Artist: Cattle Decapitation
Album: Death Atlas
Genre: Deathgrind/Blackened Death Metal
Review by Mothlord
You know when an album begins with a lengthy sample heavy ambient intro track, the record is either incredibly engaging... Or the band is over compensating for the lack of drama and depth in their own song writing.
Thankfully, and without and shock, Cattle Decapitation's new record does not disappoint in the slightest measure.
Right from the onset, this record oozes a sombre theatrical quality that transcends previous efforts. Yet simultaneously feels more grounded in its humanity.I will admit that for a while now, I had been disillusioned with the band. This is not to say that I did not like them, or had lessened in my appreciation of what they do. I simply was not as interested in buying what they were selling when weighed against many other bands demanding my attention.
However, on Death Atlas, I can say with confidence I am happily eager to buy the filth smeared product as they have fully recaptured my attention.
The band feel more refined and focused to my perceptions which might come as a shock to some, considering the transformation the band underwent since The Harvest Floor to Monolith Of Inhumanity. I would say that Death Atlas is the culmination of all their efforts for the last decade or so. A zenith of their song writing ability. And I must give full praise to Dave Otero for his success in maintaining the large and crisp modern production for Death Atlas. This is not a criticism indicating low quality, but the last couple of record had such a tightness and sheen to their production that for lack of a better term it sounded plastic. Perhaps this fits the theme, as Anthropocene's art depicted a colder polluted environment, devoured by plastic waste relative to the concept of a world where humanity inflicts in greater measures upon the Earth than it does on humanity. On Death Atlas the production feels weightier, and more organic or fleshy in its approach. This could be simultaneously reflected in the image of a reaper, symbol of mortality, holding the planet on it's shoulders. There feels less of a separation between the immaterial musical and the personal experience.
Immediately, "Be Still Our Beating Hearts" opens in a flurry of blinding tom fills and grinding tremolo and staccato riffage. It isn't that these devices haven't been used before. There are the expected tropes Cattle Decapitation are known for. However despite many recognizable elements, they are freshly wrapped and packaged to stimulating and more cinematic effect. This is where I will refer back to my previous statement of suggesting this record is a culmination of all previous efforts. Honed to their sharpest and more sincere edge. This is not, and will not be the first or last time, we hear tightly wound 32nd note palm mute tremolo riffage gouged into our craniums from this band. However their utility serves a higher focus than before in creating passage between pummeling chugs, to epic chorus verse with vocalist Travis Ryan's foul shrieks hung upon canvas of blackened wings.
"Vulturous" opens with lumbering ferocity. Some of the riffs harken back to fan favourite song "Forced Gender Reassignment" in sharing quite similar riff patterns. However the band have taken it a more twisted and freshly devious direction with layered synth like guitars painting an cold and eerie atmosphere as a back drop. A noticeable thread running through this record... It is unsettlingly cold at times. Something I truly praise about Cattle Decapitation at this stage in their career is when soaring into a riff you might have certain expectations about where it will go, and then there are subtle shifts in the flourishes and tails in between that cause you to widen your eyes and nod in admiration of a veteran band that can simultaneously rest upon their laurels with confidence and also gift the listener with a bounty of fresh takes.
In my opening statement I indicated that great intro tracks can sometimes indicate either great creativity or lack thereof on a bands behalf in writing and composing their albums, and this extends to interludes. For the next track "The Great Dying", is an unsettling and cold piece. Reminiscent of a Silent Hill meets cyber punk dystopia decaying and rusting, drowning in offal and blood.
A interlude like this makes the next track, the already released "One Day Closer To The End Of The World" that much more appreciated as it bursts out from the grim atmosphere with focused hostility. Not much is needing to be said on this song given that it has been out for a while. It is worth mentioning though with relation to the wider record that Travis Ryan has done an exceptional job alongside the guitarists in coming up with some phenomenal hooks whereupon we have the sickly operatic gremlin we have grown to adore.
