Established wisdom holds that most bands peak early in their careers, then spend the rest of their existence chasing the tails of former glories, to a greater or lesser degree of success. Maintaining a level of quality and consistency over an extended period of time in a field as artistic as album writing is a very difficult nut to crack, either by sledge-hammer or more subtle and intricate methods.
Cattle Decapitation have always been different.
Controversial throughout their fifteen year recording career and renowned for their striking and evocative album covers, song titles, the band name and their staunch environmental and vegan standpoints, they also buck the most common of trends by having continued on an upward trajectory from their debut – the more uncultured 16 tracks in 21 minutes grind of Homovore (Three One G) and its shock tactics of tracks like ‘Joined At The Ass’ and ‘Icepick Gag Reflex’ – improving steadily, and at times dramatically, culminating in 2012’s head-turning Monolith of Inhumanity that moved the band from curio to desired artefact.
Not content with that, the band have further creatively upped the ante on The Anthropocene Extinction, the band’s sixth for long-time partners Metal Blade, adding flourishes of melody and really honing the song-writing dynamics. Us writers are guilty of throwing superlatives like spaghetti at the wall of countless bands in a melee of over-promoting the undeserving, but Cattle Decapitation have genuinely produced a truly remarkable album.
“We knew what we were up against” begins the loquacious and enthusiastic Travis Ryan, vocalist, lyricist and frontman for the San Diego quartet. “Our already established history influences us the most, and we were pretty damn hard on ourselves on this record. We had a good yardstick to measure up the new stuff against; Monolith of Inhumanity did really well for us in terms of turning opinion in our favor, with fans and haters alike.” Taking their own opus magnifus (to date) as a starting point and seeking to improve it meant a more focused approach to writing. “The guys did pay more attention this time to song structure as well as how the album flow might come about; it, wasn’t just throwing songs together and hoping it made sense.”
Retaining the core elements, an integral intensity and guts is often the most challenging aspect of musical development, but Ryan is keen to point out that progression can be achieved without throwing any twenty-ton babies out with the bathwater. “(There’s) some seriously ravenous stuff on the record and (it) maintains the intensity we’re known for. When you seem to mix so many parts from so many different genres, it seems to be fairly easy to keep heaviness in there.” In terms of adding newer elements to the sound, the trials and tribulations can be in keeping a natural flow… not something that impacted this time around: “The real challenge is not having the songs just be random parts that don’t belong together. That’s something I think we’ve improved on greatly over the years.”
With hookier, thrashier moments interspersed with neck-snapping riffage, just what is this new Cattle Decapitation sound? “I honestly love the idea of being “genre-less”. It’s definitely not death metal, it’s unfair to call it grindcore… I’m more than happy to not be lumped into any given genre although ‘deathgrind’ is the safest thing I’ve heard to call it.”
The Anthropocene Extinction is an album filled with talking points, including Ryan’s own voice featuring much more prevalently with some ear-opening excellent switches in vocal style to provide exceptional emphasis, further hook and a real dynamic impact. “Juxtaposed against the intensity that is this music, this kind of music and exactly what we do, I could see how those vocals could be misconstrued as “cleans”, (but) there’s a huge difference between traditional clean vocals and what I’m doing here.
“There’s too much attitude and grime in them to dismiss them as “cleans”. And I use the term “dismiss” because it seems that’s what a lot of metal fans do when something goes against the grain or seems a tad out of place. To me, they make sense, but I could see some extreme metal purists out there getting upset about ‘em. I just stumbled upon a way to add melody to rasp, in a form of music that traditionally doesn’t have any of that in there.”
And it isn’t just Ryan’s voice that catches the ear as something different to the previous from the Decap grinders as a trio of guest appearances, including one Philip H. Anselmo, add further spice to proceedings.
“Well, Phil came about through a friend who is on his label. He kinda surprised us with it, haha!
“When they said “Hey, Phil A is on board to do a guest vocal”, I immediately thought of the perfect spot for him and that’s what you hear on the record. Author & Punisher has been a friend of ours for a while now and in the spirit of going a little against the grain, we brought him on board to add his brand of “industrial” metal to a track – we’ve always wanted him to do one with us.
“The only one that was truly conceptual I’d say would be the addition of Mr. Jurgen Bartsch of one of my favorite bands of all time, Bethlehem. His band has been a big influence on me personally and how I think we should approach writing and creating an album. But it’s what he says in his native tongue, Deutsch, that ties it together. It’s a rather positive and optimistic quote from Albert Pine. I’ll spare you the quote as I wanted people to search it out more than just spoon feeding it to them, but I think a cool bi-product of having it in German is the rest of the album is in English and thus having this part in a different language helps obscure this rather optimistic quote by a rather misanthropic individual.
“It’s a very “Cattle Decapitation” thing to do!”