Nov 202019


(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.








  1. Andy or anyone else. Can you explain why the current thought in metal, esp death metal is ” the run time of the album is too long”. Personally I have never understood this type of logic. Of course there are songs on albums that I think could be deleted but some of my very best friends love that particular song, and the album wouldn’t be the same without it. Just a thought that comes up when I hear that a album is to long. Stay metal my friend!!!!

    • The way I feel it, it all comes down to the nature of songs included on the album, as well as overall heaviness and “crushness” (the ability to crush you like a bug with its sound) of the album.

      Take for example last two full-lengths by Full of Hell. They are both under 25 minutes. And yet, when finishing either one of them on one run, you feel completely overwhelmed and crushed. Or at least I do.

      And then there is some super slow doom album, e.g. Mirror Reaper by Bell Witch. Long exactly 83 minutes and 15 seconds, yet you don’t really feel that it should be any shorter.

      Death metal sound is somewhere in between these two, but closer on the scale to the former one. So it is possible that listening to 55-minutes long death metal album will be too much on your psyche, and you just get tired of it after 40 minutes.

    • The simple answer is that there is no “current thought in Metal” about this. If you’re seeing multiple people/reviews stating that an album is too long, that’s not because they’re colluding, or because it’s “trendy” right now to say so, it’s because those people each think that album is too long for its own good.

      Every album has a different “optimum” length, in my opinion. And while genre surely does have some influence, the truth is that every album should be as long, or as short, as it needs to be (the new Blood Incantation, for example, could do with one more track to really round it out, in my opinion, though that hasn’t stopped me enjoying, and praising the album, as it exists).

      My job, however, isn’t to just praise an album that keeps on offering us more, but to analyse whether that “more” actually makes the album better. And sometimes, as in this case, you do get a feeling of diminishing returns – e.g. if the whole album is made up of 10s… then the more 7s (or 8s, or 9s, etc) you start adding to it, the more the average is lowered.

      You can also think of it as being similar to the movie “Edge of Tomorrow”. There’s a point in that film where it ends perfectly. Only the studio decided it needed another 15/20 minute epilogue. And while that doesn’t ruin the film, it certainly doesn’t add anything, and you can clearly see how the movie would be better without it.

      Similarly, in this case, I’m not saying that 55 minutes is too long for an album, I’m saying it feels too long for “this” album, taken as an individual case, as a handful of the tracks aren’t quite as strong as the rest and mostly serve to emphasise the slight over-use of certain tricks/tropes.

      I’ve also seen a few people, elsewhere, either skimming the article, or just failing to understand that at no point do I criticise it for being too accessible or too melodic. My criticism is aimed at those who focus purely on the more melodic/accessible nature of several of these songs, and praise the album because of that. Ultimately being easier to listen to doesn’t intrinsically make something better (nor does being “underground” either), and neither does just being longer. I always look at these things on a case-by-case basis, and call them as I see them.

      • I do want to say I totally see where you are coming from, but the accessibility of Death Atlas really turned me onto the band. A ton of people have discovered them because of that amazing song. I agree that they need to mix it up a bit more and try more than JUST the semi clean vocals on every song, but they seem to be coming up with a winning formula, of course needs some tweaking. There is nothing wrong with a formula.

  2. When I first heard Ryans “clean” uluations I loved them because it was so unexpected and really elevated the song. Just like when Cephalic carnage threw in some clean vocals in “Dying will be the death of me”. But I just KNEW that would be a thing and, yeah now it’s a thing. A very predictable and overplayed thing.

  3. Gotta say, this review articulates perfectly what I thought about the LAST album. Those scream/singing bits got more common (possibly a bit too much) and I thought TAE wasn’t quite as good as Monolith.

  4. I haven’t heard the entire album yet – obviously – but from the songs thus far released my impression is very similar to this review. Goddamn it’s good, but so were the previous two (and of course what came before that, be it in a slightly more ‘conventional’ way) and it’s beginning to feel like a familiar recipe. I’ll happily buy DA on the day it comes out and I expect it to be killer, but I do hope they’ll take a a left turn on the next album or the bubble will really burst – a bit like they did between The Harvest Floor and Monolith.

    Although tbh – I thought Bring Back The Plague was fucking amazing, musically and lyrically. I can already see myself chanting that shit at their next concert.

  5. Okay…. So…. English isn’t my first language so please bare with me…. I can totally see where you’re coming from in regards of “too much of a good thing” as far as Ryan’s “clean” vocals go but God damn, so far from what I’ve heard it still sounds fucking so amazing and dare I say catchy, sticking in my head throughout the day. But I don’t think any of that should be taken negatively in any regard…. The parts of the song surrounding the softer side of the song is so fucking amazing in itself. Fast, brutal, disgustingly gutteral… His deaps remind me of the deaps he would overdub in killing floor now compared to the last cd where I felt his most common deap was more of a yell than anything, “kinda like what you hear when you hear him live”. Cattles been one of my fav bands and I’ve been so fucking dissatisfied and disappointed from a few of my other fav bands latest releases…. Mainly the newest decrepit birth so I’m really hoping to be amazed by this full album, I really really need it.

    P.S. – Sorry if this posted twice…. I’m on mobile and don’t think my first try went through 🙁

    • Thank you for the comment. And I’ve deleted your first comment. For some reason we do sometimes experience delays in comments appearing, so it’s not surprising that you would try twice.

  6. No mention that this album is now closer to black metal than deathgrind.

  7. Yeah man I hear you on that. Cattle is one of my favorite bands. After to serve man I have been in line on release day, I bought humanure from a borders book store on day of release! I have immensely enjoyed every album they put out. I even really like the melodic singing especially off of monolith, but also off of anthropocene extinction. I was equally excited and weary of the newest one. I agree it sounds a lot more gimmicky and, to me, less authentic. I listened to it once the week after it came out, but not a thorough. I have finally given it a few times through a few months after it came out and am still not entirely sure what I feel about it, in terms of enjoying it or just feel a self imposed obligation to listen to it.

    I love their entire discography, barring the most recent, and will continue my bi-annual listen through of it. I am just afraid I will never hear Chunk Blower, The Earthling, Gardeners of Eden, or Alone at the Landfill live again.

    One show after the release of Anthropocene Extinction, I got to chat with Josh Elmore before a show. He said they were playing some old stuff, so I asked some specifics and said no from monolith. I hope they haven’t written off their entire body of work for the next new album.

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