When it comes to new music from Cannibal Corpse, we all know exactly what to expect, and over the course of 20 years, the Buffalo, New York band has for the most part given fans exactly what they want: nothing but pulverizing, blue-collar death metal accentuated by the ultra-violent lyrics and song titles that have become the band’s hallmark. However, following a period where it felt like Cannibal Corpse was starting to stagnate creatively, the lurid, stomach-turning artwork by longtime collaborator Vincent Locke attracting more attention than the music therein, the quintet rediscovered the chemistry that made their run from 1992’s seminal Tomb of the Mutilated, 1994’s classic The Bleeding, and 1996’s Vile so special.
The resurgence couldn’t have happened at a better time, too, as a new generation of young metal fans have latched on to death metal in a big way, making instant sensations of “deathcore” bands Job For a Cowboy and UK youngsters Bring Me the Horizon, and playing a big role in the massive popularity of the Metalocalypse TV series. Now viewed as the grand old masters of old school death, Cannibal Corpse has deservedly earned some plum tour slots in recent years (the way they blew away younger bands on 2006’s Sounds of the Underground tour was something to behold), but there’s no better publicity than a great album, which the band proved on 2006’s stunning return to form Kill and now on the brand new Evisceration Plague.
The importance of producer Erik Rutan to the career rebirth of Cannibal Corpse cannot be underestimated. One of the most in-demand metal producers in America today (as well as frontman/guitarist for formidable Floridians Hate Eternal), the demanding Rutan put the band through its paces on Kill, the hard, rigorous work yielding a phenomenal sounding metal album that not only accurately captured the band’s tremendous live power on record, but in one fell swoop rendered the classic early ’90s Scott Burns production style flaccid in comparison. Always perfectionists, though, both Rutan and the band set out to improve on Kill, and remarkably, Evisceration Plague tops its predecessor, presented in a much denser mix, with strong emphasis placed on the massive tone of guitarists Pat O’Brien and Rob Barrett. Rutan is a master of making death metal sound monolithic and cleanly recorded at the same time, and he has Cannibal Corpse sounding ferocious from start to finish.
As brutal as the band so dependably sounds on the new record, though, their real strength is in the songwriting. Led by bassist Alex Webster, their arrangements can be highly technical at times, but savvy veterans that they are, they’d rather place more emphasis on simple dynamics than sheer wankery, and for all the punishing riffs and blastbeats, the bottom line is that the dozen tracks on Evisceration Plague are undeniably catchy. “Priests of Sodom” might sound straightforward, but the little 4/4 to 5/4 stutter-step in the verses is deftly executed and reflected nicely by the repeated phrases of vocalist George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher (“Deviant bodies writhing / Slick with the fluids of lust / They are slick with the fluids of lust”).
“To Decompose” is quintessential Cannibal Corpse, a contagious blend of lurching verse riffs and speed-riddled choruses, Fisher spitting the lyrics at a rapidfire pace, the repeated line, “It will all end in the dirt again,” forming the song’s central hook. “A Cauldron of Hate”, meanwhile, is all about the deceptive complexity of the performances by Webster, O’Brien, and Barrett, the trio providing some truly sick harmonics in the central riff. The album’s most revelatory moment, however, is the title track, its slow, lumbering crawl a welcome change of pace, the band hunkering down into a vicious, Bolt Thrower-like groove, drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz holding the entire track down with his simple, methodical beats.
Of course, the violent themes are rampant, the band taking on their twisted scenarios with demented, cartoonish glee. “Scalding Hail” is particularly inspired (“Burning fragments steaming stones tearing through my skin / Lodging near my organs I’m burning from within”), while tracks such as “Beheading and Burning” and “Evidence in the Furnace” see the band treading familiar territory. That said, the climactic “Skewered From Ear to Eye” shows us that Cannibal Corpse still has plenty of twisted ideas in their arsenal, Fisher growling dementedly, “Auditory nerve is severed / Labyrinth destroyed / You are rendered deaf and blind / Seconds before death.” It’s all part of the friendly, violent fun that is the Cannibal Corpse experience, but as on Kill, the emphasis on Evisceration Plague is more on just how musically potent the band is right now, and rightfully so. It might be blasphemous for some old schoolers to consider, but these 40-year-old guys have never sounded better.