Cattle Decapitation - Death Atlas
Metal Blade
Death Metal
14 songs (54:58)
Release year: 2019
Cattle Decapitation, Metal Blade
Reviewed by Goat

Californian death/grinders Cattle Decapitation have long harboured a loathing for humans that went way beyond the initial vegan preachiness, turning into something pathological around the time of 2009's (excellent) The Harvest Floor. Subsequent albums have made it plain that they view us as nothing more than living, breathing pieces of defecating meat fit for nothing but extinction and Death Atlas, their eighth full-length, is a culminating call for self-destruction and human extinction on a scale previously unknown. Even the Greta Thunbergs of the world aren't urgent enough for Cattle Decapitation's (hopefully) rhetorical stance here; it's too late for paper straws, kill yourself for the good of the planet! Obviously this is plain nuts and deserving of as much ridicule as the wackier depressive black metal bands but the environment is a hot topic at the moment and wherever you stand on global warming, be it full religious Greta-philia or cantankerous denial (or even those of us in the middle, wondering why no-one is asking the Chinese to stop throwing plastic in the ocean) it's a hard-hitting theme that resonates more than the usual serial killers and gore, and unlike some political bands, hard to ignore when it's so integrated into the music. Cattle Decapitation really go all-in on the topic and make this something of a concept album, with (dull) interludes of newsreaders reporting and Phish drummer Jon Fishman providing spoken word on the imminent mass extinction of man, between the death metal songs shrieking at you about how awful your mere existence is.

The bad news is that even if you're able to ignore that, Death Atlas has its issues. The band have shifted gears away from technical death/grind towards an epic but simpler blackened death (think less Cephalic Carnage in the formula and more Dimmu Borgir) with a fine sense of melody but less so when it comes to songwriting. Songs like The Geocide chug along relentlessly but enjoyably, mostly using the vocals well especially the eerie sort-of-clean screeches of Travis Ryan that have become a signature style of the band even though they're used far too much and a little predictably at points. They're not so much sung as spewed forth, and are completely unforgettable if this is your first time hearing them (and if it is, you'll likely enjoy this album far more than those familiar with the band). As the galloping Be Still Our Bleeding Hearts alone proves Cattle Decapitation are a more than solid extreme metal band but where the album stumbles is that there isn't anywhere near as much variety as usual, the general blackened vibe effective in small doses but feeling samey across a near hour-long listen, even if you're reading along with the lyrics and following the concept.

Rather than the death metal heights of past albums, what mostly comes to mind is the blackened burble of later Anaal Nathrakh, less concerned with killer riffs than the general apocalyptic vibe that scours your ears but doesn't do enough to distinguish itself from the surroundings. When the band's past grind-y triumphs are allowed to unearth their buried heads, such as the razor-sharp opening to One Day Closer to the End of the World or the exciting death metal construction that is Bring Back the Plague, one of the few tracks where the band's melodic sensibilities combine with those spewed cleans to results as genuinely spine-tingling as intended. And there's even one of the best breakdowns you'll hear in years! Yet otherwise, even the shorter, snappier likes of Finish Them rely a little too much on chugging when a bit more adventurousness in riff choice would have terrific results - listening to the shorter pieces on this year's Nile album and comparing and contrasting shows Cattle Decapitation's compositional skills up considerably.

Still, everything is played very well (especially David McGraw's drums) the tension is stored and released adequately on late album cuts like With All Disrespect and Time's Cruel Curtain, the latter one of the best blackened tunes present, and the nine-minute title track proves that when the band allow themselves space to expand they can fill it well, shifting towards a more mid-period Aborted style of necksnapping death metal with melodic death influence, and ending with an oddly gothic clean-sung section that approaches doom metal pacing, echoing female vocals giving things an intriguing Dead Can Dance-esque touch. Others may find the overarching theme and preachiness of the album less cloying and even if you agree wholeheartedly with the sub-Malthusian self-hatred being preached, you would be forgiven for skipping oddly ineffective interludes like The Unerasable Past and both parts of The Great Dying, which sap the album's energy and drag otherwise decent death metal songs down. As much as it is repetitive and unsatisfying when compared with previous Cattle Decapitations, Death Atlas still has moments where all aligns and the insane pleading resonates as your gaze drops down the barrel of the gun in humanity's mouth, extinction facing us all. Don't forget to recycle!

Killing Songs :
Be Still Our Bleeding Hearts, Bring Back the Plague, Death Atlas
Goat quoted 70 / 100
Other albums by Cattle Decapitation that we have reviewed:
Cattle Decapitation - The Anthropocene Extinction reviewed by Goat and quoted 82 / 100
Cattle Decapitation - Monolith Of Inhumanity reviewed by Goat and quoted 91 / 100
Cattle Decapitation - Humanure reviewed by Crash and quoted 84 / 100
Cattle Decapitation - The Harvest Floor reviewed by Goat and quoted 85 / 100
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