Throughout the years, Cattle Decapitation have crafted a unique sound in the deathgrind scene. Early works like Human Jerky and Homovore were straightforward goregrind records, but as the band joined Metal Blade, the songs got lengthier, and things veered a little more firmly into death metal territory. With each new album, Cattle Decapitation’s sound underwent significant changes, a trend that continues with this year’s Death Atlas.
If you listen to Cattle Decapitation’s major-label debut, To Serve Man, and then Death Atlas back-to-back, you can get a grasp of how much the band’s sound has evolved. Though Travis Ryan still uses guttural death growls and high-pitched shrieks, the “clean” vocals he has been flirting with since The Harvest Floor have become more prominent. I say “clean” though in reality Travis’ singing really sounds like nothing else due to its raspy quality. It’s almost as if he is using the inhaled vocal technique so often incorporated in deathgrind to get the “pig squeals” and extra guttural tones. Mixed in are some more traditional clean singing moments, as can be heard towards the end of the lengthy and somber title track. Here, rather than resorting to raspy, high-pitched vocals, Travis added a moodier baritone style that gives the song a more gothic-doom vibe.
As the vocals became more melodic, so did the guitars. This might be connected to this being the band’s first release featuring new second-guitarist Belisario Dimuzio and bass player Olivier Pinard. With two guitarists now in the ranks (fear not, Josh Elmore is still there) the band is now free to layer their sound a bit more, resulting in tracks like “Bring Back the Plague” and “Time’s Cruel Curtain,” which are some of Cattle Decapitation’s most melodic and atmospheric to date. “Bring Back the Plague” and “The Geocide” also have elements of melodic black metal, particularly noticeable in the tremolo-picked riffs and shrieking vocals.
Before any longtime fans hit the panic button with all this talk of melody and atmosphere, Cattle Decapitation still have plenty of straight up death metal riffs left in the tank, as can be heard on “Be Still Our Bleeding Hearts” and the mid-paced “Finish Them.” The bulk of the vocals on Death Atlas are still extreme death growls and shrieks, and there are plenty of brutal riffs that will have you bobbing your head. In any case, the melodic elements shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, as each record since The Harvest Floor has been trending in this direction, with Death Atlas being just the newest stage in that development. There are a lot of mid-range tones in the mix, giving the melodies plenty of room to shine though, as usual, Travis’ vocals have been given quite a boost in the mix. After all, if your vocalist is as insanely talented as he is, why not show him off?
The melodies add an extra element to Cattle Decapitation’s sonic palette, giving the songs a slightly catchier vibe, which DOES have the effect of making the overall sound a bit more accessible. The changes in sound feel like a natural progression though, and if you’ve stuck it out with the band through the last several releases, the end result is a rather rewarding listening experience. I would suggest going back and listening to the previous two or three records to see if you’re into the melodies that the band created, since Death Atlas really turns those up to 11. Overall, this is a fantastic and mature record, recorded by one of deathgrind’s most compelling and innovative acts.