Strip any whip-snapping outfit from the contemporary death metal genre down to its constituent parts and you’ll find the double helix boot print of Cannibal Corpse. Cannibal Corpse is one of the most influential and certainly one of the most commercially successful of all death metal bands. Its two-decade-plus career has been built upon the combination of mischievous, gruesome, and frequently controversial narratives, with an unrelenting onslaught of technically proficient downtuned distortions. There can be no doubt that without Cannibal Corpse’s ceaseless mastery, heavy metal in general would have been a much tamer beast.
After such a long career spent pulverizing the masses, you might expect to find the band stumbling along with waning enthusiasm, haunted by rotator cuff and neck injuries. However, while Cannibal Corpse has nothing left to prove when it comes to songwriting ability or reputation, the group’s twelfth release Torture contains some of its most visceral and belligerent material yet — reaffirming its status as one of the premier death metal bands.
Torture sees the band working with producer (and Hate Eternal frontman) Eric Rutan for the third time. His work on ’06’s Kill and ’09’s Evisceration Plague captured the frenzied brutality of the band magnificently. And while some fans have griped that Rutan’s production sacrifices the rawness of Cannibal Corpse’s earlier work, many of those same fans have yet to recover from the exit of the band’s original vocalist, Chris Barnes, in the mid ’90s. Obviously, you can’t please everyone. As it is, Rutan is extremely careful not to stifle any of the band’s rough-as-guts vigor, presenting every grubby nuance of its distinctive barrage perfectly. His crisp, crystal-clear mix leads to a greater appreciation of Cannibal Corpse’s technical verve — the band has never sounded better.
The new album isn’t groundbreaking in terms of substance or themes, but that’s not why Cannibal Corpse is so revered. You don’t press play on one of its albums expecting or wanting innovation. What you hunger for, and what Torture delivers in overwhelming abundance, is walls of crushing noise, a great variance between the blastbeats and intricate rhythms, and some dazzling technicality. And that is exactly what you get.
Setting off with an ear-shattering blast on “Demented Aggression”, it’s readily apparent that the band still has the appetite and the drive to craft wonderfully palpable sadistic metal. Guitarists Rob Barrett and Pat O’Brien are on blazing form. From the churning mid-tempo dirge of “Scourge of Iron”, to the searing intensity of “Intestinal Crank” and “As Deep as the Knife Will Go”, they throw plenty of warping dynamics into the breakneck assaults, layering it all with their trademark whammy-heavy dissonant solos.
While the band’s ferocity isn’t in doubt, Torture also benefits enormously from a greater sense of congruity, which is a reflection of the band’s stable line-up over the last three albums. This renewed sense of maturity and shrewdness in the songwriting department ensures that Cannibal Corpse is able to fully focus on the essential component that turns good death metal into fantastic death metal: a rock solid groove.
As barbaric as Torture is, the band doesn’t let velocity come at the expense of writing anything memorable. Tracks like “Crucifier Avenged” and “Rapid” remain distinctive while showcasing George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher’s fittingly torturous low-register growls. One of Cannibal Corpse’s greatest strengths is that while its murderous bellicosity has the potential to turn songs into unrecognizable blurs, it never lets technicality or viciousness overwhelm a song’s individuality. On Torture that equilibrium is finely tuned.
“The Strangulation Chair” features some incredible interplay between bassist Alex Webster and drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz, the band’s founders. Webster’s brief jazzy bass solo is a vivid reminder of his stature as one of — if not the — finest death metal bass players, and of Cannibal Corpse’s brilliance in ensuring the bass is an intrinsic (and audible!) component to its overall sound. Mazurkiewicz, as much a linchpin in the band as Webster, sounds monstrous on the new album. Running rampant all over the kit, his work on “Encased in Concrete” and “Torn Through” is some of his best yet.
Where countless other death metal bands have quietly slipped away, Cannibal Corpse remains; a little bit bloodied, but still unbroken. With hammering production, endlessly wicked guitar histrionics, and suitably macabre lyrics, the band wisely sticks to its core strengths on Torture, continuing an unbeaten run of authoritative death metal. Twenty-odd years in, and still going strong, Cannibal Corpse has remained determined, self-confident, and unflinchingly aggressive — everything truly admirable in a legendary heavy metal band.