Cattle Decapitation - The Anthropocene Extinction
As much as metal fans stereotypically reject the notion of ‘pop’ music as if it were a cyst on real music’s skin, hooks have always been intrinsic to the success of heavier music, too. It’s easy to berate charting music as mass produced, cyclical garbage which relies too readily on a catchy melody or meme-able content to get over, metal sometimes goes too far the other way, disregarding melody, harmony and hooks in favour of a far more overwhelming aural assault. For me, the very best extreme albums still feature melodic content [See Anaal Nathrakh, Deicide circa-The Stench of Redemption, early Cannibal Corpse, At the Gates, Horrendous, Death etc]. It doesn’t have to be foregrounded and paraded around like the happy elephant in the room, but I feel that some melodic edge substantially improves and enhances the extremity and impact of the style. There’s no darkness without light, and all that.
The Anthropocene Extinction is not a pop album. That much is obvious to even a casual observer of the record’s front cover. This thing is about as pissed off as a dropped beehive. There’s no … feat. Pitbull, no ‘pretty’ sounding production, no attempt to exist as anything other than an album that’s going to beat you over the head with a concrete block until you’re out cold. With a band with Cattle Decapitation’s pedigree though, we wouldn’t want or expect anything else. However, what is different this time – even from the 2012’s ground-breaking Monolith of Inhumanity – is how the beating is delivered this time around.
We all contribute to fucking up the planet we call home. Whether by owning a car, travelling on planes, shopping in supermarkets, having too many children or living unsustainably, it’s nearly impossible to go a day without contributing in either a small or a big way to our eventual collapse as a species. If you a) don’t agree or b) hate the idea of intense liberal guilt – then it might be best to avoid reading the lyrics to literally all of The Anthropocene Extinction. Lyrically, Travis Ryan spews forth a huge array of screams, grunts, gurgles and the ‘clean’ singing which punctuated several songs on Monolith to create the band’s most focused concept album. He covers a lot of ground vocally (as usual) but this time the tongue-in-cheek humour and gore-based content takes a step back in favour of extreme nihilism and cynicism. This might deter some, but it’s hard to argue with the points he raises. I actually felt tired reading all the lyrics as I was listening along – by the end of closer Pacific Grim, I was emotionally drained and I felt extremely guilty. The Anthropocene Extinction is everything we want to and choose to forget each day we wake up and buy into our hyper-capitalist lives, and it’s the first album I've ever heard that’s made me question so many fundamental issues so quickly. It’s not a comfortable listen conceptually, but it is an important one.
I’ve seen a lot of reviews focus on whether this record is ‘better’ than Monolith of Inhumanity and to be honest, I can’t answer that question. I’ve seen them posited as similar quests too, this the follow-up and continuation of its predecessor. Hell, even the band say it is. I don’t feel that way, though. To me, this album feels like a radically different proposition for a few different reasons which I’ll try and explain as best I can without using words like ‘aura’ or ‘atmosphere’ or ‘ambience’. The first huge difference is the emotional toll Extinction brings with it lyrically (as outlined above) but Travis Ryan has clearly stepped up his game in the delivery department too. Notably, songs are constructed with vocals as the focal point this time around, allowing Ryan to experiment with many different pitches, rhythms and speeds of delivery to achieve the best results. Most impressive are the clean/growl hybrid sections which are used on each and every song to add colour and allow the powerful lyrics to become unavoidably audible. Lines like “We fucking die tonight – and that’s perfectly alright with me”, “How can you look me in the eyes and tell me that you’re proud of what you’ve done within this life?” and “We never stood a chance against this sick romance… we have with all of life” carry immense weight when sung in such a melodic and ear-grabbing way. It’s something that extreme music has a tendency to forget sometimes. Cattle Decapitation prove that you can be catchy sans Jason Derulo stylings. Catchy is cool. Cattle are cool too.
Next up, the flow of the record is far improved and must have taken a lot of effort to put together. Most songs either run into one-another or work to balance the pace of the previous track. The two interludes on the album Axe Exitium and The Burden of Seven Billion (Ryan has said the latter was the working title for the record – I actually think it sums up the concepts better than the title it has now) are placed well and are effective in breaking up the relentlessness attack. The album opener, like all good openers, displays a little of everything but isn’t the best song and the closer, like all good closers, is a bit more epic in scope and sounds the album out in truly haunting style. Extinction benefits hugely from the more melodic direction coupled with its flowing structure because for the first time, Cattle Decapitation have a record which demands repeated listens in the same sitting. Lyrics aside, this thing is nowhere near as fatigue-happy as Monolith was. The production is smoother, there’s not as many jarring riffs and solos, and the emphasis this time is on groove and cohesion rather than staying true to the band’s grindcore beginnings.
Overall, this record is an essential purchase for fans of experimental death metal and shouldn’t be overlooked. It showcases a conscientious, thoughtful side to a genre often pigeonholed as tortured noise and though this is, largely, tortured noise – it is fucking brilliant.
No cattle were decapitated in the writing of this review
Words: Ben Armstrong