Reviewed: [June 2022]
Released [2022 Nuclear Blast Records]
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Since reforming two years after the 2007 tour bus crash that killed drummer Witold “Vitek” Kiełtyka and left frontman Adrian “Covan” Kowanek with a traumatic brain injury, Decapitated’s technical death metal template has taken a decidely groovier turn. While the turbulent rhythms and agile arrangements remained, guitarist and lone original member Wacław “Vogg” Kiełtyka brought a more determined riffiness to the mix, which matched well with new frontman Rafał Piotrowski’s barking delivery.
This was especially true of the band’s last album, 2017’s Anticult, which boasted a crunching wall of riffage that rivaled Pantera at its beefiest – which perhaps made Vogg a logical choice to fill a vacancy in Machine Head after Phil Demmel left in 2018. For their eighth album, Cancer Culture, though, Decapitated aims more for the sweet spot between the dexterity and agility of old and the imposing heft of more recent efforts. And for the most part, they hit the mark
The band certainly comes loaded for bear on Cancer Culture. Vogg and Piotrowski team here with returning bassist Paweł Pasek and veteran drummer James Stewart (who replace Hubert E. Więcek and Michał M. Łysejko, respectively, both of whom left after the band was freed from a Spokane, Wash., jail where they were held for the last three months of 2018 on rape and kidnapping charges that ultimately were dropped) and display plenty of aggression to go along with the crunch, while also showing some versatility that while admirable doesn’t always quite connect.
Stewart’s athletic drumming, effortlessly shifts from blast beats to double bass gallops to thunking, driving rhythms – all flavored by fleet fills – to help steer the band in whatever direction Vogg has in mind. At the outset, that means full throttle.
After a brief intro, the band launch headlong into the title track and largely keep up the blistering pace through “Just A Cigarette” and “No Cure.” Things go a bit astray, though, when they temper the fury and hulking hooks of “Hello Death” with guest clean vocals from Jinjer’s Tatiana Shmayluk. Similarly, Vogg’s new Machine Head bandmate Robb Flynn contributes a mostly clean accompaniment on the otherwise stampeding “Iconoclast.”
While I get the intent on both of these tracks, as the band opt for something truly out of character, I don’t really see the point of such a cliched choice. Extraneous cleans have been played out since metalcore came along and they don’t serve Decapitated particularly well here, bogging down the album’s midsection and sounding rather contrived before things blast off again with the fast, furious and slightly weird “Suicidal Space Programme.”
“Locked” then kicks things into overdrive in a 77-second microburst of screeching riffs and distorted vocal effects that are more effective than the aforementioned cleans. “Hours As Battlegrounds” then does an abrupt about face as the album’s one moody, groove-centric tune before “Last Supper” brings the album to a close with a tech death fusillade graced by a wonderfully melodic lead break.
Always an adept, inventive guitarist who favors genuine feel in much of his lead work, Vogg’s solos are especially good here. And while the grooviness may not be as prominent on Cancer Culture, there is certainly bite and catchiness that reins in the technicality to a degree to nicely balance the equation, even if the clean vocal parts miss the mark.