C.J. Lines ranks all of Six Feet Under’s studio albums… for science!
The music of Six Feet Under is often overshadowed by its frontman Chris Barnes, a controversial character who’s almost as famous now for his vitriolic Twitter rants as he is for being one of the founding fathers of death metal. But whatever your opinion is of Chris Barnes, Six Feet Under have been one of the longest-running, most commercially successful bands in death metal, are beloved by their diehard following, and show no signs of stopping.
Barnes formed Six Feet Under in 1993 with Allen West as a side project for their main bands (Cannibal Corpse and Obituary) but, after an acrimonious split with Cannibal Corpse, it became a full-time job and an ongoing vessel for his twisted musical vision. Other members came and went, and the sound changed – sometimes dramatically – from album to album. There’s death metal, groove metal, stoner metal, thrash metal, NWOBHM, sludge metal and doom metal mixed up in there, all punctuated by Barnes’s increasingly idiosyncratic vocal styles and raw horror-themed lyrics.
While not to everybody’s taste (what genuinely good music is?), there’s a lot for metalheads to experience throughout SFU’s discography, so This Day In Metal are ranking their albums (to date), from worst to best. Bear in mind, it’s just personal opinion and it’s only the internet – This Day In Metal can’t be held accountable for any injuries or mental anguish sustained during reading, etc, etc…
[Please also note that for this ranking, I’ve excluded live albums, EPs, the four Graveyard Classics covers albums and the Unburied compilation of unreleased songs…]
So, with all that in mind, here we go… Enjoy the riiiiide! EEEEE!
13 – Death Rituals (2008)
Sadly, there’s always gotta be one who gets picked last and the weakest SFU album for my money is Death Rituals. It came at the end of a fruitful run for the “classic” line-up of Barnes, Steve Swanson, Terry Butler and Greg Gall and, as the sixth album they’d made together in under a decade, it’s possible they were just tired. Death Rituals runs low on fresh ideas. It’s an easy enough listen with a bunch of short and catchy death/groove tunes, a gleefully raucous cover of Mötley Crüe’s Bastard and an Iggy Pop spoken word cameo, but it sounds like the band at their least exciting.
12 – True Carnage (2001)
Impulse to Disembowel is one of SFU’s most impactful opening tracks, with blending some of Barnes’s sickest lyrics with unintelligible gutturals, trademark “EEEEEEE!” screeches and raw, bludgeoning riffs. On one hand, True Carnage feels like it defines the 2000s-era of the band, where they’d find their most recognisable sound, and some of their strongest tracks are here, like the phenomenal Day The Dead Walked. When it hits, it hits like a Mack truck. However, there are also moments where the sonic experiments go awry. The Murderers has an uncomfortable air of leftover nu-metal gone cold; One Bullet Left, even with an Ice-T guest slot, never quite reaches its aim of being credible rap-metal; and Snakes teeters dangerously into self-parody…
11 – Bringer of Blood (2003)
Bringer of Blood switches things up a little. Barnes adopts a more intelligible, higher pitched vocal style and a punkish, dog-bark delivery that’s matched by a lyrical shift towards more political subject matter (most explicitly on the anti-Bush track Amerika The Brutal). There’s a punk influence in the music too, with lots of frenzied barre-chords and D-beat drumming. Murdered In The Basement is pure old-skool US hardcore. It’s actually the second half of the album – which returns to more gore-themed lyrics and a the traditional death/groove sound – that’s less interesting, although there’s no arguing with the blunt force trauma of a refrain like “I die, you die, we die – we all fuckin’ die!” in Blind And Gagged. A rough and mean exercise in aggression all round.
10 – Commandment (2007)
Commandment, co-produced by Erik Rutan (Cannibal Corpse, Hate Eternal) also has a couple of bonafide classics on it – Doomsday and Edge of the Hatchet in particular – but, much like Death Rituals a year later, it feels like the band had got comfortable with a sound and were switching off the engine and coasting their sonic hearse all the way to the graveyard. It’s a solid record that has a classic Florida death vibe to it at times but, for a band who thrive when they’re being surprising, Commandment maybe plays things a little too safe.
9 – Torment (2017)
Torment introduced most of the current SFU line-up to the world (Jeff Hughell and Marco Pitruzzella) and features some mightily heavy grooves. Proving wrong the narrative that Barnes’s vocals have “got worse” over time, it also features some of his most brutal, powerful voice work. Knife Through The Skull is one of the catchiest songs they’ve done and Obsidian is a bleak and doom-laden epic. With a track like Bloody Underwear, Barnes also proves that he’s not lost any of the bad taste lyrical grossness that made fans gasp with shock (or cringe) in his Cannibal Corpse days. Torment is one of the heaviest and freshest sounding SFU efforts and it’s a testament to the rest of their catalogue that it’s ranked so low here.
8 – Unborn (2013)
Just a year after resurrecting Six Feet Under in style with Undead (2012), Barnes released Unborn. Whereas Undead had been largely co-written with Rob Arnold (Chimaira), Unborn’s credits are spread across a number of top quality collaborators and the results, while fantastic, aren’t quite as ferocious and single-minded. They still pack a mighty punch though. This is a collection of death/thrash face-melters of a very high standard. There’s maybe more melodeath elements in this one than usual too, with songs like the Zombie Blood Curse and Prophecy bringing the infectious riffs and tuneful solos in their legions. There’s some excellent vocals on this, high-energy death growls that blend old and new skool styles with flair. Unborn sounds like a band half its age.
