ALBUM REVIEW: Cattle Decapitation – Death Atlas

Release Date: November 29th 2019
Label: Metal Blade Records


This week heralds the return of one of the most revered modern extreme metal outfits, whose stock-in-trade is making the most disgusting noise to hold up a mirror to the disgusting world we live in. It can only be, of course, Cattle Decapitation.

After being on a hot streak for their last two albums, 2012’s ‘Monolith Of Inhumanity’ and 2015’s ‘The Anthropecene Extinction’, expectations are high for the group’s eighth full-length outing, ‘Death Atlas’.

With ‘Athropogenic: End Transmission’, we get a dramatic introduction which helps to set the tone, leading straight into first track proper, ‘The Geocide’. Straight away, we’re in first gear with signature machine-gun like drumming from Dave McGraw, coupled with a banshee-like howl from Travis Ryan. It certainly feels like a ‘welcome back’ moment, and the tension from the chorus builds wonderfully into a sweeping guitar solo. From these early stages, the change in their sound they’ve gone for is very much apparent. It’s clear that melody is a prominent attribute that they wish to work with now.

‘Be Still Our Bleeding Hearts’ comes in as evil as ever, but there’s also a strong vocal hook. This record may bring about the first uttering from fans and critics alike of the word ‘mature’ and Cattle Decapitation being used in the same sentence.

Ryan is undoubtedly one of the best vocalists in extreme metal, and his clean vocals here are much more prominent than before, but there’s one slight gripe; his unorthodox cleans (perhaps even pseudo-singing) have been utilised previously to emphasise the berserk, depraved nature of the band. When that same technique is used to deliver what’s clearly meant as a more serious vocal passage in some instances, it unfortunately feels a little incongruous at times.

‘The Great Dying’ is a computerised interlude, which lays bare their beliefs and indeed what this record is largely addressing; – climate change, and the impact of humans on the planet. It’s clear that the band have thematically not changed one bit, and there’s more of a serious tone to the message, as the end of days only seems to be getting nearer and nearer.

The half-way point is where the record truly peaks. ‘One Day Closer To The End Of The World’ is a definite highlight, and a stark reminder that Cattle Decapitation can still deliver their signature assault. It’s a strong offering all the way through, showing that their more straight-down-the-line approach does come up trumps when it wants to. ‘Bring Back The Plague’ is also a shining moment, with the fun-factor strong in the middle and a hulkier ending that really brings the intensity on show.

Still, unfortunately, the same impact isn’t there for the entirety of this record. ‘Absolute Destitute’ is a decent song with a hulky beginning, but unfortunately tails off a little bit towards the end. ‘With All Disrespect’ has a very promising start, but spare for Ryan‘s distinctive vocal work, the melodic passages could be something that blends in with many other bands.

We later arrive at the closer and magnum opus: the album’s titular track. Make no mistake, this is absolutely brilliant; an emotional, moving epic, which only becomes more impactful as it progresses. When it builds up, this is by far the strongest exhibit of Cattle Decapitation‘s new sound, and the crooned vocal in the closing passages helps to add a ton of emotional weight. If they do more tracks in this vein in the future, they’ll be on to a winner for sure.

‘Death Atlas’ is an undeniably well-crafted album, and the band’s distaste for humanity is on show stronger than ever before, but its sonic shift means it may take a number of listens to truly grasp, even for hardened fans. The expansion of their sound is undeniable, but parts of this record simply lack the what-the-fuck-is-this impact of previous offerings. However, it’s worth a reminder that some bands have committed far worse crimes in terms of changing their sound.

All things considered, this certainly feels like a turning point for Cattle Decapitation, and we can only hope that they’ll perfect it further next time.