THE HAUNTED
"Versus"

(Century Media)

01. Moronic Colossus
02. Pieces
03. Little Cage
04. Trenches
05. Ceremony
06. Skuld
07. Crusher
08. Rivers Run
09. Iron Mask
10. Faultline
11. Imperial Death March

RATING: 5/10

THE HAUNTED seem to be struggling with what it means to be a grown-up thrash band. They've moved on from the gleeful SLAYER-in-a-blender of their early work to a more mid-paced, muscled down verse-chorus-verse crunch, weighty and darkly melodic but still heavy as hell. This sonic shift, which began on "rEVOLVEr" and was finely honed on 2006's "The Dead Eye", now seems stuck on autopilot, unfortunately — "Versus" seems like more of the same, only less inspired and even a bit plodding.

Peter Dolving's therapy-sessions-as-lyrics are a nice break from the usual metal topics, but it's getting trite to hear him use his reedy croon, as he does at the beginning of "Iron Mask", to lambaste someone before launching into his wild-eyed shriek. THE HAUNTED just seem to run out of steam more often than not on their slow-to-midtempo songs, like this one, "Pieces" and "Rivers Run" — all the melodic elements are there, but nothing grabs the listener, either in terms of catchiness or in outright energy. There's nothing to some of these songs, particularly at the end — "Faultline" is a coupla boring riffs and a monotonous performance by Dolving, and it's utter filler until it gets to the tacked on thrash midsection and the band at least wakes up. Everyone gets blasé once in a while, but we're talking about two of the best riffmakers in modern metal and an inventive, distinctive heavy singer — when the dead-average "Moronic Colossus" is the most memorable thing on the whole album, something's wrong.

It's not that the band has to be thrashy, or stick to a formula, to be successful – both "rEVOLVEr" and "The Dead Eye" had moments of greatness, though it could be argued that the band hasn't truly knocked one out of the park since 2000. "Versus", though, really seems stuck in a rut, perhaps knocked out too quickly between AT THE GATES reunion rehearsals, or given too little time to marinate by a band in the throes of a dry spell. Whatever the reason, it's a creative low point for THE HAUNTED, and with so much better metal coming out, it's just too generic to have staying power.

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