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SIX FEET UNDER – A Sinister Craving
Anthony Morgan
March 2013

Chris Barnes

Chris Barnes – vocalist for Tampa, Florida-based death metal outfit Six Feet Under – scribbled the words The Undead Chronicles, Volume 1 And 2 on a sheet of paper during November 2009, the words later forming the title of a two-album series: Undead and Unborn, issued in May 2012 and March 2013 respectively. Sitting there, pondering about as well as looking at the word ‘undead’, he thought ‘If you’re not undead, you’re unborn.’

“It just seems like something’s undead, and then it’s unborn,” Chris reiterates. “The idea of both words having the number six in them as far as having six letters in both words, and the idea of something being born and then being dead… It seemed like it fit with the theme and concept of the intertwined storytelling between both albums, which is the ongoing idea of one man’s insanity and the focus on a certain non-existent apocalypse.

“About a year later I decided to move forward, and look for some new writers. Songwriters in the band I guess that I could work with, that were enthused about being in the band and working with me, and writing new material, since the two members that had been in the band for a long time (bassist Terry Butler and drummer Greg Gall) didn’t really seem motivated or wanting to do that any more. I began writing with Rob Arnold (ex-Chimaira guitarist), Ben Savage (Whitechapel guitarist), and Jari Laine (Torture Killer guitarist), and just really started the foundation of what would be the two albums Undead and Unborn.”

Six songwriters authored material in aid of Undead and / or Unborn – musically, lyrically or otherwise – namely Chris himself, Steve Swanson (longtime Six Feet Under guitarist), Rob, Ola Englund (Feared guitarist), Jari, and Ben. “Six songwriters, Six Feet Under, and six letters in Unborn and Undead,” the frontman chuckles.

Lucky number six. “That’s it. 666, yes,” Chris laughs.

Steve Swanson’s Six Feet Under membership began in 1998. “Steve’s awesome, man,” the singer enthuses. “He’s really laid-back. He’s not as tech friendly as some of the other guys in the band – with recording on his own, and stuff – but he’s got great ideas, and he’s gonna write a lot more for the next album. He’s gonna be exploding with some awesome material.”

Hailing from Turku, Finland, Jari Laine spearheads Torture Killer as a guitarist and songwriter. “He’s such a great, great guy, a real nice person,” Chris compliments. “He just comes up with interesting, big verse-chorus type of writing where I’m able to breathe, and kind of lay back. I’m able to do some interesting, aggressive verses and time changes, and focus on rhythm and syncopation, and stuff like that. He’s such a cool dude too, man. He’s all about the music; he never wants to do anything half-assed. He’s really, really meticulous with things, and he’s really an artistic person too as far as how he creates the atmospheres within his riffs and stuff. I kind of really appreciate that and like it a lot, and the same thing for Ben Savage. His writing style is of the same nature in a way, but on the different side of the scale. His writing just has some different time signatures and phrasings that I’ve never encountered, just ins and outs and twists that make writing lyric verses interesting. It takes me on a different journey that I haven’t been on as a guy structuring words to music.”

Released in March 2006 via Metal Blade Records, sophomore Torture Killer full-length Swarm! featured the Six Feet Under mainman behind the microphone. “That was just really cool,” he remembers. “I just got in touch with those guys, and said ‘I heard you’re looking for a singer.’ They were blown away by that, and wanted me to help out. Jari just had some lyrics that he wrote, and needed someone else’s lyrics on the album other than writing all of the lyrics. That was just a lot of fun for me, delving into that and trying to match lyric writing with those three or four songs. It was a lot of fun going back and trying to make those guys really happy and proud, because I really liked the music and everything about that album cover. Wes Benscoter’s cover artwork blew me away when I got the file. It was just really cool to me. You know, it’s something I want to continue in the future. Me and Jari are still doing stuff. I just laid down a track for the new Torture Killer album for them, and they’re gonna use a piece of it and intertwine it with their stuff. We’re gonna keep working together with Six Feet Under for the future.”

Steve Swanson

A subsequent whole record of material pairing Chris’ vocal expertise alongside Jari’s songwriting prowess isn’t seemingly on the cards, however, even though Chris is receptive towards the idea. “I don’t think that’s something he wants to do just from talking to him, and knowing where he wants to be musically in the future,” he explains. “Side projects for me are kind of energy draining, and I really only see myself focusing on working and making this band the best it can be, and seeing where I can take it next I guess.”

Ben Savage, meanwhile, supplies lead guitar parts for Knoxville, Tennessee-based death metal ensemble Whitechapel, Whitechapel and Six Feet Under both having issued albums under the Metal Blade imprint. “Since we were labelmates, I got in touch with Ben through Mike Faley, the vice president of Metal Blade,” the lyricist divulges. “He passed his contact details onto me. I knew Ben’s work in Whitechapel. When I was searching out writers, I just felt that his style was… Innovative, for sure. I think that he is a technician in the death metal writing style, and a pioneer in a way. I really do. I think that if Whitechapel came out in 1992, they would’ve just been humongous. Their music is just incredible, and is presented in an awesome way. Them having three guitarists work off of each other is just amazing. It just works really well, and sounds awesome. The band has just interesting music, and I think Ben is a big part of that as far as his writing style having a lot of unique ins and outs.

