Cephalic Carnage

why don't more indie rock kids like metal? Or, that is, certain types of metal?

By now, "spazz rock" is a common term to describe bands like Deerhoof and Hella that, well, spazz out, yet appeal to the mop-top-and-tight-sweater set. Similarly, "spazz metal" could describe bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan, Fantomas, or The Mass, who have the same angularity and short attention span, only with much more distortion and aggression.

Maybe it's a frequency thing. Perhaps guitars can be downtuned only so far before white belts become studded belts. Or maybe it's a hair thing. With their short hair and mostly lean frames, the Dillinger Escape Plan look like an indie rock band (albeit a somewhat menacing one), which might explain their popularity with the hipster press. Then again, Pig Destroyer have short hair, and even Stylus hasn’t reviewed them yet.

Whatever the case, Cephalic Carnage aren't likely to make it onto metacritic.com anytime soon. Despite their strong spazz factor, they're just too metal. This Denver, Colorado-based group describes their sound as “Rocky Mountain hydro-grind,” which actually sells themselves short. For the uninitiated, grindcore (grind, for short) is an extreme form of metal characterized by grunted/screamed vocals, grinding guitars (natch), and blastbeats, a style of drumming akin to being violently shaken by the shoulders while being beaten by cutlery—in time.

Cephalic Carnage can grind with the best of them, but the songs here are precise and complex, going beyond the minute-long freakouts typical for grind bands. Blasting passages frequently stop on a dime, morphing into staccato Jesus Lizard-esque riffs or clean, jazzy excursions. For such fearsome chops, there's no Rush-style excess; even the oddest of meters rock here. This is definitely an album to bang one’s head to, even if one has to count to eleven every so often.

As for the hydro part— “Piecemaker” and “Sleeprace” are full-on stoner metal, with bluesy, swinging grooves straight out of Black Sabbath. These songs are the most conventional-sounding, yet ironically end up being the most interesting simply because they’re the exception to the rule. The album's grind parts are awe-inspiring, but with so many hairpin turns and so little repetition, there's not much to latch onto. The eerie clean grooves of "Inside Out" provide a nice break, while album closer "Ontogeny of Behavior" goes from slow to mid to fast and back, with a nifty volume dip midway.

In this "grind + other stuff" ethic, Cephalic Carnage is similar to latter-day Cattle Decapitation, and, in fact, Cattle Decapitation singer Travis Ryan lends his mighty roar to "Scientific Remote Viewing." The geekiness of this song is astounding:
In 1982 a new way of spying was conceived
Using psychic warfare
They view the enemy
Divulging information as they pleased
From a new technique called
Scientific remote viewing
Yes, these are grunted and growled lyrics about military espionage using ESP. What's not to like? In a scene where "brutality" and "heaviness" are standards, Cephalic Carnage have a refreshing sense of humor. "Kill for Weed" is a paranoid tale of defending one's life against cops searching for "an ounce of buds," while "Dying Will Be the Death of Me" is a spot-on spoof of metalcore, complete with cringe-inducing clean vocals and over-the-top guitar solos. At the same time, the album's beautifully creepy artwork suggests that behind the clown's smile lie some very sharp teeth.

Despite the use of words like "spazz" and "jazzy" here, make no mistake about it: Cephalic Carnage are brutal and heavy. Maybe the downtuned thing will keep them from becoming hip. Maybe the hair thing will seal that fate. But if even one Mae Shi fan picks up this album, this review will have done its job.

Reviewed by: Cosmo Lee
Reviewed on: 2005-05-23
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