(DGR provides this typically in-depth review of the new album by Cattle Decapitation.)
We begin by stating the obvious, which has always been a strong suit of mine during my tenure here at NCS. I’ve brought you such hits as “Napalm Death are an important band” and “such and such disc is really good”, without any real qualifications as to why — so I figure why not continue with my trademark and just float this out there:
Monolith Of Inhumanity was a hell of a disc and it did a ton to elevate Cattle Decapitation’s stature. Cattle Decapitation were by no means a newcomer when Monolith Of Inhumanity hit, but it did seem like the disc where everyone finally took notice of them — which was hilarious, because it felt like a solid third of the reaction consisted of other people screaming, “You see? I fucking told you so! I’ve been saying this since Karma Bloody Karma came out!”.
They’re right too, but Monolith Of Inhumanity’s approach of basically being a hurricane of sound, with the band ramming everything and the kitchen sink genre-wise into its runtime and somehow managing to reign it all in so that it could be composed into songs, made the album an intense and incredible experience. It also made it an album that is nigh-impossible to replicate. Many bands didn’t even try to edge close to it, whereas others went chasing after the quickly homogenizing tech-death scene.
By being seemingly everything, Monolith Of Inhumanity became the Ur-Album, and damn near impossible to describe. It was one of those times where the old axe of ignorance being bliss truly applied, because if we had tried to make a thorough effort to capture the music in words, we’d still be stumbling over ourselves, going, “Well, it’s a death metal disc…kind of, it’s got grind elements…kind of”, as our unfortunate victims’ eyes quickly glazed over as they fell into a comatose state.
With essentially no one making a grab for Cattle Decapitation’s crown, they remain at the forefront of metal, but that also means that The Anthropocene Extinction — the group’s new album — has a lot to live up to. With essentially no competition, it means that Cattle Decapitation’s biggest competitor is, well, …themselves. In that context, The Anthropocene Extinction is especially interesting because it doesn’t feel like the band set out to compete with Monolith Of Inhumanity but have instead learned from it, adapted many of its sounds, figured out what parts they like, and experimented with their sound even further.
With this approach, Cattle Decapitation have created an album that feels like the sibling to Monolith Of Inhumanity — the younger, at times angrier, yet more straightforward and approachable brother, and one that is just as much a gale-force of destruction as the one that came before it.
It probably doesn’t come as a shock that The Anthropocene Extinction sounds pretty close to what Monolith Of Inhumanity was going for. In the case of that previous disc, Cattle Decapitation found what worked for them, and what worked for them was madness. The Anthropocene Extinction sees the band returning to familiar territory subject-wise, with the whole album dedicated to the extinction of humanity. It’s a theme the band have played with before, as they’ve taken their righteous fury and aimed it at humans over the course of their whole career, spelling it out in especially large letters with 2009’s The Harvest Floor, though you have to keep in mind that this is the same band that early in their career had discs entitled Humanure and To Serve Man.
As a metal fan, I am admittedly predisposed to liking just about any album that plays with the idea that humanity is well and truly fucked, and Cattle Decapitation are going at it incredibly hard this time around, railing for almost fifty minutes against a whole smattering of ways in which humanity is quickly moving to fossilize itself.
One of the big elements that has made a leap from Monolith Of Inhumanity to The Anthropocene Extinction is the use of distorted clean singing. While it doesn’t provoke the initial, double-take, “what the fuck was that?” appeal that it had the first time, its appearance is still welcome, in part because it helps punctuate much of what the band are attempting to hammer home this time around. It is strange, of course, to state that Cattle Decapitation actually have something of a chorus element to them now, but the band really do have genuine hooks in some of these songs — and in one of them, albeit one of the angriest songs on the disc, the band almost adopt a pop-song format with a genuine verse-chorus structure.
Within the first five songs on The Anthropocene Extinction the distorted vocals appear once again — although vocalist Travis Ryan is essentially throwing everything he has into the vocal performance on this disc. Pretty much every song on this album sees him pulling out every single trick he has in his book, from the terrifyingly low, almost belching-fire gutturals to shrill highs that seem to pierce the sound barrier, from the weird, distorted singing to the snarled, rolled R’s that could be taken as a pirate-gone-black-metal at times.
Opening track “Manufactured Extinct” sees every single one of those weapons drawn, and that pattern continues across The Anthropocene Extinction, further cementing Ryan’s reputation as one of the most varied vocalists out there. He even finds some new and interesting ways to distort his vocals this time, including one moment in which he ramps up to a piercing high that seems to match the band behind him. Given the sheer number of hooks and sing-along-to-your-demise choruses on The Anthropocene Extinction, you can see why one might argue that the album is slightly more approachable — especially when you consider that the “Eradication/Mass Predation/Manufactured Extinction” passage of “Manufactured Extinct” bores into your brain and seems to latch on for days at a time.
