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Album Review: Six Feet Under – Torment

Six Feet Under is a band that has struggled to be taken seriously since their inception, but between constant Cannibal Corpse comparisons and trying to save face every time vocalist Chris Barnes acts out, they are yet to earn universal respect. Their questionable Graveyard Classics cover album series has certainly not helped their case, either. But at the end of the day, music should be judged based on it’s quality, and not the people or beliefs behind it. But even going in with that mindset, Six Feet Under’s twelfth full-length album, Torment, is an underwhelming listen that fails to live up to the band’s potential.

Six Feet Under’s approach to death metal incorporates groove, and a lot of it. This combination allows for a surplus of interesting and catchy riffs that are sprinkled throughout Torment, the most memorable of which appear on “Skeleton” and “The Separation of Flesh from Bone.” The drumming does it’s job well and, together with the solid riffage, creates a perfect musical foundation for the rest of the outfit to build upon. And yet, for whatever reason, Six Feet Under leaves it at that: songs glowing with totally unused potential that lead up to absolutely nothing. This is due largely in part to the bass, or rather, lack thereof. There are several audible bass lines across the entirety of Torment, but an essential part of the death metal structure shouldn’t be reduced to a twist on an otherwise bland track. It simply doesn’t work that way; you can’t take away the patty from a cheeseburger and then expect your customers to be impressed when you reintroduce it. Bass is a key element to this style of music that may not be the most noticeable layer, but the music will without a doubt suffer in it’s absence. The worst part about this flaw is how easy it would have been to address; it’s not as if there is no bass recording at all, it just needs to be given more attention in the mix.

Torment grips you from the second that “Sacrificial Kill” starts. I can’t say much for that track specifically, but it’s a great first taste of what the album is all about. And yet, the album weakens it’s grip almost immediately by being sterile and, quite honestly, boring. The pressure is transferred to the vocals, which also prove to be problematic. Chris Barnes is generally considered to be a great death metal vocalist; I mean, this is the guy behind the gutturals on Tomb of the Mutilated. But, as Six Feet Under in of itself is proof of, his vocal style does not translate well to clean production. The instruments sound up close and clear, while the vocals have more of a muffled and grotesque effect to them. This is jarring to say the least, and it’s only made worse by Barnes’ lack of range preventing any unique vocal sections. The songs themselves desperately needed more variety; the chorus of “The Separation of Flesh from Bone” was a welcome change to the pace of the album and it’s not the only one, but these moments shouldn’t be left to carry the weight of the entire release.  It’s as if the band was more concerned with getting an album out than they were with making worthwhile death metal to put on said album.

There are some very capable people who were involved in the creation of Torment, and the skill is discernible. The skill just isn’t channeled into the music properly and the result is a bland and painful reminder of what this album and really, this band, could have been. The album is able to shine through despite it’s flaws, and certainly has it’s crushing moments. But as a whole, Torment is a mediocre exercise in unoriginal death metal.

Torment is out now and available from Metal Blade Records.

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