AC/DC. Van Halen. Black Sabbath. Candlemass*. The list goes on. What list, you may enquire? Why, the list of bands of whom there are multiple singers across their discography, where there is a prevailing opinion about whom the best vocalist is or was. For The Haunted, much has been made of the Dolving / Aro debate in the past. For the record, and pertinent for this review, I’ve always considered the Marco Aro albums to be by far the best, even if his “come back” album, 2014’s “Exit Wounds” wasn’t their best album. Can The Haunted come back from that with a stronger offering?
Well, in a word, “yes”. In more than one word, “Yes, mostly”. Strength in Numbers isn’t a perfect album by any means, and not all of the forays it takes away from their well worn path work, but by and large this is a strong outing. When they are firing on all cylinders with their trademark incendiary riffing, there’s really not many bands that can match them for sheer thrash fury. When opener “Brute Force” sprints forth from the speakers like a rabid dog in pursuit of fresh meat, it’s really the sound of The Haunted doing what they do best with Aro: pure aggression. There are times when the Swedish crew flex their melodic tendencies a little more, as with the very accomplished work on “Preachers of Death”, which features probably the best lead guitar work that they’ve recorded thus far. The title track has an infectious main riff that’s destined to snap more necks than a turkey farmer, while the sheer adrenaline of the urgent “Tighten the Noose” could easily have come from the first three albums, bristling as it is with muscular tension and lack of finesse.
There are a couple of misfires. I could have done without the slightly jangly vibes on “Spark”, for instance, while the intro of “This is the End” comes off like a 90’s Soulfly track, and never really improves from that point. That being said, the stellar production, (and really, wouldn’t you expect that from The Haunted on Century Media, courtesy of Russ Russell, no less?) is just where you’d want it to be: plenty of bite and punch, while in my view, Marco Aro sounds as excellent as he always did. I’m delighted that they seem to have got back into their groove for the most part, and as the album draws to a close, excellent tracks like “The Fall” could easily wrestle the crown for best modern day thrash sound from Exodus.
You can safely assume that The Haunted are back, and back with some style. It’s certainly the best thrash album I’ve heard all year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in mine (and many other people’s) album of the year lists.
* For the record, Bon Scott, Sammy Hagar, Dio and Rob Lowe.
(8/10 Chris Davison)