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Cattle Decapitation is one of those band names that just sounds ominous (remember that scene from Apocalypse Now?). Like Dying Fetus, Cephalic Carnage or Exhumed, the appellation seems to presage some punishing, deranged meditation on the wonders of torture and gore. Ah, but heavy metal is often more than meets the eye – each of the above bands have put at least an unexpected twist on their anatomical fascinations, making forays into political themes, weird humor, relatable cynicism, or – in the case of Cattle Decapitation’s latest – heartfelt environmental lament.
The Anthropocene Extinction is Cattle Decapitation’s seventh full-length album, and it finds the San Diego death-grinders further refining the epic, melodically inclined sound initiated on 2009’s The Harvest Floor and polished on 2012’s Monolith of Inhumanity. The theme is human extinction, essentially from over-manufacturing and over-consumption, as the album’s cover art rather pointedly depicts.
Fans of Cattle Decapitation’s early work might expect something like glee to follow this storyline (good riddance to bad rubbish – the human race that is!). After all, the band have been cynical misanthrope assholes (the droll, thoughtful kind) for damn near two decades now. Perhaps it is the onset of “maturity,” or perhaps just vocalist Travis Ryan’s melodic screech-sung choruses, but on Extinction it sounds like the band really do care, and are actually sad about this semi-hypothetical succumbing to junk.
Like Monolith of Inhumanity, Extinction is compositionally ambitious and terrifically tight. Guitarist Josh Elmore has invented an impressive number of riffs and melodies, and bassist Derek Engemann (who seems inaudible until you listen in a certain range) and super-fast drummer Dave McGraw lock in alongside these leads with fervor. There are lots of parts, some grinding at unbelievable speeds only to swerve on a dime, others building to epic-size hooks. On the flip side, the album’s uniform production can lead to aural fatigue, and the parade of parts can jumble up early on. For example, it is possible to get distracted and not remember where opener “Manufactured Extinct” ended, and “The Prophets of Loss” began. However, on repeated listens, the songs distinguish themselves, often through their choruses.
The lyrics are quite distinctive. And on paper they read like a bitter, misanthropic environmentalist manifesto. “Ignoring the trash heap that is our daily lives,” growls Ryan on “Not Suitable for Life.” “A disparaging wasteland, a hell on earth paradigm / extinction level living – the fate of all unwinds / too ignorant, too selfish to read the warning signs.” However, Ryan keeps the soapbox-factor down by varying his approaches almost constantly, utilizing deep growls, shrill screeches and everything in between to create and maintain his dynamic presence.
The Anthropocene Extinction is certainly a quality piece of work. The musical tightness and skill evidenced here are incredible, and the vocals and lyrics are holistically complete. Fans of Cattle Decapitation’s raw early sound might find things a bit too shiny here, and conservatives and unapologetic consumers will get annoyed with the themes, but for everyone else this is an album worth listening to, and perhaps a warning worth taking to heart.