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If “Maximum Violence” was the point where Six Feet Under jumped the shark creatively then “True Carnage” is the point where they stopped caring altogether. Two years after their last recording embarrassment these Tampa, Florida natives return for another round of the most primitive, unassuming and lunk-headed death metal. “True Carnage” is a lot of things, but it isn’t good by any stretch of the imagination. This was released in 2001, when death metal was going through a number of important changes. While everybody was seeking to improve themselves, Six Feet Under descended into a haze of weed smoke and cheap booze. No longer trying, and no longer caring they dished out a record that is actively offensive to the listener, and not in the way they probably intended. “True Carnage” is Six Feet Under’s artistic death certificate and a sad reminder of what happens to bands that should never have had full label support from day one.

Six-Feet-Under-New-RecordLet’s get some obvious facts in the open first. 7 songs out of 11 don’t reach the standard 3-minute mark. Where on the preceding albums the band at least tried to write actual songs, predictable as they might have been, here they just throw together a bunch of simplistic riffs and call it day. You play groove death metal, the most basic form of the genre – is it really that hard to piece together more than two riffs per “song”? I’m all for keeping things simple, but this is pushing it. Bolt Thrower has proven this in spades, with a handful of riffs per song and a sense of dynamics even this genre can be exciting, satisfying and brutal. Six Feet Under is the exact opposite of that modus operandi. With an intermediate of three riffs per song, there isn’t a lot of substance to begin with – but even Steve Swanson is no longer trying here. This guy was in Massacre, a band that made simplicity its trademark. Apparently Swanson learned nothing from Rick Rozz.

The songs are messy, two riff affairs that embody everything that is wrong with death metal. What ‘Impulse to Disembowel’ is supposed to be I do not know, but it isn’t good. When the band does get the equation right once every blue moon, the results are still amazingly average and unexciting. The thick bass grooves and lead/solo of ‘The Day the Dead Walked’ are the best parts of an otherwise far too mundane cut. Exactly how long can a band pass off the same riffs of the past three records as new ones? That is what happening here. Six Feet Under is cannibalizing itself once again, and they are recycling ideas, riffs and chord progressions wholesale. In ‘The Murderers’ Chris Barnes starts by stating the obvious: “it’s all fucked up” and outside of the hiphop-like drum intro, exactly what is the point? Sure, the solo is halfway decent, but that’s being generous. ‘Waiting for Decay’ is a retread of ‘The Day the Dead Walked’ and Barnes’ deep vocals are about the only worthwhile aspect of what is a clear recycling of a song you heard earlier – on this very album. Exactly how much more shameless and flat out lazy can a band get?

Then there are the guest appearances of this maligned recording. ‘One Bullet Left’, the band’s now expected vigilante song, features the Original Gangster Ice-T on a guest rap. Usually when Six Feet Under does vigilante/revenge songs they are about self-empowerment in some incoherent way. ‘Human Target’ and ‘No Warning Shot’ are popular for a reason. Above all these are easily recognizable scenarios for pea-brained metalheads to cling to. Whether it is about killing your enemies in ‘Human Target’, or shooting police officers in ‘No Warning Shot’. Even ‘One Bullet Left’ is different in that regard, instead of having the protagonist killing his/her enemies, the character takes a family hostage and brutalizes them, before taking his/her own life with one bullet left.

icet-sfuIce-T’s expletive filled flow sounds self-deprecating and self-aware in levels that Chris Barnes sad little story is not. T flows about dealing damage to “You motherfuckin critic-ass bitch motherfuckers” and makes vows to kill them all with his gun. The surrounding lyrics, penned by Barnes, are incoherent at best. Starting off with the exclamation “I’ll kill all the haters” and the entire verse that follows seems to hint at Barnes dishing out cold revenge to his band’s many detractors. Then the Ice-T flow hits and the song suddenly switches subject to the earlier mentioned hostage situation. The song is poorly thought out on about every level, and Ice-T is sorely wasted on what should have been a potentially interesting pairing. T’s delivery of the lyrics far more interesting than anything Barnes has done for the past two records. Alas, it is not able to redeem this sorry album. It is another sad reminder that Barnes was probably smoking too much ganja at the time, and things that seem cool when inebriated are rarely so when sober.

