Album Review: CANNIBAL CORPSE - Violence Unimagined

Artist: Cannibal Corpse

Album: Violence Unimagined

Genre: Death Metal

Review by Brady Irwin

To say this band needs no introduction is not only a cliched phrase unto itself, but especially relevant with Cannibal Corpse, one of extreme metal’s most consistent vanguards of brutality.

Pre-empting some cynicism around the competent but somewhat glazed-over (or even somewhat maligned, by some) prior LPs ‘A Skeletal Domain this’ and ‘Red Before Black are instantly pummeled into submission from the second you hit play.

This is an exceedingly nasty, malignant and ferocious beast of an album. ‘Unimagined Violence’ may be classically on-brand for these veterans but there is a reinvigorated level of savagery on this release that is equal parts urgent, frantic, powerful, omni-present and frankly horrifying (in the best way, of course). Allay your fears and buy a neck brace.

Starter ‘Murderous Rampage’ blasts without heed or warning, straight into the bands’ iconic flavour of spinning spider-like, twisting riffage around a catchy but technical rhythmic framework. You know a ‘Corpse riff when you hear it, and this is no different. It’s also remarkably clear that time has done nothing to halt the invigoration of these speed-addicted fanatics. This is, simply put, a unforgiving belter and a furious beatdown of an opener. George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fischer’s penchant for violent lyricism and unmistakable bark-roar vocal style is as thunderous as ever. Both he and his bandmates elevate proceedings to warp-speed from the get-go.

An opening track that bludgeons your skull in is immediately followed up with the deceptively down-tempo start of ‘Necrogenic Resurrection’. Pulling your hapless stupid head up off the floor, you’re immediately slapped in the face at full pelt with another relentless salvo. Whilst more focused on the palm-muted tremolo assault this time around, there are also sharp jabs that cut through in (almost, and I must stress almost) melodic death metal flavour. That’s quickly silenced by a frantic, tearing sprint to the track’s end, however.

The introduction of mastermind Erik Rutan on lead guitarist clearly has had a comorbid impact on the already-stellar technicality on offer, too. Darting along, below, alongside and away from him in all manner of note-precise rhythms and tangents is Rob Barrett’s seasoned rhythm guitar work. A personal idol of yours truly, and a low-end extraordinaire, Alex Webster keeps his blisteringly fast fingers busy at speeds that should have them at stumps by the third track. Fellow mainstay and beat-engineer Paul Mazurkiewicz directs the orchestra from below with dexterity, flow and precision on the skins that is fast, fluid and brutal.

So, on some level, you know what to expect. Keep an open mind, however, as ‘Inhumane Harvest’ comes back from post-doctoral physics and mathematics, offering a blindingly fast array of spiraling riffs that run circles around younger tech-death nerds, laughing maniacally as they go. It’s an absolute showcase of performance on offer here, and not one that has anything to prove. After such a lengthy tenure, such expert work spills so naturally from the speakers, the layman would be forgiven for thinking they could do it as minimal effort. Go on then, try it.

By this time, the requisite mid-tempo chug-stomper doesn’t seem to be on the horizon as yet. As soon as an unexpectant shrug is raised, the sickeningly-groovy sludge of ‘Condemation Contagion’ wallops the listener with a wondrous, slow-march-style steamroller we know and love. Again, as with the technicality on the prior track, it’s apparent that the band can hold groove with the best of them.

Living through grunge, nu-metal, the late-90s death metal slump, the often-derivative-but-fun New Wave of American Heavy Metal of the 00’s, and the ponderously prog-afflicted scene of the ‘10s, these dungeon-crawlers are as welcome and expertly crafted as the day ‘Eaten Back To Life’ creeped the life out of Satanic-Panicked Reagonomics-loving Boomer parents. There’s an extra, intangible element to these pit-ready numbers that just feels right when done by Cannibal Corpse. Most others caught stomping these same well-treaded grounds oft just come across as tired or stale. Not these guys.

Cranking the tempo knob a little upward, ‘Surround, Kill, Devour’ is sure to gently but coercively hand-hold towards the inevitable maelstrom. Like a hair-of-the-dog beer acting as the salve for round two, this track warms the senses by employing that sure-footed march with insidious technicality and subtly complex groundwork. Leads and soloing on this track, and indeed the album overall, are employed with a careful respect for the newcomers’ status within the band. Tasteful and flourishing, but not occupying too much airtime. Just the right amount to be somewhat of a tease, in fact.

That said, the ‘Corpse were never a band for the 200bpm Dream Theater feel of more performative bands. Focusing instead on sharpening their knives for the frantic stab-fest that is their riff-vocal attack, the entire unit doubles down with ‘Ritual Annihilation’. A masterful web of ridiculous palm-muting, tremolo, d-beats and thundering breakdowns, it’s the incomprehensible speed of the track’s first half that almost blindsides you for the thundering chugs that hit in the track’s second half. Again, if we’re talking progeny, it’s like they snatched the art of the breakdown back from Despised Icon, waved an ‘nuh-uh!’ and showed the kids how its’ done. With that now-classic jarring, atonal soloing over the top too, of course.

‘Bound and Burned’ continues with this mutilation process, an almost confusing kaleidoscope of tempo changes, leads and techniques. It’s like that scene from The Matrix, where Neo learns kung-fu in moments. Except here, the band tears into the splattered mess that is now your ears, bypassing your rational frontal cortex and mashing thirty years of death metal lecturing into your hindbrain. There’s an animalistic part of our brain that is tickled by this band that seems to supplant the Statue-of-David-pose musings associated with modern, progressive-leaning death metal, and let the metal primates loose in the think-meat upstairs.

Of course, as mentioned with prior tracks, this doesn’t mean such a beatdown-heavy heft doesn’t come with an incredible dazzle of musicianship. Even at a pace as careful as the carrion-circling ‘Slowly Sawn’, there’s an attention to detail hidden under the chameleon of changes between angular arpeggios, splintering fretwork, tempo changes and forever-shifting rhythm section. Slow this track down to half-speed on Spotify, and I guarantee there’s still more riffs in this one nasty chugger than your whole bands’ discography. Sorry to break the news. Time to go back to the playpen and let the masters handle this like adults.

What’s that? Oh, you used a fretless bass and some sci-fi-inspired ambience on your ‘cavernous’ Ulcerate-ripoff project? Cool story bro. Here, just stand over here a second, and wait. No seriously, it’ll be fun.

See? All pretense is dropped as an entire galactic neighbourhoods’ worth of death metal shreds you into a billion particles at speeds unmeasurable. An all-encompassing wall of blast beats that is over so quickly, you won’t even realise you’ve just been Dr. Manhatten-ed into a post-physical entity. That’s right, this shit is so fast it transcends the material plane, and it’s more complex than the treatise you bored that poor Tinder date with about augmented chord inversions. Stay down, pup.

Now that literally everyone who had half a thought of rebutting with an ‘Ok boomer’ has now been reduced to a subatomic level, the band materialises back into our dimension. Reducing those left to cowering sycophants, the band benevolently throw a trundling bulldozer over the remains for album closer ‘Cerements of the Flayed’. Just when a merciful death by down-tempo riff seems inevitable, the band slaps you awake with one last finger-waving scolding of caustic breakdowns, blasts and soloing, before dropping you like their excrement into one last, breathless and dank pit of riffs. Then silence.

Most bands won’t achieve the level of clever technicality, mosh-readiness and intensity in their entire careers that these death metal godfathers achieve on this album. This is Cannibal Corpse as expected but with a renewed malevolence that is as enjoyable as it is intimidating.

Unimagined Violence is out April 16th via Metal Blade Records.

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