Ah, Cannibal Corpse. The old standard of death Metal, the grand poobahs if you will, have been bursting ear drums and annoying conservative types for close to 25 years now. From line-up changes to legal challenges to bans on their music and live shows, they've whethered the storm in a world which doesn't understand them, creating a unique reputation and a rabid fan base that stretches across the globe.
2012 sees them return with their twelfth studio album, 'Torture'. After 25 years making a racket you'd be forgiven for thinking things would start to sound a bit samey. Well you'd be wrong my friend as 'Torture' has CC sounding better than ever.
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I love death Metal, but sometimes I can get a bit sick of the amount of bands who sound like carbon copies of each other. The vocals, tones and production frequently sounds the same between bands and CC have been very guilty of this in the past. Play me a handful of songs off their first four albums and I'd have a hard time picking them apart, I really would.
'Torture' is different for a few reasons. Firstly, the genesis of the album has had a massive impact on the sound. the band used to frequent Morrisound studios in Tampa, FL for all of their albums. For 'Torture', the band upped sticks and drove out into the desert, to Sonic Ranch studios in deepest, hottest Texas. I'll get to why this is significant later on.
Secondly, this is the first time since 1993's 'Tomb Of The Mutilated' that the line-up has remained the same for three albums in a row. This has clearly had a positive effect on the songwriting as things sound tighter and heavier than ever.
Opening with the wonderfully insane 'Demented Agression', things get straight down to business. The change in studio is immediately apparent. Despite the bleak and desolate surroundings (the studio is two hour's drive from anything) the mix sounds warmer. The guitars are no longer the high end fuzzy affairs they used to be and Alex Webster's obscenely brilliant bass is audible, even through a pair of iPhone headphones. George 'Corpsegrinder' Fisher's vocals are clear and have a level of power that's normally lost with the 'cookie monster' style of singing.
In fact, there are even sections where you can hear what he says, like the verses in 'Sarcophagic Frenzy' and (best be sitting down here) bits you can sing along to. I shit you not, I caught myself singing along to the chorus of 'Scourge Of Iron'. I'll wait here while you pick yourselves up off the floor...
Ok, now that we're back, the sonic improvements don't just stop with Fisher and Webster. Pat O'Brien and Rob Barrett's guitars sound thunderous. The massively improved guitar tone helps things gel together in the most enormous possible way. Take the aforementioned 'Scourge Of Iron', the majority of it is a half time stomp that makes 'Godzilla' look like a gecko in comparison. The thicker tone helps every palm mute, every tremelo note and every whacking great riff sound like a thorough beat down.
But the most noticeable improvement is when things get fast. 'As Deep As The Knife Will Go' features CC's trademark rapid fire riffing and it doesn't get lost in a wall of distortion like their older material. You really can hear everything.
O'Brien in particular has had to step up his game when it comes to the lead work on this album. For the shred heads out there, you will not be disappointed with his work with the possible exception of the solo in 'Demented Aggression', which if I'm honest sounds too much like a Slayer-esque noise fest. It's a shame because elsewhere in the album, the frenzies he works himself up into defy what human fingers should be capable of. Take the solo in 'Intestinal Crank' or the opening of 'Encased In Concrete': it just shouldn't be possible.
As the album moves on to my favourite track, 'Followed Home Then Killed' (gotta love CC song titles), things get a bit slower and a lot more menacing. Webster gets a real chance to play, walloping up and down the fretboard perfectly in sync with some massively complex and obtuse riffs. I just love that he is audible throughout the album, even when things get punishing and chaotic, such as, well, pretty much all of it, but specifically the stop start middle section of 'Caged... Contorted'. The man is an absolute master of his instrument, God knows how he manages it.
When it comes to the backbone of a death Metal band, you can't have anything short of an amazing drummer. Enter Paul Mazurkiewicz, the madness behind the insanity. Because the rest of the band have stepped up their game, he's had no choice but to raise his game accordingly. There's less of a reliance on blast beats and instead he plays as fast and as heavy as physically possible.
But it's the slower sections where he really shines. 'Scourge Of Iron' shows that drums can really be foreboding and sinister, while 'Followed Home Then Killed' shows some pounding tom work that's destined to get a mosh pit nice and lethal. The traditional death Metal syncopations and polyrhythms are in full force when things get fast and technical but it's the changes in pace where you really appreciate what Marzukiewicz can really do.
After the relatively disappointing 'Evisceration Plague', CC have pulled something spectacular out of the bag to prove that they're still the kings of the genre they popularised in the early 90s. With a solid lineup of excellent musicians and that twisted sense of humour that they're known for, CC remain as relevant and important to the death Metal scene as they ever were.
Long live the kings.
1: Demented Aggression
2: Sarcophagic Frenzy
3: Scourge Of Iron
4: Encased In Concrete
5: As Deep As The Knife Will Go
6: Intestinal Crank
7: Followed Home Then Killed
8: The Strangulation Chair
9: Caged... Contorted
10: Crucifier Avenged
12: Torn Through