Album review: Cannibal Corpse – Chaos Horrific
Chaos terrific! Death metal gorelords Cannibal Corpse keep the blood flowing on reassuringly gutsy 16th album…
When one thinks of death metal, the band their mind immediately conjures is Cannibal Corpse. With their undeniably punishing sound, their offensively violent subject matter and album art (the latter courtesy of the inimitable Vincent Locke), and their complete dedication to playing straightforward brutal death metal, the Tampa-cum-Buffalo quintet have easily become the genre's most identifiable act. But true fans know that more than anything, Cannibal Corpse are backed up by their incredible body of work, with fourteen studios releases cataloging a musical progression that has somehow never strayed from the path of sonic mass murder.
Staring down the Cannibal Corpse discography is as intimidating as facing off against a towering masked man with a meat cleaver in his hand and a tent in his pants. But while there are really no bad Cannibal albums, one must admit that some of their records are superior to others. So we decided to rank the band's full-lengths in order of greatness, if only to see which body ends up at top of the pile.
Let the slaughter begin...
The Wretched Spawn has some killer tracks on it, and Decency Defiled is as close to a straight-up radio single as Cannibal Corpse will ever write. But the production seems oddly smooth and quiet for the band, especially the drums, which don’t pop and throttle the way they should for brutal death metal. The cover, too, lacks direction, seemingly calling back previous albums like Butchered At Birth and Bloodthirst, but never honing in on a specific theme. Not a bad album by any means, but sometimes gross and pissed-off simply aren’t enough.
Though it contains one of the best Cannibal Corpse singalong lyrics of all time -- “FIRE UP THE CHAINSAW! HACK THEIR FUCKING HEADS OFF!” -- A Skeletal Domain feels oddly dettached from Cannibal Corpse’s catalog. Maybe it’s the “dry” cover, which focuses on skeletons rather than the band’s traditional dripping gore and fleshy zombies. Or maybe it's the production shift from Erik Rutan to Mark Lewis, who gave the album a more traditionally “metal” sound. Either way, A Skeletal Domain, while certainly killer, doesn’t slay quite as much as the other albums on Corpse catalog.
The turn of the millennium saw Cannibal Corpse becoming less of a musical novelty and more of a weathered subterranean act. Ace Ventura was officially in the past, George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher had settled into the band, and more progressive death metal fans were quick to cite how Cannibal just “did the same thing on every album." As such, 1999’s Bloodthirst is rad in parts but feels a little aimless overall, and lacks the strange, creeping nuance that other Corpse albums are bursting with. That said, this release helped entrench the band in the hard-working underground, proving that they were more than just something to gross out your buddies with.
Coming off of 2006’s Kill, Cannibal Corpse had reestablished themselves as a band to be reckoned with, and charged forward into Evisceration Plague. Strangely enough, though Erik Rutan returned to produce the album, it feels distinctly less furious than its predecessor, and Vincent Locke’s questionable choices for the cover art make it a slightly confusing addition to the band’s overwhelming roster. At the same time, the left turns the band takes on Evisceration are admirable, and the album’s title track is a perfect bludgeoner that will forever remain a highlight of the Cannibal live set.
What makes 2012’s Torture stand out from other latter-day Cannibal Corpse albums is its stomp. While the faster songs on the album are solid enough, it’s the pneumatic punishment of As Deep As the Knife Will Go and the un-fucking-beatable chug of Scourge Of Iron that will forever keep it relevant in the ears of death metal’s fans. Also worth examining is how it sees the band getting thematically acrobatic, with songs like Intestinal Crank and Followed Home Then Killed going down weird, eerie roads (though they always end in a dead body). There are only so many fast tracks about getting stabbed that one band can write before they need to branch out.
The first Cannibal Corpse album to feature Corpsegrinder on vocals, Vile’s a weird one--and that’s to its credit. Though the band’s sound had beguns to enter the horrific, kinetic tone that it would champion from here on, on Vile it retains some of the insulated basement-track production of Cannibal’s early releases. The mixture of fast-paced numbers like Mummified In Barbed Wire and uncommonly slow tracks like Bloodlands confused some fans, but shows the band taking awesome risks that would pay off in their evolution. And then, there’s the cover, arguably Vincent Locke’s masterpiece and perhaps the greatest example of an album's art matching its title.
To have their newest album so far down this career-spanning list speaks to what a well-oiled machine Cannibal Corpse has become. Though in certain ways unorthodox, Cannibal’s 14th album is a delicious goddamn maelstrom, and opens with a near perfect one-two-three punch -- Only One Will Die, the juggernaut of a title track, and the strange, brooding Code Of The Slashers. On top of that, Erik Rutan’s perfected production style and Vincent Locke’s first victim’s-eye-view album cover sees the most violent band on earth only getting more brutal with age. Indisputable proof that the blade has never been dulled.