‘Knife, Gun, Axe’ starts off with a decent drum intro, but the rehashing of past material becomes more clear once again. ‘Snakes’, the following song, is even more stripped down and basic. It has Barnes on a stream of conscious singing words loosely related to the song title, and the chorus itself has him grunting the title over the most unexciting base groove riffs yet created in this band’s already bulging arsenal of banality. Did the band cash the advance from the label and spent it on booze and weed – and a week before recording realized they had no actual material? This record certainly sounds like it. “True Carnage” appears rushed, clumsily arranged, and only getting by on the barest of essentials. To think that this is one of Metal Blade’s priority bands (along with Cannibal Corpse) makes it even more insulting. Why should fans shell out hard currency for a poorly put together product that the band in question doesn’t even care about?

Much ado was about the song ‘Sick and Twisted’, a track that features Karyn Crisis on what was promised to be a death metal male-female “duet”. Now I don’t want to sound exceedingly elitist here, but what exactly was so revolutionary about this concept? Women had been involved in the underground metal scene, death – and black metal included, long before Chris Barnes got this idea in his dreadlocked head. By the time this record rolled out of the studio, women had been involved in the scene and their own bands for a good three decades. Since the ‘80s women have been fronting death – and black metal bands, and at the time of this album German-Swedish outfit Arch Enemy were a poster child for this very thing. In the 1980s there were American death/doom metal bands as Derkéta and Mythic, and its black metal offspring Demonic Christ. In the 90s in Europe there were bands like Acrostichon, Dracena, Opera IX, Astarte and later Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult, which were all fronted by women. Six Feet Under was just cashing in on another trend – like they always have done. Nothing to see here, really.

If Barnes was attempting to make an important statement about gender roles in extreme metal, I’m not sure what message he was trying to convey, or what the point is supposed to be. ‘Sick and Twisted’ is a gore-drenched love song, nothing more – it isn’t the kind of thing you want to use if you want to say something meaningful about gender roles and gender politics with an industry and fandom that is largely male-dominated. Hetero-normative relationships are the accepted status-quo, and a pathetic and inconsequential little ditty like this isn’t going to change anything about that. The patriarchy of and rampant sexism in the extreme metal scene is one of its many problems that need to be adressed, but Six Feet Under is not nearly eloquent enough, nor are they in the possession of then needed mental facilities for such a delicate task.

Like the album before it “True Carnage” has more effort and care put into its design and presentation than in its actual musical contents. The design and lay-out is absolutely superb on every level, and the photography and artwork matches, if not surpasses, the incredible glossy looking “Maximum Violence”. The artwork by tattoo artist Paul Booth is simply wasted on an asinine, mundane and bottom-feeding act like this. If Six Feet Under only put as much care in the songwriting and musicianship as the level of artisan craftsmanship that their presentation got, they would actually be a halfway decent band. What we have now is a mediocre band with an inflated budget, a ginormous ego and a warped sense of entitlement and importance. This is where Six Feet Under became a parody of itself, a caricature and the embodiment of underachievement, redundancy and pointlessness. From here on onward the band would descent into even more comic levels of asininity and irrelevance with the even more terrible “Bringer Of Blood”.  For my own sanity’s sake, I will not venture that deep into the looming chasms of the yawning abyss. This is where you enter at your own risk. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

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‘In the dark of the night I search for the mindless wretches of society’ Barnes imparts solemnly in the ominous opening of “Maximum Violence”, ‘to drink of their blood and feast upon their flesh.’ Maybe third time is the charm for these Tampa, Florida knuckle-draggers? Maybe, just maybe they lifted themselves out of the creative morass they had submerged themselves in with Allen West? Maybe the presence of Steve Swanson led to the band actually raising an effort and writing the best possible material they could? All these questions and more will go through your head upon hearing those first few moments of ‘Feasting On the Blood Of the Insane’ – however brief it sounds as if Six Feet Under finally redeemed itself, and wrote something worthy of their collective legacy….

