Sometimes we just feel like straight-up murdering someone. You might say, “Hell no, I am a good, upstanding human being. I’d never!” But don’t give me that hoopla. You’ve felt it. You might very well never do such a thing. We’ve all said, in our minds, “I can’t believe he did that thing to me! I’m gonna kill that bastard!”, or something of the like. But it’s through finding a release for those atrocious emotions that we end up NOT doing such things. We find ways to exorcize these animalistic urges, some through meditation, some through physical exercise, some through mantras, etc. Sometimes it’s other people’s mantras that help us. And I’ll be goddamned if Chris Barnes wasn’t the king of murderous mantras back in 1994.
As a rabid death metal and horror fanatic who was right there with the burgeoning scene as metal branched out to proclaim villainy to the masses, the portrayal of such villainy means more than rebellion to this writer. The portrayal didn’t only show there were things to fear, but things not to fear. The portrayal (and I will be using that word a lot here, as there is a much-needed distinction to focus upon) of horrid things within the loud-and-proud sect of metalheads, metalheads adopting the horror movie and true crime mindset, meant something more in the blissful 90s. It meant that the monsters in our closets from our recent years as children were now our friends. For many of us with less than a decade of metaldom under our (bullet?) belts in 1994, the more blatant portrayal of villainy and horror that the extreme metal scene was exhibiting was just a confirmation that what we were friends with our monsters. They were there for us. This was a comfort.
Without going too far into principals of taking in this form of music, or how to do so discernibly, I’ll just get into the entertainment factor of this particular release, making it a given that it is, in fact, quite offensive. The big point here is that this is entertainment. And The Bleeding is bloody entertaining. I have personally had hours upon hours of fun with this release. So, let’s get on to the music.
Following the success of 1992’s Tomb Of The Mutilated, thanks to loving press (he says, sarcastically), bannings, and even a certain Jim Carrey, the band were on a roll. Trading one Rob for another – as Rob Rusay was replaced by Rob Barrett on guitar – didn’t seem to hinder the band’s momentum, as it seemed songwriting became an even greater focus. “Staring Through The Eyes Of The Dead” comes in full swing, boasting a full, thick production – one quite dissimilar from Tomb’s scooped, flat wallop. There’s an oppressive, organic feel from the start, and when Barnes’ vocals come in, it’s like a giant vacuum opens up on blow-mode. The drastic, dire vibe of the song’s topic (being helpless to move as surgeons perform an autopsy on you) is delivered exquisitely through morbid hammer-on/pull-off riffs and tense pacing. But of course, a mere living autopsy is the mildest of subjects presented…
“Fucked With A Knife” (I told you so) follows in a frantic fashion, sordid notes flying toward a verse narrated by an inhuman growl, confessing exactly how the song’s title is carried out. Cannibal Corpse were obviously attempting to still be the world’s sickest band, and doing a damn good job at being prime candidates. And despite the profane nature of such a title, it’s by this time we realize (given one is already familiar with the band’s previous material) that the structuring this time has been shifted to a more verse/chorus direction. This almost makes the brutal subject-matter even more macabre, as such topics being sing-song just feels plain filthy. And the more frequent appearance of Barnes’ high, sickly goblin voice certainly adds to the gruesome feel.
Now…seeing that I’m about to talk about one of Cannibal Corpse’s most popular tracks (I’m not going to make this review a track-by-track, but this third track is significant), I need to just state something that I’ve said many times. MUSIC gets picked on. If anything taboo passes through the lips of a vocalist, that statement – that portrayal (there’s that word again) of a character within a situation – gets taken as a threat, an advocation, as gospel. Unlike fiction novels, true-crime retellings, films, or plays, these things are taken with the utmost of sincerity by the masses. In the case of The Bleeding‘s most recalled song, “Stripped, Raped, And Strangled,” it’s these other mediums that need to be taken into account before one damns the band with agape jaws. Take into account the films, or the novels, or plays with similar situations as Chris Barnes describes in this song. Sure, movies and books have suffered backlash, but certainly not as severely as music has. So, now that I’ve got that metalhead apologist rhetoric out of the way, I’d like to get back to the music now, thank you very much.
With as accessible of a groove as Cannibal Corpse has ever had, the song chugs with a foreboding sincerity, and when Barnes comes in with a new grunting style declaring, “They think they know who I am, All they know is I love to kill, Face Down, Dead on the ground, Find me before another is found,” it’s both apparent there’s a future “hit” on the band’s hands, and that true-crime subject matter is being touched upon. When the vocals shift back to the customary Hoover-growl, the groove is complemented by Paul Mazurkiewicz’s rolling double bass and accentuating snare hits. Before the song ends up feeling a bit too simplistic in structure, the band’s usage of frantic tapping within the riffs break the groove into scattered flurries of extreme metal history. These type of riffs have since become a legendary staple of the Cannibal Corpse sound, and work their best in this very song.
It’s by this time in the album we understand just what The Bleeding has to offer. This release is just as extreme as their previous offerings (save for the milder-by-comparison cover art, given you even get to see it, as even this one had a censored version), yet simultaneously more accessible. Going forward, the verse/chorus structuring is glaringly apparent, and earworms (or skull-maggots?) embed themselves firmly. Atrocious situations are described to us through unapologetic lyrical content, depicting bleeding mouths full of broken glass, mutilated crotches, axes in backs, knives in necks, and many other lovely scenarios. This time, however, there is a more metaphysical leaning (“She Was Asking For It,” “Return To Flesh”), making the ominous melodic lines chill to the bone. These parts combine to hint at a musical maturity not heard from the band before if “maturity” can even be the word used here. The point is that there’s a diverse – even moody – Cannibal Corpse album here. That idea would have been unheard of before the release of The Bleeding.
This release would be the end of an era for the band, an era to be looked upon in retrospect with fondness, disdain, and nostalgia. This would be the final release with original vocalist Chris Barnes, his ground-breaking, ultra-low growling to be etched in history as at its best on this album. What would follow is another story, both for Barnes, and for the band. Personally, I think The Bleeding is a one-of-a-kind album, and I hold it high in my rankings of the death metal classics.