It might be hard clearly to hear over the groaning of purists seeing Cannibal Corpse’s debut this far up the list, but actually listen to Eaten Back To Life and you’ll hear an incredible old-school death metal record by a killer band...who just aren’t there yet. No shame in that--they were kids when this one came out! As far as death metal debuts go, Eaten is an incredible record, full of wily guitars and Chris Barnes' patented hoarse growl, and for fans of that classic Scott Burns sound, this record can’t be beat. But in the long line-up of Cannibal Corpse’s discography, Eaten is more about how much promise you can hear on it than it is about death metal mastery.
There’s a good reason 2002’s Gore Obsessed is criminally underrated: it wasn’t on anyone’s radar. In 2002, everyone was drooling over Killswitch Engage and Soilwork, hoping to recover from nu-metal’s macho simplicity with progression and emotional gravitas. And Cannibal Corpse, death metal's most reliable band? They were writing one of their most grinding, technical, misanthropic albums of their career, and adorning it with one of the most utterly insane covers of all time (a cape of faces, people). Not many surface-level listeners will know this studio release very well, but yell, “HAAAATCHEEET” in a room full of diehard fans, and you’ll start a growl-along that'll bring down the house.
On Corpsegrinder’s second album with the band, Cannibal steadied their footing, updated their production sound, and came out swinging. Gallery Of Suicide sees the band touching on the powerful, hard-hitting sound they’d later champion, but still experimenting with a gnarly, acidic guitar tone that attacks the listener rather than just moves their head up and down. This album comes out of the gate with knife in hand on I Will Kill You, and then swings dramatically from patented death marches like Sentenced To Burn to the jaunty experimental numbers like instrumental From Skin To Liquid, finally closing with the bone-crushing blast of Crushing The Despised. A strange gem buried right in the middle of fourteen gallons of guts.
In many ways, The Bleeding is Cannibal Corpse’s “mainstream” album (as mainstream as dudes who sing about entrails being ripped from cunts get, anyway), in that it probably contains the most songs of any CC album that fans will know offhand. This makes sense -- the records came out right after Tomb Of The Mutilated and the band’s infamous appearance in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, so it was written and released at the height of their first wave of renown. Stripped, Raped, And Strangled is in many ways the band’s most accessible song, while Staring Through The Eyes Of The Dead and the title track are live staples. At the same time, it’s hard to argue that this album is anything but pure brutal death metal -- the guitar tone on The Bleeding seethes, and if your most presentable album includes a song called Fucked With A Knife on it, it's pretty obvious you’re not trying to break through on Top 40 radio.
Even if one ignores the timeless, unstoppable assault of opener Hammer Smashed Face, 1992’s Tomb Of The Mutilated is one of Cannibal Corpse’s finest moments. Its production is extremely biting, Barnes's vocal output is horrifically indecipherable, and its lyrical content is so repugnant that it transcends simple VHS horror and becomes a sort of poetic exercise in overkill (Necropedophile? Are you fucking kidding me?). All of this, paired with Vincent Locke’s bizarrely amorous cover art, officially presented the world in 1992 with an unspeakable concept: what is death metal required creativity? What if Cannibal Corpse -- God helps us -- were artists?
You would be hard-pressed to find a more perfect modern death metal album than 2006’s Kill. From the band’s urgent guitars, to Erik Rutan’s vibrant production, to Corpsegrinder’s infuriated bark, to the beautifully simple album title, to Vincent Locke’s insanely detailed leering madman art, this one has it all. Tracks like Death Walking Terror, Necrosadistic Warning, and the insane whirlwind of The Time To Kill Is Now somehow reinvented the band while simultaneously never straying from their formula. That it marked a new era of both Cannibal’s musical style and popularity among fans now seems obvious, but at the time no one could’ve guessed that the band would reconquer the throne as mercilessly as they did with Kill. The message on this album is clear: make them suffer, forever.
Just...disgusting. While some bands have a sophomore slump, Cannibal Corpse used their second album to up the ante on everything that made them unique. On Butchered At Birth, the band’s riffs and song structure are bizarre and wonky, their production is simultaneously buried and harsh, and their subject matter trades typical horror fodder for more upsetting, psychologically-loaded imagery and topics. Every track on the album, from the rippling aggression of Meat Hook Sodomy to the homicidal gallop of Innards Decay, is an unorthodox yet deeply satisfying piece of blood-drenched death metal perfection. The cover art and quote from the murderous Gilles De Rais featured in the record’s booklet speak to the band’s total dedication to repulsing anyone who came in contact with them. No words can accurately describe the hideous, gut-ripping power of Butchered At Birth -- you just have to experience it yourself, and try not to puke while doing so.
Chaos terrific! Death metal gorelords Cannibal Corpse keep the blood flowing on reassuringly gutsy 16th album…
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