he conceptual leap from Cattle Decapitation’s 2000 sophomore album Homovore to its 2004 effort Humanure was, as the titles might suggest, rather slight: simply put, this band not only declined to endorse the consumption of animals, it also placed a heavy lyrical emphasis on depicting a reversal of fortunes that saw the cruelties of slaughter redirected at humans. Beyond this thematic fixity, however, lay a musical evolution that paralleled the transition from GodWeenSatan to Quebec, as a group whose initial charm stemmed at least in part from its off-the-cuff lo-fi antics suddenly matured into professionals.
In both cases, the evolution was met with ambivalence. While many Ween fanatics find bliss in a twenty-minute rendition of “Fluffy,” a certain sector of the audience wants nothing more than “You Fucked Up, Part 2.” Likewise with Cattle Decap: as the band underwent a dizzying series of lineup changes that saw vocalist Travis Ryan remain the only constant, it switched gears. Out went the medical-dictionary lyrics and titles, the gone-in-sixty-seconds running times, and the audio verite grindcore production; in came a more cartoonish approach (with funny cow-digesting-human cover art replacing the dangling entrails of old), expanded song structures rounded out by the introduction of a bass player, and a more traditional death metal style that sounded as if it had been recorded on more than one microphone.
In short, it was Carcass Redux. On the new Karma.Bloody.Karma Cattle Decapitation wisely avoid traipsing into a Swansong debacle, offering a few sixty-to-ninety second grinders like “One Thousand Times Decapitation” and “Bereavement” to appease old-schoolers who hoped last year’s split 7” with the pit bull-fronted Caninus signaled sonic retrenchment. Mostly, though, the band continues its progressive march forward, to generally successful effect.
For a group probably better known for its militant veganism than its actual musical identity, Cattle Decap stakes out impressive turf on Karma. Guitarist Josh Elmore, bassist Troy Oftedal, and drummer Michael Laughlin (since departed) play as tight as three on a meathook. On opening track “Unintelligent Design” Laughlin clobbers his kit with classic grindcore blastbeats, but later in the song he smoothly segues into the rolling rhythmic double-bass runs that characterize death metal. Elmore too varies his attack; the melodic detour of “Alone in the Landfill” doesn’t quite cohere with the rest of the album (the fact that it morphs into a seven-minute dirge-chant that never reaches the harrowing intensity of Humanure’s closing slaughterhouse-symphony doesn’t help), but the guitarist keeps listeners on their feet, even dropping a sharp Van Halen microsolo on “Suspended in Coprolite.”
Ryan’s lyrics, meanwhile, delivered in a low growl that periodically lurches into black-metal shrieking, continue to revel in anti-human vitriol, the key lines probably being his declaration on “Success Is . . . (Hanging by the Neck)” that “Had we stayed lichens, had intellect not been / A paradise this would be” (although “This is my dharma / Unflinchingly killing,” would also suffice, since much of the album seems narrated from an insurgent bovine perspective). While the nihilism verges on self-parody, it’s also convincingly angry and refreshingly free of the misogyny that too often intrudes onto the more congenial all-purpose misanthropy of death metal.
With Karma.Bloody.Karma, then, Cattle Decapitation have continued their trajectory of increasing professionalism, spiced it up with some nods to the underground, and arrived at a satisfying, albeit non-threatening, result. It still sounds like a blood-drenched slaughterhouse (complete with death-choke noises on “Total Gore”), only in this case one with mechanized killing replacing the sweat, meat cleavers, and offal of the early albums.
Reviewed by: Whitney Strub
Reviewed on: 2006-08-15