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Wretched’s Cannibal: No Entrails, Just The Meat

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Wretched have flown under the radar for years, somehow separated from their peers in the modern death metal scene despite following a similar stylistic trajectory. In part, it’s due to their tenure on Victory Records, a label best known for Risecore, Hawthorne Heights, and a penchant for ripping off its artists. Perhaps the lack of support for death metal alongside the crud has stifled Wretched’s budding potential. Maybe it’s that Arsis-like ambiguity (are they melodeth? Tech-death? Death-thrash-core?) that has prevented the band from reaching a unified and receptive audience. Maybe it’s the fact that the band traded guitarists between 2012’s Son of Perdition and 2014’s Cannibal. No matter the specifics, these factors have influenced the band’s fourth full-length so much that it has lost what momentum the band had achieved with past releases: Cannibal is a proficient but unremarkable slab of grade-A Black Dahlia Murder worship.

Cannibal is a perfect example of what Vince was talking about in his articles about taking risks. A common misconception is that “taking risks” demands innovation or experimentation, and it’s understandable to be fed up with the progress-obsessed zealots: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But a risk doesn’t have to revolutionize band and genre, it just has to go beyond the core tenets of the music and sink its teeth into the details of things. Ostensible experimentation like clean sections in death metal aren’t automatically a “risk,” while a classic skank beat thrown into a black metal song at an unexpected moment can absolutely be a gamble. Risks inspire repeat listens, on record. Bands that don’t take risks can still be killer live, as is the case with bands like Wretched and The Black Dahlia Murder, but sticking to a formula of neoclassical fervor torqued with 80’s harmonic flair only goes so far on headphones.

Not to say that Cannibal doesn’t have its moments. “Salt Lick” is saturated with surprises, from Adam Cody’s raspy vocal approach to the end-time stop-and-start rhythms. Same goes for the twanging, seasick grooves and nebulous blackness in “To The Flies.” Cannibal fulfills every expectation you’d have for a modern death metal album: technical precision, whisper-clean production, layers of demonic howls, an onslaught of shredding and blast beats. But nonetheless, those moments are comfortable and familiar, not foreign. Listening to Cannibal is a bit like the death metal equivalent of turning down a night out to stay in with Netflix – you know you’ll have fun, but there’s ultimately nothing you haven’t seen and heard a million times before. And, simply put, Wretched are feeling the loss of guitarist John Vail: Son of Perdition was better.

If they continue along their current path, Wretched will continue putting out excellent albums that I will listen to once. It’s us, sure – we’ve gotten used to our evolving tastes while the band’s target demographic has stayed the same. But this is fucking death metal. I want my death metal to scare me, and not just while I’m listening to it; I don’t listen to death metal for easily recognized and replicated patterns. If any genre should be taking risks, it’s this one. Cannibal is a victim of circumstance, but it’s also symbolic of a greater issue: If Wretched want to avoid getting locked into the pattern of competent complacency, they’d best think about consuming ideas beyond their own species.

Wretched’s Cannibal comes out today on Victory Records. You can stream the entire album here and purchase it here.

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