Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined Review

I said it in 2017 and I’ll say it again: I fucking love Cannibal Corpse. This is a band that almost infamously represents death metal in its purist form. Opaque riffs, furious vocals and a trajectory more certain than cradle to grave. Their discography contains many a predatory précis on a genre they helped define. Yet, all too often, their name is accompanied by inexplicable eye-rolling. It is forever beyond me how any death metal aficionado can turn their nose up at an act as effective as Cannibal Corpse. But then who needs killer riffs, memorable (meat) hooks and powerhouse vocals… Fifteen albums in and Violence Unimagined is unlikely to quell any elitist unrest. But, for those of us who court the Corpse, the record provides spleen aplenty.

Cannibal Corpse have always successfully captured my attention with their ability to combine fluidity with density. Deceptive technicality and single-minded pugilism meet in the middle for a memorable experience. However, 2017’s Red Before Black was about as rote as I’ve ever heard the band. Since the much publicized circumstances surrounding the departure of longtime guitarist Pat O’Brien, death metal royalty Erik Rutan has stepped in to fill the void. While I can’t be sure just how much input he had on the writing process, his presence appears to have at least inspired a little creativity. Violence Unimagined is, by and large, business as usual. But, every now and then, a few well-honed jets of arterial spray remind us these gore hounds still know how to bare their teeth.

“Murderous Rampage” is an atypical opener, which means high energy, palsy-inducing pace and a lot of fun. Conversely, first single “Inhumane Harvest” trades in a collection of alternating tempos that recall The Bleeding‘s killing formula. Of particular note, however, is “Condemnation Contagion.” Cannibal Corpse have always matched their splatter lyrics with the appropriate musical themes but it’s rare they utilize abject melodrama. The song, whose subject matter should require no explanation, reaches a huge apex before descending into a solo that, were it 1992, would certainly belong to James Murphy. George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher’s hulking vocals sound as perpetual as ever as he thunders the apocalyptic finale. His barking turn on the brilliant “Follow the Blood” is another album highlight. As soon as he bellows “fire at will!” it’s an immediate notch on his ever-expanding belt of sing-along cacophonies.

Violence Unimagined is a definite grower. The songs have a tendency to creep in but, with repeat spins, an unfortunate trend becomes apparent. While there can be no denying that Robb Barrett and Rutan gel together, their synergy also bears oddly homogeneous fruit. I’ve spent years advocating Cannibal Corpse‘s mid-paced heft. “Death Walking Terror,” “Evisceration Plague” and “Scourge of Iron” all squarely aim hammer to face. But Violence Unimagined hews too closely to a middling tempo. Although it lends itself to “Follow the Blood” and the warped harmonies of “Bound and Burned,” it’s far too pervasive in the album’s entirety. As a result, the final throes of Violence Unimagined are hard to muster. I can’t remember a note of “Slowly Sawn,” and closer, “Cerements of the Flayed,” which is clearly conceived as a sinister finale, lacks all context thanks to the record’s pace. Even “Overtorture’s” late attempt to crack the speed limit seems like an afterthought. Especially in the wake of  “Necrogenic Resurrection’s” taught and superior firepower.

Violence Unimagined is, in many ways, a consummate Cannibal Corpse album. It lacks the barbarity of Bloodthirst or Kill and can’t keep time with the sinister buoyancy of Evisceration Plague. On the other hand, its mistakes aren’t egregious. I was once of a mind that Cannibal Corpse were approaching a junction where they may need to affect some changes. Whether it’s down to the pandemic, their lineup or both, Violence Unimagined is comfortable, but in no way staid. And for a band fifteen albums and thirty three years in, that’s no mean feat. If you enjoy death metal performed by peak professionals, then Violence Unimagined is a fine choice. For an act so infinitely imitated, only the originals can provide butchery with the same verve. To paraphrase Mille Petrozza, Cannibal Corpse‘s aim is to take many lives, the more the better they feel. The album may not be a violent revolution but it’s still a pleasure.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade Records
Websites: cannibalcorpse.bandamp.com | facebook.com/cannibalcorpse
Releases Worldwide: April 16th, 2021


