Music

Cannibal Corpse: Torture

Craig Hayes

Where countless other death metal bands have quietly slipped away, Cannibal Corpse remains; a little bit bloodied, but still unbroken.

Torture

Label: Metal Blade
US Release Date: 2012-03-13
UK Release Date: 2012-03-12

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.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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