As has been revealed since I jumped on board AMG’s ship of steel, I’m a bit out of touch. I was once an avid underground hound, sniffing out demo tapes, vinyl, VHS bootlegs, t-shirts and floppy 7 inches (no, not that kind). I ran a print ‘zine back in 1988 and resurrected it as a web zine a decade or so later and ran with that for another ten years or so. Our fearless and often fear-inducing leader, THE Angry Metal Guy, was one of my contributors. Life, as it tends to, got in the way… work, marriage, divorce, kids, remarriage, the joys and miseries of homeownership. I lost touch with the underground, as anyone who read the comments on my review of The Haunted‘s excellent Exit Wounds now knows. As Angry Metal Guy has pointed out a few times, the underground is still in me. I’ve noticed you touting it, AMG, and I appreciate it. I never stopped listening to metal, or loving it. Now I make a living as a full time musician (not metal) and one of my singers remarked this past week, “After a show I am wiped and tired and just want to get back to the hotel in peace and quiet, but [Al] gets in the car and immediately puts on death metal, full blast.” Yep, it’s in there and it’s never going away.
Why this long rambler? There’s another tidbit that escaped me as I drifted from the pulse of the underground: among a large faction of metalheads, Cannibal Corpse has passed out of vogue. I’m fully aware of the phenomena of a band achieving a level of commercial success and no longer being considered the REAL DEAL. That everyone here wasn’t scrambling to review the new Cannibal Corpse album came as a surprise to me. I remember reading about them in the pages of old metal rags when Eaten Back to Life first came out and they were being slagged left and right. People just didn’t get death metal yet. Fast forward 24 years and bands like Clit Mutilation and Guttural Secrete have taken Corpse‘s basic formula, unimaginable back in 1990, to even more vile depths. Through lineup changes and an ever shifting extreme metal climate, Cannibal Corpse themselves maintained a standard of brutality while pushing their style to new technical heights, sometimes at the expense of the songwriting, but always with an unwavering dedication to never selling out or getting less extreme.
Me, I’ve been a Cannibal fan for a long time. I even went on the Cannibal Corpse cruise around NYC two summers ago [Known locally as the ‘Corpse in the Water Cruise’ — Steel Druhm]. The Bleeding is, in my opinion, the Reign in Blood of death metal (though, of course many would argue that Reign in Blood isn’t the Reign in Blood of thrash metal, but it is). By the time of The Bleeding they had reached an amazing peak, so when Chris Barnes was out of the band soon after, I was sorely disappointed. Vile became Cannibal Corpse‘s Sound of White Noise to me. The first album without a beloved vocalist that, to this day, I can’t get over the bias and appreciate it. This is strange, since I’ve come to realize that George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher is twice the vocalist Barnes ever was. That folks STILL take part in the Barnes vs. Corpsegrinder debate just shows what an impact those formative Cannibal albums had, even though the subsequent discography has nary a stinker among it.
So, my rambling finally brings us to A Skeletal Domain, the new Cannibal Corpse splatter platter that I, in my cocoon of life, didn’t even know was due to drop until I saw it on our promo list. How is it? It’s pure Cannibal Corpse throughout. “High Impact Velocity Spatter” opens in standard fashion, coming out of the corner and bouncing a few times before letting loose a volley of punches in the form of blast beats, frantic riffing and the frenzied vocal delivery that Corpsegrinder brought back to the fold so many years ago. I’ve found latter-day Cannibal Corpse to be at their most brutal when they slow things down a bit, like the title track to Evisceration Plague, and “Scourge of Iron” off 2012’s Torture. In that vein, the standout on A Skeletal Domain, for me, is “Kill or Become,” which alternates between a slow crushing groove and some nasty blasts and while sporting the most joyously sing-along moment of the album, “Fire up the chainsaw! Hack all their heads off! Fire up the chainsaw! Hack their fucking heads off!” Subtle? No, but then subtley has never been the Corpse‘s forte.
“The Murderer’s Pact” is a workout of articulation and finesse, especially showcasing Alex Webster’s ever impressive bass work. If there was a ‘bass hero’ in the genre, he’d certainly be it. There is some filler on this album. “Asphyxiate to Resuscitate” is an unmemorable affair that, despite having the feel of some the classic material off Butchered at Birth. Likewise, “Headlong into Carnage” is another by-the-numbers ditty that has all the trademarks of Cannibal Corpse but lacks the meat hooks to make it stick. A Skeletal Domain showcases the sound they perfected over recent years but after so much consistency, I find myself craving something that pushes the envelope they helped to shape.
A Skeletal Domain isn’t going to win over any of the band’s naysayers. All in all, it’s just another brick in the crematory wall that is Cannibal Corpse‘s legacy of gore and brutality. They’re a band that once set a new standard of depravity and pushed the envelope of death metal with catchy songwriting that made them stand out from their contemporaries and for that, we thank them. Yet, A Skeletal Domain is the first album by these veterans that feels overlong and in need of trimming. As much as their formula still works, it may be time for Cannibal Corpse to shake things up a bit. Then again, if they prefer to stick to the murder and pugilism, many will probably still embrace them with open arms as they punch us in the crotch again and again.