By Nathan Eden
This month sees the release of Six Feet Under’s eleventh studio album, ‘Crypt of the Devil’ – not bad for a band that Cannibal Corpse fan circa-1995 might have been led to believe was merely a side-project of Cannibal Corpse’s original vocalist Chris Barnes and Obituary’s Allen West. The original line-up, including Terry Butler of Death, played death metal in that Florid- groove style; a sound that Barnes favours to this day.
As the chief creative force and only original member of Six Feet Under, Barnes insists that this band was always a little more serious than just a side-project; one that celebrates the 20th Anniversary of its debut release in 2015. “That was always what the record label wanted to call it,” Barnes says of his band in 1995. “It wasn’t a side-project for me”.
Quizzed on just how certain of that he was at the time Barnes emphatically insists, “For me it was my future I wasn’t happy where I was at the time (with Cannibal Corpse) and so I definitely saw it moving forward”.
If we move forward to the time writing was taking place for the current release, Barnes collaborated with a whole new line-up, completely different from the album’s predecessors, ‘Unborn’ in 2013 and 2012’s ‘Undead’. Strangely enough, this time three quarters of Six Feet Under is actually the band Cannabis Corpse; a band whose moniker, and many of its song and album titles, parody the legendary band through which Barnes originally began to earn his reputation as one of death metal’s finest merchants.
Barnes says he worked particularly closely with guitarist/bassist Phil Hall, who was heavily involved in the song-writing process. “I was already friends with Phil,” the vocalist begins. “We toured together a few years ago (Cannabis Corpse went on tour with Six Feet Under in 2013). Then I did some guest vocals on a Cannabis Corpse song (“Individual Pot Patterns” from 2014’s From Wisdom To Baked).
“He came up with some really great songs. So we got the band together to record them. I knew Josh (Phil’s brother) but I didn’t know Brandon (Brandon Ellis, guitarist) beforehand. They had some great ideas and it just worked”.
The man who penned, growled and screeched the first four classic Cannibal Corpse albums, says he doesn’t listen to a lot of new music. “No I don’t listen to too much new stuff. I’m not really a music guy,” he admits. “In my spare time, I am more likely to just put on a movie”.
This may explain his approach to lyric writing. Suggesting that Barnes’ lyrical content has mellowed somewhat since the early days is a bit like saying that the Pope isn’t Catholic just because he’s a little progressive. Whilst the narratives might not steer in to ‘Necropedophile’ or ‘Fresh Entrails…’ territory these days, it wouldn’t be Chris Barnes if it wasn’t brutal. Barnes loves a good story. His stories are horror stories, more often than not told from the perspective of a serial killer.
“I’ve always just been inspired by that sort of stuff since day one,” he begins in describing inspiration and approach of his art. “I just listen to the music and kind of imagine things. I’ll listen to the music and the feel of the song will determine the right vocal tone. The music itself is what brings out the lyrics”.
Perhaps the most obvious choice for a single on the new album is ‘Crypt of the Devil’’s second track, ‘Open Coffin Orgy’. There shall be no prizes awarded for correctly guessing what the song is about. Likewise, the accompanying video is not particularly subtle. It’s exactly what Six Feet Under fans, and the band leader himself, had in mind.
“The video is awesome,” enthuses Barnes. “Mitch Massey directed it and did the storyline. I think it perfectly fits with the title of the song. There’s all these sexual overtones. It’s like a trip through Hell,” he laughs.
I ask if he thinks that same song might turn in to a crowd or band favourite in a live setting, once a touring schedule is drawn up. But the singer insists that new album songs deserve a little time to brew.
“We haven’t even spoken about it,” Barnes says of playing the new songs live. “I don’t really like to play new songs live. I like to keep those songs to the album and let fans digest them for a few years first. I was always a fan that liked the old stuff live. I know our fans dig that too.
“And we don’t go out on stage to play any of that tech-death sort of stuff, either,” he concludes with a chuckle.
Whilst Chris Barnes clearly has plenty left in the proverbial tank, his influence on the extreme metal scene is something worth considering. His is a twenty-seven year career with two of the most influential bands in the game – but he could be a reluctant hero.
Ever since he too was inspired as a youngster by looking up at Gene Simmons at a Kiss concert and seeing a demon, does Barnes ever consider his influence on younger bands?
“All sorts of kids say that I influenced them in some way. It’s nice of them to say but I don’t place too much value on it,” he insists. “I would like it to all go away to be honest. It makes me feel uncomfortable”.
So what would one of metal’s most extreme voices be doing if none of this ever happened?
“I have asked myself that question many times,” reveals Barnes, before insisting that although he has questioned it in hindsight, there really was no need for a Plan B as the result was never in doubt. “I kind of believe that things are laid out in a certain way. This was always what I was going to do”.
Well may it continue. For the record, ‘Crypt of the Devil’ is an exercise in Floridian death metal expertise, aided by the fresh perspective of new song-writing input. It simultaneously manages to perfectly fit in to the Six Feet Under catalogue, at the same time as sounding fresh – as fresh as ten rotting piles of stinking flesh can be…
‘Crypt of the Devil’ was released on the 5th of May through Metal Blade Records.