(Here’s DGR’s writeup about the new album from The Haunted. I think it’s finally time to suck it up and rename the site NO SHORT REVIEWS.)
Exit Wounds has been out for a week plus by now, and I am still consistently surprised by how The Haunted are one of the few bands out there who can do anger and aggression incredibly well. It’s hard to believe that a group lucked into having two incredibly distinct and different frontmen, both of whom were able to help elevate the band with a sense of utter malice — whilst directing it toward two different things. There’s always been an essence of conviction to the band’s reason for yelling, when so many other groups out there have a sort of toothless aggression, metal and brutality for their own sake and feeling like it was done paint-by-numbers style. The Haunted have always had bite, where other bands have felt like being gummed to death by the world’s angriest toddler, full of energy but not a whole lot getting done.
When the band effectively hung up their hats, it was a bummer, because although there are people out there who will relentlessly bitch about Unseen, it was a progression in one of the two ways that the band could have followed after The Dead Eye. It was joyfully demented, but not necessarily as sharp and pointed as The Haunted usually are. That said, it’s not like the band haven’t done a “return to form” before; it seems to be The Haunted’s calling card, but listening to the group talk, maybe it just wore on them a little bit too much. Which made the sudden re-formation both surprising and exciting. Two of the group’s members decided to stick it out, and on top of that the band filled in the empty spaces with Haunted members from the past, as well as recruiting a hell of a weapon in the form of Feared guitarist Ola Englund.
Exit Wounds, released September 2nd here in lovely North America (and a week earlier in Europe), is the result of the group’s new lineup, one for a band who may have found themselves with a lot to prove this go ’round. It’s a common narrative: re-formed band with a new lineup and a new album, scrappy as hell, and coming off of a divisive as hell previous disc. The crazy thing with Exit Wounds is that it also feels partially like an unintentional comeback tour, especially after pulling back musicians who haven’t associated with the band for some time. So, flag planted, line drawn in the sand, foot on the ground, pancake on head, robe and wizard hat donned, various other metaphors for standing your ground and facing opposition — just how well does Exit Wounds make the case for The Haunted’s continued existence?
Starting Exit Wounds with the one-two combo of “317” rolling right into “Cutting Teeth” was both a shrewd and a wise choice because it accomplishes two pretty important things. One, it establishes that The Haunted are back with a huge, loud, pyrotechnic bang and kicks the album into high gear from the start; and two, it also establishes that this version of The Haunted is going back to the melo-death colliding head-on with the on-the-edge-of-psychosis style of thrash that feels like an expulsion of fury.
Obviously, there are some key differences between Marco Aro and Peter Dolving, as the two vocalists have very different approaches to the sheer malice for which The Haunted have become known. Being among the few who pull off legitimate anger well, the two vocalists have over the years created two different forms of The Haunted. Dolving-fronted Haunted over the years became very introspective; it seemed as if the protagonists he enjoyed playing out were the type who imploded on themselves, where something was wrong and they knew they were the cause of it. Aro’s has always been a very hostile, outward explosion of anger. Both were liable to leave a trail of dead behind them, but Aro’s sound would be defined more as “going postal”.
The differences were also reflected in how the two chose to scream. Over time, Dolving attempted to croon and scream; his vocals always had a seething edge, sometimes barely above a whisper before he exploded. Aro is always at the explosion stage, and on Exit Wounds the poor guy sounds like he is screaming himself hoarse. It’s beyond the talent of someone who is very good at screaming — at certain points Aro is hitting the sort of lung-tearing scream that feels like all passion, little technique. For those who fell on his side of The Haunted if you were the type to choose teams, it’s going to be a welcome feeling to hear him back behind the mic.
I personally enjoy The Haunted in pretty much every form, but I do like the passion and explosiveness in Aro’s vocals. The fact that The Haunted start the album by gunning for it right out of the gate make the band seem even more authentically pissed — not trying to prove anything, but as if the malice that has built up over the years has been discharged in a cathartic release. And in the case of Exit Wounds, that release takes place over fourteen tracks (sixteen if you have the limited edition).
The formula for The Haunted that I’ve found tends to work best is the one that is equal parts speed and malevolence, like being mauled by a cheetah, and the band spend a pretty good chunk of Exit Wounds in that faster realm. Songs like “Cutting Teeth” make up about 70% of the album, and the way Exit Wounds flows suggests that the band realized that popping a faster one every couple of tracks would keep people engaged with the album. “My Enemy” especially, with its one-minute run time and utter barrage of instruments, feels like its placement in the disc was calculated.
Not to say that the band’s slower tracks are all bad, but the faster ones that have The Haunted just exploding like a fist fight with lit dynamite are undeniably some of the album’s best songs, a few of them among the best they’ve ever done. “My Enemy” is one of those. Another one is “Trend Killer”, which sees The Haunted veering off the beaten path a bit and targeting their ire at the modern music scene. Bands do this from time to time of course: Murder Construct has “Compelled By Mediocrity”; Man Must Die tackled something similar with “March Of The Clones”; hell, even Slipknot did it somewhat with the song “Get This” way back when they did the digipack version of their Roadrunner debut. Now it’s The Haunted’s turn, and there are some really good lines in it. But even if you don’t like the subject matter, the backing music is great and more percussive than most of the guitar-driven work on Exit Wounds. “Infiltrator” is another one that folks will be familiar with, if you checked out the group’s Eye Of The Storm EP before Exit Wounds hit. Its still a really great, fast song.
