In addition to being one of my all-time favorite bands, The Haunted are my all-time favorite heavy music comeback story. They’ve overcome some of the most crippling handicaps that can befall a metal band: label woes, vocalist replacements, departure of chief songwriters, and artistically-maligned missteps. The band’s humble beginnings as a project involving Witchery guitarist Patrik Jensen and At The Gates bassist Jonas Björler eventually gave rise to one of Scandinavian metal’s most important post-At The Gates acts. Björler’s guitarist brother, Anders, eventually joined the band, accompanied by ATG drummer Adrian Erlandsson and former Mary Beats Jane vocal schizo Peter Dolving. The group’s self-titled debut album is one of the leanest Swedish metal releases of the period, combining unabashed Slayer worship with brevity and precision that were typically eschewed by some of the band’s more grandiose peers. Following some lineup shuffles, the group took on a new drummer and, for two albums, former Facedown singer Marco Aro, who brought with him a hardcore sensibility that acted as a maul in the wake of Dolving’s hammer-and-chisel vocal approach. The Haunted later welcomed Dolving back, and delivered two of their most celebrated releases, rEVOLVER and The Dead Eye, records that captivated the band’s shred-oriented fans while introducing an almost modern rock aesthetic, punctuated by accessible melody and traditional song structures. And then the band began to wane.
In 2008, they released Versus, an album that didn’t feel as much like a bad effort as an uninspired one. There are some killer cuts there, but on the whole, it felt like the crew’s commitment to playing the brand of metal some of its members helped pioneer was wavering. As it turns out, it was. Three years later, the band released Unseen, a complete departure from the aggression of their past output, focusing instead on radio-friendly melodies, unorthodox structure explorations and, as Dolving put it, “arty-farty metal.” While Unseen had its moments, the album ultimately spelled disaster for The Haunted, who all but disbanded in 2012 following a mass exodus of members, first with vocalist Peter Dolving citing discontent with the industry and with his bandmates, then drummer Per Möller Jenson and guitarist Anders Björler bailing for other endeavors. The band, effectively reduced to its two founding members, lay dormant until June 2013 when they unveiled a retooled lineup, boasting the return of Erlandsson and Aro, as well as the addition of Feared/ex-Six Feet Under guitarist, Ola Englund. The result yielded Exit Wounds, a universally-hailed comeback record that featured some of the band’s most inspired, furious work. And since its release, the revamped lineup has commenced writing more material that, according to interviews, they seem to think fans will hear sooner rather than later.
The Haunted are one of my faves. Hell, back in 2012 when the band held open auditions to replace Dolving (before Aro’s return to the fold, obviously), I actually sent in a couple tracks. And around September of last year when Exit Wounds was released, I’d recently relocated to a new town where I listened to this record every day for, like, a month straight. With the arrival of fall temperatures here in South Carolina, I’ve found myself revisiting that album, as well as the rest of the band’s catalog, quite a bit throughout the last few weeks. This week, Criminally Slept-On takes a look at some of the The Haunted’s lesser-loved tracks… hopefully in preparation for the new material they told us we’d be hearing before the end of 2015. Clock’s tickin’, fellas!
Exit Wounds has been out for over a year, so it’s fair to say there are a couple songs on it that have already managed to slip under the radar, at least in a live/single setting. “Psychonaut” is one of my favorite tracks from the album. It’s also one of the most immediately catchy. In the past, the band tailored songs, to an extent, to fit the approach of either Dolving or Aro. In the latest incarnation of The Haunted, they’re taking some of the same avenues they traveled during both Dolving’s and Aro’s previous tenures, and infusing them with the new influences introduced by Englund. The result is songs that are just as heavy as anything from One Kill Wonder, but with the almost anthemic vocal delivery of The Dead Eye’s catchiest tracks. The chorus of “Psychonaut” is a perfect example of that fusion.
2) “The Skull”
Unseen. Having said that, since the album was so widely reviled, I’m operating under the assumption pretty much all of its songs are slept-on (whether deservedly so or not is up to each individual listener). I chose this one because it’s most reminiscent of what we loved about the band’s pre-Versus output, while still containing successful examples of what they were attempting to do with Unseen. It’s an oddly built song; the intro is the chorus, but it’s not as much of a chorus as it is a refrain. The heavy parts are in the verses. And the whole thing ends with this eerie group-whistle outro and the crackle of something burning. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s sooooo catchy. The verse riffs have a staccato stomp-and-swing vibe that could’ve come from The Haunted, but the melodic parts eclipse what the band attempted even on The Dead Eye. And Dolving is such a superstar here, displaying in full form the bipolar delivery he embodies so well. The intensity of the dude’s coming-off-the-rails screams during the verse are matched by his performance during the song’s melodic parts, in which he, no shit, croons like a precious baby angel. I’m not gonna tell you this album is perfect; it’s not. But when the actuality of these songs connects with the intentions behind them, there’s a subtle brilliance at play that’s very easy to overlook… especially if u came to break ur neck, bro.