(Andy Synn authored this review of the eagerly anticipated new album by Cattle Decapitation, which is set for release on November 29 by Metal Blade Records.)
As every amateur gambler knows, you never quit when you’re on a hot streak.
As every real gambler knows, however, hot streaks are an illusion, and it’s only the utterly naïve, or the foolhardy, who like to think that lady luck has, for some reason, taken a special interest in them.
Californian crushers Cattle Decapitation have been on their own little hot streak ever since 2009’s The Harvest Floor, with both the breakthrough/breakout release of Monolith of Inhumanity and it’s arguably even better follow-up, The Anthropocene Extinction, earning them a guaranteed place on pretty much every End of the Year list that mattered.
But what goes up must, inevitably, come down, and every bubble has to burst sometime.
So the question is, can Death Atlas continue the band’s winning ways, or is it time to cash out?
The answer to that question is yes… and no.
On the one hand there’s no denying that Death Atlas (the first album to feature the band’s newest members, Olivier Pinard and Belisario Dimuzio on bass and guitar, respectively) is a worthy follow-up to The Anthropocene Extinction, and one which will likely raise the band’s already not-inconsiderable profile even further upon its release next week.
Musically speaking CD still pull none of their punches, even as their sound expands to incorporate increasing amounts of moody melody, delivering every razor-edged riff and flurry of frenzied percussion at the sort of hyper-adrenalised velocity that their Grindcore roots demand, with the occasional diversion into chunky chuggery or gruesome groove happening as and when nature calls.
At its very best – such as during corrosive opener “The Geocide”, the rifftastic “Vulturous”, or fantastic first single “One Day Closer to the End of the World” – this approach continues to be absolutely electrifying, pinning you in place like a lightning bolt cast down from the heavens and making it impossible look away from every rollercoaster twist and turn.
But… and you knew there had to be a but… the more you listen to this album the more it starts to feel like the band’s songwriting has fallen into a bit of a rut, especially when it comes to the over-use of Travis Ryan’s signature, semi-clean croon which (predictably) now features on every single song.
In his defence, this isn’t necessarily Ryan’s fault. In fact he’s clearly worked on and developed his voice significantly since the last album, hitting new heights of both emotion and intensity at multiple points throughout this record.
No, the real issue is that the more the band fall back on this particular trick, the more it starts to feel like a bit of a gimmick. Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt, and after the fourth or fifth time when you notice a song starting the inevitable climb up towards yet another mid-paced, clean-sung chorus, you’re likely to start feeling that the pattern is getting a little too obvious (something which the record’s bloated fifty-five minute run-time only exacerbates).
And yet… and yet… for every minor misfire (parts of “Be Still My Bleeding Heart” sometimes sounds more like a Devin Townsend B-side, while “Bring Back the Plague” sacrifices its early promise for an overdose of schmaltzy, Killswitch Engage style soppiness in its second half) there’s another track where the formula still works perfectly.
Take “Absolute Destitute”, for example, whose murderous grooves and darkly melodic moments (including just a tiny touch of brooding clean vocals) all combine to make the track one of the album’s most intense and atmospheric numbers, or “Time’s Cruel Curtain”, which infuses even more melody into the song’s bubbling cauldron of bitterness and belligerence, doubling down on the band’s new blueprint in a way which will likely prove to be as divisive as it is delectable.
The real gem, however, the album’s piece de resistance, as it were, is its titanic title-track, which breaks the band’s established pattern by sheer virtue of its extended length and progressive structure, taking full advantage of every second of its nine-minute (and fourteen seconds) run-time to showcase every aspect of the band’s sound – the abrasive speed, the pounding heaviness, and, especially, the always visceral, ever-more-versatile vocals of their frontman – at their absolute best.
I’m not surprised that several other outlets have been fawning all over this album, praising it as the band’s best work to date and throwing 10/10 scores at it like desperate punters at the world’s loudest, angriest strip club. After all, it’s easy to love an album which is clearly designed to be more accessible (relatively speaking) and which sees a band expanding on its more melodic inclinations.
For me, however, Death Atlas is proof that you really can have too much of a good thing.
But even if the band’s overindulgence here is a flaw, it’s not a fatal one. And while Death Atlas still needs to cut a bit of weight, and maybe learn a few different combinations, to be the world-beater its predecessor was, it’s still an album capable of going pound for pound, round for round, with all but the very best of them.