and brightest days.

Produced at Morrisound with Brian Slagel and Scott Burns “Haunted” comes with that typical thick US death metal sound that Florida was associated with. The guitar tone is vintage Obituary, while the prominent bass guitar recalls Cannibal Corpse’s third album “Tomb Of the Mutilated”. The drumming of Greg Gall is rock oriented more than anything else, and even two decades later it is hard to imagine why he landed this prestigious recording/touring offer for other reasons than being the brother-in-law to bassist Terry Butler. Chris Barnes is in fine form on this record, and this is probably his last vocal performance worth mentioning. The lyrics aren’t very special, but at least they are not terrible. The Jim Warren cover artwork was taken from the movie poster for 1990 Jim Wynorski exploitation horror/thriller “The Haunting Of Morella”.

“Haunted” avoids the more extreme spectrums of the genre, and relies mostly on its stoner groove to carry the album. The looming influence of Pantera, who were growing in popularity around this period, deals the deathblow to this already dangerously stagnant record. The verse-chorus structure adds a level of radio-friendliness, and avoids making the record sound too complex for the untrained ear, or those with limited knowledge or interest in the genre. The songs tend to plod on without a sense of direction, and just end once the song has reached its desired length. Outside of the occasional sparkling guitar lead/solo there is little of interest, or note here. The idea of this album was at least interesting from a theoretical point of view. It should have never left the rehearsal studio and pressed on disc for thousands of people to hear, sadly.

In any case, this was the band’s best album – what comes after is much, much worse…