"Bring Back The Plague", another previously released single opens in what some could mistake as being a proud and venomous Dark Funeral song. This song hinges more closely on epic yet disconcerting melodies that are effectively used to make this one of the more memorable songs on the record. It is even more potently honed in, when the name of the song is used in the chorus, sung as a pessimistically hopeful anthem :
"Bring back the plague
Delete those that threaten a new world
The end of this track has one of my favourite breakdowns that the band has written. Layered with multiple engulfing gutturals that are surely inhuman in their execution but this creates a near otherworldly experience by their usage.
"Absolute Destitute" from the opening once again displays a confident freshness to the band that is sure to ensnare old and new listeners alike. With blackened motifs, used to their full effect without feeling like a gimmick. Cold and hostile energies are challenged to noxious effect. Layered behind and around there are atmospheric qualities and poignant weavings of melody and textured guitar work that really drive home the overwhelming pathos that dwells within "Death Atlas"
Through the second part of the albums interludes that once again grounds us to the theme, tone and message of this record we are thrown naked and vulnerable before "Finish them". This song takes its time delivering it's punishment. Careful and controlled in it's devastation, like a master wielding whip with meticulous and paced sadism. And in its cruelty it is incredibly infectious and catchy. "With All Disrespect", then casts us from the Stockholm-esque comfort of a personalized punishment to the impersonal blistering and scathing winds of torment. Some of the riffs and drum work on this song are their most sadistic in their intent and will have listeners on the edge of their seats.
"Times Cruel Curtain", is the song I was certain was coming and would have been sorely disappointed had it not. The word pathos, pathos being a quality that evokes pity or sadness. Encapsulates the mood in this track. For it wavers in sombre tenderness and floats upon emotive heights that reminded me of Blut Aus Nord's post metal efforts for a time. Though I understand the decision to break mood and disrupt, and subvert expectation. I was saddened by the destabilizing shifts in tone and pace at times, to only suddenly return to the doom laden atmospheres. Perhaps this is part of the message in not getting too comfortable in sadness, in misery. There is no sympathy.
The third and final ambient piece of the album, "The Unerasable Past" is also the penultimate track and a markedly noticeable shift in tone to something sincere in it's human tenderness. Whilst still retaining the cold and distorted use of voice samples discussing statistics of worldwide suffering, this time it is underpinned by an accompaniment of string section and piano and much to my surprise, with amazing effect, soulful and morose clean singing. A hymn to the end of all things good and pure.
The title track, a 9-minute climaxing deluge of frustration, hatred, self loathing as a member of our infectious species tonally, sounds like the end of both the album and of our species. A resolution of the building themes present in previous albums reaching their conclusion. Musically I feel this band has reached a peak of song writing in their career. I wish nothing but the best for the future of this band, and that they continue to spit their venom with renewed vehemence and inspiration. But if the band met their cessation... "Death Atlas" would be their final masterpiece. Everything collected and refined to their most potent and vile, yet clearly human quality. As I can gleam from the lyrics in the "chorus":
"There's no fear for tomorrow
When there's no trust for today
There's no ever after
Debts have to be paid"
There is a sense of nihilistic acceptance, and determination in this apocalypse sermon. This is our cross to bear, and if we cannot bear the weight then there are consequences to pay.
The latter half of this song shifts into what I had hoped for "Times Cruel Curtain". An uninterrupted release into bittersweet contemplation. Perhaps it is fitting that we are teased a moment to sit with out thoughts in the earlier song and then in the last waking moments of this record we are finally allowed our time to sit with our sins weighed in callous and bloodied hands. Tender and funerary crooning re-emerges once again, and is accompanied by a choir and female vocalist singing with soaring ability as the song drifts out upon winds in one of the best uses of a fade out end to a record.
As I said, on this record Cattle Decapitation does re-use some riffs and ideas that they have used before. Despite feeling so familiar, this beast seems reinvigorated and transformed into a more potent, malignant and hideous entity. I dare to give this album 9.5, short of a full 10 by my own standards that some reuse of previous riffs was jarring and perhaps some of the fresher more engaging ones not being as fully explored or resolved left me wanting. However as a whole, I am so thrilled for the band in certainly accomplishing what they have stated as their strongest record yet.
Death Atlas is out on Metal Blade Records on the 29th of November, 2019.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10