Sunday Old School: Six Feet Under
Side projects can be a dangerous thing. Whilst they can provide a creative outlet for a band member, they can also bring about arguments regarding commitment and sometimes cost said musician his place in the first band. Many of these projects don't even go anywhere, but this was not the case of Six Feet Under, the group formed as a side project by then Cannibal Corpse vocalist, Chris Barnes. Six Feet Under started in 1993, when Barnes joined forces with Allen West, one of the founding members of Obituary, who also brought with him bass player, Terry Butler, formerly of Massacre and currently the bassist of Obituary. The lineup was rounded off by Butler's brother-in-law, Greg Gall and they soon embarked on their first shows, performing a set mostly comprised of cover songs. They took themselves a little more seriously the next year, writing more original material and easily securing themselves a record deal with Metal Blade, thanks in part to Barnes already being signed to the label with Cannibal Corpse. The band teamed up with such respected names as Brian Slagel and Scott Burns to complete their debut album, "Haunted," which was released on September 1st 1995 to good reviews from critics who were impressed with the distinctive vocals and the group not being reliant on guitar solos to complete their songs.
A year later, in 1996, Barnes was fired from Cannibal Corpse while they were recording a new album, "Created To Kill," which was eventually released under the name, "Vile." His attention could now be paid fully to Six Feet Under, who released a new EP, "Alive and Dead" before the year was out, which featured two new songs, four live tracks and a cover of the Judas Priest song, "Grinder." Just less than a year later, they released their sophomore album, "Warpath," which is considered one of their best works to date and was notable for taking a few risks, such as the inclusion of clean vocals and broader lyrical themes, such as smoking marijuana, as well as the usual blood and guts stories associated with death metal. "Warpath" was also the last album to include Allen West, who parted company with the band and was replaced by another Massacre alumni, Steve Swanson.
Swanson made his recording debut with the band on their 1999 release, "Maximum Violence," bringing with him a taste of guitar solos. Like the previous album, which featured a cover of the Holocaust song, "Death or Glory," "Maximum Violence" also contained a cover, this time of the Kiss classic, "War Machine." Although it wasn't praised quite so much as it's predecessor, the album sold over one hundred thousand copies, an impressive accomplishment considering the popularity of death metal had waned considerably from it's early 90's peak. The success of the record led to some big name gigs, such as performing on the mostly punk comprised Vans Warped Tour. Six Feet Under decided to do something a little different from their next release, expanding on their interest in covering songs by releasing, "Graveyard Classics," a covers album which saw the band performing songs by the likes of Exodus, Venom, Accept and Dead Kennedys, amongst other well respected rock and metal artists.
For their next album, "True Carnage," they brought in guest musicians for the first time, perhaps the most notable of which being legendary rapper and Body Count frontman, Ice-T, who performed on the song, "One Bullet Left," as well as Ephel Duath singer, Karyn Crisis, who sang on the track, "Sick and Twisted." Both of these songs, along with the single, "The Day the Dead Walked" became fan favourites and helped make "True Carnage," one of the more popular albums in the Six Feet Under catalogue, as well as the shortest, clocking in at just over half an hour. They toured the United States extensively in support of the album and released their first live DVD, "Double Dead Redux" in 2003.
Once again, Barnes decided to bring something new to the table with their fifth album, "Bringer of Blood," where he began using the pig squeal technique which was soon to become popular amongst the "scene" bands, though he still retained his gutteral style. It sold well enough to reach number 22 on the Billboard Heatseeker's Charts and was followed the next year by "Graveyard Classics 2." Unlike the previous covers record, this one was essentially a re-make of the classic AC/DC album, "Back In Black" and considered something of a novelty and done purely for fun.
When writing material for their next album, "13," Barnes claimed he had a vision after smoking large quantities of marijuana, which helped shape the lyrical themes on the record, which received a decent reception. That same year, Metal Blade Records also released a box set of Six Feet Under material, "A Decade in the Grave," which included a two disc "best of" collection, a third disc of rarities and one live CD, which was complimented by a live DVD. Barnes also kept himself occupied by joining the Finnish outfit, Torture Killer to record vocals for their album, "Swarm!"
After another period of lengthy touring, the band got to work on their next album, "Commandment," which hit the shelves in the Spring of 2007 and was praised for it's mix of crushing heaviness with catchy grooves. The record helped them grab the attention of younger headbangers, thanks in part to their participation in the Metalfest tour along with such popular acts as Nile and Finntroll, as well as their video for "Doomsday," being aired on Headbanger's Ball. This was not their first music video, but censorship issues meant many of their previous efforts had been banned from the airwaves. They followed "Commandment" with another album quite quickly, as, "Death Rituals" was released in 2008 to a somewhat mixed, but mostly positive response, including a 5/5 rating in Kerrang! magazine.
Following a number of small events such as Barnes parting company with Torture Killer, they released their third covers album, "Graveyard Classics 3" in 2010, which like the first attempt, featured an array of songs rather than focusing on one band and saw them performing songs by Prong, Anvil, Mercyful Fate and other well respected rock groups. Like the previous two records, it garnered a decent reaction from critics and was notable for being the last album to comprise of the "classic" Six Feet Under lineup, as Terry Butler announced he was leaving the band in 2011 to concentrate full time on Obituary, whom he had joined following the departure of Frank Watkins the previous year. Drummer Greg Gall also announced that he was leaving the band.
These departures started something of a revolving door of members for Six Feet Under. Barnes recruited Chimaira members Rob Arnold and Matt Devries to the fold, though Devries quit before he could record any material with the band to join Fear Factory. His position was taken by Kevin Talley, who made his Six Feet Under debut on their 2012 release, "Undead," which some hailed as their best album since, "Maximum Violence." The very same day that "Undead" was released, Rob Arnold was confirmed to have left the band, with Swedish guitarist Ola Englund entering the mix. They also recruited a new bass player, Jeff Hughell, who was introduced to fans on their next album, "Unborn," released only ten months after "Undead." It seems as though the quick succession of releasing albums will continue, as Barnes has confirmed that Six Feet Under have been writing material for their next album, which could see a release this year. Although there are those that have never been too impressed with the output of Six Feet Under, they have definitely stamped their mark on the death metal genre and will likely continue as long as Barnes has weed smelling breath in his body.
Six Feet Under - "Haunted"
Six Feet Under - "Manipulation"
Six Feet Under - "Victim of the Paranoid"
Six Feet Under - "The Day the Dead Walked"
Six Feet Under - "Amerika the Brutal"
Six Feet Under - "Shadow of the Reaper"
Six Feet Under - "Ghosts of the Undead"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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