Pillbox

Big Al’s Metal Shop

From Birmingham to Belo Horizonte, metal has evolved from its primal roots and created many different subgenres. Thrash, death, prog, grind, and many other classifications populate the conscious of the metal fan today. (For a good rundown, check out the excellent anthropological documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey.) Bands that start off in one subgenre can successfully transition their style to another; Carcass’ progression from grind to thrashy death metal is a good example. Not all bands are able to pull it off, but I believe that The Haunted’s latest could be a work of transitional genius.

Gothenburg is a pivotal stop on the world tour of our beloved genre’s evolution. Swedish death metal is responsible for much of what is coming out of America today. Bands are encouraged by the success of At The Gates to incorporate melody along with razor-sharp guitar work. I would even go so far as to say that the technical level of guitar players here improved because that band set the bar so high. Sadly, the U.S. didn’t get to see too much of ATG before its break-up, but out of the ashes of that band came others, notably The Haunted.

Beyond musicianship, what set The Haunted apart was the ability of its singer to infuse an eerie uneasiness into his vocals. Something about Peter Dolving’s delivery — his spoken word interludes — can make a person’s skin crawl. Dolving communicates his rants on humanity’s sickness with the tone of a serial killer. It made me pay attention from beginning to end, and for a whole year it was my wake-up music, my gym music, and my right-before-going-out music. The debut was that good. Like most great bands, The Haunted’s first album was a huge success that couldn’t be topped. Dolving left and Marco Aro (Face Down) took his place, resulting in a couple solid albums. When Aro returned to Sweden, and eventually to Face Down, the remaining members of The Haunted shocked everyone by picking Dolving to once again take up the vocalist’s position.

It was a reunion that many thrash-metal fans had wanted for years. Dolving, as I said before, has that je ne sais quoi that separates him from other vocalists. The reunion album, rEVOLVEr, was well thought-out and well received. The only sad part about the whole endeavor is that Dolving’s return to America was on the Damageplan tour of 2004, which saw “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott murdered on stage. As the cycle for that album ended, the band returned to Sweden and planned its next move.

The next move has turned out to be The Dead Eye, a slightly confusing album from one of the leaders of the field. Starting off with the aptly titled “The Premonition,” the album kicks into “The Flood,” which is standard Haunted fare. “The Flood” segues into clean vocals — and the trademark eerie delivery that Dolving has mastered — before returning to a harsher sound. All along, the rest of the band plays with a precision that reflects a hard-won maturity. “The Medication” is further evidence of The Haunted’s evolution. Following its path tangentially, the thought would be that The Dead Eye will be what catapults the band into that next level alongside Slayer.

The mystique is there, the talent is obvious, and all that separates The Haunted from large-scale fanatical devotion is clear, consistent arrangement. Songs like “The Fallout” seesaw between singing and screaming, synth and drum machine, and the result makes me want to press “next” on my iPod every time I listen to this album. I look to The Haunted to reflect the sickness of modern society, to mirror the latent frustration that we all share, and perhaps to arouse us from that sleepy state in which we often find ourselves. Their first album did that. To a point, so did rEVOLVEr.

The Dead Eye builds on that history to a large extent, but it goes further. There are fresh riffs here, personal lyrics, and with repeated listening, the genius of the work really comes through. All bands evolve, and none can hope to maintain the fan base and momentum of its largest success. Still, what The Haunted was able to achieve with its debut — that immediacy that grabbed you through the speakers — has been replaced with a work that takes many listenings to appreciate. With Dolving back in the band, The Haunted has the capability to put out albums that shake the core of metal. I think the next album will be the one that cements the band in the mainstream of metal, making them true stars in America.

Before I go, please come out to support live metal here in the ’Burgh: Check out Norma Jean, Misery Signals, and the rest of the Radio Rebellion tour at Club Zoo on November 26. (It’s a Sunday, so go!) Also, Sworn Enemy returns to Western Pennsylvania in the next few weeks — more on them soon.

Until next time,

Up the irons!

Al