Review Summary: Cannibal Corpse are nothing if not reliable. The elder statesmen of death metal rarely (if ever) make a misstep when it comes to their music.
Cannibal Corpse have been working towards A Skeletal Domain
ever since they added George Fisher on vocals back in 1995. His addition allowed them to move towards a more rhythmic and dynamic direction that Chris Barnes’ deep grunts just wouldn’t have fit. Including Pat O’Brien (ex-Nevermore) on lead guitar in 1997 only solidified that direction and allowed them to also start including random bouts of technicality. As they progressed over the past twenty years the band seemed to be slowly, yet deliberately, moving towards blending their death metal roots with something more technical and dynamic; a progression that appeared to culminate with Torture
brought together the best of everything the band had ever done. It had the rhythmic vocal delivery, brutal blast-beat driven riffing, atonal solos and an increased emphasis on technicality and dynamics. However, it turns out that Cannibal Corpse’s musical progression is still an ongoing process because A Skeletal Domain
takes the perfected formula of Torture
and drives it down a slightly different path.
Opening track ‘High Velocity Impact Spatter’ is the first hint that maybe things have changed a bit. ‘High Velocity Impact Spatter’ assaults the listener with quick tempo changes, energetic guitar acrobatics (by Cannibal Corpse standards), death/thrash riffing and George Fisher’s guttural, rhythmic vocal delivery. Within a few minutes of the opener, it becomes clear that the technicality has never been more up front than it is going to be on this album. It’s also during this first song that the new, cleaner, production is displayed. The previous three albums had been produced by Erik Rutan of Hate Eternal, but the band made a change to Mark Lewis for this release. Thanks to Mark, A Skeletal Domain
sports a much cleaner, more powerful, modern production that allows all the instruments space to breathe and, notably, allows the bass to be 100% audible. The technicality and production aren’t the only changes to grace A Skeletal Domain
Maybe this is just a self-fulfilling prophecy where reading that Pat O’Brien (ex-Nevermore) wrote a majority of the songs has caused me to hear thrashy riffs and solos in just about every song. Maybe I’m wrong and those elements aren’t really there; but I don’t think so. I’ll let you decide whether the two-minute mark of ‘Ice Pick Lobotomy’ doesn’t suddenly sound like it could be a modern Testament riff (same with the opening to ‘Bloodstained Cement’). I’ll let you form your own opinion about whether or not at least half these solos sound like the type of technically competent shredding The Politics of Ecstasy
displayed in spades. Maybe, just maybe, the closing moments of ‘The Murderer’s Pact’ don’t borrow a bit of that super rhythmic heaviness that a certain Swedish band is famous for – but I’m pretty sure it does. That certainly doesn’t mean Cannibal Corpse is suddenly plagiarizing other bands, just that I can hear the faintest bit of other genres blending into their sound. In case it is unclear… this is a good thing. A Skeletal Domain
is still the modern Cannibal Corpse album that anyone would expect, but it has opened up to just the tiniest amount of genre diversity.
Another positive aspect of this album is that it finally has that one standout track that the last two albums were missing. Much like ‘Make Them Suffer’ managed to be super catchy without sacrificing the brutality or resorting to gimmicks, ‘Kill or Become’ has that excellent riff/chorus combination that will get the phrase ‘Fire up the Chainsaw’ repeating in your head whether you want it there or not. Later in the album, ‘Asphyxiate to Resuscitate’ comes close to being another super catchy death metal track with its (almost) groove-influenced riff that comes in on the chorus. On the flipside of that catchiness is the relatively dark atmosphere that runs through a lot of these songs. There are some fairly dark leads and melodies scattered around A Skeletal Domain
that haven’t really been a prominent feature of previous releases. A lot of that darkness can (in my mind) be attributed to the thrash influence that seems to run through the album.
Cannibal Corpse are nothing if not reliable. The elder statesmen of death metal rarely (if ever) make a misstep when it comes to their music. They know what their fans like, they know what they want to play and they don’t waste any effort trying to deviate from it. What they are willing to do, however, is tinker with that formula in order to challenge themselves and see what boundaries they can push without abandoning the death metal. A Skeletal Domain
is definitely a death metal album, but it also pushes some boundaries. Cannibal Corpse have pushed the technicality of their songs without forgetting the brutality or speed that fans have come to expect. They have also added a thrash element that periodically rears its head before being murdered by another blast beat and atonal guitar solo. Together all of these elements have created a Cannibal Corpse album that is darker and more chaotic than normal, but that is somehow probably their most accessible. I’ve said it before about Evisceration Plague
, but with A Skeletal Domain
there is even more of a reason for people to give Cannibal Corpse a listen – you may find yourself enjoying the chaos.