As great as the fantasy of recording an album that becomes a timeless classic might sound to ambitious young musicians, it's got to be hell for those who do it at an early age, as such an album can grow to albatross-like proportions, weighing down on a band for the rest of their career. Look at what Operation: Mindcrime did to Queensrÿche, after all. At the Gates was such a band, as their 1995 album Slaughter of the Soul was one of the most important metal albums of the mid-'90s, proving to be hugely influential on today's metal bands (Arch Enemy, especially), but not long after that record came out, the band broke up, instantly elevating the album to lofty heights in the minds of metallers. Two guys from At the Gates, the twin Bjorler brothers, guitarist Anders and bassist Jonas, went on to form The Haunted, and to their credit, their new band has come close to stepping out of the shadow of that classic record, going on to become one of the more potent acts in contemporary metal, as their 1998 self-titled debut was one of that year's most acclaimed metal discs.
The Haunted's fourth album, the goofily-titled rEVOLVEr, has original Haunted vocalist Peter Dolving returning for the first time since the first album, and while it's the usual, well-executed, blue-collar exercise in metalcore and thrash fans have come to expect from The Haunted, it's Dolving's dominating presence that leaves the most indelible impression. The album, co-produced by Patrik J. Sten and Frederik Nordstrom, has a terrific sound to it, a grating, no-frills feel that, while perhaps lacking a bit in the bass department, captures the band's intensity most efficiently.
Trouble is, while such intensity is all well and good, unless the songs hold up, such channeled aggression can often amount to being much ado about little at all. As it happens, the simplicity of The Haunted's songwriting does tend to wear thin the longer the album goes on. However, rEVOLVEr manages to get off to a blazing start with the opener "No Compromise", which is pure thrash and speed, as Anders Bjorler and Patrik Jensen deliver tight, staccato riffs (and dig that breakdown mid-song), underscoring Dolving's authoritative bark, which sounds something between Meshuggah's Jens Kidman and Pantera's Phil Anselmo. "99" keeps things soaring, despite the been-there-done-that feel of the shout-along chorus. "Abysmal" is anything but, featuring excellent range by Dolving, as the rest of the band churns away in a good, midtempo Alice in Chains imitation, and "Sabotage" turns up the speed again, Per Jensen's drumming careening along, finding the perfect middle ground between chaos and precision.
First single "All Against All" is a good choice, as it boasts a great riff that hearkens back to '80s thrashers Anthrax and Exodus, but after the intense "Sweet Relief", the album loses its steam for about 15 minutes. The turgid "Burnt to a Shell" rings hollow, while "Who Will Decide", featuring Sick of it All's Lou Koller, is merely metalcore by numbers. Meanwhile, "Nothing Right" tries to regain the momentum, but simply lack the fire of the album's brilliant first half.
Not all is wasted, though; after the menacing "Liquid Burns", the CD's three bonus tracks save the album from being a complete wasted opportunity. "My Shadow", primarily, blows away most of the official album tracks, as the band shows great dexterity, moving from the somber to the intense, and possessing a phenomenal performance by Dolving, as he shows tremendous versatility, veering from a menacing growl, to gutwrenching screams, to some surprisingly good, melodic singing (his singing is so good, in fact, that we need to hear him do that a lot more often). rEVOLVEr is an admirable piece of work, and while The Haunted stumble on a few tracks, it still remains a better than average record. Ten good songs out of 13 isn't shabby at all, but fans will still be hungry for some more of the magic that the 1998 debut possessed.