For as many years as I've written about SIX FEET UNDER, the comments have always been the same: "They suck balls!" or "They rule!" Eight studio albums in (not counting live releases and the "Graveyard Classics" series) and SIX FEET UNDER are still going strong. I'll admit that I was a bigger fan for the first few albums and cared less and less as the years went on, but I've never considered myself an SFU hater. The last few albums — "Bringer of Blood", "13", and "Commandment" — saw the band running in place and drifting toward mediocrity, a few highlights notwithstanding. That said, I don't think those albums "sucked balls" either. I wasn't expecting anything different with "Death Rituals", but am pleasantly surprised with the results. This one is the best thing that SIX FEET UNDER have done in several years.
This time around SIX FEET UNDER had all the material for "Death Rituals" written before entering the studio, the exact opposite of what was done for "Commandment" and "13", and it has made a big difference in song quality. Additionally, the sound is less "death 'n roll" and more old school, straightforward death metal, while groove continues to be a major component. Chris Barnes' production is strong, Steve Swanson's riffs are solid and his soloing is vastly improved. Barnes' vocals aren't as brawny as they used to be and his patented nasal whine is weaker and used sparingly as a result, yet his voice is still a relatively unique commodity in death metal.
I wouldn't call the songwriting a level jump, but it is considerably better — a bit more dynamic and consistent from beginning to end. Some of that may have to do with an approach heard on several songs that recalls the earliest albums, as is the case on "Shot in the Head" and "Death by Machete". Neither would have been out of place on 1999's "Maximum Violence". OBITUARY style grooves (and dreadful vibes) are present on a few tracks as well, most notably "Eulogy for the Undead" — from slow and grinding to up tempo and pummeling — and "Seed of Filth", which is pure down tempo, grooving SFU. "Ten Deadly Plagues" is notable for its sick and doom-laden feel. The rendition of MÖTLEY CRÜE's "Bastard" continues the band's love of cover songs and it is actually a decent toe-tapper (at least if you liked the original) with Barnes' gurgling spew.
Other than the spooky and strange interlude "Crossroads to "Armageddon", the new album is definitive SIX FEET UNDER. It's not like the group has turned into PSYCROPTIC or made a tour de force. They just do what they do better than we've heard in a while.