“I’m not even gonna bother you with the gory details,” Travis Ryan, lead singer of Cattle Decapitation, told the mostly black-clad audience at Los Globos. “This next one’s just…gross.”
He may as well have been introducing any of his San Diego quartet’s songs. Cattle Decapitation specialize in a sub-genre of metal called deathgrind, a fusion of death metal and grindcore that takes the fastest, harshest, most brutal aspects of both styles and welds them together into an unholy onslaught of demonic vocals, double-kick drums and chugging, downtuned riffage.
Even more specifically, they specialize in a sub-sub-genre called goregrind, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. All the lyrics are about…well, gross things. Evisceration. Dismemberment. Decay. Murder, torture and mayhem. In the Cattle Decapitation oeuvre, the only happy songs are the ones in which the people dying slow, gruesome deaths deserve to die slow, gruesome deaths.
Full disclosure: I am not a fan of this stuff. Van Halen circa Women and Children First is about as heavy as my musical tastes have ever gotten.
So what the hell, you might well ask, was I doing at a Cattle Decapitation show?
I have always been fascinated by Cattle Decapitation for one simple reason: They’re an extreme vegetarian goregrind band. The gore on all their albums — and they’ve done seven of them, with an eighth on the way — nearly always depicts industrial meat production at its most vile, and/or turns the tables on humanity and depicts us as the mindless cattle being led to slaughter.
Their last album, Monolith of Inhumanity, expanded the subject matter just a bit by imagining current cow-eating, planet-trashing humanity carried to its most grotesque extreme. But still, the band’s single-minded devotion to a very specific, highly politicized set of themes would be noteworthy in any genre of music, let alone one where most of their peers are content to just endlessly rehash the same torture porn imagery.
I have no idea what the lyrics were for the other two bands I saw, because I don’t speak deathgrind. To the uninitiated, the guttural vocals are mostly unintelligible. Still, I thought the band playing when I arrived, Bad Acid Trip, took a novel approach to the genre, ditching guitars altogether in a favor of a vocals/bass/drums power trio setup. It’s amazing how many of the sonic signifiers for extreme metal are in the drums alone. If your drummer can play those machine-gun-like double-kick rolls, then presto! You’re a deathgrind band.
For a few songs, Bad Acid Trip had me convinced that guitars were superfluous to the deathgrind experience. But after about 10 minutes, I found myself longing for a riff. One four-string bass and the indecipherable rage-squawks of a skinny dude in a “Save the Planet, Kill Yourself” T-shirt do not make for a mosh-pit-igniting experience (though a few kids, led by a dude in a magnificent triple Mohawk, made a game effort).
Sure enough, when I got home and looked up Bad Acid Trip, I learned that they do normally have a guitarist. No wonder their songs sounded so unfinished. I also learned that they are not technically a deathgrind band but are more associated with an extreme punk/metal crossover genre called powerviolence. Go figure.
The next band, a Seattle four-piece called Theories, were more engaging, with a guitarist who occasionally shredded and a singer who has that metal “stabbing myself in the face with my microphone” move down cold. I’m no expert, but the way Theories mixed tempos and let their drummer occasionally cut loose on an impressive array of tuned cymbals suggested that they were bringing something new to the deathgrind table.
Finally, it was time for the main event. Before the headliners took the stage, I approached one of the few fans in attendance wearing a Cattle Decapitation T-shirt. I was curious to find out whether Cattle Decap’s fans took the band’s anti-meat message to heart.
Not this kid. Kyle informed me that he’s carnivore all the way and is mostly into the band because lead singer Travis Ryan’s vocals are “insane.”
It took Cattle Decapitation all of 30 seconds to prove that Kyle wasn’t kidding.
The entire band was tighter, louder and more emphatic than the previous acts, but Ryan’s vocal abilities are indeed completely bonkers. It’s like he’s possessed by a small army of demons, emitting throaty, animalistic roars one second and gibbering like a meth-head Ozzy the next.
How he does all this without coughing up a lung is beyond me. Cattle Decap’s publicists were in attendance and swore to me that he uses no pedals or microphone effects, and I certainly couldn’t detect any. It was a mind-blowing performance.
He’s also funny and charming between songs. The band is about to go into the studio to record their next album, and he introduced some of the new, as-yet-untitled tracks with deadpan wit. “We thought long and hard about what to call this next one,” he announced at one point. “It’s called: ‘Number Three!’”
By the time Cattle Decap finished at nearly 1 a.m., much of the crowd was a sweaty mess that smelled like one of the band’s song titles: “A Living, Breathing Piece of Defecating Meat,” perhaps. I spotted triple Mohawk guy on the way out and all three Mohawks were looking the worse for wear.
So did Cattle Decapitation convert me? Am I now a deathgrind fan? Or better yet, a vegetarian deathgrind fan?
Put it this way: I’ll probably still have a hamburger for lunch today. And the next metal I listen to will probably be Van Halen.
But next time Travis Ryan’s crew is in town, I’m there.