Swedish metal darlings fight themselves through 11 uneven tracks.
If and when I knew this was out, I ignored it. But when I went to pick up a copy of Unseen I saw this in the rack and picked up both. Although listening through Versus is a pretty good primer for their latest, this is The Haunted's entry into the ever expanding category of transition albums which could have been so much better.
To be fair, I prefer Marco Aro to Peter Dolving as far as vocalists go, and it's my opinion The Haunted were a better band altogether with Aro up front. Now, this may have more to do with the band being a more vital entity than in later years, and Aro probably benefited from Dolving's work on the self-titled debut. With the foundation set, it was maybe easier for Aro to come in and take the next step with the band. That said, I doubt very much that lines like "Mirror mirror on the wall/who's the biggest fuck up of all?/It's getting ridiculous/and we're all supposed to play along," would have passed the smell test during sessions for One Kill Wonder. Ridiculous indeed.
If the lyrics are bad, the delivery is simply strange. I'm not sure if everyone agreed beforehand to use Deliverance as a reference point, but Dolving does his best Pepper Keenan impression on a number of tracks, most obviously on "Ceremony". There are even a couple of Neurosis-y moments, including middle track "Skuld". The first time through the album, I held out hope that this track was a turning point and things would coalesce into a more coherent experience. But they didn't. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to say any three songs flow together well enough to consider the album a salvageable EP.
From album opener "Moronic Colossus," a simple, riff driven track that never really hits, to "Rivers Run" the band plays with idea after idea, but they never really pan out. Between the southern stoner/thrash thing and the melodic death metal thing and the creeping post metal thing, this album has no voice at all. "Crusher" is perhaps the single best effort, but even here the band injects a bit of d-beat energy into the mix, seemingly out of nowhere. It's also the shortest track, which I don't think is a coincidence. Most of the songs wear out their welcome after about three minutes.
The final track, "Imperial Death March," is a fitting ending for an album that never quite makes sense. This is more a collection of influences and half-formed ideas than anything else, and I can't help but think that if they just focused on one or two, they could have pulled off something pretty interesting. As it is, Versus sounds like the growing pains of a fledgling band rather than a veteran outfit on their sixth full length. What a bummer.