Comprised of a line-up featuring a combined membership of various high profile bands, including Iron Reagan, Gatecreeper, Municipal Waste, and Six Feet Under, perpetual pun machine Cannabis Corpse have risen beyond pure parody status to forge their own identity in the death metal underground. Paying tribute to their slightly tweaked namesake, specifically the Barnes-era, and the ’90s Floridian death metal scene at large, remains the band’s weed bread and hash butter. And while their shtick and style may be too silly and derivative for some, albums like Beneath Grow Lights Thou Shalt Rise and From Wisdom to Baked displayed impressive songwriting chops and a slightly modernized take on their devoted old-school sound. Importantly, these albums were not disposable but rather fun, well-crafted death metal albums in their own right. Now back with fourth LP, Left Hand Pass, Cannabis Corpse are out to disorient skeptical listeners with their thick, resiny brand of chunky, tongue-in-cheek death.
All is good in the Cannabis Corpse camp, even though nothing much has changed with how the veteran collective go about their business. They still possess a knack of writing entertaining, meat and potatoes death metal songs, featuring lively song-writing dynamics within their set format, expressively gruff vocals from Phil “Landphil” Hall, solid musicianship, ample grooves and dashing old school solos. Then you have the typical array of twisted tales, inventive song titles, and delicious puns to enjoy. “The 420th Crusade” comes fully loaded with a potently dynamic blend of accessible brutality, catchy riffs, and tons of enthusiasm delivered with typically energetic and beefy execution. The barnstorming groove that follows a rousing solo slams home solid early momentum. It also largely sets the tone for the songs to come, most of which are able to stand on their own two feet identity-wise, a strong testament to the Cannabis Corpse knack of hooky song-writing and death metal that keeps things relatively straightforward but structurally interesting.
Of course, if you’ve heard Cannabis Corpse before there are no massive surprises, but the band delivers a tight batch of consistently solid songs. I guess the most endearing aspect of Cannabis Corpse is how much pure fun they bring to the equation. In troubled times in which we live, along with the overly serious and grim nature that accompanies a lot of extreme metal, it’s always a refreshing detour to jam an album from Cannabis Corpse, and Left Hand Pass is no exception. Pretty much every song satisfies to a certain degree, although the mix between good and very good songs balances out to give the album a solid grade, rather than reaching elite heights. “In Battle There Is No Pot” rollicks, bludgeons and blasts, led by some of the album’s strongest headbangable moments and a powerhouse vocal performance, including a few blackened variations, from the always entertaining Landphil. The killer guitar tone comes to the fore again during the opening of the thrashy “Grass Obliteration,” before the band blaze through some of the faster, most invigorating passages of the album. Naturally, the slowed down, thick grooves bring considerable weight, tastefully topped off by a short, caterwauling solo. These a couple of the strongest cuts but even the weaker tracks a still mildly entertaining.
Individually speaking, performances are solid across the board. I’ve already touched on Landphil’s performance and he’s a formidable force behind the mic, putting the much maligned original frontman of their biggest influence to shame. Not to be easily outshined, guitarist Ray Suhy wields his axe forcefully with catchy, no-nonsense riffing, with his more dexterous leads and solos offering tasteful melodic counterpoints. Meanwhile, drummer Josh “Hallhammer” Hall doesn’t try to be flashy or overly technical but brings truckloads of exuberance and creativity to the fold. Left Hand Pass definitely has a ’90s flavor in both style and sound, but the production has enough balls and modern embellishments to place it in the here and now. The mix is solid and each instrument features adequate oomph to compliment the band’s hefty delivery.
Discount Cannabis Corpse at your own peril. This is a band worthy of attention and despite the ease in which people might write off Cannabis Corpse as just another disposable parody band, in reality, they rise far above this narrow-minded misconception. Left Hand Pass won’t shake up too many end-of-year lists, nor is it their best effort, but it’s a sheer blast to listen to, and sometimes that’s a perfectly satisfying craving worth indulging in.