When you’ve been the walking physical embodiment of straight down the line death metal for nigh on three decades, it’s inevitable that sometimes you’re going to be taken for granted. CANNIBAL CORPSE are part of the furniture in metal. They are a name known even to some outside of our community’s walls, the most perfect, fully realised image of what the essence of a death metal band is that has even been. In the deepest pits of the underground, names like MORBID ANGEL, DEATH and INCANTATION are bandied about more, but in truth no band in extreme metal (or metal period) has delivered as pure a vision for as long and as consistently as CANNIBAL CORPSE has. And with the over three year wait since 2014’s A Skeletal Domain (comparatively short for some bands but feeling like an eternity for CANNIBAL), the world was crying out for another fix, which Red Before Black provides with glee.
The thing with having such a recognisable and seemingly no frills sound for such a long time though is that rather than each record being pored over as some vast creative statement and an intrepid new chapter to be explored, two points have to be considered. The first is that records become more like taking a magnifying glass to slightly different points of the same core idea. New records tend to become characterised by certain buzz-words. A Skeletal Domain sounded as quintessentially CANNIBAL CORPSE as Red Before Black does, but while that record was surrounded by words like “dark” and “eerie”, Red Before Black is “raw” and “catchy”. And this is certainly not untrue; while catchiness has been a part of CANNIBAL CORPSE’s MO basically forever, Red Before Black is undoubtedly one of their most frenetic and frenzied releases of the past decade.
The other point is whether or not the well of quality shows any signs of running dry and in that regard, CANNIBAL CORPSE are just about beginning to defy belief in their total refusal to show any rust. The opening one-two of Only One Will Die and the title track is as relentless a pair as any in their back catalogue, wasting absolutely no time in ripping heads open. The following pair meanwhile demonstrate even more power, Shedding My Human Skin’s opening dissonance crunching into an undeniable stomper of a riff, while Code of the Slashers is arguably the finest song on offer here. Its bone-cracking two note intro riff is as much mighty groove as it is impending doom, before charging wildly into the fray with its incredibly dexterous guitar work. There’s no one refrain here quite as instantly iconic as that of A Skeletal Domain’s Kill or Become, but George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher’s blunt warning of “You make a sound, we’ll end your fucking life” is grimly satisfying. The return to Erik Rutan for production on this album means that Alex Webster’s bass doesn’t bubble up to the surface quite as much as it did on A Skeletal Domain (though when it’s allowed to take the spotlight on Scavenger Consuming Death it is glorious), but each song is a thick, impenetrable slab of concrete.
CANNIBAL CORPSE might be perceived as an almost bone-headed death metal band to those who think of themselves as being above such simple gory pleasures, but their absolute brutality and unapologetic horror aesthetic (there’s a song on this album called Heads Shoveled Off in case you were wondering what the members of this band are thinking about these days) belies a beauty, a craft and an intelligence to their songwriting. CANNIBAL CORPSE is a band of star players – Webster has a shout at being the best bass player in metal, the guitar solos are sublime, and Corpsegrinder barely even scratches the surface of his range on this album – but no one steps out of line to try and steal the show. Instead, they are the most well-oiled of machines, five supremely talented individuals locking into each riff, groove and passage with such perfect synchronicity that it’s practically unstoppable, a violent wrecking ball of precision. Their music has always been more technically adept than the likes of OBITUARY and AUTOPSY, and yet each member is so dedicated to the song that each unpredictable tempo change feels seamless and natural, doing nothing but further reinforce the hooks.
Bands have pushed further in both musical and lyrical extremity, and yet through sheer dogged consistency CANNIBAL CORPSE have refused to give up even an inch of their throne. Red Before Black is unlikely to be anyone’s absolute favourite CANNIBAL CORPSE record with the back catalogue that they have, but they are more ferocious and powerful here than any band on their fourteenth album has any right to be, and that is an achievement well worth applauding.
Red Before Black is set for release on November 3rd via Metal Blade Records.
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