The Haunted

Versus

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In a year that both celebrated the Haunted's ten-year anniversary and the Björler brothers' triumphant reunion tour with legendary former group At the Gates (not to mention the usual distraction of singer Peter Dolving's motor-mouth press-baiting), it was especially important for the Swedish quintet's sixth album -- the provocatively named Versus -- to make a strong proclamation about their internal state of the union. This band unity had been called into question by some critics, in light of the controversial stylistic chances undertaken on 2006's opinion-polarizing The Dead Eye LP, and although Versus' title suggests an embattled mindset, fans would be foolhardy to expect the Haunted to panic, or devolve into their original, one-dimensional neo-thrashing ways anytime soon. Instead, hard-charging onslaughts like opener "Moronic Colossus," the metalcore-tinged "Little Cage," the riff-mongering "Ceremony" (which sounds like a Trouble song at double speed), and the Pantera-influenced "Crusher" always make room for varying tempos and darkly seductive melodies -- even while they ripple and throb with a rekindled sense of urgency. And when the band does decide to push the envelope again, the results are anything but reckless, as though departures like "Pieces" (with its somber, doom-like middle section), "Skuld" (with its muted yet haunting atmospherics), and "Iron Mask" (a foreboding stoner rock groove) were carefully considered in the rehearsal room, long before making it onto tape. Sure, there are also a few misfires within the bunch, including the dated alternative metal of "Rivers Run," the aesthetically detached closing collage "Imperial Death March," and an oddly tectonic plate-themed tandem in "Trenches" and "Faultline" -- which are imminently forgettable. All things considered, though, Versus offers resoundingly positive answers to most of the hot-button questions regarding the Haunted's internal well-being, and at least their immediate future, by giving their fans a balanced selection of the familiar and unfamiliar.

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