Cattle Decapitation are a deathgrind band. Like many of their contemporaries, their music takes the razor sharp technicality and bludgeoning heaviness of death metal, and marries it to the cathartic rage and relentless chaos of grindcore. Also like that of many of their contemporaries, the fruit of this union is a deadly beast: less of the happy-go-lucky cartoon violence of death metal, more of the actual anger, outrage and passion that infuses grind, and equally less of the unfocused chaos of grind, more of the inhuman musicianship, tightness and discipline displayed by the best death metal bands; a product that is both more focussed and more aggressive than the sum of its parts.
Unlike many of their contemporaries, Cattle Decapitation have a unique lyrical focus. Like all the best grind, theirs is protest music, sneering contemptuously at the social wrongs the band perceives; punk on steroids, if you will. What sets Cattle Decapitation apart is the target of their ire. Rather than making musical war on politics, the military or human social malaise, the Californian quartet sing about the corruption of the meat industry, and man’s abuse of the environment. Think Gojira but angrier.
As someone who would gladly become an eco-terrorist and spend the rest of his days sinking factory fishing ships, blowing up slaughterhouses and assassinating the CEOs of Richmond, Bernard Matthews and KFC (in a bloody and brutal fashion, ironically similar to the way they treat animals, I might add), Cattle Decapitation have always been a band I’ve had a lot of time for. That said, I couldn’t ever claim to have loved them, or even really ‘got into’ them. As much as I admired their philosophy, I was always put off by one thing or another, generally the awful production of the majority of their output.
Well! That was all to change as soon as I popped Monolith of Inhumanity into my CD player. Right from the outset, the band show they mean business, with a production job that blows this album’s immediate predecessor The Harvest Floor (and it must be said, the production on that album was good) right out of the water, allowing the band’s virtuosic musicianship to come to the fore and shine. It’s been three years since Cattle Decapitation’s last effort, and the band have clearly not been idle, every member putting in a blinding performance. Gravity blasts and relentless double kick lock in seamlessly with tightly muted technical guitar and bass parts as atonal grind riffs spazz around the place left, right and centre. So far, so good, but undoubtedly the most pleasing and unexpected aspect of this album’s music is the injection of melody. Every so often a soaring guitar solo will come out of nowhere, and there is plenty in the way of hooky, memorable riffage. The bass fill leading into the epic, expansive chorus of ‘Lifestalker’ is beautiful, and I can attest that the prechorus of ‘A Living, Breathing Piece of Defecating Meat’ will be stuck in your head for days, to say nothing of the singalong (not a word I’d ever thought I’d use in a deathgrind review) chorus itself.
All this is perfectly arranged and beautifully composed, melodicism and brutality segueing seamlessly with nary a hint of an amateurishly abrupt dynamic change, and this really showcases the band’s maturity as musicians: anyone can play scales or atonal death metal riffs until they have the muscle memory to do so at 230 bpm, but it takes an actual understanding of music to compose so artfully. Just listen to the drum fills in the teasingly drawn out final chorus/coda of ‘Defecating Meat’, or the brooding and bleak intro of ‘Kingdom of Tyrants’ to see what I mean.
And then there are the vocals. Always capable, Travis Ryan has outdone himself here. Having figured out to pitch an ugly grindcore snarl, he delivers much of the album more as a singer than a growler. Don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s gone soft though, just skip to 2.50 in this studio diary to see him recording the aforementioned chorus and then tell me it isn’t still brutal as fuck for having not been a guttural. As well as this he displays perfect control over his less melodic outpourings, from gut rumbling lows to throat ripping highs, it’s all there.
Have Cattle Decapitation made the album of their career so far with Monolith of Inhumanity? You bet they have. Definitely a best of 2012 contender.