Cattle Decapitation ascended to the higher echelons of the death metal pyramid with 2015’s The Anthropocene Extinction and climbed even higher in 2019 when they released their acclaimed Death Atlas LP. Album number ten brings new pressures. Can they cement their position at the top, or will they squander the moment? Metal Blade Records are certain that they house the finest extreme metal band in the world, and they might have a point after one listen to Terrasite. This is the sound of elite death metal in 2023.
Fans of the band’s earlier death-grind records will wonder what happened to the grindcore element of Cattle Decapitation, but it’s hard to deny that the black metal transgressions in their place are even better. The wind chimes and gluttonous demon creature noises of opener, ‘Terrasitic Adaptation’, are the nearest they come to an Anaal Nathrakh assault. Of course, it sounds like Cattle Decapitation. No vocalist is more recognisable in the modern scene than Travis Ryan, who roars through this song like a grizzly bear and screams in the high-pitched moments like a caterwauling animal. His unique child-like demon voice makes its first appearance towards the end in a moment of fallen angel glory. The rhythm section behind him wields its force with the precision of a laser drill.
‘We Eat Our Young’ makes you wonder how Death might have evolved if Chuck Schuldiner hadn’t died so early. You can hear his handy work in the technical chug riffs that pop up all over this record. ‘Scourge of the Offspring’ is the clear standout composition with its nod to Carcass and its willingness to experiment with dissonant panic chords. Ryan produces a strong chorus here for your gurn-face muscles, but your hands want to fret the air guitar as well. The down-picking riffs are as violent as a missile attack on the deserts of Yemen. You might even detect a forceful Lamb of God groove among the frantic footwork and grotesque vocal abrasion of ‘The Insignificants’. Listen to the Sisyphus climb of the post-chorus section – Cattle Decapitation prove that inhumane speed is not essential in death metal. ‘The Storm Upstairs’ follows it in a blood-thirsty burst of mid-tempo death-thrash. “What a time it is to be alive/ To live a selfish life/ To watch you die,” thunders Ryan in a guttural tone.
The guitarwork on this album is sensational. How easy would it be to push Travis Ryan’s vocals to the front of the mix and hide behind their charismatic presence? Not here. Josh Elmore and Belisario Dimuzio realise that creating memorable riffs is a tasteful process that involves ritual repetition. All members choose to avoid the dizzying maze of modern tech death in favour of clear song structures. And why wouldn’t you when you have a vocalist who can lead you through the likes of ‘Dead End Residents’ and ‘Solastalgia’ from a state of demented aggression to poignant self-reflection? The former pays homage to Slayer’s ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ but finds its feet in the machinery of a Decapitated groove. Your eyes will expand in the latter when you hear the choir keyboards following the might of the alt-picking guitars and bomb blast drums.
Cattle Decapitation know their time is now. They have the confidence to end Terrasite with a ten-minute death metal opera (‘Just Another Body’) built on enchanting pianos and crowned in the triumph of a misanthropic epiphany. The Sisters of Mercy-esque climax will leave you in awe as Ryan crumbles dirt between his fingers and declares, “But I, I’m just a body/ Alive but rotting/ A storm of flies/ That hides behind these eyes.” The band’s epitaph for humanity is a nihilistic one: “We are only vessels that leave a stain that lasts forever/ The toppled cup of skin that spills a poison with no half measure.”
We waited to see if the San Diego quintet could produce their fourth classic in a row, and they do not disappoint with Terrasite. It begs the question: is anyone above them on the death metal pyramid?
Release Date: 12/05/2023
Record Label: Metal Blade Records
Standout tracks: Scourge of the Offspring, The Storm Upstairs, Dead End Residents
Suggested Further Listening: Zyklon – World ov Worms (2001), Anaal Nathrakh – Vanitas (2012), Cradle of Filth – Existence is Futile (2021)