That is until Barnes start growling and grunting with a hiphop timbre and the admittedly strong doom opening is abandoned for more of the usual fare, the thing we have all come to loathe this band for: redneck grooves, one chord/one riff songs and baseless hard rock pandering of the poorest kind.  So, here we are another two years later from the wretched “Warpath”, and no lesson was learnt – because outside of vastly improved production values this record sounds almost identical to the one that came before. Almost identical, emphasis mine – because Allen West is no longer in the band, and instead of sounding like a low rent Obituary knock-off Six Feet Under now sounds like a low rent Massacre knock-off. If it feels like you find yourself jumping from the frying pan into fire, don’t worry – because that is exactly what is happening here.

six-feet-underI honestly don’t know where to begin. Outside of a more powerful and spirited vocal performance by the has-been that is Chris Barnes, there’s little about this record to write home about. In part it is a return to the form of “Haunted”, but the remaining parts are still lacking as they have always been. Swanson in his writing and recording debut doesn’t make a complete fool of himself, and while the layman will have a hard time telling his riffs apart from those of former axe man Allen West, the material on display is still the same chugging stuff that was outdated by the time “Warpath” rolled out of the studio. Somehow there must have been audience for this because “Maximum Violence” is on all aspects a more expensive and ambitious undertaking than the preceding album.

Lacking is what this album mostly does, because when you break it down into individual pieces it isn’t all that good. Most obvious bone of contention is the riffing. Yes, the riffing. Not because the riffing is bad in itself, far from it. But to hear the same three basic riffs used in varying degrees and with little difference between them for the length of an album tends to grate on the nerves. So does the bass guitar offer some respite? No, Terry Butler is just being Terry Butler. If there are riffs to double he will do so unequivocally and without a moment’s hesitation. Greg Gall, the least talented member of this unit, continues to hammer away with typical hard rock beats, and offers nothing of note. It boggles the mind for how long these guys were able to get away with the obvious scam they were pulling with their band. Why does this band have fans – can somebody answer that truthfully without going into excuses or throwing insults? I’d love to hear it.

Notable is that “Maximum Violence” sounds absolutely massive with an organic warmth and crunch so often missing from death metal productions in the contemporary era. The record gives a new meaning to low-end heaviness and bass-oriented production work. Chris Carroll outdid himself with his outstanding production on a band that absolutely does not deserve the kind of gloss, smoothness and sheen he has provided this record with. The Paul Booth cover artwork is also the best the band has had since those bright early days of “Haunted” and the cheap cover photo of “Warpath”. It was 1999 and traditional death metal was considered dead due to rising prominence of (symfo) black metal and the emerging nu-metal movement that was to break loose at any point.  On the other end of the genre bands from Europe and South America were pushing the envelope in terms of velocity and speed. No wonder this record sold like hotcakes – because when you listened to stuff like this and suddenly Krisiun came from Brazil with its brazenly blast-focused and truly savage death metal. No wonder all the tobacco chewers, the basement-dwelling halfwits and stinky truckers embraced this band.

What is exactly the problem with this band? There’s nothing wrong with going for the simplest form of the genre. Death metal when played groovy and primitive can be a truly amazing thing. Just think of Bolt Thrower, Gorefest, Jungle Rot, Obituary and although Obituary jumped the shark in the ‘90s, the very idea of chunky groovy death metal isn’t that bad. Six Feet Under, despite the level of talent and influence involved, are the absolute worst and bottom-feeding example of the form. It is therefore not unreasonable for the band’s most visible spokesperson, mister Chris Barnes, to bear the brunt for his band’s continual missteps.

Why it would take until 2011 for him to figure out to get rid of his unit’s least talented members is a question for the ages.

“Maximum Violence” sounds, for better or worse, like Massacre attempting to write an Obituary record with Barnes growling on top. To wit, Massacre’s only album of note “From Beyond” was a whitewash of Death’s “Leprosy” – and despite its historical significance, the record isn’t very good, or memorable. That the label choose to focus on Swanson being "from Massacre" is also questionable. He had no hand, in writing or recording, 1991's "From Beyond", and only appeared at earliest on the "Provoked Accurser" single, itself a precursor of the 1992 "Inhuman Condition" EP. More importantly however is that Steve Swanson was just the second guitarist in Massacre, and never its primary songwriter. That was Fred DeLillo (Rick Rozz) - which makes the promotional tooting all the more questionable, if you take a minute to let it sink in.  Obituary was only good for their first three records, and “World Demise” was redeemed only by the grace of two songs: ‘Don’t Care’ and ‘Final Thoughts’. Like its predecessor the running time and tracklist is artificially lengthened by including a number of classic rock covers that no person in the right mind asked for. The unfortunate few this time around are Kiss, Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy depending on the version of this album you decide to pick up. The problem of the previous album is not rectified. The cover tracks are still better than this band’s original songs. Overall is that “Maximum Violence” is more of the same, but not better.