Friday, August 29, 2014

Cannibal Corpse – A Skeletal Domain

It seems like “Torture" was released just yesterday, but Cannibal Corpse is breaking with their recent trend of having 3 years between albums to bring us another record of gore-splattering death metal. Although the band was on a huge roll with all of their albums with Erik Rutan, “Torture” seemed like a cut above. Every track was incredibly memorable, which is a rare feat for death metal this bludgeoning. Their new album, “A Skeletal Domain”, provides 12 tracks of fantastic Cannibal Corpse tunes that do not stray from the band’s path. This album is definitely less immediate and obvious than “Torture”, but ultimately ends up being nearly as satisfying.

High Velocity Impact Spatter” kicks things off at full speed. The band rarely relents for a second over the next two tracks, both of which are incredibly brutal. “High Velocity Impact Spatter” and “Sadistic Embodiment” sound a bit technical at parts, and while I can’t be sure guitarist Pat O’Brien wrote these songs until the CD actually comes out, I’d have to imagine his influence crept in on both of these tracks. Amazingly the band manages to step things up even further for the track three. “Kill or Become” is the highlight of the album. There is nothing more satisfying in life than hearing a man named Corpsegrinder belt out the lyrics “fire up the chainsaw! Hack all their heads off!” That kind brilliant line is one only he could deliver so perfectly. Some parts of “Kill or Become” are reminiscent of “The Strangulation Chair” from the previous album, but this is the only song on the album where it feels like the band isn’t being completely original (a rare feat given how large their catalogue is at this point).

The rest of the record is not quite so straightforward. While Cannibal Corpse is not among the fastest death metal bands out there, they usually play with quite a bit of speed. By contrast, “A Skeletal Domain” feels like their most mid-paced record. Where this is really obvious is in Paul Mazurkiewicz's drumming. His playing is considerably more technical on this album than any of their others, and it is particularly noticeable in some of the slower parts where he does numerous interesting fills. With that said, there are some moments on the album where his drumming shines because of its simplicity. On the title track, for example, there is an opening section where the band isn’t playing anything particularly complicated but Paul is playing blistering fast double bass drumming. Something similar occurs later on in the album during the opening to “Funeral Cremation”, but it is something that Cannibal Corpse doesn’t do too often. It’s funny to think that a drummer steals the show on this album because Paul’s faces while playing suggests he’s about to die, and one would imagine that a drummer would be what would hold a death metal band back as they get older, but Paul’s playing is better than ever.

While Cannibal Corpse tends to stay the course with their new albums, the big change on “A Skeletal Domain” was changing producers. This is the first album with Mark Lewis at the helm. The album certainly doesn’t sound identical to the last three records with Rutan, but it also isn’t too different. Every instrument is still clear, though it feels like the drums may be a bit higher in the mix while the bass might be lower. The guitar tone is as crushing as ever; O’Brien and Rob Barrett are quite possibly the most accomplished rhythm guitarists in metal. The riffs are a never-ending test of endurance in the picking hand and finesse in the fretting hand. Their solos are chaotic with little sense but maximum carnage to them. Occasionally there is a more melodically inclined solo (such as the ones on “The Murderer’s Pact”), but they make use of plenty of dissonance. Corpsegrinder is still delivering brutal vocals. His highs seem to be a bit raspy, but they’re more than adequate. His growls are to this day unmatched in death metal in terms of both quality and enunciation. One small disappointment on “A Skeletal Domain” is Alex Webster’s performance. Make no mistake he is still crushing it in terms of his tone and his technical ability, but after the mind-blowing moment in “The Strangulation Chair” from the last record, I had hoped for something similar here. His bass playing tends to pop out whenever there are some higher tremolo-picked sections, but it doesn’t feel as unique as it did on “Torture”.

On the whole, “A Skeletal Domain” is another solid addition to the band’s discography. I don’t know that this record will be as big of a hit for the band as “Torture” was, but it’s also just not as good. At this point, all Cannibal Corpse needs to offer is 35-40 minutes of head-smashing brutality and I’ll be happy. “Torture” was a pleasant surprise, but the band is so skilled at writing death metal that they’re always going to deliver something great. The worst Cannibal Corpse record is better than 99% of death metal in existence, so anything negative that was said in this review is a reflection of the incredibly high standard I hold Cannibal Corpse to.

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"High Velocity Impact Spatter"
"Kill or Become"
"Funeral Cremation"
"Icepick Lobotomy"

Final Rating
4.5/5 or 90%. 

Written by Scott

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