Time for one of the highlights of my year, the rather excellent SOS festival. A festival envisioned 12 years ago by Lynne Hampson of Rocksector Records as an antidote to the plethora of family un-friendly festivals around at the time. Continue reading
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!”
We are killing our planet. It’s not a prediction, or hokum. It’s a statement. A fact. We are past the point of no return. We stand on the brink of the sixth mass extinction of animal species on this glorious rock we call our home. Species loss, it is calculated by Gerardo Ceballos of the NA University in Mexico, is occurring at a rate of over 100 times that at any point in our history. And humans are incontrovertibly are the cause.
“Yes, I’d say its too late. A lot of the themes on this album deal with plastic and plastic is something that’s not going anywhere, pretty much ever. We’re all guilty, hell even the album is made of plastic, there’s no escaping it.” The sixth mass, or The Anthropocene, Extinction is the subject of Cattle Decapitation’s latest aural assault, and Travis Ryan is keen to raise awareness.
“I believe nobody is really thinking of the future generations and there’s definitely a few songs on the album that deal with that. The Anthropocene Extinction (Metal Blade) deals with exactly what you mentioned – the 6th mass extinction that we’re currently a part of and that will eventually do us in, that is, if an asteroid or nuclear war doesn’t. This album was incredibly depressing to write (lyrically) because of all of this. Just minor research I had to do for a couple parts alone was extremely troubling.
“These records are hard on me to write because of the subject matter. That’s why there’s songs like ‘Unsuitable For Life’, probably my most pissed off set of lyrics ever. That song was written within 30 minutes because I was so damn charged up! Haha… My fucking Facebook feed alone reads like a person with manic depressive paranoid schitzophrenia disorder or something.”
And once again, the album is adorned with a very striking cover, Wes Benscoter once again taking the musical and thematic violence within, and visualizing it in an inimitable and arresting way.
“What you see here is the aftermath of this epoch we’re currently living in – the holocene era, but more aptly for the concept of the record – the anthropocene era”, continues Travis, a man renowned for not being afraid to raise awareness and utilize his position in a band to open the eyes of those who come across Cattle Decapitation to apply some self-awareness and to begin to make changes in their own personal environments. “In the usual “turning the tables” approach to our ideas, we see the end result of the domino effect we’ve burdened the ecosystems of planet earth with. The image on the cover is basically referring to what’s going on in the Pacific Ocean with the Laysan Albatrosses. The birds and other animals are mistaking the insane amount of plastic in the ocean for plankton, ingesting it and when they inevitably die, their corpses decay and leave behind the plastic they ingested. The cover is basically fantasy based on the reality of what we’re doing to the oceans, the most unexplored parts of planet Earth.”
Cattle Decapitation is nearly as known as much for Travis’ beliefs, causes and activism as the bands’ music, which is not to discredit their previous outputs, but is this a position that Ryan accepts and is OK with? “I don’t really want to “preach” to anyone. I’m preaching no more than Dave Mustaine did or John Connelly in Nuclear Assault for example.” Though is it the case that Cattle Decapitation fans are more like to be aware of the issues that concern you, and so is there a danger of only preaching to the converted? Does that matter?
“We’re presenting very real ideas and realities as a backdrop to some very aggressive music. I’ve always figured if you’re gonna talk about something, it might as well mean something. But preaching and trying to convert? Nah, that’s not my bag at all.
“People can take it or leave it and they definitely do both, as they should. They shouldn’t dismiss the band simply because someone told them our lyrics are about “being vegan” or whatever. I say that because I’ve seen people say that kinda shit and they’re flat out wrong. There’s so much more in our lyrics than what we may or may not do in our personal lives.
“I had an “environmental” streak instilled in me when I was younger by my father. So it’s definitely something I’ve always tried to stay on top of and I do a lot of cross checking my own stuff and others’ as well before freaking out about a topic.”
Being in a band does allow a vehicle to raise and make points. If there was something you’d want a Cattle Decap fan, or even a casual reader to take from this, what would that be? “I definitely would like people to walk away thinking something needs to be done, even if they don’t plan on doing anything at all. As long as that consciousness is there, that’s a good blow to ignorance. I urge people to think locally, I think that’s one great way to inspire change. Adopt, don’t buy your pets. Recycle and reuse as much as possible. Remember plastic isn’t going anywhere and if you’re going to have kids, think of their futures first and foremost. If you’re not gonna have any kids in this life, more power to you because overpopulation is very much a thing and is standing directly in the way of a sustainable society.
“(ultimately, though) Lyrics and even vocals are completely secondary to music. I’m lucky to have a job doing what I do for this band!”