Lineup changes border on being an inevitability for bands and that becomes a greater truth the longer a group exists. Drums (Paul Mazurkiewicz) and bass (Alex Webster) are the only positions to have not changed at least once during Cannibal Corpse’s 33 years of existence. Where the band manages to be somewhat special is that they seemingly get better every time they change players; that includes current guitarist Rob Barrett leaving and coming back with a renewed drive and energy. Being able to depart from Chris Barnes, who was the face of the band at the time and one of the forefathers of creating deep guttural death metal vocals, took some serious guts. Had they not hired George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher to replace Barnes, however, they would never have been able to increase the technical abilities that afford them greater flexibility in writing songs. There’s no way they would have reached the heights of their current legacy without making that decision.
Erik Rutan sliding into the position as Cannibal Corpse’s new full-time guitarist is at once perfectly logical and still a little mind-boggling. Rutan has produced four out of their last five albums (A Skeletal Domain being the one exception) and he’s known the guys in the band since he was a kid creating his own brand of wild death metal in Ripping Corpse and taking Morbid Angel in new directions, so it makes sense from that angle. He also happens to have his own successful active band in Hate Eternal while being one of the most sought-after producers in the scene, so how the hell does he have the time?
To follow the logic of an earlier point, this begs the question, “Did Cannibal Corpse get better by adding Erik Rutan?” The answer is a comparative yes when putting Violence Unimagined up against their last few releases.
There’s no doubt that in his role as producer Rutan has influenced Cannibal Corpse’s writing, but now he has contributed three full songs to Violence Unimagined. You won’t need to check the writing credits to know that he wrote “Ritual Annihilation.” The glow of Hate Eternal shows through as the guitars grind and morph, but never relent, while being backed by an approach to drumming that can only be described as having no regard for the wellbeing of Mazurkiewicz. The fastest song on the album was also born from Rutan’s hands in the form of “Overtorture.” Outside of a little start-stop riff that lets Webster keep things rumbling, the song goes from fast to faster and allows Fisher to hit full rabidity with his vocals. The strongest of the three – and one of the strongest on the whole album for that matter – is “Condemnation Contagion.” The opening riff hits some quick little bends at the end that serves a similar function to a pinch-harmonic, Mazurkiewicz is given room to go fully ballistic for a stretch, and Fisher offers an absolutely nasty “EYYUCH” sound all in the first minute. When that main riff comes back at the end, there are some extra cymbal hits landing on either side of the bent notes managing to make it even heavier than before.
Rutan will understandably garner the most attention for this album, but his songs certainly don’t overshadow the works of the rest of the band, as every track offers at least one exciting moment. “Murderous Rampage” has a gnarly breakdown passage followed by a hint of a gallop. “Necrogenic Ressurection” features a vertigo-inducing dose of whammy abuse. “Surround, Kill, Devour” will have fans shouting those words at the stage during the chorus. “Bound And Burned” is essentially a contest of dueling leads between Rutan and Barrett to see who can be the most deranged. “Inhumane Harvest” puts all of the band’s strengths into a single song with a vicious and speedy opening riff, a swinging guitar part that drops into a mid-paced chug and leads that balance between shredding noise and open wailing.
Then there’s “Follow the Blood.” It has an absolute monster riff that lets low-end bends annihilate the bottom of the mix. It becomes even more crushing when Fisher’s voice is layered and bellowing out the song title over it during the chorus. It’s also one of few songs that offers a passage with some open space, allowing the lead work to feel more grandiose and bass work to get some extra spotlight time.
The most overlooked member of this band tends to be Mazurkiewicz. His drumming has always provided a sturdy backbone to the songs, but for much of his early career, he could never be described as flashy or particularly technical. The past several albums have seen him steadily add more flair to what he does and Violence Unimagined is a showcase for his desire to add more rolls, fills and varied cymbal work. From the opening quick snare rolls that punctuate “Murderous Rampage” to the closing battery of “Cerements Flayed,” this old dog is showing that not only can he learn new tricks, but he is hell-bent on it and that deserves applause.
Violence Unimagined isn’t perfect. The slower songs don’t quite hit the level of mid-paced beasts like “Scourge Of Iron” or “Evisceration Plague,” nor does the album offer any infections sing-along choruses as big as “Kill Or Become” or “As Deep As The Knife Will Go.” While its highs may not quite reach the peaks of some past songs, what album number 15 does offer is consistency in strength from start to finish and a renewed fire that has been absent from the last couple of releases. Hell, even the uncensored version of the cover offers the most over-the-top gore since The Wretched Spawn and this one could easily be viewed as the revenge sequel for the mom from that 2004 gem.
It would’ve been reasonable for Cannibal Corpse to see the source of their livelihood disappear in 2020 and decide to hang it up; if they had, their legacy would still have them standing among the greats. Instead, they persevered through the struggles of life and yet another lineup change to bring us what might just be their best album since Kill.