Review Summary: Cattle Decapitation lean harder on their gimmicks, resulting in a strong, often extremely good, but wildly imbalanced and often less inspired album.
Cattle Decapitation's rapid ascent from a curiously focused but mostly average deathgrind band to a more complex and innovative outfit has yielded interesting results in terms of how it has continued to affect their sound. Monolith of Inhumanity brought forth a lot of the usual death grind traits (extremely aggressive, technical, frenzied) and coupled them with Travis Ryan's excellent clean vocals that helped to add melodic elements without sacrificing the aggressive, abrasive sound one would expect from the genre. Through to Death Atlas, these melodic parts have been emphasized more and more, and whilst it has resulted in the band finding a very exact "sound" they can stick to, a lot of the flaws that come with that sound have festered.
To be immediately clear, Death Atlas is still a great album despite its problems. The introduction of Olivier Pinard on bass has helped to add a lot more weight and variety to the previously somewhat lacking bass parts that accompany the usual lightspeed tremolo picked guitars and relentless double-bass and blast beats of the drums. Dave Otero's production has improved as well, with a wider, deeper sound helping to remove the very plasticky feel that held back the last two Cattle Decapitation albums, and resulting in a clearer sonic range that allows the more complicated and layered melodic parts to shine even brighter. The grandeur of the songs present is greater than ever, with great results on tracks like Bring Back The Plague
, which has by far the most melodic "clean vocals" the band has used and some great, somewhat black metally guitar parts that are simultaneously beautiful and wonderfully abrasive. The transitions to (not necessarily from) the clean parts are also a lot smoother and feel more natural and well integrated. Absolute Destitute
gives itself ample time to build up to the part without it feeling tonally disconnected from the rest of the song; some of the other tracks, like One Day Closer to the End of the World
, have the clean sections feel less connected tonally, but place them better in the tracks and transition into them more sensibly than on Monolith or The Anthropocene Extinction.
So far, so good. But the core issues with the band's sound come from the increasing reliance on the melodic parts. A lot of the riffs feel a little too simplified outside of those sections, such as on the title track, where a literal two note riff comprises the verses. The guitar work generally feels less aggressive and effective in the more traditional deathgrind parts, and as a result a big portion of some of the songs feel like stopgaps between ideas, rather than fully cohesive and consistently strong songs. In addition, a lot of the songs feel more predictable as the over-reliance on the clean parts results in the songwriting telegraphing their positions in the songs a bit too much. In general this results in the songs which feature fewer or less heavily emphasized clean parts being the strongest, such as Vulturous
, With All Disrespect
and Absolute Destitute
. When the band commits fully to a heavier and more aggressive sound, the songwriting is generally stronger, more interesting, and utilises more interesting riffs to maneuver between each part.
Despite the big core flaw of this release, Death Atlas is still a very strong album thanks to the strength of Travis Ryan's vocals and the sheer brilliance of some individual parts spread throughout the release. The weakest moments of the album are still quite satisfactory, just not as impressive or unique as the band probably requires them to be. Whilst the sound of the band is now more focused and their core gimmick is stronger than ever, there is still colossal room for growth, with more varied songwriting and more inspired aggressive parts. Still, for now, Death Atlas is a poignant, albeit imperfect deathgrind opus.