Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Album Review: Cattle Decapitation - The Anthropocene Extinction

One of the arguments that I have gotten sucked into more than once is what the very definition of music is. For a lot of people, especially those who enjoy extreme metal of all stripes, music is anything that occurs to a beat. For others, like me, there are hallmarks of music that go beyond an instrument making the sounds you are hearing. Songs are constructed in certain ways, sounds are used to convey the ideas, and the whole process is designed to create something that people are going to enjoy. There is a place in all of this for noise, but it must be used as a color to fill in the lines. Noise itself is not music. But we'll get to that in a moment.

Cattle Decapitation is now the biggest name in the world when it comes to grindcore, or grindcore-adjacent music. Over the course of their careers, they have 'elevated' the genre to the point where it is now big enough to almost be on the radar to be snubbed by the mainstream. Despite possessing massive talents for sonic destruction, and a frontman with a voice envied by most who play a similar style, the band has used their tasteless sensibilities (the cover of "Humanure" is not so much offensive, but comedic only to the juvenile sense of humor of a brain-damaged 12 year old) to ensure that no one who isn't invested in extreme metal will ever take them seriously.

This record opens with "Manufactured Extinct", and it's slow rolling chords that echo doom metal of old. It's already the best minute of music I've ever heard from Cattle Decapitation, and doesn't last very long. Once the body of the song comes in, the usual aural assault begins. The guitars and drums pound away in unison on the beat, while Travis Ryan actually delivers a good performance behind the mic. His vocals are deep and violent, but still clear enough that you can hear he's singing. The clear vocals are both terribly sung and a terrible idea, but at least Cattle Decapitation is trying to be less abrasive.

As "The Prophets Of Loss" kicks off with a machine-gun flurry of kick drums, I'm struck by the mix of the record, which pushes the drums all the way to the front. They are so loud that it's difficult to hear the guitars, a decision which makes the record sound about as heavy as a Weezer album. This trend continues on for most of the record, as the drumming is so busy that there's no room in the songs for anything else to stand out. If there are riffs here that I'm supposed to be headbanging to, I can't hear them. This record sounds like the mix a bassist would receive on stage so he knows where he is in the music. It doesn't sound like a record normal people would want to hear at all.

I'll give Cattle Decapitation credit for one thing; this record is not mindless speed and heaviness. They do attempt to integrate some flow and movement into the songs, slowing down in places, and trying to inject some atmosphere in between the sturm und drang of their death metal fury. These are also the best moments on the record, mainly because they're the only ones that sound like music.

That brings us back to the point I was starting with. Cattle Decapitation may be music because it's played on instruments and pressed on CDs, but that doesn't mean much. This kind of music is what angers me about extreme metal, and makes it impossible for me to embrace it, even when I can appreciate the artistic motivation behind it. Music is, in its simplest terms, a combination of melody and rhythm. What music like this does is completely remove the melodic component, instead giving us a never-ending assault of rhythms. It is not that far removed from a better produced version of a little kid pounding on pots and pans on the kitchen floor. It is such a one-note display that there's nothing here you won't pick up from the first seconds, and no matter how amazing the display of speed might be, you can't remember and hum a double-bass flurry.

But I knew all of this before I listened to this record. Why did I listen anyway? That's a good question, and one that I can only answer with curiosity. Every so often, I wonder if I have reached the point where extreme metal like this will finally make sense to me. And so, I put on one of those albums, and I discover yet again that it isn't something wrong with me, it's something wrong with the music. Cattle Decapitation may be good at what they do, and plenty of people may absolutely love this stuff, but to me it still isn't music.

Cattle Decapitation is well-coordinated noise that takes a lot of skill to pull off, but still doesn't come close to reaching the standards for what I would call music, even if they are trying harder to get there.

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