Eldritch Elitist

I love Cannibal Corpse, but my history with death metal’s premier gore peddlers is quite different from that of my seasoned colleague Ferrous Beuller. Where he and countless others were born of the Corpse, made men by the Corpse, and undone by the Corpse, my obsession began in the waning months of last summer. By the time Spotify concernedly announced to me that they were my top-listened band of 2020, it could no longer be denied: Cannibal Corpse is one of my favorite bands. You can probably imagine, then, how much I was looking forward to Violence Unimagined. As my first opportunity to experience a new Cannibal Corpse record alongside fellow fans, it also has a shot at washing down the aftertaste of Red Before Black, the band’s worst showing this millennium. In that respect, Violence Unimagined is an outright success, even if a few tracks can’t quite stick the landing.

Violence Unimagined is a slower, more mature Cannibal Corpse record in the vein of Evisceration Plague, acting as a direct rebuttal to the two thrash-oriented albums which precede it. What it lacks in a singular personality, it makes up for with a tracklist of distinct compositions which bolster strong individual identities. From the techy speed of “Necrogenic Resurrection” to the churning chord progressions of “Condemnation Contagion,” Violence Unimagined‘s compositions exhibit focused intent. This prevents tracks from blurring together, and for the record’s first two thirds, the balance of raging speed and crushing grooves makes for excellent pacing. Up through the seventh track, “Follow the Blood,” Violence Unimagined feels like one of the most engaging and well rounded Cannibal Corpse records since Torture.

It’s the four tracks following “Follow the Blood,” however, where Violence Unimagined stumbles, as its compositions begin to lose character. “Bound and Burned” and “Cerements of the Flame” are themed around fire, but their uninspired mid-paced deliveries lack fire themselves. “Slowly Sawn” possesses little personality beyond its slowness; conversely, “Overtorture”’s reckless speed feels ultimately toothless. Beyond “Overtorture”’s high tempo, the back third of Violence Unimagined is plodding, an exhibition of reliable Cannibal Corpse tropes wanting for exciting songwriting ideas on which to hang themselves. A merely “okay” Cannibal Corpse song is still plenty fulfilling, so these cuts don’t exactly ruin the album, but it’s genuinely puzzling hearing all the blandest ideas packed into its closing act.

Much ado has been made about the introduction of Erik Rutan into Cannibal Corpse’s ranks, and while his songwriting contributions have not added any detectable wrinkles into the band’s distinct formula, his playing is unsurprisingly nuanced. There are several instances across Violence Unimagined where a riff is reprised at the end of a given track in an alternate variant, and discovering these variations makes repeat spins fulfilling. Corpsegrinder’s voice is, of course, fucking ageless and inimitable, hitting the target once again with his throat ripping roars. Violence Unimagined might be the best he’s sounded since Kill, with his punchy, rapid fire delivery in songs like “Necrogenic Resurrection” imitating that record’s manic personality. The whole band is in fine form, and Rutan has thankfully engineered Violence Unimagined much better than he did Red Before Black to properly showcase everyone’s talents. The guitars are somewhat lacking in clarity in the lowest notes, but otherwise this is a balanced, gritty, and punchy production.

Violence Unimagined isn’t likely to induct a new legion of Cannibal Corpse fans, nor is anyone likely to declare it their favorite of the band’s records. Its sound is a bit too “standard” Corpse, and its final tracks, while not bad, fail to land a satisfying conclusion. But most of Violence Unimagined is still a damned solid record, a helluva grower, and a better follow up to Red Before Black than I expected given Pat O’Brien’s, uh, sudden departure from the band. I’m optimistic that this record could serve as a platform upon which Cannibal Corpse can return to making great records. Even if this is the last good record the band ever puts out, good is good enough for me, at least for the moment. I’m just happy to finally be on board this particular hype train.


Rating: 3.0/5.0

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