Album Review: Cannibal Corpse’s Red Before Black
I’ll be honest: Two songs in, I was ready to slap a pair of horns on this bitch and move on with my life. Another round of Cannibal Corpse Play Cannibal Corpse? I get it. This is death metal. It’s thrashy and bloodthirsty, a celebration of blunt force trauma in musical form. If you don’t like it, FOAD, and all that. Fine. But what worked in 1990 just doesn’t have teeth anymore. The world has moved on. Death metal itself has moved on. Speedy riffs and meaty growls and a pathological avoidance of melody hardly raise the pulse of toddlers these days, much less anyone who’s actually old enough to remember Tipper Gore and the Satanic Panic (that’s my new indie pop band name, so hands off). Cannibal Corpse are as dependable as a pro-life conservative who also hates contraceptives and welfare, I thought, but the synonym for all that is “predictable.” With all the deviant, next-level death-adjacent abominations to listen to this year, why in the great holy snap judgment would you need more straight-faced murder mania?
Then “Code of the Slashers” kicked in, and something inside my head shifted. Maybe it was the lumbering intro chords, allowing my ears a little respite from the rabid onslaught of the first two tracks. Maybe it was Corpsegrinder’s ultra-clear enunciation of “Next thing you know, cold steel in your face!” or the echo-pedaled line, “We’ll end your fucking life!” There’s purpose and personality here, something that transcends the obvious horror cliché that could have been.
One song later, all those idiosyncracies that set Cannibal Corpse apart from their many death obsessed peers start to flow through “Shedding My Human Skin.” That song title is objectively awesome, and Pat O’Brien’s guitar choices light up the music. Here’s a real song, a piece of music that was born out of careful writing and arranging. It’s disgusting in all the right ways.
Once these songs clicked, everything else on the album fell cleanly into place and the record became a bracing listen. “Remaimed,” “Heads Shoveled Off,” and “In the Midst of Ruin” all sport guitars that glisten like stainless steel spikes. Bass parts in “Scavenger Consuming Death” and “Destroyed Without a Trace” litter the aural field with metaphorical cadavers. “Hideous Ichor” might not follow any surprising paths at album’s close, but it continues the ten-song streak of destruction infused with personality, carrying with it the sense that these veterans are still having a blast ripping flesh and cracking crania.
[For best results, cue up Red Before Black to accompany some particularly brutal console game. I recently found (and fell in love with) Monolith’s Shadow of Mordor, and Mr. Fisher’s hoarse caw syncs perfectly with the dismayed howls of the packs of orcs I’ve dispatched over the past week.]
“Only One Will Die” and “Red Before Black” remain boring as fuck. I guess, in the context of a strong album, they take on a subdued glow by association, but don’t let them confuse you. Like a well tended mass grave, the sickest shit is buried deeper.