The transformation of Cattle Decapitation from edgy grindcore to nihilistic progressive death/grind over the last decade has been tremendous to listen to. What once were songs about testicular manslaughter and body horror have become grim forewarnings of humanity’s exit by our own hands. With each album since 2009’s The Harvest Floor, Cattle Decapitation have reinvented some aspect of their sound to the point that makes them highly unique. Death Atlas, the group’s eighth studio album, uses the band’s new lineup to put forth another winner in a long stretch that spans four albums now.
These new members include bassist Olivier Pinard, who gets some great fleshed-out leads on “Time’s Cruel Curtain,” and second guitarist Belisario Dimuzio, who played as the band’s live guitarist for a few years before coming on full-time. Death Atlas is the first album the group has ever produced with two guitarists in the band, and Dimuzio and long-time member Josh Elmore work to accentuate the guitar work on the album. There’s a greater inclusion of ripping guitar solos, especially on the first half of the album, in songs “The Genocide” and “Vulturous.”
Though the star attraction is arguably vocalist Travis Ryan, a man who has found ways to contort his vocal cords into sounds both inhuman and contemplative. On Death Atlas, there’s a further exploration of his unusual melodic wails, a raspy gargle that finds a way to be endearing without losing any of its contempt. Those on the fence about their inclusion on past albums won’t likely find the increase here to be warranted. Same might go for an extra instance or two this go-around of actual singing, his deep tones accentuating the ruin of what once was the prominent human species.
At this point in the band’s 20-plus year career, it’s expected that the faults of humanity are the central theme of Death Atlas. What may not be expected is just how defeated Ryan comes across. There’s never been much hope from Cattle Decapitation, but on Death Atlas, this hopelessness is expressed on a universal scale. The cover art, the Grim Reaper holding the dusty remains of our planet on his bony back while up somewhere in space, puts across the idea that if we’re all screwed, time will move on without us, as the universe thrives.
To express this vision requires a level of extremity that Cattle Decapitation thrive in. A slightly tuneful vocal line from Ryan doesn’t counteract the sheer instrumental audacity from this five-piece. At 55 minutes, Death Atlas is their longest album to date, and that can be a lot to take in even with the ambient interludes scattered throughout. All this build leads to the nine-minute title track, a gripping closer with an almost soundtrack-level quality to its musicianship. There are moments where it’s as if we have a bird eye’s view of the shell that will be left of our planet.
There are people, this writer included, who believe that 2012’s Monolith of Inhumanity is Cattle Decapitation’s magnum opus. Death Atlas is not the album that will top that death metal masterpiece, but it’s yet again the snapshot of a band operating at creative peaks very few bands can aspire to. They are releasing thought-provoking music in a period when that isn’t as valued as it should be.
(released November 29, 2019 on Metal Blade Records)
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Listen To Cattle Decapitation – “Bring Back The Plague”