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Exit Wounds, the latest album by The Haunted is a Cinderella story. The long-running Swedish death thrash group’s last album, 2012’s Unseen, was about as hard-nosed and threatening as Brad Pitt’s character in Burn After Reading—that is to say, not remotely. On the one hand, it was an adventurous foray into melody. On the other hand, it failed completely and pretty much sounded like The Haunted doing a Nickelback impression. Shortly thereafter the band parted ways with longtime vocalist and mouthpiece Peter Dolving. Drummer Per Möller Jensen of Nightrage and Guitarist Anders Björler of At The Gates also departed shortly thereafter, leaving The Haunted in an existential crisis, with only two of the five original members on-board and one of them, Jonas Björler, pulling double duty in now-active At The Gates with his brother.

That existential crisis mirrors the fundamental problem with The Haunted—that the band was born as a substitute for At The Gates. Hell, the band formed the next day after At The Gates called it quits. The group, to most people, was never its own entity, and with the original back in action, what is the point of The Haunted existing at all?

The band answered that question with Exit Wounds. On this record the band sounds as muscular and triumphant as Brad Pitt’s character in Snatch throwing a knockout haymaker while on the brink of collapse. The title is apt, and one could interpret much of the music as an open letter to its departed members, particularly Peter Dolving. The band replaced him with the same man who stepped into his shoes the last time, Marco Aro, whose first album with The Haunted, Made Me Do It, is my favorite release in their repertoire. Much of Exit Wounds seeks to replicate the energy of Made Me Do It in both form and style, from the ominous intro segueing into an instant-classic single to every straightforward barrage that follows. It’s an exhausting listen, but at the very least it affirms the band’s identity. While At The Gates keep talking about how they refuse to make another Slaughter of the Soul, The Haunted have successfully remade Made Me Do It—that is their identity. Dwelling in the past seems pathetic, unless you can replicate a past success with a high degree of accuracy, as is the case on this album.

Some people might call The Haunted's approach to death thrash middle of the road. I prefer to think of it as meat and potatoes—if it literally were food, it would stick to one's ribs, and there would be no way to alchemize a vegan substitute. It's Reign in Blood and Fabulous Disaster taken to their logical conclusions with minimal bass and melody. I like to think of it as workout playlist metal, and you can nearly smell the gym socks. I mean all of this in the best way. Life frequently calls for work out metal, not only during exercise but simply when dealing with the aggression of daily human interaction.

The Haunted's songs always come from a first-person narrator, speaking (screaming, admonishing, etc.) to another person. A one-sided dialog seldom makes for good poetry, but frequently makes for good catharsis. What's your conflict of the moment? The Haunted have a song for that. significant other or close friend with whom you share a bit too many personality flaws? "Psychonaut." As for me, I'm relating to "Trend Killer," the most punk song The Haunted have penned since they were 'that At The Gates substitute.' It takes aim at metal scene politics with the same vitriol as newer Darkthrone does, albeit with more solid state amps. "I can't be bothered with your piece of shit band," Aro bellows over a rock-solid skank beat, and I nod along. If all middle of the road metal were as good as Exit Wounds I'd be buying Mayhem Fest tickets.

— Joseph Schafer

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