SIX FEET UNDER – Reaping Slow Death

March 21, 2013, 6 years ago

hot flashes news six feet under

Words by Aaron Small

Photos by Stephanie Cabral

When Unborn first starts to play, it seems as though the CD is mislabelled, because it certainly doesn’t sound like SIX FEET UNDER. The acoustic beginning to album opener ‘Neuro Osmosis’ is totally unexpected. “Yeah, it’s the first time I’ve ever had an acoustic in any song; it’s kind of cool man,” admits vocalist Chris Barnes. “I like the way Ben (Savage, guitarist) wrote that. It’s really, really eerie; all his songs have that kind of dark undertone to them.”

The fact that everything on Unborn isn’t ripping your head off, the songs are allowed to ebb and flow, really adds a lot to the album. “I guess that’s the relationship that both of these albums (Unborn and its predecessor Undead) have together. Undead was more all out, really raw and aggressive. Unborn has more of what you just said; I look at both albums as a side of the same coin. They’re demented fraternal twins, really intertwined; there’s blood flow between them.”

Commendation must be awarded to Barnes for not copping out and calling Unborn and Undead Part 1 and Part 2 like STONE SOUR did with House Of Gold And Bones. After a hearty laugh, Chris says, “Undead came up first when I was thinking about the name of that album, then I kept thinking about it, obviously the death – birth connection. Then I saw Unborn – Undead. Both words have the same amount of letters, there’s six letters in each and we’re Six Feet Under. It was one of those weird things. I look at things and they click, it’s like they’re meant to happen. The artwork and the titles of the albums are really interesting to me; Dusty (Peterson) did such a great job on the art, it’s really good stuff.”

Going back before Undead was released in 2012, during the primary writing stage, was Unborn already on the drawing board? “Actually I had it planned out a year before I got in touch with Rob (Arnold, guitarist), Ben (Savage, guitarist), and Jari (Laine, guitarist). I wrote something down on a piece of paper, it said, The Undead Chronicles Volume One and Two. I came back to that idea probably about half way through just starting to write Undead with the guys, and really recognizing that I had a whole bunch of really good songs; there were no real throwaway songs, or songs that weren’t good enough to make it on the record. So it kind of created an interesting problem and solution at the same time. I was really thinking about a double album for a while, and it all just fell into place at a certain point when the material just kept coming and coming and coming from all these great writers. It inspired me to really be as dynamic and bottomless with my storytelling on these two records.”

Although Undead and Unborn were released only ten months apart, there are a few differences in the musicians that play on them. While Barnes, guitarists Steve Swanson and Rob Arnold, and drummer Kevin Talley appear on both, guitarists Ola Englund and Ben Savage, as well as bassist Jeff Hughell make their debut on Unborn. “Yeah, for sure, there’s a big difference! Rob (Arnold) wrote all of Undead, and I’ve got a multitude of writers on Unborn. When I was looking at all the material for both records and figuring out how it all laid together as far as storyline and flow of the songs leading in and out of one another… just how I could add more continuity. The way to do that with Undead was all of Rob’s songs more or less fit together really well. All of these songs on Unborn seem to mesh really well together, especially Jari’s songs, they’re almost bridging the ideas musically and I guess vocally.”

Barnes has worked with Jari previously in TORTURE KILLER, but the songs Jari contributed to Unborn, such as ‘Incision’ and ‘Zombie Blood Curse’ are really different to the songs that appear on Torture Killer’s Swarm! “I think ‘Midnight In Hell’ is closer, but that one didn’t make it on Unborn; it’s a track still sitting out there in limbo. Jari wrote four songs and that one was closer to what we did in Torture Killer, and that might show up sooner or later as a bonus track or something. I think ‘Inferno’ is a little different than what we did in Torture Killer; that’s one of my favourite tracks I’ve done as far as lyrical content goes, I really like that a lot.”

Guitarist Ben Savage made a name for himself in WHITECHAPEL, who are also signed to Metal Blade. Chris offers up his opinion of the band, “I’m not in the front row watching them every time they’re in Tampa, but I recognize talent when I come across it, and those guys are ultra-talented. They have a great idea about what death metal is, and I really like their approach to it. They come up with this very intricate and heavy as fuck… I look at bands like that, transport them back to 1993. We’re back in time right now and everyone’s listening to Whitechapel because that shit is fucking heavy ass death metal! There’s no two ways about it, that’s amazing death metal and it would have been really picked up on back then, and it is now. That’s really why I wanted to work with Ben; we got in touch through some mutual friends, it was really a cool meeting of the minds between me and him on these tracks. There’s still more to come too! We got one more song by him that’s out there in limbo too that will probably show its face one of these days.”

