Six Feet Under's knack for pissing on timeless classics is almost admirable at this point. "Graveyard Classics" is a tradition of the American death metal squad in which they spice up a variety of notable tunes to fit the Six Feet Under mold, the ineptitude of which is astounding. Six Feet Under covering their favorite songs isn't an issue; the problem is they fail miserably at making these tracks attention-grabbing, and thereby ruin them completely. It turns out the groovy formula of mid-paced death metal and Chris Barnes upchucking does not make fulfilling tributes to AC/DC et al., but for some reason a fourth installment of the "Graveyard Classics" series exists. "The Number of the Priest," praise given to just Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, delivers a simpleton's punchline to a joke we've heard four times now; it's no surprise it will make you hate the songs you love.
Covering a tune successfully usually requires an intriguing twist on the original. This is especially challenging for Six Feet Under, because the whole point of the project forming was to explore the simpler side of death metal. The few tricks in Six Feet Under's bag expanded from "Undead" onwards and created a consistent stretch of what are Six Feet Under's finest records, especially the awesome "Crypt of the Devil." This chapter of "Graveyard Classics" falls back to old habits, however, as the factors that managed to carry Six Feet Under away from the gutter, which had been the standard for years, are eschewed, and return once more to following the original tracks thoughtlessly. Implementing mid-paced blast beats into a Judas Priest cover or twisting the guitar sequences of an Iron Maiden song to feature some of the Barnes-era Cannibal Corpse riffing patterns of "Crypt of the Devil" would have at least added some zest, played a card with risk to it. Instead, "The Number of the Priest" is just Six Feet Under sleepwalking to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.
The music is harmless, and maybe could suffice independently. Six Feet Under is really defined by Chris Barnes' vocals, which I don't despise, so as long as they are preserved in their proper setting. His throaty barfs have no business hosting the heavy metal structure of both featured groups, and calling them unbearable is showing leniency. I mean, Barnes sounds like he's been gargling broken glass for the last ten years. How can those wobbly, guttural growls ever be practical in a way that supersedes dumb humor or irony? Answer: They can't, and they sound worse than death. I want to give the guy credit, but that's not possible when he's trying to shove a butchered corpse through a keyhole. You can clearly hear him struggling to keep up with the fast vocal sequences of "The Evil that Men Do," and he doesn't bother trying to hold the long notes on the chorus of "Invader." It is all just a complete and utter mess.
Ray Alder of Fates Warning appears as a guest backing vocalist on the rendition of "Invader," but stays in the backseat, drowned by Barnes' snorts. Alder sounds fine for being asphyxiated in the mix, and at least the dudes had the palate to pick authentic Maiden and Priest tracks that venture outside the extremely familiar hits. Nice things I have to say about "The Number of the Priest" are over beyond that; the collection of doppelgangers features nothing that can justify its effortless, insipid existence. Releasing yet another catalog of covers already doomed to fail is completely impractical and redundant, entertainment only to those who appreciate the simpleminded pleasure of finding their favorite Judas Priest and Iron Maiden songs raped in their own blood.