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Somewhere in the early 2000s the mid period Marduk line-up splintered with vocalist Erik Hagstedt and drummer Emil Dragutinovic exiting the fold. It was perhaps not surprising that both men eventually ended up forming a new band that sounded anything like their previous engagement. Thus was born Devian. Devian was a shortlived Swedish death/thrash/black metal group that was active from 2006 to 2011. It originally went by the name Rebel Angels (and Elizium for a bit after that) and featured two prominent Marduk alumni in vocalist Erik Hagstedt and drummer Emil Dragutinovic. The band managed to release two albums on Century Media and put in some touring before imploding due to line-up changes and life’s general difficulties. Like so many splinter projects of more popular bands Devian wasn’t bad, but it remains questionable whether their existence added something to their direction of choice. The answer to that is as clear as it is obvious: no, Devian didn’t add anything to melodic death metal, or black/thrash metal. It does both genres well enough, but that’s about it.

devian11“Ninewinged Serpent” is, above all else, a record in stark contrast in writing to the duo’s previous work in Marduk. Whereas that band (at least in its mid period) seemed to focus on one-dimensional blast-oriented high-octane black metal, Devian is anything but that. There isn’t much speed or blasting to be found on this record – and whenever it appears it is only used sparingly. While Marduk post-“Opus Nocturne” was never a great master of dynamics or compositional range, Devian is equally as handicapped in that regard. What the band play is better than most of its contemporaries, but the adamant insistence on playing exclusively midpaced with little to no deviation makes the record an exercise in tedium. While this is refreshing in itself for the first two or three tracks, by the time you reach the middle of the album one is wishing that Devian would just let things rip and change the tempo and dynamics up a bit. It is a one-trick pony, and the trick itself isn’t remotely exciting or spectacular enough to warrant all the attention.

‘Dressed In Blood’ is about as far from Marduk as one can get. It’s a deathly thrashing metal variant that is both melodic and dark but energetic. It hints upon something malevolent and threatening just below the surface - but it never goes there, it never comes out. The track never delivers upon its initial promise. It is characterizing for the band that most of their songs are meddling, middle-of-the-road affairs that do what they do well, but fail to go anywhere remotely exciting in the process. Yes, it stands to reason that it is fun to hear former Marduk members venture into death – and thrash metal territory, but that alone isn’t enough to sell the record. Devian doesn’t go for either direction convincingly. It isn’t dark, heavy and hateful enough sounding to be purely death metal, and it misses the adrenaline-fueled excitement, the neckbreaking rhythm sections or the groove one would associate with thrash metal. The black metal influence is minimal, and outside of Hagstedt’s serpentine rasps there is little to associate it with that genre. “Ninewinged Serpent” does a bit of everything, but doesn’t do any of those things convincing enough to impress. The same basic ideas get repeated over and over again, and the album goes nowhere. There’s no journey to be had. No climax, no payoff.

That’s the major and only problem that plagues this band and this debut. It’s been done before, often times better and in more exciting ways. At times it even feels like the songs of this album needed more time to gestate and to properly grow. Instead they were hastily stitched together and recorded in order that Century Media could push the album out. While it is great seeing former Marduk members band together and writing music again, it leaves you wondering what could have happened if Devian didn’t get signed, and had transformed into another musically more ambitious and conceptually stronger unit. The skill level is obviously present, but this band feels so ordinary and mundane for players of this caliber. Emil Dragutinovic is capable of much better than the predictable and laidback thrash beats he dishes out, the riffing is solid but not particularly strong and the songwriting bounces in all directions, but never decides what it really wants to be. Erik Hagstedt is his usual self, and at least his lyrics are slightly more personal than the corny, goofy things he was obliged to write under the Marduk banner. Devian is just the sum of its parts – and that sum isn’t particularly strong or remarkable in itself.

In fact, if this wasn’t for the label muscle and the involvement of said Marduk members, you’d be hardpressed to tell this apart from the hundreds of melodic death metal bands in the underground. There’s no two ways about it. This album sounds so ordinary, to the point of being cliché that it’s even painful to listen to just because of how underachieving and mediocre the entire premise sounds. Yes, the songs sound good, they are adequately recorded and there’s some energy to them. Yet nothing screams out to the listener, these are mere shells of stronger and better songs. There’s better bands with less starpower that write much better, more poignant music than what these established figureheads have cooked up here. Devian was one of the earlier bands to use the digital artwork of Greek artist Seth Siro Anton from Hellenic symphonic metal act Septic Flesh, and that’s the only spark of originality in this otherwise mundane and too non-committal sounding death/thrash record. And that’s a shame, really… because this could have been so much better on all fronts – but it just isn’t showing here, nor would it be on the second album.

 

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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…