Cattle Decapitation has been slaughtering the planet for over 20 years and somehow increased in skill across the last decade to be one of the dominant forces in extreme metal. The bar was raised to seemingly impossible heights on their 2015 record, yet Death Atlas manages to touch those levels and in some areas, surpass them.
Rather than going head first, an introduction with Anthropogenic: End of Transmission sends a signal with a dark background, a piano to set the mood and a radio message about humanity’s impending doom. Now, this is a way to send chills down my spine before the first official song on the ninth release by these experts of heavy music.
The Geocide throws out that methodical opening by exploding with lightning speed. While the band is testing the limits of how fast a human being can play the guitar, bass, and drum set, some variation gets mixed in changing tempos to make this already deadly track even more dangerous, I needed to keep on my toes for this one. Along with the fierce instrumentation comes one of the most memorable choruses with Travis Ryan’s disturbingly melodic shrieks.
Keeping up with the fast craftmanship of brutal riffs and bone-breaking percussive power, Be Still Our Bleeding Hearts blends in more rhythm into the madness. As things progress, more melody follows into the apocalyptic backdrop. This is classic Cattle with their current path of advancing the style that has been established over their years in the studio.
The first two follow a traditional song structure with verses, pre-choruses, and choruses. Vulturous is headed for mayhem with its chaotic nature that ignores that form of music-making. This is one of the least forgiving pieces on the album as it goes for constant brutality.
The Great Dying, Pt. 1, gave me a break from low tuned guitars, gutturals, and a relentless bludgeoning. This transmission discusses the latest extinction the world is facing. Similar to End of Transmission, it does not follow well into the next song, making it awkward to walk from one to the other.
Matching the openers along with the classic sound that I have grown to love, One Day Closer to the End of the World, has a reason it was released as the first single. This is the best of both worlds, the familiarity of the band’s style and the progression that has occurred with this album. Nothing beats spidery riffs, never-ending shaking, and ridiculous screams that no human should be able to make naturally.
Bring Back the Plague is a monstrous assault as the instrumentation flows together for a beating that holds back and comes in for more constantly. A switch towards the end, making more an adrenaline-pumping rhythm with seemingly impossible gutturals. This level of heaviness will give me an aneurysm, which I wholeheartedly welcome.
Crafting new ways for melodies while keeping their destructive nature, Absolute Destitute ravages through everything in its path. A rhythmic ride with melodic riffs sitting right behind makes this one fit in a spot that feels both different and similar to the rest.
The Great Dying Pt. 2 has the same flaw when it goes into Finish Them. The second part has a more eerie tone with a quiet background, focusing more on the monotoned voice speaking. Like the previous intermission and the introduction, for what it lacks, it does serve a purpose. It is a vital aspect of the overall message, so the wild screams and riff action don’t take away from the commentary of the state of our planet.
A short bludgeoning with a rhythmic force that might actually finish someone before listening to the rest of the album, it is that dangerous. While the music fits every song title, Finish Them feels even more suitable as it leads into a slaughterhouse. Headbanging worthy material throughout, but this is going to break my neck.
Shrieking and rocket speed that is the name of the game for With All Disrespect. During this storm of hellfire, there is a methodical approach to the madness, like all of the band’s celebrated, less constructed songs. The right moments are slowed down to not overpower with insanity but still manages to never stop going to the most extreme depths that the California natives can go.
The second-longest track, Time’s Cruel Curtain, has a different perspective lyrically and musically. A heavy yet somber beginning contradicts one another while having a pounding impact. This leads to a desolate landscape that returns to destruction. “We know that we’re wrong / We know what we’ve done / Yet we still carry on / The curtain has burned / No lessons are learned,” left me with hopelessness rather than anger, a trend that circles Death Atlas, unlike the band’s past furious nature.
The first smooth transition from the 12 track that goes straight into a depressing and blunt message. The Unerasable Past drapes itself in haunting sounds, a voice hidden in the background, and accompanied by a piano. This emotional pre-game before the finale pulls on my heartstrings with what it says and by the surprising low clean vocals that appear.
It seems Cattle concludes with another fierce attack to wipe out humanity, but this 9-minute title track has a trick up its sleeve. After preparation for the end of the world, a deep cut flexes the band’s creative muscles with those clean vocals combining with Ryan’s melodic screams and an atmospheric, moody end to this thought-provoking record.
Ryan proves himself to be my new favorite vocalist in extreme metal. He goes above and beyond what he has done before to deliver new horrifying animalistic noises that can only come from the deepest darkest places in his creative psyche.
The band’s position has always been about climate change while throwing in a song or two that tackles other subjects. This matches the last release, The Anthropocene Extinction when it comes to intelligent commentary on climate change maturely and violently. The eighth album rises to be the most hopeless in its perspective as we continue to spiral down to annihilation, which is so metal.
Death Atlas, at its high point, is superb heavy music that is both worthy of mosh pits and headbanging while taking the time to say something profoundly important. However, it underutilized its experimentation, wasting its full potential. That said, the mistakes made only knock off brief moments in this masterpiece.
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Image via Metal Blade Records