Bottom of the Barrel: Six Feet Under – Graveyard Classics IV: The Number of the Priest (2016)
Genre: Death metal / comedy rock
Release date: 27th May, 2016
Record label: Metal Blade
For fans of: The Cookie Monster fronting an extreme metal band
In the build-up to the release of Six Feet Under’s fourth entry in their Graveyard Classics series, entitled The Number of the Priest, the band’s vocalist Chris Barnes went on-record saying that, when listening to the album, fans should “get ready to have your ears violated and your mind blown.” Normally, in the often hyperbolic and macho realm that is heavy music, this would be considered a rather promising, albeit overused, promotion for what, on paper, looks like a loving throwback of a record. But, in the case of The Number of the Priest, Barnes’ words are very much literal. Ears are indeed split and minds are indeed blown, just not in the way that Six Feet Under probably anticipated.
A collection of covers of beloved tracks by Iron Maiden and Judas Priest (hence that exquisitely punny portmanteau of a title), The Number of the Priest may just be the funniest comedy rock record ever released. And the reason for that lies entirely with Barnes himself as a vocalist. His growls are some of the least competent ever committed to tape, lacking any and all vitality. Instead, it comes across as Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster gargling nails in a performance out of sync with anything around him, all while a (at times decent) backing band is insufferably and cruelly drowned out in the background.
To be fair to Six Feet Under, the actual music from drummer Josh Hall and bassist/guitarist Ray Suhy is passable. As far as recreating Iron Maiden and Judas Priest goes, the duo hit the right notes (unlike their singer), but clearly lack any sense of energy and passion in their performance. They sound like a garage cover band, trying so hard to try and recreate their idols that, in the process, they lose any and all sense of personal identity and musical vision. If this were an instrumental record, it would be serviceable.
But Barnes’ vocals are so terrifically horrid, out-of-time and all-encompassing that their presence infects the entire record like a leech, injecting a poison into every second of time The Number of the Priest has. The sense of schadenfreude one gets from this experience is almost too amazing to miss. It’s akin to watching one of those deluded hopefuls on The X Factor or American Idol attempt to sing when they’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by friends, family members and producers around them. They, like Barnes, are encouraged to be unknowingly terrible by lying spectators.
For example, Metal Injection gave this album an eight out of ten score in their review. How? Why? And why does this band have hundreds of thousands of followers across social media? Is The Number of the Priest an ever-going practical joke that everyone ironically loves? Or are people just too afraid to tell an ex-Cannibal Corpse singer that he sounds like Smaug smoking twenty a day?
But, whatever the case and despite this record’s undeniable terribleness, it honestly should be heard by anyone who can get a hold of it. It’s a hilarious car crash of a record, especially given the context of Six Feet Under trying to emulate two of the greatest metal bands to ever perform. Maybe that’s why this series is called “Graveyard Classics”: it’s a collection of classics that are now, in the hands of Six Feet Under, dead.
In short, for all the wrong reasons, you need to listen to this. If you ever sit at home thinking that you are terrible at your job, hearing a man belch his way through classic metal tunes will undoubtedly reaffirm your self-esteem.
See where Graveyard Classics IV: The Number of the Priest lands in the “Bottom of the Barrel” rankings here.