[Aaron Von Lupton recently attempted to speak to Six Feet Under vocalist Chris Barnes about the band's latest slab of brutality, Undead, but trying to unearth any of the grisly details of the album's genesis proved almost as difficult as finding the gruesome growler's pulse.]
Chris Barnes forever made his mark on death metal as the original vocalist and a founding member of the immortal Cannibal Corpse. As primary lyricist for the band, he helped take the genre to new levels of violence and controversy through such ditties as “Meat Hook Sodomy,” “A Skull Full of Maggots” and “I Cum Blood.” Speaking of controversy, it was a minor metal soap opera event when Barnes left his Buffalo-based bandmates in 1995 to concentrate full-time on his Tampa-based side project Six Feet Under, where he continues to mine themes of torture, horror and zombies in a slower, more groove-based death metal formula. One of the most consistent and hardworking extreme metal acts today, SFU will drop its ninth studio album Undead on May 22, courtesy of Metal Blade Records.
I recently caught up with Barnes to discuss the new record, and here’s what the man with one of the most brutal throats in music had to say about his latest effort in horror metal extremism…
Why have you described Undead as a “rebirth” and a “rejuvenation” for Six Feet Under?
I think the songs Rob Arnold (new guitarist, ex-Chimaira) wrote brings a new level of energy to the band. He’s just someone who really understands death metal and I think that comes across in the songs.
How did he come to be a part of the band?
I met him on a tour when Six Feet Under opened for Chimaira in ’05 and it went so good that afterwards we started talking about working together. So when I was looking for a new guitarist, he was truly the first guy I thought of. I just loved his writing style and his attitude. It was good to have a young guy come into the band like that.
What does Rob bring to the Six Feet Under sound?
Well, listen to the album, you can hear it.
Does not coming from a death metal background make a difference?
No, because he has a great appreciation for death metal. He has all the techniques down for death metal and because I don’t have to worry about what he is doing, it allows me to focus that much more on writing.
Matt DeVries from Chimaira also joined Six Feet Under briefly to fill in for Terry Butler on bass. I guess you have a really close relationship with this band?
Yeah, Matt joined us on tour last year for a while, but he didn’t really participate in writing songs the way that Rob did. I don’t care what band people come from as long as they write kick-ass songs.
What led to Terry Butler’s departure?
He decided to join his former band Obituary and just concentrate on that instead of Six Feet Under.
So it’s not like he had a change of heart over the music?
No, I don’t think so.
What’s your favourite track on the album?
I really don’t want to get into favourites. I don’t have favourite songs. I like each one on their own for different reasons. I don’t have a favourite anything. I don’t have a favourite band, a favourite movie or a favourite car. Each one speaks to me on its own.
It looks like this album is primarily focused on horror, as opposed to some of the political themes you have addressed in the past. I’d like to know what they are about though, like “18 Days” for example.
I don’t like to talk too much about my lyrics, man. I don’t want to get into explaining to someone what I am writing about. I don’t want to spoil or ruin what someone might be getting from them by telling them something different. Each one can have multiple meanings.
So a song such as “Vampire Apocalypse” has multiple meanings? Where do most of your ideas come from? Do any of them come from actual horror movies or stories?
No, they just come from my mind. I can spend a lot of time just dreaming up stuff and that’s what I write down. Also many are influenced by the use of cannabis.
There is a part in the Cannibal Corpse DVD Centuries of Torment where the band talks about how hard it was after you left to start writing the really violent type of lyrics that you wrote. Did you notice any difference in CC’s lyrics after your departure?
No, not at all.
So you don’t think you had any particular contribution?
Well, I think the songs I wrote were great. I think those Cannibal Corpse albums I was on are some of the greatest death metal albums ever written. That’s all I really have to say about it. I think those guys have done a great job putting their own stamp on it, and they were some of the best friends I ever had.
What are the possibilities of a Cannibal Corpse/Six Feet Under tour?
Oh, I would love for that to happen.
Is it difficult getting into Canada to play shows? You guys seem to bail on Canadian dates a lot.
I think we played there a few years ago. Sometimes it is difficult to cross the border.
Doesn’t singing like that destroy your throat? Have you developed any problems over the years?
I don’t know, listen to the album and you tell me. It’s stronger than ever if you ask me. It’s like any other muscle in your body, if you continue to work it, it will just get stronger.
2003’s Bringer of Blood was more of a political album than a strictly horror-themed album, but since then your lyrics seem to stick more closely to horror and gore. What do you feel more comfortable writing about?
Warpath was actually the most political album we ever wrote. But, yeah, Undead is not a particularly political album. I just write whatever comes to my head.
How did you celebrate “Women in Horror Month” this year?
Never heard of it. Sounds cool.
Have you seen any of the Lucio Fulci Blu-rays?
No, I don’t really buy DVDs anymore.
You should, they are amazing. You are a Fulci fan though, right?
Well, I don’t really watch horror movies anymore.
Finally, Six Feet Under has always taken a slower, more groove-oriented approach to death metal over the typical speed of the genre. What appeals to you most about that sound?
You think we’re slow? Dude, have you even heard the new album?
Well, you know, you’re not Origin.
Go listen to the album and then tell me that we are slow. I don’t know where you are coming from on that.