From a production standpoint, Chris is always behind the board, but Zeuss (WHITECHAPEL, THE ACACIA STRAIN, HATEBREED) mixed and mastered Unborn, yet he was nowhere to be found on Undead. “Zeuss was really mine and Rob’s first pick to have mix Undead, but it didn’t come about. It was always in the back of my head, I wanted to work with him. We’d toured a couple times around his area, and every time we were near him, he was hanging out with us at the shows, listening to the tracks and really giving us a lot of input; just digging the music and wanting to be involved with it. Even after listening to it only one or two times, he would pick up on stuff he thought was awesome. That really showed me someone that was more interested in the music than what he does; that’s kind of a rare thing. I’m really interested in people that like what they’re hearing, and if they like it then they’re going to do a good job. Someone can say they like something and be all ‘yeah dude, we’re going to make this sound killer.’ How many times have I heard that bullshit line before? When you come across someone like Zeuss or Scott Burns (who co-produced the SFU debut Haunted), who’s a real good person, and someone who just gets it and wants to make your painting better, he doesn’t want to add a colour to it that you didn’t want in there; he wants to enhance what the artist and songwriter has in their vision, he doesn’t want to cloud it. He just wants to make it better. That’s the best thing you can feel from an engineer, producer, or mixing guy.”

Earlier in the interview, Barnes mentioned a couple of songs floating in limbo, there’s another one called ‘Illusions’ that appears on the European box set and vinyl version of Unborn. “It’s pretty interesting; I actually wrote that song and recorded it with my nephew, Ryley Dipaola. He’s an awesome upcoming musician, great drummer and guitar player. He’s found his path with music, and he’s got a good bloodline so I’ve been really working hard with him on things and having fun. I thought this song was a good way to get him started and show what he can do; it’s got a real demented feel to it and a scary type of sound. It’s really good. It’s definitely more raw than the other tracks, but it’s a bonus track and I just dug it as far as we both created it together.”

Lyrically, Unborn is 100% Chris Barnes all the way through, but compared to his previous work, there’s nothing really shocking or overly grotesque. “I think it depends on what you’re looking at. If you don’t think that someone lighting themselves on fire (‘Inferno’) is shocking or disturbing, then maybe I’ve desensitized all of you to it because it sure is shocking and disturbing to me,” chuckles Chris. “See it’s like a drug, you all want more and more, sicker and sicker.”

Unborn is also a significant milestone for Six Feet Under, as it’s the tenth studio album of all original material. “It’s a lot of music man. I’m writing the next album already, and I’ve got this side project stuff; I just never stop. It’s fun for me. I don’t really look at it as ten albums, I look at it as the first song every time I write a song, like the one I did about two hours ago. I don’t really think about any other song I’ve ever written before as I’m sitting down to write another song. It’s always good to keep busy and have a lot of stuff going on.”

How long was spent in the studio recording Unborn? “A lot of it was recorded during the sessions for Undead. Everything was recorded over a year and a half. There was still writing being done after Undead came out; re-recording of things. Ola recorded his stuff in Sweden; everybody kind of did their own stuff in their own studios, then Zeuss mixed everything at his place. We all worked at various studios at various times, various tunings, all this stuff together is really a big undertaking as far as production goes, and that’s kind of a good thing too because as far as I’m concerned, you never stop learning and the second you do, you might as well just cash it in. By doing these different things these different ways, utilizing different writers, tones… just the dynamics of it all is kind of a schooling in itself. To be able to envision something, and then to pull it all off, especially when things are really difficult, it’s an intense learning experience; something you hold onto and absorb. That’s something I thrive on and I feel is a driving force, it makes me complete my thought patterns as far as creating music goes. I just need and want to do that, to be the best that I can, and to make this band the best it can be. We’re still on that quest for the perfect song.”

Chris’ aforementioned side project, IHATE, has issued a video for ‘Stretcher’, which can be seen below. “It’s creepy and I think it’s cool; it’s wicked, the feeling of that song.” When you visit the IHate Facebook page, not a lot of information is provided. Who are these guys? Where are they from? “Ha, ha, ha,” laughs Barnes. “I’m not going to talk about it. It’s going to be a complete mystery to people what this thing is, and I think it’s better that way. Me and the people or person involved in this thing, we’re pretty excited just to leave the mystery. We want it to be a shadow,” giggles Chris, “that people are afraid of, or just don’t want to even talk about until it sickens them. It’s like everything else I do – either you love it or hate it. I don’t really care, I just like having fun with new music and people that inspire me to bring something out of myself that maybe I couldn’t have done myself.”