A quick aside for the bonus tracks: We do this on occasion when there are limited editions going around and we can find them on YouTube or get our grubby hands on our own copies, because we feel it helps people decide whether they should pursue the extra two or three songs/buy the limited edition as well. In the case of Exit Wounds, you get two tracks right now (I believe the Japanese edition gets a demo of Eye Of The Storm, but that is something for truly hardcore completionists because nothing about Eye Of The Storm suggests that you would want to hear a slightly different and lesser quality version). Those two songs — “As The Poison Sets In” and “The Manifestation” — are pretty stock-in-trade, mid-tempo affairs for The Haunted. Of course they feel slightly more revitalized as referenced above, so they both have some decent melodies, but both songs suffer from the part where The Haunted just aren’t going fast enough. Not to get too repetitive, but the band have a much higher success rate with faster tunes turning out great than they do the slower tracks, and most of those already lie within the confines of Exit Wounds’ regular run-time.
“As The Poison Sets In” is the one that sticks out the most, although “The Manifestation” has some pretty cruel lyrics within its minutes, plus a few different movie samples to make things a little jarring, since the band haven’t done that much at any point in their career, much less within Exit Wounds. “Poison Sets In” tends to win out, because it has the more memorable lead bits, but neither of them are essential to the overall listening experience. Both are decent bonuses but they are in the shadow of the actual disc’s tracks, especially in light of the fact that you’re already getting a huge slab of music from the band without considering the bonuses.
We focused heavily on the vocalist switch at the beginning of this review, but that is mostly because it is the most noticeable and immediate change. If you knew nothing else about the big lineup shift for this band and you put on Exit Wounds, you’d know something was different from the first seconds of track two. That doesn’t mean that the rest of the group don’t pull their weight across the this release. Ola Englund fits in right alongside remaining guitarist Patrik Jensen to form the new guitar duo for the band. Both whip out a huge variety of material and some of their writing even veers pretty close to the guitarists’ respective other bands, like Feared and Witchery. They play an interesting game across much of Exit Wounds as well, in part recalling earlier eras of the band while at the same time trying to keep the sound modern and avoid turning the band into one of those “Hey, we used to sound like this!” groups. They succeed most of the time.
Obviously Marco Aro has a distinctive as hell voice, so people are probably going to hear Made Me Do It and One Kill Wonder no matter what, especially given that the guitar writing this time around returns to the group’s meat and potatoes melodic death metal by way of thrash and punk riffs. But the stuff here is also supremely catchy when it’s not going for the full-bore adrenaline rush.
The band are backed by an interesting rhythm combo, with Jonas Björler sticking around and picking up the bass and the guy who probably has the largest gap of time between being in the band before and returning to it, drummer Adrian Erlandsson. Erlandsson is one of the small group of seemingly go-to drummers for metal bands out there, as he has proven himself a dependable expert behind the kit and willing to drum for just about anyone. Obviously, he also has the bonus of having the At The Gates credibility on his side. He hasn’t quite reached Kevin Talley or Hellhammer numbers, but he’s definitely one of the names I expect to see listed whenever a band is looking for a new drummer. He played on some of The Haunted’s earliest releases before his recent return to the fold, meaning there’s something close to a sixteen-year gap of time between his forays with the band. Needless to say, another smart move on The Haunted’s part, because he turns in a solid backing performance and knows exactly what sort of drum part fits each guitar and bass bit to keep things moving.
Part of what makes Exit Wounds work is that the band are playing it relatively safe across its run time. It’s all very familiar for The Haunted, yet it feels like the threat of the whole project just disbanding for good and the oddities unleashed on Unseen have made it all that much sweeter. With new blood and former members returning to the fold, the band do sound revitalized and willing to jump back to that style of breakneck speed and anger on which they were founded. Exit Wounds treads an odd, fine line of being part throwback and part new album — meaning that the music sounds like The Haunted of yore, but without sounding like the band are just harvesting the same patch of land over and over again.
There’s a lot of music to be had on Exit Wounds, and the way in which the disc moves from song to song is interesting because it’s one of the few out there that captures the definition of a peaks-and-valleys dynamic. Things will be up-tempo for a song or two, then slow down, and just when it feels like the slower songs are starting to drag a little bit, a faster song appears again. On occasion they start to blur together, but considering that there’s so much on Exit Wounds, a little faceless riffing is to be expected. Yet the blur does also have the weird effect of actually making the disc seem short. Because the songs generally move at such a fast clip, Exit Wounds finds itself spinning repeatedly in my listening, and the first five songs are so strong that one listen runs usually become one-and-a-third listen. I usually wind up stopping after I’ve hit “Trend Killer” for the second time.
Exit Wounds does show that there was always something to The Haunted’s batch of madness worth treasuring, and that even a huge lineup change can’t really stop them. It’s an intense experience that, while a little safe, is just as violent as the band have ever been, and it feels good to hear that fury unleashed on the metal scene once more.