What to make of this new HAUNTED album? It's hard to take it out of context and judge it on its own merits — on one hand, you have the band's formidable back catalog to measure it against, a smorgasbord of modern-day Swedish thrash that renders 95% of their colleagues obsolete. Tied to that is the reputation of the Björler brothers, late of the legendary AT THE GATES, whose "Slaughter of the Soul" grows in stature with each passing year as a milestone for modern metal. Throw in frontman Peter Dolving's recent penchant for crackpot blogging and riling up the punters, and you have a mixed bag of expectations no album should have to go up against.
Well, despite what some early reports would have you believe, there's no "stoner rock" on "The Dead Eye", nor are there too many moments that'll disappoint current fans. There are plenty of moments where the tuneful-yet-maniacal screaming and razorwire riffing are cranking at full thrash throttle, instantly recognizable and full of the piss 'n vinegar that made "The Haunted Made Me Do It" and "One Kill Wonder" such awesome records. The changes here are strictly of the organic and evolutionary variety — if you gave last album "Revolver" a fair listen, nothing on "The Dead Eye" will shock you.
There are moments of pensive clean singing, mellower interludes, and songs that don't rely entirely on the thrash-polka beat, but that's been the band's standard operating procedure for a while now. The dynamics of the band seem to be expanding (again, in a way that suggests creativity, not commerce, is the motive) — for instance, "The Flood" is a midtempo song with a cleanly-sung bridge that gets positively mellow, but it sets up "The Medication", an urgent and thrashy song, quite nicely. No matter what the speed of tempo, or the degree of phlegm and venom in Dolving's throat, the emphasis is on impressive songwriting and urgent, intense playing.
The most effective songs on "The Dead Eye", in fact, mix the dynamics up from moment to moment. "The Crowning" clocks in at under five minutes, but it's a friggin' mini-epic, with a seething doomy midsection, followed by a bridge where Dolving sings in his most gloomy, liverish clean vocal. The opening to "The Reflection" finds him in the same voice, over an acoustic part that'll make you wonder who snuck the PORCUPINE TREE disc into your stereo – but give it thirty seconds and he's screaming in bitter, heartbroken rage, bleeding into the microphone over a driving, inexorable metal riff. It may lack the simple, head-down circle-pit pleasure of "Bury Your Dead" (the SLAYER-tastic opening salvo on "The Haunted Made Me Do It"), but it's ultimately a more meaningful, personal, and effective statement.
Give "The Dead Eye" a few listens, especially if it leaves you cold (as it did for me) on its first spin. It takes a while to realize that THE HAUNTED are experiencing the simple growth process that so few bands deal with successfully. They're still the same band that rejoices in tossing out barrages of speed-picking riff mania, but they're finding ways to mature without wussing out, to express themselves without losing the 'bangers in the front row. We may not realize for some time how important "The Dead Eye" is to metal in its current state, but at the very least, we can thank the band for a killer slab of tunes that'll stick with us long after the latest paint-by-numbers brigades fade into the shadow of their influences and wither away.