Reviewed: January 2020
Released: 2019 Metal Blade Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
There’s something about Cattle Decapitation that seems to scream “the holidays.” A year ago, on the Black Friday after Thanksgiving, the band served up Medium Rarities, a collection of nasty bits – B-sides, rarities, demos and the like – spanning their now 20-year career, and graced by a cover depicting a human face sizzling in a skillet. Yum. It was designed as a holdover of sorts until a main course – a new Cattle album – was ready.
A year later, and once again on the day after Turkey Day, the band deliver another heaping helping of extremity to jam down the pie holes of the unsuspecting masses still waddling off their L-tryptophan and gravy-induced comas by descending on Target and Wal-Mart to stock up in X-mas trinkets and doo-dads. This time it’s all new and super-sized, and caps a three-album run that has seen Cattle rise from death-grind curiosity to one of the top-tier bands in all of metal – of any stripe.
Death Atlas feels like the conclusion of said cycle, which began with 2012’s Monolith Of Inhumanity, where the band’s sonic development took a seismic shift into more sophisticated and technically demanding music and the ecologically minded lyrical themes continued to grow more eloquent, putting the cheap theatrics of old – and titles like “Bukkake Tsunami” or “Lips & Assholes” – behind them for good.
Monolith portrayed a world overflowing with garbage and ravaged by overpopulation, with humans literally turning into the shit we consume, becoming little more than “living, breathing pieces of defecating meat,” to borrow from one the of the song’s titles. The Anthropocene Extinction from 2015 excoriated the folly of mankind for not only putting into motion the mutually assured destruction we are inflicting upon ourselves, but doing little to prevent it despite the problem staring us in the face. Death Atlas sees the band pretty much shrugging their shoulders and waiting for the inevitable end to come.
“Apocalypse, Sudden death of a metropolis, We fucking needed this,” frontman Travis Ryan bellows as the album roars into action with “The Geocide.” “Fuck the future, Fuck mankind,” it concludes. The rest of Death Atlas plays out as a funeral march, wrapping up with the titanic nine-minute title track with Ryan declaring “Atlas, the deed is done, Mankind has come and gone, Carbon-based life forms reset to day one,” noting later that “We deserve everything that’s coming.” In the end, the universe has the final say, and we are but little specks in the great scheme – no matter how important or invincible we think we are.
Musically, Death Atlas is the band’s most ambitious and expansive effort, taking advantage of the considerable talents of new bassist Olivier Pinard (Cryptopsy) and second guitarist Belisario Dimuzio to not only build technical flare and dexterity, but add heft and finesse. After the suitably glum ambiance of the intro “Anthropogenic: End Transmission,” “The Geocide” literally explodes on drummer Dave McGraw’s snare hit and it’s off to the races as the band kicks in full blast and Ryan unleashes a terrifying banshee howl. The song pretty much encapsulates the album with its break-neck tempo changes, vocal gymnastics, and moments of genuine catchiness contrasted by utter, unrelenting ferocity.
McGraw is a human tornado and with the nimble Pinard playing along, their turbulent, careening tempos are nothing short of sensational. And with two guitarists, the band’s delivery is that much meatier – although most of the benefit of that will be when they play live. There’s some subtle touches here, too, that can go unnoticed in the tumult – occasional synth/electronic passages, guest backing vocalists including a haunting turn by Laure Le Prunenec on the title track’s Type O Negative-like finale and narrations from such unlikely suspects as Phish drummer Jonathan Fishman. But all this adds to the cinematic feel of the album, and as it is effectively deployed, none of it seems superfluous.
Ryan gives his most demanding performance yet, with his range encompassing brutal death metal gutturals to the shrill, keening cleans he has dubbed “goblin vocals” and just about everything in between. But they adeptly capture the radical swings of mood here, and while Ryan defers to the “clean” vocals a bit too often, it never deters from the utter cynicism of the message, nor its poignancy.
Just in time for our holiday orgy of crass consumerism, avarice, gluttony and sloth, Cattle Decapitation leave no doubt that our doom approaches and our fate is sealed. So, happy fucking New Year. We may not have many left.
1. Anthropogenic: End Transmission
2. The Geocide
3. Be Still Our Bleeding Hearts
5. The Great Dying
6. One Day Closer to the End of the World
7. Bring Back the Plague
8. Absolute Destitute
9. The Great Dying II
10. Finish Them
11. With All Disrespect
12. Time’s Curtain
13. The Unerasable Past
14. Death Atlas
Travis Ryan – vocals
Josh Elmore – guitars
Belisario Dimuzio – guitars
Olivier Pinard – bass
Dave McGraw – drums