Wretched’s thrash-influenced yet unmistakably modern take on death metal puts them in an interesting position between extremity and accessibility. By mixing thrashy riffing with top-notch melodic death metal in the vein of Black Dahlia Murder and Arsis and paying tribute to, though never falling victim to, metalcore tropes, their last three albums have been of a consistently high quality and the band has never failed to impress. 2012’s Son of Perdition saw the band moving in a more brutal direction, but since then the band has been slightly restructured, welcoming Glass Casket’s Adam Cody on vocals, and new bassist Andrew Grevey. Despite the changes, Cannibal shows Wretched again at the top of their game, delivering great tracks, catchy leads, and impressive performances with all the panache expected of such a dependably tight group. But instead of following through entirely with their tried and true methods, things are a little bit different this time around. Their previously apparent metalcore influence has taken a back seat to create a more solidly death metal sound, still tied to thrash while continuously experimenting with odd sounds and interesting takes on genre clichés.
One only needs hear “Calloused” or “Cranial Infestation” to understand how Cannibal tastes, but after that appetizer, it’s doubtful that anyone would push away the full meal. “Calloused” is one of the more straightforward songs, but it constantly plays with expectations, tweaking chords and riffs slightly out of shape to create something of a stylized sound. The chord progression near the end seems like one straight out of the melodeath canon, but a twinge of dissonance in the final chord shifts it into the foreground, making the song not only catchy but very memorable. Later in the album, “Cranial Infestation” showcases bassist Andrew Grevey’s chops in the album’s obligatory killer bass riff, leading into the biggest, catchiest melody Cannibal has to offer. Though “Cranial Infestation” is a peak, the album is plenty mountainous after it. “Wetiko,” “To the Flies” and “Engulfed in Lethargy” carry the album to an appropriate end, each with its own personality and memorable elements, and all are a bit proggier than the first half of the album, finding company amongst Obscura and Fallujah. Even though they borrow bits from other bands, Wretched’s imprint is all over them.
Not content with packing in good songs, Wretched has upped the ante for this album by continuously experimenting with more dissonant leads built on a raspy guitar tone. The brief instrumental “L’appel du Vide” focuses on this sort of tone entirely, while other songs like “Thin Skinned,” which also sports a very odd midsection, and “Cranial Infestation” use it where one might expect a very clean lead guitar sound. The use of this nails-on-chalkboard guitar tone throughout the album not only solidifies the material, but makes it unique among Wretched’s growing discography. Cannibal constantly feels just the slightest bit dangerous, and that’s something hard to bring out in tech-death that’s this polished.
And polished it is. The production is pretty standard, just as loud as one would expect, but well-balanced. While the bass is for the most part less than prominent, it’s not completely buried and the more intricate basslines can be heard well beneath the guitars, which are crunchy, yet clear and tight. The only complaint that I have with the mix is the high standard of the vocals. While Adam Cody has some great lungs and delivers a diverse and impressive performance on the record, complete with some very memorable lyrical lines (see the aforementioned midsection of “Thin Skinned” and “Salt Lick” in general), this band is about riffs and melody foremost, and reigning in the vocals’ volume would help focus the sound more on those elements. That being said, the vocals never truly get in the way of other performances and are actually quite interesting to listen to, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.
Cannibal sits comfortably along with the rest of Wretched’s discography and adds a bit of flair and diversity to their work at just the right time to keep the band from falling into a rut of predictability. It boasts plenty of successes, only a handful of uninteresting songs (“Gold Above Me” and “Morsel” don’t make for a very strong opening), and enough experimentation to feel a bit unsafe. It’s more of the same in a good way, and undoubtedly a frontrunner amongst this year’s tech-death albums. Death-metal- and thrash-lovers, eat your hearts out.