7 – Crypt of the Devil (2015)
It might seem like a grimly ironic gag that Chris Barnes replaced his entire band’s line-up with the members of stoner parody band Cannabis Corpse but it’s not… and their one album together, Crypt of the Devil, has no right to work as well as it does. Phil “Landphil” Hall provides the music here and it’s some of the most technically proficient yet super-scuzzy stuff SFU have done. Nimble-fingered riffs dance like lunatic witches around one another other. Loose, jazzy drums give it an air of uncontrolled chaos that’s then crushed into shape by the low-end, fuzzed-up bass work. Barnes has a lyrical fire under him too, delivering some of his most sadistic, angry lyrics yet. To release an album this dark and relentless 20+ years into their career is an impressive statement.
6 – Nightmares of the Decomposed (2020)
This recent album saw Barnes reunite with O.G. Cannibal Corpse guitarist Jack Owen and the results were… controversial. He’s always liked to play around with vocal stylings but here, Barnes adopts an industrial-sounding shriek that’s alienating right from the start. It’s easy to dismiss this, as death metal vocals have generally become so much more skilled and polished over the years, but that’s kind of the point. This is a rebellion record that channels the kind of grotesque barf-bag craziness of (say) Bethlehem’s Dictius Te Necare and chooses demented aggression over proficiency. Nightmares is confrontational, lo-fi and scrappy but it’s a joy to hear Jack Owen writing riffs again. The music has that thrashy proto-death sound of Eaten Back To Life and it took me to a nostalgia haze of the 90s tape-trading underground. There’s some genuinely great songs here too. Amputator and Zodiac are as catchy as they are ridiculous, The Noose is a slow, deep and hard groove, and Blood of the Zombie has some of Owen’s best soloing for years. There are a couple of misses (Drink Blood Get High feels like a flaccid jam session and Dead Girls Don’t Scream is SFU by numbers) but the highs are definitely worth it and this is a late-period triumph.
5 – Haunted (1995)
Even many of SFU’s detractors find it hard to deny an album like Haunted. It sits comfortably alongside the classics of early-90s Florida death metal, with that distinctive Scotty Burns production and Barnes at his most guttural. Arguably, Haunted is the most straight-up death metal album they did, although it has a periodic slow groove to it that sets it apart from its peers. Allen West’s guitar work is bludgeoning and brutal at any tempo and this incarnation of Six Feet Under really is a perfect sum of its parts. The Enemy Inside, Lycanthropy and Human Target are bonafide genre classics and the rest of the album keeps pace. You’re probably already getting ready to flay me in the comments for rating it so low but stick with me. It’s obviously a classic record. There are just others I like more!
4 – Warpath (1997)
Warpath starts out with an air raid siren and a song called War Is Coming, in case you had any doubts as to whether Six Feet Under here to fuck around (spoiler: they’re not). The grooviest of SFU albums and one of the least outright deathy, it’s easy to see why this also remains a favourite even with non-fans. There’s a real Pantera feel to some of it, particularly Burning Blood (which, along with the stoner-friendly 4:20, features the closest you’ll get to some clean singing from Barnes), and if you’re not banging your head a little, you may need to get an MRI. Still, it’s not all groove. The NWOBHM influence is worn proudly with a cover of Death or Glory by Holocaust, and there is a blazing streak of death metal to tracks like Revenge of the Zombie. Warpath is the most accessible thing Barnes has ever done and remains a fantastically addictive listen.
3 – 13 (2005)
One of the classic line-up’s best offerings, 13 is maybe also their most experimental selection of songs. That’s not to say it’s inaccessible – on the contrary, almost every song is ‘instant’ with a huge chorus – but it belies influences from way outside the standard death/groove sound SFU were in at the time. Rest In Pieces is almost a NWOBHM anthem, the title track is classic thrash and the whole album has feels like a loving tribute to all the different metal these guys grew up with, while also being a cracking exercise in songcraft. I don’t think the band ever sounded like they were having as much fun as they were here and it’s as contagious as leprosy. The good leprosy.
2 – Undead (2012)
After a few years of inactivity and a line-up overhaul, Chris Barnes returned with a crushingly heavy exercise in OSDM. Self-described as a “rejuvenation”, it’s hard to argue that Undead goes off like a band outta Hell. From the opening blast of Frozen At The Moment Of Death to the final death throes of The Depths Of Depravity, Undead never lets up. The addition of Rob Arnold (Chimaira) to the line-up adds a bassy chunkiness but songs like the epic Blood on My Hands offer big melodic riffs too, tunes that get stuck in you head. Barnes’s lyrics have a particular air of melancholy on this album, focusing on depression and metaphors for depression, all of which conjures a darkness that’s heavy and compelling throughout.
1 – Maximum Violence (1999)
This is the one though, really. The point where the band were firing on all cylinders. It’s a collection of insanely catchy choruses, expertly written riffs, brutal vocals and gore-soaked lyrics that have stood the test of time and still blow the roof off. At a time where death metal was becoming more technical, more difficult and more complex, SFU ripped up the rule book and went “why don’t we make it simpler?” It’s death metal as party metal. It’s an album that could start a pit in a hospital fracture ward, it goes so hard. There’s a sick grin behind even the nastiest lyrics here and who can resist a screamalong chorus like “HAND ME THE BONESAW, TIME FOR DISSECTION, HAND ME THE BONESAW, BEGIN THE AMPUTATION”? Everyone’s having a bloody great time and you will too.