Friday, September 1, 2017

review by Matt Spall: The Haunted

Matt Spall (U.K.) offers his perspective on the new work by The Haunted. At the end of the review you can find more information about Matt.--MMB
Artist: The Haunted
Album Title: Strength In Numbers
Label: Century Media Records
Date of Release: 25 August 2017
The Haunted have to be one of the most consistent bands within the extreme metal genre. I have been a fan since the very beginning, when in 1997, At The Gates folded and bandmates Adrian Erlandsson (drums) and Patrik Jensen (guitars) found themselves out of a job. They decided to waste no time and created The Haunted almost immediately. Their 1998 self-titled debut set up camp on my stereo, refusing to vacate for several weeks solid. And ever since then, each of their successive seven records has found favour with me. Of course, I like some more than others but what they all have in common is their undeniable quality and consistency.
This is made all the more remarkable given the line-up changes that have befallen the band over the years. The spine has remained intact with Jensen and bassist Jonas Björler ever-present and admittedly, there is a theme of members coming and going rather than staying away for good, so the upheaval has been lessened a little. But with no less than four lead guitars during the last two decades, it is testament to the drive and focus of the band that their output has always sounded like The Haunted and has always been top quality.
Given my affection for The Haunted, I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear ‘Strength In Numbers’, the ninth album of their career. I had to wait too, and nearly missed the boat entirely. But thankfully my lovely PR contacts came through for me and so here I am, writing this review with the new opus blaring out at dangerous levels on my headphones.
The even more gratifying thing is that ‘Strength In Numbers’ does not disappoint, not even a little bit. I’m sure many of you will already be familiar with the output of this Swedish quintet, currently comprised of Björler and Jensen alongside returning vocalist Marco Aro, returning drummer Adrian Erlandsson and lead guitarist number four, Ola Englund. However, if you’re not, this album is as good a place to start without doubt.
‘Strength In Numbers’ features the ubiquitous brutality and menace that all The Haunted records have delivered. The quasi-thrash-meets-death blueprint also remains intact as does the insane amounts of groove and the cleverly subtle use of melody. This isn’t pure thrash metal, it isn’t pure melodic death metal; it is a hybrid of the two to a certain extent with other small influences thrown in for good measure (dare I use the ‘prog’ word?) And the final product is utterly joyous. Whatever style of metal you’re into, it is almost certain that you’ll like The Haunted.
What strikes me most about ‘Strength In Numbers’, at least initially, is the sense of variety within the ten compositions. It could be argued that albums like this could get a bit repetitive and samey. But this just isn’t. So confident are the protagonists that they are able to mix things up just enough without losing any of the impact or power.
Tracks like ‘Brute Force’ or ‘Tighten The Noose’ are the expected, no-nonsense blitzkriegs designed to rend heads from shoulders given their ferocity and aggression. The pace of ‘Brute Force’ is intense with little or no let-up but it still delivers bucket-loads of groove at points, counterpointed by some adept machine-gun drumming. ‘Tighten The Noose’ is fast again with a slightly more pronounced thrash influence but for my money, the subtle hooks make this a touch more accessible, despite its feverish brutality.
Elsewhere, the brooding and melodic opening instrumental is a surprise, beginning the album with a clean guitar melody before unleashing the dogs of war and segueing into a really gorgeous soaring melodic lead solo from Englund.
‘Spark’ also makes quite an impression. It opens with a muscular mid-tempo stomp before Aro’s caustic vocals intrude and in so doing, increases the overall anger of the track. In fact, Aro’s snarling voice is all over ‘Strength In Numbers’, something of a metaphor for what I interpret to be a huge hunger and desire across all aspects of the record.
Back to ‘Spark’ and if your head doesn’t nod within the opening minute, there’s no hope. But then, out of nowhere, everything drops away, leaving just a lone guitar to play a beautifully mournful melody, not too dissimilar to something you might hear from Dan Swanö. The melody remains as things get heavier, making further appearances as the track develops. It certainly isn’t prog, but the song has that feel to it by virtue of the way in which is shifts and eddies throughout. This is one of the best tracks of The Haunted’s career, no question.
Having said that, ‘Preachers Of Death’ isn’t far behind. The expansive chorus is glorious and the perfect foil for the more overt, chugging headbang-worthy material that surrounds it. The quiet segment towards the end of the track provides an ideal opportunity for Björler’s bass to steal the limelight.
Mind you, so good is the production that no instrument ever feels like it is lost in the melee. Take the title track as the perfect example. The bass rumble looms large over the track, even when the song hits full throttle. The drums of Erlandsson have depth and a crisp snap when required, whilst the guitars deliver muscular riff after riff with a pristine clarity.
I’m also a big fan of the bruising groove-hungry monster that’s ‘This Is The End’ with its surprisingly catchy and epic finish, whilst closer ‘Monuments’ injects something slightly different again. In amongst the huge riffs and uncompromising stomp, there’s a darker, more subtle atmospheric vibe lurking which I find strangely compelling and intriguing. Once again, The Haunted prove that they are simply a cut above most other acts out there. What’s more, it just feels so damn effortless. ‘Strength In Numbers’ could well be considered the band’s best ever album and right now I’d find it difficult to argue against that. The Score of Much Metal: 9.5
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