San Diego death grind/death metal titans, Cattle Decapitation, are back with what they describe as "their bleakest release to date”. After four years, their longest gap between releases and due to an intensive and relentless touring schedule, the band finally return with their seventh studio album 'Death Atlas', the long awaited follow up to the critically acclaimed 2015 masterpiece, 'The Anthropocene Extinction'.
The album perfectly showcases the unique and diverse, yet distinctive sound that Cattle Decapitation have carved and pioneered, predominantly over their last two albums. Featuring all of the familiar elements of the cacophony we've come to expect, from crushing and complex death metal riffs to pummeling blastbeats and double kick, played with machinelike precision, all completed by Travis Ryan's outstanding and immediately distinctive, inhuman vocal delivery. It also of course features a very healthy dose of the soaring dark melody-driven choruses and breaks that the band have become known for, alongside the unmatched brutality with which they juxtapose this against.
The lyrical content is mercilessly direct, and feels like an expansion on the previous albums, in particular the topics addressed in 'The Anthropocene Extinction'. Cattle Decapitation have never shied themselves away from addressing man's destruction of the natural world and this release feels like a refinement of this message, but with a significantly more urgent delivery. This also resonates within the album artwork, which depicts a skeletal figure holding up a dead world on his back.
‘Death Atlas’ opens with an epic drawn out score that would be equally fitting of a blockbuster film. The aptly named 'Anthropogenic: End Transmission' is an atmospheric and melancholy soundscape of distorted radio filtered voices set against a pulsating swell, that slowly builds tension with thunderous drawn out drumbeats. The name of this track straight away signifies the connection to the previous material as well as sets the tone for the album straight away, this is more than just a death metal album, it’s a thought-provoking piece that allows its audience time for contemplation in between brutalising them.
As the intro track fades out, we are met with our first proper death metal offering from the album, The Geocide, a track which immediately erupts into a full-on assault of blastbeats, frantic guitar melodies and anguished screams that are drenched in that unmistakable Cattle Decapitation sound. The track also features the first big chorus of the album along with calls towards the end to ‘fuck the future, fuck humankind’, further re-enforcing and summarising the imminent message of ‘Death Atlas’
‘Be Still Our Bleeding Hearts’ is a hard-hitting classic tinged death metal track that features more vocal diversity from Travis with meaty gutturals throughout the verses, slicing witch vocals during the choruses and colossal sounding tunnel throat vocals in the crushing breakdown. This track encompasses the full range of the cattle decapitation pallet, from fast frenetic riffing to titanic breakdowns and a black metal tinged chorus. The vocals during the last ten seconds of the track are some of the heaviest on the album.
One of the early singles released ahead of the album was ‘Bring Back the Plague’ and has all the hallmarks of a great Cattle Decapitation track, showing how refined they have become in their songwriting and their craft as a whole. Each section of the track feels distinct and impacting. 'Absolute Destitute' in contrast, is much darker and features large articulate ambient sections that edge on black metal at points. The track is mainly vocal driven with Travis taking centre stage. This track is layered in disgustingly pleasing vocal harmonies and makes full use of them throughout its course.
'The Unerasable Past' is the final ambient track of the album, adding more emotion this time with the inclusion of strings layered over a piano melody. The song also features Travis’ clean sung vocal towards its conclusion. The track contains a narration track provided by Jon Fishman of Phish. The grand finale and title track of Death Atlas is a nine-minute progressively weaving epic that showcases everything that Cattle Decapitation has in their current arsenal. The track progresses its way through a wealth of contrasting riffs and some of the heaviest moments found on the record. Around the halfway point the song has a swelling atmospheric break that builds back up to another emotive and contemplative section. The sustained chords combined with a soft warm clean vocal further show not only the extended vocal diversity on offer on this album, but also the evolution in the musical formula being used by the band. The final moments of the track feature Laure Le Prunenec of Igorrr.
For over two decades Cattle Decapitation have been on the forefront of defining and then redefining the death metal soundscape, and Death Atlas is no exception to this trend. As an album, it takes everything that makes the band great and then refines it down to a razors edge, indiscriminately slicing at its audience with a message as brutal and as cutting as the music that carries it. There is no mistaking who you are listening to, this band has carved themselves a distinctive and clearly identifiable niche sound that is difficult to pull off within an extreme genre such as death metal. Blending a unique combination of classic death metal, grind and slam influences in the writing, with a clean and modern delivery and crystal-clear production, the band have perfected their own signature sound that is completely theirs and still indicative of the genre. Death Atlas is one of the bands strongest releases to date and pushes the boundaries of their sound further than ever before. An exciting and compelling release that drives home a poignant message with every strike.