I fucking love Cannibal Corpse. They represent a definition of that unbridled commodity requisite in death metal: sonic and conceptual brutality, boundary blasting lyricism and acute controversy. Now, in today’s landscape of ever-evolving extreme criterion, at a glance, their modus operandi may seem somewhat passé, but, frankly, you’re wrong. What they do represent, unequivocally, is a standard, and a reliable one at that. Sometimes, what we need more than anything is a paradigm to depend upon, and who am I to tell you that it shouldn’t be a group of mutilation minded, necrophagous Americans. Red Before Black is their fourteenth album, coming hot on the heels of a post-2005 winning streak that most bands, regardless of genre, would murder for. While I’ve unapologetically slobbered over every release since Kill, 2014’s A Skeletal Domain was the first record since that I didn’t immediately love, featuring an undeniable quantity of filler amidst the quality. So what’s the nutritional value going forward? Corpulent cadaver or skin and bones?
Red Before Black is a consummate Cannibal Corpse record, and it would be moronic to expect otherwise. All the hallmarks remain intact: undervalued technicality, the perpetual juggernaut that is George Fisher’s larynx and that signature propulsive assault. The album features even more of the prevalent thrash element that carved its way into its predecessor, and it’s certainly not unwelcome. As has become tradition, opener, “Only One Will Die,” makes a statement with relentless rhythms and hyper-memorable tremolos to accentuate the vocal patterns. The title track is next and its another high-speed beating wielding an indelible refrain – this is exactly what I require from this band, a bloody minded willingness to savage first, ask questions later.
One thing Cannibal Corpse exemplify is the intimate relationship metal shares with nomenclature. When I look at the track listing and see “Firestorm Vengeance” I immediately assume its quality, featuring a thick, deliberate riff that inexorably advances until breaking into an all out thrashing. To echo Al Kikuras, I’ve often found songs like “Death Walking Terror” and “Scourge of Iron” to be their heaviest, and the mid-paced nature of “Firestorm Vengeance” and “Shedding My Human Skin” are fine indulgences. The issues, however, begin to arise early. Repetition begets familiarity and having played the album a dozen times, I’m now close to the material, but there can be no denying that this was not initially the case. Unlike A Skeletal Domain, Red Before Black just doesn’t have the immediate songs that we affiliate the band with, and while much of the record is good, the kind of songwriting that gave us “Kill or Become” or all of Evisceration Plague just isn’t present. Homogenisation is alive and well here, afflicting the album’s second half in particular – going into the review, it was hard to differentiate the last few tracks, despite them being potent enough under increased scrutiny.
George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher remains the superior pugilist, with his signature rapacious delivery thundering ever on. His vocals are mixed a little lower than usual, and while I suspect it’s scientifically impossible to neuter their irrepressible nature, they do lack something of their usual impact. I also can’t help but notice a particular dearth of his blood-curdling screams; whether this is a creative choice or an inability to perform them, I’m not sure, but while their omission makes for a more uniform approach, he still manages to make his presence know.
The infamous rhythm section weaves throughout mercurial time signatures and Alex Webster’s bass is as deft as ever, but despite certain standouts like “Heads Shoveled Off” and “Scavenger Consuming Death,” the patterns are haunted by increasingly familiar shades of albums gone by. Red Before Black does, however, put a premium on heaviness – closer, “Hideous Ichor,” is riven with dense riffing and deceptive half-beats, packing enough of a punch to sate the unsavoury appetites of gore hounds near and far.
Red Before Black is a good album, and make no mistake, plenty of its material will absolutely crush live. Fervent fans of the band will no doubt enjoy the stock slaughter it greedily solicits, but more than ever, the need to alter the writing process is clear. Cannibal Corpse have followed a strict pattern for much of their career where great albums (The Bleeding, Bloodthirst) eventually give way to mediocre ones (The Wretched Spawn). On one hand, Red Before Black represents that need for revitalisation, which usually results in a stellar release; on the other, it’s still better than most, doing – often with unaccredited aplomb – exactly what it says on the tin. Namely, kill.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 272 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade Records
Websistes: cannibalcorpse.bandcamp.com | www.cannibalcorpse.net | facebook.com/cannibalcorpse
Releases Worldwide: November 3rd, 2017