The mid-to-late 2000s were not kind to The Haunted. It was during this time that they lived through what I consider to be the definition of the mid-career slump. After One Kill Wonder and the subsequent departure of the band’s mouthpiece Marco Aro, they put out album after album of unimaginative alt metal to no avail; nothing was sticking. Jump ahead a few years to 2014, and the there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Marco’s back in the command chair and youngblood guitarist Ola Englund had joined the fray. The stage was set for a great comeback album, and the band sure as hell didn’t disappoint. Exit Wounds saw them abandon most of their early melodeath sound in favour of massive, apocalyptic thrash. Take one more leap forward to present day and Exit Wounds’ follow-up is finally upon us. Strength in Numbers is tasked with the Herculean effort of topping one of my favourite modern thrash albums of all time. So how does it fare in its heroic labour?
Pretty damn good, I’d say. Though it doesn’t quite hit the same highs as its predecessor.
“Fill the Darkness with Black” is a typical Haunted intro. It’s got the attitude, the heavy riffs, and the angry, balls-out swagger. It starts with some clean guitar strumming before morphing into a sinister-sounding little number that fades into the first real track of the album, “Brute Force.” For all intents and purposes, “Brute Force” is a statement just as much as it is a song. The Haunted are here to make angry, muscular music, and you’re either gonna like it, or you’re gonna fuck off! The next track, “Spark,” is something of a curveball, however. It’s an oddity within The Haunted’s discography; rather than straight up thrash, there are faint surf rock vibes running through the whole thing, and after much internal confusion, I finally decided that I dig it. It’s aggressive, it’s got some great riffs, and Aro’s a fucking monster on the mic. Yeah, sure, I can dig it.
Right on its heels is the best one-two punch the album has to offer: “Preachers of Death” and the title track. “Preachers” starts off fairly unassumingly, sounding a lot like your standard midpaced thrash track, but then it morphs into something much more sinister. Its bouncy, jangly chorus gives me serious “evil circus ring leader” vibes, and Marco’s vocals are just massive. Towards the song’s back end, we’re treated to about 90 seconds of vaguely doomy sounding riffs that eventually lead into the title track. And oh boy, the title track is big. It starts off with some rather menacing sounding heavy breathing, and from there on out, it’s an ass-kicking, neckbreaking banger of a track with maybe my favourite chorus on the album. Adrian Erlandsson is allowed to really shine behind the kit on this song, and his drumming is a big part of Strength in Numbers’ success.
Unfortunately, it’s after these songs that things get a touch iffy. “Tighten the Noose” starts off promising enough, but after the initial burst of aggression in the intro, it really doesn’t go anywhere or say much for the rest of its runtime. “This is the End” tries to infuse some sludgy doom into the mix and suffers for it. The Haunted are at their best when they’ve got their foot on the gas, and slowing things down to a crawl certainly isn’t earning them any brownie points from me. “The Fall” injects some much-needed speed back into the proceedings, but fails to offer up any ideas we haven’t already heard on one of the album’s previous songs.
Thankfully, The Haunted are able to salvage things on “Means to an End.” It has maybe the greatest intro I’ve ever heard in any thrash song ever. It’s so ridiculously badass, and it’d be a sin for me to spoil it. The rest of the song certainly lives up to the intro as well. It’s tough as nails and filled to the brim with piss n’ vinegar, and it sure as hell doesn’t take kindly to being looked at funny. The album’s closer, “Monuments,” is an exception to my earlier rule of “the faster, the better” as it manages to retain that same pissed off energy that drives the album’s thrashier tracks while never exceeding a snail’s pace.
Overall, this album was set up to be a diminished return. Exit Wounds was a perfect storm of an album, and it would be nuts to believe The Haunted were gonna one-up themselves with Strength in Numbers. Still, it’s a worthy successor to Exit Wounds, and while it may not be the serial-killer melodeath of the band’s early years, it’s a raging beast of an album that shouldn’t be missed.
You can find Strength in Numbers from Century Media.