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Cattle Decapitation - Death Atlas (Album Review)

Tuesday, 03 December 2019 Written by Alec Chillingworth

Greta Thunberg. Extinction Rebellion. The Keystone Pipeline. Flint, Michigan. Fire. The Arctic circle is on fire. The Amazon is on fire. American celebrities’ homes are on fire. Perhaps that sounds like a woke, snowflake, beta cuck rendition of a Billy Joel classic, but it sets the scene for Cattle Decapitation’s seventh (or eighth, or ninth, depending on whom you ask) album, ‘Death Atlas’. The earth we live on is a melting carcass, and unfortunately that lends itself rather nicely to death metal.

Except ‘Death Atlas’ isn’t a death metal album. Nor is it a grindcore album, a black metal album. It’s an insanely well-produced Cattle Decapitation album, and since 2012’s ‘Monolith Of Inhumanity’, that’s all the Californian band have churned out. This doesn’t sound like anyone else. And it’s horrible.

Musically, ‘Death Atlas’ force-feeds us an unhealthy mixture of obnoxious breakdowns, ice-cold tremolo, beefy (plant-based) bass and genuinely anthemic guitar lines—Bring Back The Plague’s opening gambit rivals Your Disposal, one of Cattle Decapitation’s lairiest songs, in the ‘As soon as this riff finishes, it’s going to kick OFF’ stakes. 

And when the nine-minute, progressive death masterpiece of a title track ties the record up, it’s abundantly clear no other band could have done this. Every note on ‘Death Atlas’ embodies the abject horror, the narrative gristle, in the story vocalist Travis Ryan weaves. 

Ryan is Cattle Decapitation’s Infinity Gauntlet. He’s always had a knack for melody, crafting guttural, belched sing-alongs. But it’s his ‘singing’, for lack of a word that actually exists, that places Cattle Decapitation in a category of one. Without it, they’re still a wildly inventive extreme metal band. With it, they’re unlike any other act going. 

A halfway house between Gollum and someone from South Park throwing up, Ryan’s strangled tones are laced throughout every song on ‘Death Atlas’. For the first time since he debuted them on ‘Monolith of Humanity’, every track has sung vocals. Whether it’s the hop-skip-punch pace of Be Still Our Bleeding Hearts underpinning his “Death is part of life!” proclamation, or the monochrome, stately vibrato in Time’s Cruel Curtain, every utilisation of that tight-throated freakishness is instantaneous. 

And he goes even further, following the band into uncharted territory. The Unerasable Past, which is essentially a Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds piano ballad for the end-times, has Ryan evoke the spirit of Peter Steele in a lovelorn, husky ode to the dying planet. It’s a far cry from the Carcass copycatting the band started out with—there’s nothing like Flesh-Eating Disease (Flu-Like Symptoms of E-Coli with Complete Digestive Shutdown), in name or sound. ‘Death Atlas’ is a monstrous, grotesque step forward in the journey Cattle Decapitation have undertaken over their previous two albums. And yes, it’s easily their best work.

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