Cannibal Corpse: the death metal band that needs no introduction. From Jim Carrey’s personal endorsement to genre defining album art and hordes of obsessive fans (not to mention at least a couple quintillion “What the neck?” memes), the New York OSDM giants haven’t just claimed the monopoly on their oft-bitten brand of murderous shredding - they’ve hammer smashed it into a gory pulp. It should come as no surprise then that Red Before Black, the group’s fourteenth studio album, does well to reinstate their chokehold on all things physically repulsive and musically intense. Equal in technical efficiency to its assertive bluntness, the band returns to their well of songwriting strengths to seemingly wring it dry, though they still manage to quell enough of their bloodthirst to make Red Before Black a winner.
In pre-release PR statements, the group made it clear that this would be a “raw” sounding album. An interesting promise from a death metal band nearly thirty years into their career, more so when their past two records have conjured up songs the likes of “High Velocity Impact Splatter” and “Encased In Concrete.” Nevertheless, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, they deliver. Returning to work with producer Erik Rutan (Kill, Evisceration Plague, Torture) was undoubtedly the right move for this album. Each instrument, with specific regards to the drums and bass guitar, escapes the more mechanical sound that haunted A Skeletal Domain and feels fuller, warmer almost - if that adjective can rightfully be applied here. Despite his vocals being a tad more muddled into the mix, George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher still stakes his claim as one of metal’s most rabid frontmen. His signature staccato bark works full throttle on “Only One Will Die,” an appropriate thrasher that throws things headlong into carnage. There is also no other voice I would want to deliver the impervious line: “All that remains/Are those that were re-maimed,” (from “Remaimed,” a particularly brutal halfway mark for the record.)
Outside of live-quality production however, one may get the feeling that the real intent of this installment in the group’s discography is simply to tune up a fresh batch of songs. The track list makes its usual rounds through the Cannibal-isms we are familiar with at this point - minor/diminished scales, Pat O’Brien’s squealing lead guitar, psychotically precise blast beats - but leaves a lot of breathing room in some spaces, for better or worse. While still present, the band focuses slightly less on constant shifts in rhythm, and instead lets each track expand and flow naturally (as heard on both the title track and the record’s debut single, “Code of the Slashers”). As a result, the songs feel much more straightforward, and do assure that your mushy face will be pounded into dust, but lose a bit of that “What the hell are they playing?”-draw that has made post-Kill Cannibal such a pleasure to listen to. The irresistible mid-tempo grooves and terrifyingly deep bass of “Firestorm Vengeance” and “Scavenger Consuming Death” should make for some crowd pleasing set pieces, and the monstrous closer “Hideous Ichor” features some of the band’s tightest and most delicate riffing to date (this track could easily be referred to in the same breath as fan favorites like “Festering in the Crypt” or “Followed Home Then Killed”). There is an unshakeable feeling of repetitiveness that rears its head throughout parts of Red Before Black though, and while the previously mentioned choice cuts will find their way into any hardcore fan’s regular playlist, certain ones like “Destroyed Without a Trace” or the title track simply fall by the wayside in comparison.
There is nothing fundamentally lacking from this album. It will shake your speakers and make the elderly flee in terror just as well as any other from the self-proclaimed “most notorious band in death metal.” As a Cannibal Corpse fan, I thoroughly enjoy the offering of bloody chunks that Red Before Black proposes. As a writer and an active listener, however, I have to make myself wonder: what comes next? Is it finally time to consider changing up that winning formula? The band is so well-established that at this point, they could rewrite the same song for the next twenty years and get away with it? But I sense that even they know when enough is enough. The three year wait for this album has held fans’ hype at a fever-pitch. I’m pleased to report that there is plenty of carnage to go around, and at the end of the day the band shares its fill, but fans expecting a splash in the pond the likes of Bloodthirst or Kill might have to wait several more years to hear Cannibal Corpse’s true return.
And what a glorious day it shall be.
Red Before Black will be released on November 3 and can be purchased on vinyl and CD formats through the Metal Blade Records website.