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Like several other bands in death metal, Six Feet Under have generated their share of controversy--but not in the same way. While Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel were known for their merciless sonic assault and dark themes, SFU distinguished themselves by what they did NOT do. In over 15 years as a band, they have done very little to improve on their simple, unambitious formula of slow chugging, punk/rock-style grooves and static growls. The 'Graveyard Classics' series and 2003's 'Bringer of Blood' seemed like the final nails in their coffin. So imagine my surprise when just five years later, Barnes & Co. put out a perfectly listenable album like 'Death Rituals.'
Before I explain why this thing is actually good...if you've never liked Six Feet Under before, this release won't change your mind. The old formula is still in place. The lyrics are the same murder/mutilation stuff; nothing as embarrassing as "a skeleton's hand shoved up your ass" or "motha-fukkin death," though. (There's one line in 'Seed of Filth' that sounds like "rotten booty." It's really "body," but that doesn't stop me from laughing every time I hear it.) Chris Barnes' vocals are still bad--worse than ever, in fact. His growls sound ragged and forced, to the point that he has trouble enunciating some words or sustaining long notes. The only other trick left in his bag is a jarring electric-drill squeal, which (luckily) is kept to a minimum.
In spite of all that, 'Death Rituals' somehow succeeds. Unlike some earlier tracks, these songs do not sound like they were scribbled out on napkins half an hour before a studio session. The embarrassing nu-metal and rap elements are no more. In their place is a respectable effort toward straightforward heaviness. Steve Swanson handles his suddenly crunchy guitar better than ever, cranking out some nice riffs in the eyebrow-raising 'Killed In Your Sleep' and 'Murder Addiction.' Barnes' voice is more restrained in the mix and his limitations no longer overpower the songs. Even he manages some impressive moments, launching into a breakneck pace on opener 'Death By Machete' and focusing his remaining power very well in 'Shot in the Head' and 'None Will Escape.' Terry Butler's bass and Greg Gall's drumming are still very basic, but they get the job done.
The album is also seasoned with a goofy but inoffensive cover of Motley Crue's 'Bastard' and a few intermission tracks. 'Crossroads To Armageddon' is even kind of cool, with cryptic whispered vocals over a spare atmospheric rhythm. The production is very decent, the album artwork is cool (even t-shirt worthy) and with nearly 50 minutes of music, this is a standout album in Six Feet Under's suspect legacy. If you're a fan or even an occasional tolerator of these guys, 'Death Rituals' won't disappoint. In a way, it's even become a favorite of mine, and that scares me more than any of the grossest lyrics on the album.