Will IHate be releasing an album, either on CD or digitally? “We’re probably just going to release… I don’t know how that’s going to happen? My main counterpart in this whole project is going to be more in charge of that. I think we’re just going to release things online as we want to, I don’t think there’s going to be a record; it’s going to be just digital.” So there’s no plans for IHate to play live? “No, I don’t think so. We’re just going to keep having fun with the studio stuff, but you never know.”

On March 19th, the same date that Unborn was released, Barnes’ original band CANNIBAL CORPSE issued a box set celebrating their 25th anniversary titled Dead Human Collection; Chris shares his thoughts on this package, “It’s really cool man. It’s interesting that it’s been that long; it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, that’s for sure. It’s really nice that Metal Blade’s always doing all these special things for the fans, and that Cannibal is still around doing music and touring, and just continuing on, that’s really important I feel. These are the guys who helped start this style of music; they’re still out there carrying the flag. I’m proud to be involved with it, that’s for sure.”

Metal Blade Chairman and CEO Brian Slagel is as much a fan as he is a businessman, and that is a huge component of the label’s success and longevity; he really fucking cares. “And that’s why I’m still around, ‘cause he really does. It’s awesome to be involved with a record label for over half your life that really has taken good care of ya and actually does care. It’s been a long road for all of us; I’ve probably made it longer for everybody,” cackles Barnes. “That’s the truth! The road has been bumpy because I laid some rubber.”

As far as live action goes, in addition to three European shows and one US gig in June, SFU will perform in Mexico in May. Barnes reveals his band will embark on a “US tour in July with DECREPIT BIRTH, probably some Christmas festivals in Europe in December. We’re just going to stay out there and keep rolling. I know you’re going to say, ‘what about Canada?’ We’ve got problems with immigration, so it’s a pain in the ass for us to get there, and come back even now. Last year we had some problems down at a border checkpoint near Mexico… it marked our record up pretty well. Now every time we come back into the country we’re tagged; it ain’t no fun and it’s pretty useless and senseless. It just goes to show you people in this country would rather trade security for freedom; it’s a complete waste of money, time, effort, and it tramples on people’s civil liberties. I don’t really believe in national security as much as most people do in this country. That being said, it’s just really, really tough for us to do things now, and it’s annoying. People know we’re musicians; it’s pretty obvious we’re not terrorists. So what’s the problem here? It’s so inconvenient, obnoxious and hypocritical; it doesn’t make any sense, it’s bureaucracy at its finest. It’s all about making money, as usual.”

Given the fact that Chris Barnes has been involved in death metal for over 25 years now, and has nearly as many releases to his name, has the iconic frontman ever thought about writing an autobiography? “I have, but I don’t really know where to start? It’d be kind of crazy and I don’t know if people want to read my ramblings about my life. I keep thinking about it, and what makes me so important to think that someone actually wants to fucking read about what I did when I was six years old to 18. It just seems fucking bizarre to me. I’m not very good at writing long-handed type of things like that; I get lost and don’t really know what my point is… kind of like when I’m doing an interview with you. My energy’s focused on doing what I do now and trying to keep getting better at it; as I lose my mind getting older and older,” laughs Chris. “I’m trying to hold onto as many of my brain cells as possible.”

YouTube seems to be an increasingly valuable promotional and marketing tool for bands, especially heavy bands like Six Feet Under who won’t get played on the radio. Has any consideration been given to filming a video for a track from Unborn? “I would like to, but I don’t think to the record label that it’s cost effective anymore as far as throwing away $6000 to make a video. I wanted to do a video for this, but they’re just doing lyric videos now, which are cool. I think my lyric video for ‘Stretcher’ (by IHate) is better than any of the lyric videos that we put out, ‘cause it looks like a sub-titled movie; and you can actually read the lyrics. I couldn’t read the lyrics on ‘Zombie Blood Curse’ but whatever, that’s kind of how it goes. If I had unlimited funds man, you would see a movie of a compilation of my lyrics from numerous songs; a 30 minute feature, that’s what I really want to do. Sometimes even when I’m yelling for things to happen, no one really hears me. Maybe I’ll just sit back and whisper.”

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