Death Metal veterans Six Feet Under’s relentless fascination with cover albums is evident from the band’s ‘Graveyard Classics’ series. On the fourth installment of the series, ‘Graveyard Classics IV – The Number of the Priest’, they pay homage to two of the greatest bands in Heavy Metal – Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. The album will be out on May 27th via Metal Blade Records, and a single off of the album – “Invader” – is already out on youtube for fans to check out.
Brian Slagel (CEO of Metal Blade Records) has handpicked the tracks and overall, it is an intriguing selection of tracks. We see many tracks that are usually not chosen by bands who want to cover Priest or Maiden. For example, I haven’t seen many tribute albums that feature tracks like “Genocide”, “Starbreaker” or “Total Eclipse” in them. In that sense, it definitely made me all excited to see how Six Feet Under would give their mid-tempo, Death Metal/Death n’ Roll flavor to it. However, this latest release too has the same problems as their previous avatars and ultimately doesn’t do justice to the Gods of Metal.
The Graveyard Classics series has often come under criticism for being less imaginative, badly produced, and downright boring. Sadly, these flaws remain intact in this fourth installment as well. Although the album starts off well with the creepy intro of Priest’s “Night Crawler”, but fault lines start to appear soon after Chris Barnes’ vocals kick in. He sounds way louder in the mix and drowns out the instrumentation. his one-dimensional vocal delivery making the track sound more like Death Metal karaoke than a cover. I would have loved to see the band improvising on the original track; however, the instrumentation more or less follows the original, and combined with Barnes’ unimaginative vocal delivery, ends up inferior to the original. I admit, it is hard to match up to legends like Glenn Tipton and KK Downing, and maybe comparing and expecting them to surpass the classics is unfair, but the fact remains that we have been listening to these songs countless times; without a fresh take on these tracks, listeners will find them difficult to swallow. The story follows suit with other tracks like “Starbreaker” and “Genocide”.
“Invaders” does sound slightly different from its Priest original and we do see the band trying to sound different, but the treatment they give just ends up killing the original. The band also ropes in Ray Alder from Fates Warning for guest vocals on this track, but it doesn’t do much. More than the performance of the band, it seems to not have been mixed very well, as is the situation with most parts of the album. Consider the delivery of the chorus of “The Evil That Men Do”. Barnes just delivers it as is, without any variation from the rest of the verse, making the entire experience too tiring to bear. I would have loved it if we could have heard some variations in the growls, but the badly mixed, unvaried vocal delivery makes multiple spins of this album too tedious.
Guitarist Ray Suhy and Drummer Josh Hall sound quite raw and heavy – which is a good aspect of this otherwise flawed album – and do well to give these tracks the Six Feet Under twist. Swanson delivers the solos in style, and although recreating the chemistry of Tipton-Downing or the Adrian Smith-Dave Murray-Janick Gers trio is always difficult, , they are a small saving grace for this album. The album sure does sound heavy, and the down-tuned sludgy distortion enhances the ominous tones both the bands possess. There are parts on ‘Graveyard Classics IV’ which really go well with the signature style of Six Feet Under, like “Prowler” and “Night Crawler”, but overall, there were several portions that I just skipped through during multiple spins.
Although Chris Barnes mentioned that the ‘Graveyard Classic’ series is all about having a good time and that this fourth instalment is more like a trip down memory lane, as a die-hard fan of Maiden and Priest (like most metalheads out there), I feel enough care and effort was not spent to do justice to these tracks by the Gods of Metal. ‘Graveyard Classics IV’ might appeal to die-hard fans of Six Feet Under, but as a tribute album, it does not hit the mark.