I used to only know San Diego’s Cattle Decapitation as “that band with the gory poop cow album cover” and “that band with the really gruesome music video that prompted endless YouTube reactions” (apparently a violent music video can still be a novel idea in the 21st century). Nine years after the aforementioned cow album (2004’s Humanure), I had no choice but to take notice of the band when I saw them at 2013’s Summer Slaughter tour. They played only cuts off their 2012 release, Monolith of Inhumanity, which led to my realization that the formerly solid-but-unmemorable goregrind act had transformed into one hell of a throttling deathgrind machine. After checking out that stellar album, I realized just how far the quartet had come over the yeara: singer Travis Ryan’s vocals had diversified with a formidable mix of death metal grunts and clean screams, guitarist Josh Elmore’s playing became tighter than ever, and the Dave McGraw/Derek Engemann rhythm section demonstrated how efficiently they could switch from intensive speed to murderously groovy precision in a split second. Needless to say, expectations for The Anthropocene Extinction – the group’s sixth LP for Metal Blade Records – were through the roof, and Cattle Decapitation definitely delivers a satisfying follow-up, albeit one that sounds familiar.
The Anthropocene Extinction doesn’t stray too far from Monolith’s formula, as the twelve tracks contained here have the usual mix of blast beats, guttural vocals and machine gun riffage that one expects from a death metal album. But what always set the group apart was Ryan’s killer vocals, which are on fine display here; mixing mid-ranged death growls, lower deathcore squeals and a cleaner high-pitched voice that almost seems more suitable in a traditional heavy metal band, the different tones blend perfectly with the band’s frequent tempo changes and rapid fire instrumentation. It’s easy to be surprised by the striking local vocals, especially on the chorus for brutal opener “Manufactured Extinct” and the groovy “Apex Blasphemy.” I also can’t finish this review without mentioning the unbelievable scream towards the end of “Mammals in Babylon,” which gave me a flashback to Lord Worm’s lengthy yell on Cryptopsy’s “Open Face Surgery.”
Not ones to completely retread their previous effort, Cattle Decapitation do offer some surprises to break up the endless noise blasts, such as the subtle industrial beats in “Plagueborne,” an eerie dark ambient interlude in the form of “The Burden of Seven Billion,” and a few shockingly melodic songs, like the massive closer “Pacific Grim.” But despite these efforts to shake things up, The Anthropocene Extinction really doesn’t stray too from the breathtaking jackhammer stylings that Monolith of Inhumanity established so well, which somewhat lessens this album’s blow. But you can’t really blame them for playing it safe; after years spent beefing up their technicality, the band found a sound everyone loved and stuck with it. It’d certainly be cool to see Cattle Decapitation tinker more with the previously mentioned surprises – so long as they don’t go off the deep end (*cough* Morbid Angel) and stay true to their sound.
So in the end, we’re left with a devastating death metal album that plays it safe. But when the music’s this good, isn’t that all you could ask for? I just can’t wait to hear what Cattle Decapitation sounds like in nine more years.