Despite The Haunted maintaining full time activity over recent years, many will likely view Exit Wounds, the band’s eighth full length, as a return or comeback of sorts. The reason for this is twofold. First, there have been some serious shifts in the band’s lineup. Most notable is the departure of vocalist Peter Dolving and the return of the man who replaced him all those years ago, the gruff Marco Aro. Also gone are one of the Björler brothers (guitarist Anders), and drummer Per Jensen, replaced by Ola Englund and the masterful Adrian Erlandsson, respectively.
The second major reason fans may view Exit Wounds as a return is that it is, in sound and style. After descending into radio-rock douchery on 2011’s rather embarrassing Unseen, The Haunted has returned to their thrash-with-a-touch-of-melodeath roots as heard on Made Me Do It and One Kill Wonder. While it would be easy to question the intentions behind this decision, the results should ease at least some of the expected reservations. Exit Wounds is not brilliant, and it has a few downright clunkers, but it also boasts some of the band’s best material in ages.
After the requisite thrash overture, “Cutting Teeth” bursts forth with a pretty convincing reaffirmation that Marco Aro is still one angry dude (and that Erlandsson is a shot in the arm for any band he joins). The occasional attempt at a modern Lamb of God sound holds it back a bit, but overall it’s a respectable way to get things going. With “Psychonaut” and the extra melodic “Eye of the Storm” – which really channels the “Hollow Ground” vibes from back in the day – the album picks up a bit of steam, giving the impression that even if Exit Wounds doesn’t see The Haunted back in peak form, it’s at least a respectable return to the land of thrash.
Then the album hits a wall, and hard. “Trend Killer” is one of the most ill-advised songs of the band’s career, combining stock aggro riffage and exasperatingly stupid lyrics about being true to yourself or something of the sort. (Oddly, these lyrics seem aimed at the kind of image-obsessed music that The Haunted was playing on their most previous album. Is this Aro calling out Dolving? Who cares, it’s dumb.) A couple tracks later, the band drops another serious stinker in the groove-laden “All I Have,” which fails to elicit any feelings other than the urge to cease listening.
And that would be a mistake, because Exit Wounds emerges from the mid-album funk with a killer run that lasts the rest of its duration. “Temptation” calls to the band’s Made Me Do It best, boasting a killer solo and really rediscovering the ruthlessness. Ditto with the ripping, brief “My War” and rippinger, briefer “My Enemy.” Get in, blow shit up, and get out, making sure to use enough explosives to overcome the occasional brain-hurting lyric.
The urgent brutality on display in these songs makes the presence of the crap tracks that much more of a shame. At only about 45 minutes, Exit Wounds isn’t exactly breaking down album length records, but it is almost 10 minutes longer than an album like Made Me Do It, which would be about the amount of time needed to cut out the most serious of schlock.
Is a two-thirds-strong album by The Haunted still necessary ear food in 2014? That is a question for you, the listener, but ponder this… Unseen was a complete mess not necessarily because the band was attempting to pander to more of a mainstream crowd, but because they’re just plain bad at writing that kind of material. By contrast, Exit Wounds is probably no less of a pandering album, but because it sees the band returning to what they’re actually good at, it finds moderate success. It’s probably the beginning of The Haunted, Inc. as nothing more than a constant touring act, but even so, it’s a helluva lot better than the alternative.
Most of the time, anyway.