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Cattle Decapitation

Monolith of Inhumanity

(Metal Blade; US: 7 May 2012; UK: 7 May 2012)

Everything you need to know about Cattle Decapitation is succinctly captured in the artwork for its ‘04 album, Humanure, where you’ll find a diarrheic cow defecating a large amount of human-shaped feces. As enchanting as that sounds, and it pales in significance to much of metal’s more lurid iconography, it’s abundantly clear that Cattle Decapitation abhors humanity. The butchery referred to in the band’s moniker isn’t anti-bovine; we’re the cattle to be slaughtered here, and the band’s oeuvre thus far has been underpinned by a straightforward, albeit extremely bloody, anti-human philosophy. There’s no question that Cattle Decapitation views the majority of humanity—aside from those who share similar ideologies of animal liberation and environmentalism—as that aforementioned excrement. 


Obviously, an abhorrence of humanity is a common theme in extreme metal; taken to its nth degree it underscores the disposition of much of black metal. However, Cattle Decapitation’s anti-human agenda is not colored by demoniacal or frosty hues. Instead, the band’s disgust in contemporary civilization is reflected through the lens of gruesome death metal and grindcore.


In ‘88, UK goregrind legend Carcass combined the gore-soaked appeal of death metal with the annihilating blur of grindcore on its debut, Reek of Putrefaction. Cattle Decapitation has always drawn stock from that embryonic slaughterhouse of ideas. While a vegetarian band producing barbed social commentary surrounded by grisly-carnage might seem incongruent for the uninitiated, in the metal scene such contradictions have a time-honored history.


Much of Cattle Decapitation’s early work comprised crude ideas delivered in an indiscriminate manner. However, over the course of its four previous full-lengths for label Metal Blade, the band has honed its technique, taking its revulsion for humankind (and its accompanying death and grind bombardment) to a peak on 2009’s, The Harvest Floor.


On its latest full-length, Monolith of Inhumanity, Cattle Decapitation sounds as disgruntled as ever, yet its dissonant noise has a greater sense of musical and thematic sophistication. The Harvest Floor circled a narrative dealing with the collapse of society, while Monolith of Inhumanity ponders how we might progress as a species if we continue on our current course. (The 2001: A Space Odyssey-inspired artwork clearly suggests the chance of societal evolution is nil, with a swift devolution being the likely outcome.) 


Monolith of Inhumanity offers a more technically adept strike-package than The Harvest Floor, and is the band’s most detailed and carefully constructed album. It all begins at a blistering pace with “The Carbon Stampede”, reaffirming the band’s penchant for laying in with the crowbar-heavy tunes. That battering continues on “Projectile Ovulation”, “Kingdom of Tyrants” and “Gristle Licker”. However, while the customary clobbering is delivered with the band’s usual aggression, it’s the injection of melody on Monolith of Inhumanity that rattles notions of what’s hidden in the band’s armory.


Vocalist Travis Ryan gurgles and shrieks with discombobulating ease, but he also throws out the lifeline by deploying cleaner and harmonious vocal passages on “Lifestalker” and the rather spectacular “A Living, Breathing Piece of Defecating Meat”. Elsewhere, methodically paced downtempo sections bleed into the surge of “Do Not Resuscitate”, and the menacing slither of “The Monolith” leaks atmospheric, post-punk fumes.


The melodic elements on Monolith of Inhumanity are a surprise, but not an unwelcome one. Scattered throughout the album, they serve as a fascinating new layer woven into the relentless pandemonium—not as some newfangled divergence. The goregrind genre is frequently one-dimensional, but Cattle Decapitation serves up some refreshingly new pivot points, and the traces of melody don’t temper the band’s hostility. Monolith of Inhumanity rests securely in the goregrind cradle. But, like the recent musical explorations found on Napalm Death’s Utilitarian, the album chisels at the edges of expectations. Any doubts about Cattle Decapitation’s ability to continue on its creative trajectory are crushed beneath the album’s boot heel.


Although Cattle Decapitation has crafted a more innovative concoction on the new album, it shows no interest in ingraining itself any further in the upper echelons of popular metal. Rather admirably, it’s clearly not keen to make things more accessible. For all of Cattle Decapitation’s challenging characteristics, it’s always been constructed of more than just bluster and bile—there’s that wickedly militant bite too. Monolith of Inhumanity is the band’s most realized work yet, and Cattle Decapitation’s radical combativeness has never been more perceptible. Seven albums and 15 years into its career, Cattle Decapitation proves just how efficient hate can be as fuel.

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Craig Hayes is based in Aotearoa New Zealand, and he is a contributing editor and columnist at PopMatters. Alongside his reviews and feature articles, Craig's monthly column, Ragnarök, traverses the metal spectrum. He is the co-author of PopMatters' regular metal round-up, Mixtarum Metallum, contributes to radio shows and numerous other sites, and he favours music that clangs, bangs, crashes, or drones. Craig can be found losing followers daily on twitter @sixnoises.


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