If they weren't already popular with the Hot Topic set, they are now. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
There is no doubt this album marks a departure for the band. With thrash-y hooks, crystal clear production and pop-rock song structures, The Haunted have crafted an accessible, radio-friendly metal record sure to alienate old fans while generating lots of interest among the uninitiated. Right now, in a dark and distant Hot Topic, a seventeen year-old boy is telling his fifteen year-old sister that Unseen is by far The Haunted's worst album, and that he was into them before they sold out. Because she's fifteen, she won't tell him that he was two when At the Gates broke up and that he should stop being such a self-righteous prick. She will, however, ridicule him mercilessly when she discovers he's torrented the album in secret.
More thoughtful fans are likely to put this album aside and hope for a return to form next time around. Some reviewers will lament the passing of metal stalwarts into pandering mediocrity, while others will call Unseen a welcome change for musicians all to happy to ride the ever diminishing death metal wave they helped create. All three views have merit, an interesting situation which points to the difficulty in ranking this album in The Haunted's catalog. Unseen is so much better than Versus I wonder if this is the musical equivalent of the New Coke/Coca Cola Classic gambit. On the other hand, their latest falls so far from The Haunted, Made Me Do It, and One Kill Wonder you might as well compare Unseen to the output of another band entirely.
But it works. Whereas Versus was a tangle of half-thought concepts and mashed-up influences, this record is cohesive, lively and, I have to say, poppy. Rather than work through an unwieldy number of ideas, Unseen takes a single thread and follows it to its natural, albeit surprising, conclusion: by stripping away the more extreme elements of their sound, The Haunted have made an extremely good pop-metal album.
"No Ghost" and "Motionless" are the catchiest of the bunch, the latter rocking a strong 90s post-hardcore vibe. "The Skull", "All End Well" and "Done" have a dark melodic feel which would appeal to Katatonia fans. But the real backbone of the album comes from a deep understanding of what makes thrash and melodic death metal work. Almost all the death elements have been removed, and the general aim seems to get the listener to the hook as soon as possible. This isn't so much about crafting a new sound, but choosing to follow a single path through their influences. An example of addition by subtraction.
There are a couple of things that don't quite hit. "Never Better" really should have been to open the record. The heaviest track on the album, it aims to set a tone the album can't support. Dolving still stumbles through lyrics a times, ("ashes to ashes" on "Catch 22", "I lay me down to sleep..." on "Disappear"), but they don't ring as hollow here as they do on Versus, maybe because they have less to live up to, extremity wise.
Unfortunately, this is a good album marred by previous success. The band's history is immanent, and I'm not sure there's any value to considering Unseen in a vacuum anyway. So I have to grade it down a bit. Make no mistake, I like this record quite a bit. It's fun. But I think popular consensus will identify it as a turning point for the band. The old Haunted are dead, long live The Haunted.