“Each of the people’s styles were different from one another. Those were all different aspects and values that I wanted to bring into the band as far as perspective. I knew the vibe that each of them encompassed in their works, and about having that variety of sounds and dynamics, and how they can basically come about from all these different sources, techniques, and styles. Ben was the second person that I got in touch with, and he was really enthusiastic. That’s the first thing I was looking for, someone that had a real drive to create something.”

The prospect of establishing new songwriting partnerships with respect to future Six Feet Under albums hasn’t been ruled out. “Hmm…,” Chris ponders. “Like I said, I will definitely continue to work with Jari. I’m really interested in working with him and having him come up with songs, so there’s gonna be a lot of good songwriting between himself and myself. I’m not opposed to writing with anyone different. I just haven’t really given it any thought as of recently, just because I’ve had such a great pool of songwriters to choose from with the guys that I’ve been working with – the guys who I wrote all these great songs with during the Undead and Unborn sessions.

“It’s been an exciting time and I’m definitely open to more ideas for sure, because that just benefits everyone and mostly the fans. When I set out to do this, what I wanted to see was the final product being performed onstage – like ‘Zombie Blood Curse’ – and everyone with smiles on their faces, having fun. No matter what it took to write a song like that, or a song like ‘Neuro Osmosis’, or ‘Psychosis’, or any of those songs on the album, I think that the end justifies the means.”

Penning compositions with fellow Metal Blade artists would be pragmatic, but the label itself only occasionally mails the vocalist Metal Blade platters for listening pleasure. “Sometimes they’ll send me a CD, and be like ‘Here… listen to this’ or something,” he elaborates. “They don’t send me any promos too often though, no. I think that ended awhile ago, man. I used to get a lot of promos by new bands ten years ago or something, but not so much any more. We tour with a lot of the bands on the label though, that’s for sure.”

Labelmates unlikely to collaborate with Chris are arguably San Diego, California-based death metal group Cattle Decapitation, an altercation between Chris and Cattle Decapitation frontman Travis Ryan occurring on November 5th, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. The latter band were a supporting act to Six Feet Under at the time. “I’m kind of done talking about it,” Chris dismisses. “I made a statement about it. People keep wanting to bring it up, but there’s really nothing to say. Sometimes things happen.”

As far as the Six Feet Under frontman is concerned, the matter is closed. “From my side,” he confirms. “It has been for awhile, I guess (laughs).”

Six Feet Under (l-r): Kevin Talley, Steve Swanson, Chris Barnes, Jeff Hughell
and Ola Englund

The departure of rhythm guitarist Rob Arnold from Six Feet Under’s ranks, meanwhile, came to light on May 22nd, 2012, the man retiring from touring altogether from thereon in, but nonetheless remaining a contributor to Six Feet Under material. “Rob had a lot of personal things that he wanted to take care of,” Chris cites. “His wife just had a baby and stuff, so he was just starting a family. He wanted to do the right thing – to be a good dad, and be there all of the time – so I couldn’t blame him. I was a little bit disappointed, just because we had become such good friends and it was gonna be sad not to have him with me any more. I love Rob though; he’s just a great guy, and he has a great integrity. He’s such a great songwriter. When things move forward, you move forward. You roll with the punches, and you just get great guys in the band like I have now. Like Jeff Hughell and Ola Englund; those guys have brought a lot to the table, as far as great playing. They’re really, really great people, and awesome, awesome musicians.”

That same day on May 22nd, 2012, Six Feet Under announced the addition of Ola Englund on rhythm guitar. “I was actually talking to another guy on the phone about filling the guitar position,” the singer recalls. “He said ‘You know what? I’m not gonna really be able to do it, but I know of this guy. You might wanna take a look at him, because I think he’s the right guy for the job.’ He sent me a link to some videos. I kind of sat on it and talked to some other people that I had in mind, but after awhile I was like ‘You know what? I’m gonna check this out.’

“I checked it out, and Ola comes up on the screen doing a YouTube video instruction for one of his songs by his band. I watched two videos. I watched his playing, and I was like ‘You know, this guy is the perfect compliment for Steve.’ It just clicked. I just was like ‘You know what? I need to get hold of him.’ I got hold of him, threw the offer his way, and said ‘It’s up to you. I know you’re a busy guy, but I would never restrict you to just doing this.’ He loved the idea. It just turns out that he has a sick, disturbingly bad sense of humour like the rest of us (laughs), so he fits in really well.”

The exit of bassist Matt DeVries – Rob Arnold’s erstwhile Chimaira bandmate – from the Six Feet Under fold emerged three months earlier on February 9th, 2012. “I think Matt was really just there, hanging with Rob and stuff,” Chris speculates. “He was just helping out with the bass, really. He’s a guitarist. He started playing bass for Fear Factory too, but I think he needed to move on and do some things on his own too. We’re all good friends still. Matt’s a great guy.”