Cattle Decapitation’s propensity for being a whirlwind of sound now sees them dragging not only other genres into their vortex, but also whole other musicians, as they have sourced the talents of fellow San Diego dweller Author & Punisher to provide a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it intro to the song “Plagueborne”. Initially, when word got out that Author & Punisher would be making an appearance on The Anthropocene Extinction, I immediately salivated. The idea of the two projects crossing paths seemed like the sort of thing Cattle Decap would do, and I wanted to hear the outcome of a full-blown collaboration, especially as Author & Punisher had proven that he, too, could go fast with the opening of the song “Callous And Hoof” from Melk En Honing. But alas, instead there is a slow, violent, crawling, bass-heavy, dirge of a hammering intro that immediately leads into utter devastation as the band then roar in and carve a path of destruction as wide as a mountain range.
Through much of The Anthropocene Extinction the band moves at a quick pace; Cattle Decap’s chosen speed seems to lie somewhere between fast and blinding. Drummer David McGraw continues to prove that he is an artillery barrage behind a kit as the snare drum rattles as quickly as a machine gun and the double-bass drumming that buttresses everything has enough force to leave craters behind.
“Circo Inhumanitas” — the album’s fifth song — is one in which the group’s adoption of something that approaches a formula really comes into play. Prior to this, Cattle Decapitation spend their time on The Anthropocene Extinction proving that they are terrifyingly skilled musicians who somehow manage to bolt songs together like Frankenstein’s monster; given some of the gurgling that passes for vocals on this disc, I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that said monster had made a vocal cameo in his own right. True to its nomenclature, “Circo Inhumanitas” creates a joyful circus of destruction, inviting its listeners to “Come one, Come all, to the most pointless show on the earth”. The slow, chugging sections serve as the song’s stopgaps, as the band prepare to unleash chaos and another clean chorus that combats “Manufactured Extinct” as one of the Most Infectious bits of music this year.
During its back half, “Circo Inhumanitas” also includes the distorted, super-high vocals that I mentioned early in this review, when Ryan tells the listeners that, “With the price of admission, prepare to teach your children hell… They’ll learn the word ‘submission’ well’. It’s a brief bit, but when the whole band are just hammering for the quick second where everything seems to be moving higher in the note scale (especially that ride bell, which functions like a goddamned jackhammer in this song), it proves to be an awesome moment and demonstrates that the band can still move within the foundation they build for themselves during the first four songs on this disc.
The Anthropocene Extinction does have an interesting stretch in its last four songs, though, where the album becomes relentlessly apocalyptic and everything seems to serve one purpose: Utter Destruction. It begins with “Not Suitable For Life”, which is one of the album’s highlights and one of the angriest songs on this record. I fear that because it lies in the back half, people may not notice it, but the song lyrically and musically feels like everything Cattle Decapitation has ever stood for packed into one dense, three-minute blast of a track.
While I can’t re-print whole lyrics here, the song’s final stinger of, “Your footprint can’t dematerialize and when you did look where you’ve left your children behind… a world unsuitable for life” feels like a gut punch that could shatter one’s spine. I highly suggest looking up the full lyrics to the song, though, as it also contains some of my favorite over-usage of the word “fuck” in some time. It’s with “Not Suitable For Life” that The Anthropocene Extinction begins to get a little darker and stranger, as the band take everything they had been building on the disc up to that point and contort it into a whole other monster.
“Ave Exitium” is a brooding, almost spoken-word track that leads into the destruction and rapture of “Pacific Grim” — which, given its place of honor as the closing song, does its damnedest to send humanity out in a storm of utter annihilation. The song contains one of the biggest demonstrations of absolute brutality and low, guttural vocals that Cattle Decapitation excrete on this disc and serves as a monster of a closer to this album.
The Anthropocene Extinction doesn’t have to prove itself as a successor to Monolith Of Inhumanity, though obviously the specter of that album looms large, but it does have to combat the “known quantity syndrome”, where everything within the band’s bag of tricks is now seemingly known. The Anthropocene Extinction isn’t a huge evolution from Monolith Of Inhumanity, but it does prove that the band are able to take all of those elements they had in play on that disc and still manage to choke out more material that includes new twists and turns. Cattle Decapitation have become an epic, monstrous band who can be just as brutal on the death metal front as they are abrasive in their grind aspect.
While the band choose to hide their biggest surprises in the back four songs of the album, The Anthropocene Extinction is still Cattle Decapitation throwing down an open challenge to all comers. Coming from just four musicians, it is incredible just how much the band manage to pack within the given lengths of their music, and since light-speed is their chosen tempo, The Anthropocene Extinction flies just as fast as ever, barring the quick breather on “Ave Exitium”.
The Anthropocene Extinction is a furious blast of noise that takes absolutely no prisoners. It not only pounds its listeners into pulp, it also seems to be pounding its own concept of music as well. It’s as if Cattle Decapitation have decided that dealing with their sound now will be like trying to reign in a tornado — they have become masters in generating barely controlled chaos. The Anthropocene Extinction is another impressive album that serves its listeners music in the form of fiery annihilation and will leave them looking like the corpse on the album’s cover.