Album Reviews

Album Review: Cattle Decapitation – Death Atlas



Release Date: 29/11/2019

Record Label: Metal Blade

For Fans Of: Napalm Death, Pig Destroyer, The Black Dahlia Murder 



The planet is dying and the human race is to blame. Despite the pleas from scientists, environmentalists, school-children, and everyone with a working brain-cell, the message still isn’t getting through. Amongst these voices, there is perhaps none more visibly and audibly disgusted with their fellow man as Cattle Decapitation. Formed in 1996, the band planted their flag in the ground for Mother Earth long before we reached today’s level of crisis and impending doom. Despite this, in recent years it has been the strength of their last two records, particularly 2015’s ‘The Anthropocene Extinction,’ rather than the band’s morals which has seen them reach new levels of success – so much so that on the day this has been written they have been announced to headline the second stage at this 2020’s Bloodstock Festival. For a band which regularly reaches an insane level of extremity, that is a remarkable feat. 

With such shows on the horizon, the band have returned after four years with an equally grand statement for their seventh studio album – Death Atlas. Up until now, Cattle Decapitation have always felt relatively underground and gritty (they were formed as a grindcore band after all) but with The Anthropocene Extinction they seemed to broaden their sound with more progression, variation and a heavier focus on atmospherics. Now, they have released their most expansive record ever. 

The two and a half minute intro track that opens ‘Death Atlas’  immediately sets the tone and sounds much closer to how a band like Architects might preface an album, with pulsating synths and a very cosmic overall feel which appears to be posing as a ‘final transmission’ of planet Earth before extinction. It is very much the calm before the storm. 

 ‘The Geocide offers the kind of blisteringly white-hot noise that everybody loves to hear from Cattle Decapitation and yet still manages to surprise. The atmosphere it creates is simply suffocating, being far closer to black metal it is incredibly fitting for the depressing situation facing us. The song’s final refrain of ‘Fuck your future, fuck your kin’ somehow  quickly becomes earworm material, and will surely be a highlight of future live shows. ‘One Day Closer To the End of the World’ takes the band into more industrial territory with stuttering riffs and pick-scrapes making the band seem almost accessible for fans of Gojira or Meshuggah. The grand, progressive nature of much of the album is best seen on ‘Time’s Cruel Curtain’, and the title track – a nine-minute long odyssey which is by far one of the bravest and most ambitious things the band have ever tried their hand at. 

 Another big change is the addition of a couple of interlude tracks offering some brief respite from the usual onslaught; ‘The Great Dying I & II’  are basically just voiced over synth sections detailing the downfall of the planet. Although they do contribute a little to the overall atmosphere and help to break up the record, they could have been used in a much more effective way which can be seen later on.

For most of their career Cattle Decapitation’s imagery and extremity has often seemed an attempt at shocking the world into a realisation, but with Death Atlas, it really feels like the band’s anger has begun to turn to bitter resignation that things aren’t going to change. ‘The Unerasable Past’ explores something no one could have expected from the band as a single piano refrain is accompanied by a mournful vocal take that fools you into thinking you are listening to Type-O-Negative. Despite not really being all that different in approach to the earlier interludes, the execution is what makes this track a highlight. 

Anyone concerned about how all this expansion might have affected the core of the band’s sound need not worry. There are still grooves and breakdowns aplenty across the record. In particular, ‘Vulturous’ blends old-school death metal with grindcore in typically brutal fashion and is the closest track here to older Cattle Decapitation material. As always vocalist Travis Ryan sounds positively evil with his varied vocal work; at one moment barraging your eardrums with growls before raising the hairs on your neck with a garbled hiss. The next time someone complains about harsh vocals because they can’t understand the lyrics, point them in the direction of ‘Bring Back the Plague’, the clarity of delivery is what makes Ryan one of the best in the game and with the band being so heavily focused on their message it is absolutely vital. 

To give the biggest indication of the variety and scope of this record, it now feels reductive to view Cattle Decapitation simply as a death metal band. With Death Atlas they have shown how they are capable of evolving their sound and take it to new places without compromising on the quality or the extremity of the work they have released before. It now sees them occupy the same space as Pig Destroyer and Neurosis who sit as examples that extreme music of this kind has so much room to explore and grow. We are witnessing the next evolution of Cattle Decapitation and hopefully soon the rest of the world will catch up. 

Rating: 9/10

Recommended Tracks: ‘One Day Closer to the End Of The World’, ‘Bring Back the Plague’ ‘Time’s Cruel Curtain’

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