Formerly of the Santa Cruz, California-based technical death metal group Brain Drill and the Concord, California-based death metal assortment Vile, Jeff Hughell was unveiled as Matt’s replacement five days later on the 14th. “I knew Jeff’s playing, and I knew about him,” the mainman discloses. “When I was talking to one of the people there at the Metal Blade office, I was just like ‘I’m trying to think of an amazing bass player.’ They brought up Jeff, and I was like ‘Is that not happening with Braindrill any more?’ They were like ‘No.’ I was like ‘Well, man… That would be the dream bass player, for sure.’ I got in touch with him, and he really thought it was a great idea. He liked Six Feet Under’s career, and stuff like that. He was all in, and he’s a great guy man. He’s a really good personality, and we both share the same love for cannabis and stuff (laughs).”

Six Feet Under’s spate of personnel changes of late began on January 31st, 2011, original members in the form of bassist Terry Butler and drummer Greg Gall parting ways with the band. Few interviews with Chris have addressed the topic. “Not many people have asked about it, so it’s been kind of weird on that level,” Chris laughs. “We did have a lot of good times, and shared a lot of touring and good times together. Steve was the main songwriter though and really the most motivated to do things, and those guys really weren’t for a long time. It started bringing me down and bringing Steve down. We had to move forward, and I don’t think anyone really has missed them too much because the music of the band has progressed. Maybe they would’ve been a little more missed if these two albums had been a complete and utter failure with the new members, but I think it’s just the opposite of that. I think the band has progressed in a way that myself and Steve have wanted the band to progress for many years.”

Such comments suggest the pair were dismissed, something the death metal wordsmith clarifies. “They quit the band, but it was a mutual kind of thing,” he resolves. “It was definitely necessary. I was already three songs deep into writing Rob Arnold for these albums, so it was pretty much on that path anyway.”

The cancellation of Six Feet Under’s scheduled appearance on February 11th, 2011 at the Curtis Beeson: Kill The Cancer Benefit concert – at the behest of Chris – was the catalyst for the pair’s exit. Curtis Beeson was formerly a drummer for the metal groups Nasty Savage, Fester, Massacre and Denial Fiend, Terry formerly a bandmate of Curtis’ in the latter two bands. “I think that might have been their last straw or their motivating factor, but it was kind of more than that and I think they knew that too,” Chris expounds. “They instigated a few situations that kind of bothered me and Steve. Me and Steve got on the phone and spoke about some things, and we decided that maybe that would be one way to push them over the edge. We could then move on to do other things.”

The vocalist offers his perspective regarding the cancellation of Six Feet Under’s appearance at the cancer benefit. “Some things just weren’t right in the band, and I didn’t really want to play a show with two guys that didn’t really want to be in the band with me any more,” he contends. “I didn’t see that being onstage for any reason with two people that were unmotivated and didn’t respect me was any reason to continue. It was a hard thing to do, but sometimes it just isn’t working out. I just made the call, and said ‘Look man… I’ve got some other things that need to be taken care of.’ They didn’t like that, and I didn’t think they would like it. I knew that that was gonna happen. It was unfortunate that I didn’t play the benefit show, but I didn’t wanna be onstage with two guys that didn’t really wanna be in the band any more. I didn’t feel they deserved to be onstage playing that music any more.”

Chris Barnes

Fanatics of Six Feet Under naturally wish to hear Chris’ viewpoint on the matter. “No, that’s fine,” he assures. “I’m glad to tell my side of any story. It just got to a head. I can’t be onstage with any people that don’t wanna be there with me, and are unmotivated about playing and getting together, and are just being stagnant and not going anywhere. We were going somewhere writing with Rob, and me and Steve didn’t want to be onstage with them any more. It just wasn’t gonna be good, so why do it? I feel bad that we couldn’t do it, but it wasn’t like the day before we gave them two or three weeks to find a replacement for us for the show. I really didn’t think it was gonna be that big of a deal. It would’ve been more disruptive to the band if we had played that, though. I know that, for sure.”

“My girlfriend had an event in Miami, and I decided that I was gonna go down there and help her with work. That’s really personal stuff, but since you brought it up… I would’ve rather have done that than be onstage with them for another five minutes, and them being a complete lazy waste of time. That was really where it was at. Again, I’m sorry that we didn’t end up playing it, but the event went on with Obituary playing and what not. I’m sorry that it had to happen, but like I said and will say again, I just didn’t wanna be onstage with those guys any more, and Steve really didn’t either. We needed to take the first step, I guess. My family and the people I care about and who care about me are more important to help out than two guys that couldn’t give a crap about me. That’s really how I felt about it, and that’s why me and Steve chose not to do it. That was a catalyst for us moving the band in the right direction. It was a positive thing. Everything has to come to an end somehow, and it usually comes to an end badly. Otherwise, it would go on forever.”

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