017 has been a significant year in the death metal realm.
Titans of the genre; Obituary, Suffocation and Dying Fetus have all unleashed their unique and legendary sonic torment on all and now, it is the turn of the Floridia five-piece Cannibal Corpse, who to many are arguably the most successful band in this genre.
Going since the late 80’s, the quintet, like many bands, has had some personel changes. What remains is the same core belief – keep on pushing and evolving the sound and approach to match lyrical themes which may have many flinching, wincing, cringing and generally feeling uncomfortable. But honestly, when you’re looked at as a pioneer in a genre, have appeared in Ace Ventura, Pet Detective and have inspired countless bands since your inception, who cares if you sing about knife-based sex, ejaculating blood or using tools to hit faces with?
It’s a common association – violent themes and violent sounds, and as long as you remember it’s just music, not reality, it’s all fine.
Slight diversion aside, it’s time to get to the real meat and bones of this article – the music.
Red Before Black was created during the epic, 200+ show tour in support of A Skeletal Domain and the main thought behind it was pushing that basic rawness the band have always been known for. The live sound harnesses that rawness, honing it to a finely tuned but still feral, frenzied and beastly entity. All of this was guided by the hand of legendary Death Metal musician and producer Eric Rutan (Hate Eternal, Goatwhore), the man who has an intrinsic and instinctive idea of Death Metal and how to make it really come, ironically, alive. Red Before Black is simply a beast of an album!
Exposition aside, the moment you press play you’re hit with what is the musical equivalent of the Bullet train. Opening track “Only One Will Die” is a blisteringly paced assault of death metal. A fine example of why Cannibal Corpse are such an inspirational and overwhelming presence in extreme metal. The sheer intensity of the delivery – its rapid pace wild and feral, but tightly controlled and restrained to the point where it could be called ‘focused’ and ‘directed’ shows how this release really pulls no punches, gives no fucks and shows no mercy.
“Red Before Black” follows up the fierce opening effort with the refined, fearsome and technical groove approach the five-piece are reknowned for. Precise riffs, pummeling drums and even more pummeling basslines combine with the iconic vocal rumbings. Business as usual here. “Code Of The Slashers” is a powerhouse which develops a truly intimidating atmosphere with its lumbering presence. The oppressive feel, helped by gratuitous focus on the low end, really forces itself on the listener. That this colossal beast of a track can shift pace and go from steady to flat out pace is a testament to the rhythmic prowess of this band.
Further into the album, “Remaimed” recreates this atmospheric effect but adds a more sinister and forboding air. The pounding and turbulent riff attacks are highlighted by brief haunting sequences of buzzing guitars and when the rapidfire delivery sections land, it’s simply terrifying. Some jumps into the more brutal death metal/slam territories come, along with piercing lead guitar sections to round it off. “Firestorm Vengence” is another track which draws the interest, again using that crushing groove Cannibal Corpse are known for as its driving force. Fast paced, furious and clinical in sound and delivery, the technical playing is outstanding once you look past the brutal groove it rides upon. Yet another fearsome facet of this beastly release.
Consistency has been the key to Cannibal Corpse. Over their long career, they have pushed boundaries, refined their sound and became synonymous with the death metal genre. Recognisable, memorable and present everywhere, when you notice their name on the line up of a show, you know what you are getting. Like Iron Maiden are to heavy metal, like AC/DC were to hard rock, like Tony Iommi is to guitar playing – they are a standard many look to, and something you can predict to a degree. Whilst repetition in musical approaches can lead to stagnation and staleness in any band, the focus, work ethic, determination and refinement of their sound has ensured that Cannibal Corpse have kept things fresh and remained influential.
Red Before Black simply raises the bar for death metal. It may not be as iconic and monumental as their earlier works, but the sheer consistency and level of professionalism and high quality musicianship shows that this is an album you cannot easily dismiss. My end of year album list draft is now currently in tatters. This is a development I welcome!