Artist: Cattle Decapitation
Album Title: Terrasite
Label: Metal Blade Records
Date of Release: 12 May 2023
What the hell is up with that cover artwork? For the most part it is great, but the face of that creature is…well…odd. I know what Cattle Decapitation are trying to do, or at least I think I do. They are trying to create a parasite with a humanlike appearance, emerging from a cocoon, reborn. It is, I believe, a comment on the state of the world, of humankind, and also a metaphor for the rebirth of the band, if the quotes in the press release are anything to go by. It’s a great idea. Unfortunately, the end result is a little comedic, and serves to slightly undermine the important points that the band are making here – it wouldn’t be Cattle Decapitation if they didn’t have something important to say.
In terms of the negatives, that’s about it, though, because we are once again in the presence of greatness, in the shadow of a band that arguably have no peers. With the technical abilities of the musicians, the vocal absurdities of Travis Ryan, their collective songwriting skills, and potent lyrical content, there isn’t another band out there that quite does what this Californian quintet do. And that’s to create grindcore like no other. In fact, their output is no longer pure grindcore, and hasn’t been for some time. Cattle Decapitation of recent years is better described as progressive, melodic deathgrind, and once again, they return to set fire to our ears as only they can.
I was blown away by ‘The Anthropocene Extinction’ back in 2015 but somehow missed ‘Death Atlas’ when it was released four years later. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice and so I have been glued to ‘Terrasite’, the vegan five-piece’s tenth full-length meat-free platter for some considerable time now.
Thank goodness I have, too, because this is not the kind of album that you can listen to once or twice and expect to fully understand it. It takes time, it takes effort, and it takes a certain masochistic streak, too, because this is music that’ll butcher you, as soon as look at you. Vitriolic, violent, angry, and incredibly incendiary are descriptors that are not out of place when discussing the music on ‘Terrasite’. For all of their experimentation over the years, and gradual move away from what we all consider to be ‘typical’ grindcore, Cattle Decapitation have lost none of their savagery.
To illustrate this point, you need look no further than the second track, ‘We Eat Our Young’. It’s the swiftest song on the album at just under four minutes, but it starts off with a blitz of blastbeats from drummer David McGraw, incisive and heavy riffing from guitarists Josh Elmore and Belisario Dimuzio, and the kind of frenzied vocal performance that we have come to expect from long-time vocalist Travis Ryan. Deep growls spit venom, higher-pitched screams attempt to pierce eardrums, and the lowest notes are so low, that they sound like they’ve been dragged across the gravel and poured over with tar. The latter stages of the song shift the dynamic ever so slightly, so that whilst there are still insane blastbeats, the riffs are slower, chunkier, and groovier, punctuating the repeated vocal that echoes the song title.
But not all 52 minutes of the record can be referenced in such a way, though, because as we have seen from past albums, Cattle Decapitation are keen to evolve, try new things, and generally experiment with their brutal outpourings. As such, within the sonic devastation, we hear quieter passages of introspection, we hear lead guitar solos, some of which are actually melodically charged, we hear strong melody within some of the compositions, including a chorus or two that could be classed as catchy. Make no mistake, the music is still heavy as all hell, but it is punctuated by ingredients that make the overall experience so much more than simply an unadulterated aural bruising. For my tastes, I cannot explain how edifying all of this makes ‘Terrasite’ as a result.
One of my earliest favourites on the album emerges in the form of ‘Scourge Of The Offspring’. It begins with some great, flamboyant drumming, meaty bass playing from Olivier Pinard, and it takes a while to settle into something a little more overtly structured. It’s fast and nasty for the first couple of minutes, but then there’s a brief pause before melody is introduced via an even faster, more epic-sounding chorus, complete with synths courtesy of Tony Parker (Midnight Odyssey). It’s the first time we hear those unique anguished quasi-screams of Ryan, and I’m elated to hear them because there’s something so special about the marriage between these tortured vocals and the thunderous melody that accompanies them. I really enjoy the slow groove that then sees the song to its conclusion, as it adds yet more variety to an already incredible track.
The vocal variety within ‘The Insignificants’ is superb also. Not only do we get some of the deepest, lowest gargled growls, but the latter stages see Ryan engage in some clean, plaintive signing. This approach carries with it a sense of frustration and inevitability, brought more to life by a soundtrack that’s much more cinematic in scope, more dramatic in terms of the dark atmospheres it creates, almost effortlessly.
The sense of desolation and hopelessness that pervades the magnificent ‘…And The World Will Go On Without You’ is unmistakeable, and so very powerful. Those agonised, distorted cleans once again send shivers down my spine, accenting the sense of despair so overt within this composition. Meanwhile, ‘A Photic Doom’ sees Ryan favouring more of his higher-pitched rasps, arguably my least favourite of his deliveries, but it remains a great song nonetheless, thanks a great lead solo from Josh Elmore, and to some of the most potent musicianship used to create an almost impenetrable wall of sound, a cinematic dystopian apocalypse unfolding in front of us.
If you thought the album couldn’t get any better, then prepare to be proved incredibly wrong. ‘Dead End Residents’ offers the first slab of brilliance that sees melody blending with lurching, start-stop groove to great effect. ‘Solastalgia’ follows and, if anything, provides my absolute favourite five minutes on ‘Terrasite’. It begins at warp speed but has a progressive feel to it at the same time. The otherworldly cinematic grandeur returns, as drummer McGraw and then bassist Pinard take turns in the limelight. There’s a sense that something is building and this ‘something’ emerges at the half-way stage in the form of some of the most epic, memorable, and stunning melody on the album.
Closing track ‘Just Another Body’ brings the talents of Tony Parker to the fore, particularly at the outset as the piano notes are dripping with melancholy, as is the ensuing soundscape that remains until heavier climes return after a couple of minutes or more. This final onslaught really does underline the darkness and the challenges that the band have apparently faced over the last few years, and its mournful vibe even at its heaviest is inescapable. Nowhere is this more evident than when Ryan once again unleashes his pure clean vocals, this time laced with genuine fragility. But, in my opinion, this is an element to be hugely applauded, not to be derided; it’s an honest appraisal of the band and the headspace in which they found themselves whilst writing this album.
As I sit and write this conclusion with the final minutes of ‘Just Another Body’ blasting out within the Mansion Of Much Metal, I am very much of the opinion that ‘Terrasite’ might be the best record that Cattle Decapitation have ever released. Given their previous offerings, that’s a bold statement, I grant you. However, there’s something about it, that pulls me towards this conclusion. It’s the way in which the band have managed to pulverise us yet again, whilst also showing us their vulnerabilities and their honest selves in the process. To me, that’s brave, but it has also created a stunning album of extreme metal in the process. What more could you ever want? In my case, nothing. Nothing at all.
The Score of Much Metal: 93%