Photo by Phil Reyes
A PLEASANT SCENE: boaters out to do a little fishin’. They decide to go for some sharks today, ’cause you know, watersports are entertainment, and those toothy monsters can put on a show when the right bait’s on hand. Like good scouts, our fishermen have come prepared with big buckets of ground-up humans, so when the blood and guts hit the water, you’re gonna see plentiful moshing and thrashing down in the pit, believe you me.
Bait cast on the water is called chum, and the above scenario is from “Chummified,” one of the sensitive vignettes featured on Humanure, the new Metal Blade album by San Diego’s Cattle Decapitation. Of course, you won’t digest the precise message without reading the lyrics — this is death metal; the words are delivered in an unintelligible exorcistic woof surrounded by hacking drums and layers of buzzfly guitars. Anyway, in essence, you know what they’re talking about.
Death metal, yeah. From Carcass and Cannibal Corpse to Cephalic Carnage, it’s always been about slaughter, gore and rot. Violent demise and decay are the ultimate metaphors for modern existence; not much point in changing, is there?
But you can forgive Cattle Decap if they offer a twist. All four are vegetarians who have observed the many ways our meat consumption is killing the planet, and they feel it’s inevitable that the planet, in self-defense, will kill us — “Excrete them/Delete them.” Nice to think about helping things along by feeding people to sharks, or maybe to cattle: The original cover of Humanure (withdrawn because skittish stores wouldn’t stock it) shows old Bossy taking an enormous dump slopped full of distorted human faces and limbs. So this music is really life metal. It’s just Earth’s life, not yours.
All of which wouldn’t be worth two shits artistically if the music didn’t kick ass, and it does. Decap is a band in blossom, just opening up to its full potential after eight years of personnel changes and four full-length albums — Human Jerky, Homovore, To Serve Man and Humanure. Originally a blast-beat machine banging out under-a-minute bursts, much like friends/neighbors the Locust — with which it temporarily shared departed guitarist-drummer Gabe Serbian — Cattle Decapitation has evolved into a rounded unit that can shift through multiple rhythms, multireferential stylings and noise-art statements. Humanure begins with a slow Renaissance arpeggio on piano, for godsake, one of many classical resonances that show up in the riffs and structures, all recorded with a density, depth and loudness that make the group’s last effort sound like cellophane. And it closes with 9:40 of grating, clanging industrial crunge and pig squeals, assembled from a PETA slaughterhouse documentary and electronically treated to produce an effective abstract canvas the likes of which you’ll hear from no other metal group.
A BRIAN ENO ACOLYTE isn’t what you’d expect in this context, but that’s what edgily intense throatman Travis Ryan, contacted by phone as the group pitch their crap into the van for their current tour, turns out to be. “Ambient is my favorite style of music ever,” he says. “I’ve done a ton of shit like that, and I wanted to incorporate it on this record, because I knew our old drummer would never let us do that.”
Demon-faced guitarist Josh Elmore concurs. “There were things that we always wanted to do that we just weren’t able to do. [Bassist Troy Oftedal] or I would come into practice and present a certain part or a concept, and it was just rejected, because ‘You can’t blast behind that.’ It’s like, ‘Well, yeah, that’s the point!’ With Michael [Laughlin] playing drums now, it’s a lot more of a healthy, creative environment.”
It’s also a good place to be mad as hell, which is why you join a death-metal band in the first place. Ryan had to suffer through Decap’s last tour with a broken hand. How’d that happen? “Uh . . . anger mismanagement, I guess you’d say.” As he’d been about to drive away, he discovered that his wallet — money, credit cards, everything — had disappeared. “I flipped out and kinda punched the van. I didn’t think I hit it that hard, but I broke three bones.”
The Decaps know how to have fun on the road, though. Elmore enjoys cruising through Chicago (he moved from Illinois to San Diego four years ago); he also names Denver, Albuquerque and San Francisco among the ever-increasing pockets of Decapitation mania. He doesn’t drink much himself, but has observed party-level consumption by Ryan and Oftedal — alcohol, after all, contains no meat. “I like playing in New Orleans,” says Oftedal. “Every time we’ve been there, it’s always been a blast. I drink like a fish.”
This does not mean he has developed a sharklike taste for human blood. Nor do Cattle Decapitation seem much interested in the satanic sacrifices associated with most metal — not a pentagram in sight. Must be a holdover from the group’s early days: “We’ve always sort of crossed over into hardcore in general,” figures Ryan, who says Decap for some reason attracts a lot of metalcore fans, though “I can’t stand the music.”
Ryan’s into ambient sounds; Elmore digs bluegrass and alt-country. Hey, you know these guys have got to expand. One thing they all agree on is that Humanure, a product of considerable time and attention under the ear of producer Bill Metoyer (who’s engineered for Fates Warning and WASP), is their best record. Man, it’s big. It makes use of space — sounds great on headphones. The guitar riffs/melodies, pushed through Elmore’s “swelling, blooming” tube amps, as he describes them, are grand and hard. The bass booms cavernously — “perfect,” says Oftedal. The double-kicks and blasts of the drums come off as integrated elements rather than the whole show. Ryan’s voice, split high-low, inhabits the whole thing like a dark spirit.
And the Decap boys are incredibly optimistic. Knowing they’ve got the real shit, they sent out rolls of toilet paper to promote Humanure. As proud as they are of it, though, they can’t wait to start writing for their next record — they’re on fire and eager to see what flames up.
“We really want to go nuts with the next one and throw people for a loop,” says Elmore. “It could come back and bite us in the ass, but . . .”
But what? They’ve got nothing to lose but their heads.
Cattle Decapitation play House of Blues with Deicide on Tuesday, October 5.