21 March 2011
by Hugh Platt
Oh dear. Whatever it was that The Haunted were hoping to achieve with Unseen, they haven’t come close to succeeding. In fact, I’d go so far as to describe the pan-Scandinavian quintet’s fifth studio album as a rambling, directionless mess.
From it’s opening bars of ‘Never Better’, to the closing whisper of ‘Done’, Unseen doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go or how it’s planning on getting there. The thrash-rimmed grooves that The Haunted have furrowed for more than a decade have been largely cast aside for a schizophrenic melodic obsessions, with the gutsy passage of grunt and chug neutered by the inevitable flop back to softer and more tepid territory. You’re left speculating what the root cause of this meandering within The Haunted’s usually solid songwriting is – did Peter Dolving insist on turning so much of the record into a demo tape for him to show off the various vocal techniques he’s got down pat? Did Anders Björler feel like he has something to prove as a songwriter, hence the jarring switching from style-to-style?
Perhaps the thing that makes Unseen hardest to love is that no single song on it really sucks. There are constant displays of what The Haunted are capable of, and moments where you think the album is almost about to turn the corner, only instead for it to find new and unusual ways to fall short of those expectations. Take ‘No Ghost’ for example – a bluesy, Down-ish workout of slow licks and low drawl vocal delivery. Even Dolving’s trademark spoken-word growl is twisted to try to fit an Anselmo-ish southern drawl. Sounds good, right? Wrong. It just makes me realise I could be listening to a better song actually by Down, than this faded echo of a tribute track.
Then of cours we have the most contentious element on the whole album, that of The Haunted’s retreat into – dare I say it – “radio-friendly” dollops of melody. What’s so bad about that? Well, when the band in question is responsible for The Haunted Made Me Do It, it invariably carries the cross of its own pedigree with it on all future releases. If you’re going to lace your songs with smooth choirboy vocals (see: ‘Catch 22’) and toothless rolling riffs (see: ‘Motionless’), then it’s going to irk longtime fans of your work.
It’s around this point I start to feel oddly guilty at drubbing a record from The Haunted. I feel I almost ought to justify my criticism of this latest album by detailing how much of a fan of the band I am, and pass off some mealy-mouthed appeasement along the lines that I appreciate and understand what The Haunted were trying to do with Unseen, but that it just didn’t work.
Watch a video trailer for Unseen by The Haunted:
But that would be cowardice – if you’re going to administer a tough-love review, you’ve got to see it through to the bitterest of conclusions. And while I might not have found much in Unseen to satisfy me, one thing it most certainly isn’t is a cowardly record. Sure, you could hold up The Haunted’s desire to progress and try new things as a positive aspect, but a failure is still a failure, no matter how brave a failure it is. The Haunted knew that making a record as divergent from their proven template as Unseen is was going to put some people’s bollocks out of joint.
“Bollocks out of joint”? Can we really end a review with such casual disregard for the rules of avoiding mixed metaphors? Well, given Unseen‘s prediliction for doing the said-same when it comes to The Haunted’s musical endeavors, I’d say as conclusions go, it’s suitably apt.
Sounds like: five guys who really should sit down and think about what they’ve done. And not do it again.
Top tracks: Never Better, The Skull
The Haunted – Unseen tracklisting:
All Ends Well