Starting with 2009’s The Harvest Floor, San Diego’s Cattle Decapitation effectively jettisoned their loose, somewhat unlistenable brand of deathgrind in favor of a more streamlined and polished brutal death sound. What separated them from THAT particular pack of goons, however, was a keen sense of groove and an ability to keep things from skewing too far into the dreaded tech zone. 2012’s Monolith of Inhumanity still stands tall as an example that songwriting will always trump noodling fretboard abuse, despite the drums sounding like they were recorded twenty feet in front of a live performance.
So… how does The Anthropocene Extinction, the band’s latest, stack up? In general terms, it doesn’t so much stack up as it moves sideways, while looking slightly forward. On the surface, it’s structurally the same album as its predecessor—the incredibly similar photoshopped artwork (done by the same artist, Wes Benscoter, so that makes sense), the opening sample/slow part with gurgle/rapid acceleration on “Manufactured Extinct” mirroring “The Carbon Stampede,” the much less metal interlude as a penultimate track (“Ave Exitium”) leading to a grandiose finale—think of it as the Use Your Illusion II to Monolith’s Use Your Illusion I.
What’s different is the widened scope. The band has incorporated elements of melodic death and sprinkled some theatrical blackened bits onto a much more technical sound, to varying degrees of success. “Mammals of Babylon” sounds like it belongs on Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, with its Vortex-like vocal breakup courtesy of Travis Ryan and his now-signature strained caterwaul. It’s a move deployed at about twice the frequency of its predecessor, and it doesn’t always work. It’s most effective at the near-midpoint joint “Circo Inhumanitas,” as it combines with the most memorable riff on the album flawlessly to create an involuntary head-jerking involuntarily motion, for which a better term escapes me at the moment. It’s at its least good good on closer Pacific Grim,” where there isn’t any real sense of tension for it to fit as a release, or even as a good idea when it happens.
Momentum is another issue, in that The Anthropocene Extinction isn’t consistent in building it or capitalizing on it when it does. There are awkward pauses and shifts in direction that hinder songs from sounding like complete pieces, but rather ideas put together a la Dying Fetus’ riff salad formula (“Mammals in Babylon,” for example). It’s not terrible, but it doesn’t feel as well thought-out as its predecessor.
And now for another edition of Chris Redar’s Drum Production Corner™. Look, I understand it’s 2015. They’ve invented a robot that can toss one’s salad on command (probably—hopefully). We’ve discovered another planet to fuck up in a couple of generations when we’re done killing this one. Cars drive themselves into walls, eliminating the need for DUIs. As such, I accept that triggers are going to be a thing more than they are not. This being the case, do they make a set of these that sound like actual drums? And if so, can someone grab them for the next Cattle Decap album? Because quite often, these sound like the tennis ball gun from American Gladiators being fired at a popcorn machine. It’s not so bad when things are slow, but when those everything-blasts get going, it’s unnatural to the point of sounding like a Mega Man X level.
Ultimately, this is a pretty good album, and the missteps here and there could be seen as growing pains of a band looking to go deeper into their creative waters as opposed to treading in the tired BruTech™ kiddie pool. Existing fans certainly won’t be let down, and this wouldn’t be the worst starting point for a newcomer. Recommended, though if you’re buying it for the Phil Anselmo guest spot, don’t. It’s as useless as the other guest spots, which is why they’re being mentioned now, long after you’ve stopped caring.