It hasn't even been a year since Florida “death-n-roll” metallers rolled out their excellently blood-drenched ninth studio album Undead, one of the strongest offerings in their grisly career (find out why in our review). But in kind of a ballsy move, they've already dropped a follow-up record. Unborn's release comes after yet another round of lineup changes: while vocalist Chris Barnes (former frontman for another iconic horror-themed metal band, Cannibal Corpse) and lead guitarist Steve Swanson remain core members, Undead featured guitarist Rob Arnold and bassist Matt Devries (both formerly of Chimaira) and drummer Kevin Talley as new SFU members, but they left after that album was recorded; Unborn features Ola Englund on guitars and Jeff Hughell on bass, along with guest contributions from the likes of Whitechapel's Ben Savage.
There, now you're all caught up on the personnel changes; now on to the sounds they've summoned for this record, which benefits from excellent production and a new hybridization of styles, which I'll admit caught me pleasantly off-guard; frankly, I went in to this one expecting Undead Part 2. I think I deserve some slack for that, since Barnes actually intended for the two albums to be one double-length release.
If you're already familiar with this band's twenty-year body of work, you'll feel those same ominous down-tempo grooves in cuts like “Prophecy,” and that's enough of a comfort zone for you if you like your metal doomy and groovy... but this time out they infuse that formula with some more adventurous ingredients: Savage adds a kick of aggressive deathcore in tracks like the opener "Neuro Osmosis,” which is also one of the band's most melodic offerings, featuring crisp, high-end riffage that is surprisingly bright-sounding for a band that often takes pride in troll-like murkiness; that same level of intricate technical work also enhances "Psychosis,” the last of Rob Arnold's contributions before his departure from the band.
More spidery finger-play is also used to accentuate horror elements, which are carried off superbly in "The Sinister Craving,” and Barnes also occasionally modifies his trademark hand-funneled snarl in favor of a more traditional death metal vocal style, which adds even more horror textures and brings an extra jolt of violent energy to the ultra-violent “Fragment” and the album's standout track "Zombie Blood Curse.” Besides being one of the best titles in the band's catalog, this cut is merciless as it gets, thanks in large part to the intense riffage of another guest contributor, Jari Laine of Torture Killer – a Finnish band which also features vocals from Barnes. Give that track a spin and savor the madness:
As I mentioned earlier, there's a lot more going on here than just a continuation of Undead, and this is one case where the crew rotation actually brings a fresh perspective to the conventions of death/grind, adding more layers of horror sounds and letting sharper, brighter tones cut like razors through the murky dirges that are the band's rhythmic foundation. Unborn is still very much a Six Feet Under album, but it's also proof that Barnes and crew still have a few more devilish tricks in store.