“Cattle Decapitation? I think this probably isn’t the right department… ”
Actually, this is exactly the right department, especially for some feedback about the decapitation of cattle. Or Cattle Decapitation, more precisely. These guys have been the buzzword around the TDM laboratories and on this particular Technical Tuesday I would like to look into the albums a bit…in the order that I heard them myself.
To preface, this column is going to be completely biased. I have been a long time fan of the band, since the release of their first full length, and I am a vegetarian. In fact, as I type this, I am nerding out and wearing my Cattle Decapitation t-shirt. I might go put a second one just out of principal.
My exposure to the band began with a live track of “I Eat Your Skin,” which I would imagine was put out as a promo by Metal Blade. Initially, I was unaware of the band’s message – pro-vegetarian, anti-human – and simply thought the band had a wicked name, and even more wicked vocals. Vocalist Travis Ryan is, in my opinion, one of the best vocalists in all of metal, regardless of subgenre. His vocals are absolutely animalistic, skin-tearing, gut-wrenching, gore-spilling…all in the best senses of the word. And I was even more shocked to hear that the band used no vocal processing.
Fast forward a small but indeterminate amount of time to the 2002 release of To Serve Man. From Metal Blade Records, Cattle Decapitation’s first full length was fiercely distributed – I picked it up at a local Border’s Books and Music for less than 10$. Even if I hadn’t listened to the band previously I would have picked up the album. I mean seriously, look at that cover (which was unfortunately censored by some vendors). And song titles like “Writhe in Putrescence,” which sound like they are straight out of an old Carcass album. To Serve Man is grade “A” gory death metal. The drums do a solid ratta-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat for nearly 35 minutes of “100% organic” gurgles and grunts that sound, like, well the animals that the band is trying to protect. To Serve Man is one of my favorite death metal albums of all time.
Which brings us to the band’s message. Cattle Decapitation’s lyrical themes frequently are against the consumption of meat. But, in the genre of death metal, that simply would not be enough. No, instead, Cattle Decapitation songs frequently paint a gruesome role reversal, placing the animals into the roll of the humans. For example, the Ten Torments of the Damned demo (the only material by the band I have never heard, since I do not own a record player and see buying the vinyl album as a poor decision) depicts a man with a cow’s head preparing to decapitate a cow with a man’s face. Additionally, Cattle Decapitation is simply anti-human. The human species is far more disgusting than any beast, in the eyes of Cattle Decapitation. However, and I ask this of you, death metal fans and readers, is it really so uncommon for a metal band? Thrash speeds towards nuclear apocalypses, death metal is covered with emerging zombies, and black metal extols nihilism. Is this really, then, that abnormal?
Moving backwards in the band’s catalog from To Serve Man, I ordered the two EPs Human Jerky (1999) and Homovore (2000) from Three.One.G records. It was the first time I utilized a completely blind mail order. The label could have simply never sent me the records and there would have been nothing I could have done. However, send the records they did, and I was soon grinding away to early era Cattle Decapitation. Although they do show flairs of technicality, the two EPs are more in the goregrind region of music, similar to a more technical Exhumed (in their early career), or Hemdale, or Carcass before they cleaned up their sound. Its spastic and gory, and disgusting, and quality grind…in a short dose. My only complaint is the play time – Homovore runs less than 22 minutes, while Human Jerky is only 16.
And so I waited, hoping for more extreme-vegetarian, misanthropy-fueled gore. And in 2004 Metal Blade rewarded my patience with the hideous Humanure. For obvious reasons some record stores and distributors refused to handle Humanure, or censored the cover without permission. As for the sound, Cattle Decapitation returned with as much gore and guts as ever, and some even sicker squeals, but at the same time adding an element of the cosmos. With tech squeals aplenty, Humanure showcased an advanced dissection of the human species, with more emphasis on the stop-and-go, as well as the technicality glimpsed in Homovore and Human Jerky. See track “Earthling,” a churning, spinning, surging, technical, misanthropic anthem: “Disturbing/ disgusting/ revolting/ Structure of cells / Best to have not metastasized / Into this barbaric creature / That you know as yourself.”
2006 saw the release of Karma.Bloody.Karma. I would imagine the message of the album to be an extrapolation of the band’s usual themes, of the revenge that will befall the human race, but the cover and some lyrical messages definitely bore religious overtones. Not that this is unusual in death metal, but it was an interesting progression for the band – as was the inclusion of hints of slower passages. Tracks such as “Success is … (Hanging by the Neck)” showcase the band becoming more comfortable with elements of atmosphere and song building amongst the ruckus of technicality and goregrind, including moments of melodic, slower guitar picking. As well, Travis Ryan continues to increase his vocal palette, including new shrieks and howls. At the same time, “Total Gore” rolls into a headbanging riff in much the same way that Origin explodes from technical whirls. And “Suspended in Corprolite” has runaway technicality paired with melodic atmosphere…and riffs so heavy they will eat your face on veggie patties.
The Harvest Floor, released in 2009, demonstrated more technicality and more gore, but also a realization of the skin-crawling creepiness hinted at in Karma.Bloody.Karma. Augmented by howls, gurgles, and whispers from Travis Ryan, the album has a distinctly horror film quality to it when the bands hits slower moments. But these additions do nothing to neutralize or melodize the gory whirlwind that is Cattle Decapitation. Instead, just the opposite – after the slow guitar picking in “Gardeners of Eden,” drummer David McGraw brings an absolute urgency that you simply don’t find in metal very often. It feels so frantic, so furious, that an uninitiated listener may be tempted to start running for their life for fear of man-eating swine. And Cattle Decapitation has always had attention grabbing drumwork. Melodic and grinding, gory and insightful, haunting and furious, and downright creepy, The Harvest Floor is an album not to be missed.
And that brings us to 2012’s Monolith of Inhumanity. Thoughts yet? TDM is in the works of a staff review, so I won’t give any secrets away, but I will say that the album has more of everything. And, as to be expected from Cattle Decapitation, plenty of the unexpected.