Released: 2005, Relapse Records
Reviewer: Gabriel C. Zolman
While not terribly coherent, it is, at least, intelligent. Despite it’s jazz-oriented metalcore and experimental fixations, this is fairly blatant Death Metal; it would still appeal to the Dillenger Escape Plan crowd, for sure—but it hardly panders to them.
It certainly begins viciously enough, much like any standard Brutal Death release. But much of this, of course, is merely a backdrop—a red herring. This is Death-Prog; for a band like Cephalic Carnage, the Death and Grind trappings are merely a canvas to paint far more twisted pictures upon. A song like “Wrath,” for instance, begins like any Cannibal Corpse tune might, before twisting its form through myriad shapes and soundscapes. By the end, it’s a scoffing Ph.d to Cannibal Corpse’s barely literate G.E.D.
“The Will Or The Way” is seething with Carcass riffs, yet the composition never fully devolves into a tribute. “Counting The Days” contains elements of any number of genres. But here is the key to understanding this band: drugs. Also, it helps if you know this: This group is actually smarter than most wanking Metalcore bands, who think they’re so godddamned clever because they play thirteen different styles of music in the course of one track. Fuck that. Cephalic Carnage take the time to blend these elements cohesively. There isn’t a “hardcore” section, or a “death metal” section, or a “free jazz” section, or any of that. But there are elements of all these things. The difference is that they are honest reference points blended into a solid Death/Grind structure, as opposed to a series of meandering skronk/scat jams.
Some experiments are less successful than others. “Piecemaker” doesn’t really work within the context of this album. Alone, it would be fine—as a soundtrack or compilation contribution, it would be an interesting distraction for the group, despite its potential for deception (as it is hardly representative of the band’s trademark aggression). But included on an album comprised largely of mindbending, scrotum-twisting Prog Death, it’s just a wrench thrown in the engine of a speeding train—a beer break for the tolerant, and for others, an excuse to skip forward to the cerebrum-gnawing “Enviovore” and classic 90’s Death Metal familiarity of “Dying Will Be The Death Of Me,” which features some of the band’s most affecting moments, inspired leads, and accomplished vocal interchanges. There’s even some Euro reference, and a clean vocal break that, fortunately is tastefully understated. Despite its musical mastery, however, this is one of the few tracks wherein Cephalic’s numerous influences seem truly segregated—it’s instrumental style checks of old school Brutal Death, Euro-Death, Post-Death, and Deathcore approached successively, as if to suggest an evolution that mirrors the evolution of the scene itself. Without break, this leads into the Neurosis-inspired lumbering of “Inside Is Out,” and likely to the mutual confusion of all involved. “Sleeprace” rescues the momentum before devolving into the more standardized Metalcore choppiness the band seemingly spent the entire first half of the LP resisting. Oh well...
Generally speaking, I hate this style. But a tip of the hat is due to excellence achieved in any form. This band is a master at its craft, and one of the few truly “progressive” Prog Death bands that still retains the spirit of its genre. Truly, how many hard music fans would truly consider Opeth, Lamb Of God, or Into Eternity to still be “Death Metal” in the truest sense of the term? Certainly these bands incorporate the stylistic bells and whistles, but they neither ring nor blow them but for kicks. But Cephalic Carnage revel in their underground affections, proudly grinding away—pretentious yet without pretension. This is truly what distances the band from peers—they branch out, weird out, and smoke up as much as any Prog or Post-Death band…but they never lost their brutality along the way.