Cannibal Corpse‘s impact on extreme metal during their three-decades-and-counting tenure is, quite frankly, unquantifiable. Trends have come and gone during this time, yet the Buffalo, New York/Tampa, Florida death metal monstrosity still marches on resolutely, free from outside influence. Unlike releases by some metal elders, a new Cannibal Corpse record never seems like a contrived attempt to remain on the touring circuit for another couple of years. This legendary act clearly care too much to produce mediocre death metal as a means of forward promotion.
Emerging during the dying days of the 1980s, Cannibal Corpse initially sounded as though they played their instruments using the shattered thigh bones of their victims while recording the resulting terror in a gore-drenched subterranean pit—particularly evident on their classic 1992 LP, Tomb of the Mutilated. Similar to their long-standing peers in Incantation (who have just released one of their best records yet), Cannibal Corpse’s playing style gradually became more precise, yet no less powerful, over time.
This musical progression was very evident once George’ Corpsegrinder’ Fisher’s vocal spit-fire replaced the flesh-gargling grunts of Chris Barnes in 1995; the band’s collective killing methods grew refined—more like the calculated Dennis’ B.T.K.’ Rader than the reckless Henry Lee Lucas. In tandem, the production values of their recordings became more defined. Credit for the more oppressive, dynamic, and modern production stylings lay at the feet of death metal Terminator Erik Rutan (of Hate Eternal), who has led the board as producer since 2006’s murderous milestone, Kill.
However, by adding Rutan to the lineup as a guitarist for Violence Unimagined following Pat O’Brien’s legal issues, Cannibal Corpse leveled up again. The thrillingly technical, hook-heavy, thrash-flecked tracks on that 2021 LP were the sound of a still-ravenous group with a point to prove; such was the vitality and violence of the music. Each veteran player was at the top of their game throughout, as torturously complex riffs—led by drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz’s feverish tempo changes—twisted and slashed, with Corpsegrinder’s fierce roar spraying innards with each passing syllable.
After the primarily mid-paced blitz of the final cut “Cerements of the Flayed” left blood-splattered destruction in its wake, there was no refuting that Cannibal Corpse remained the world’s most dominant long-standing death metal band. This impression is nailed further on their 16th studio album, Chaos Horrific, which plays out as a vile companion piece to its immediate predecessor.
With one of bassist Alex Webster’s squirming signature lines as a front introductory feature, opener “Overlords of Violence” turns to rapid-fire rhythmic motion, highlighted by an inspired solo trade-off that adds sparks of melody to the track. As one would expect with a title like “Frenzied Feeding”, the high-speed assault continues unabated, the band acting more like the hyper-energized zombies in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later than the plodding marches of the undead in George Romero’s canon.
The Slayerized “Summoned for Sacrifice” settles into a nasty double-bass-propelled groove that collides into vile death metal; it’s a song that spans their stylistic evolution from the mutant thrash of 1990’s Eaten Back to Life to the death metal precision of modern-day Cannibal Corpse. The pitch of the pacing is as considered as you’d expect from this band, as “Blood Blind”, in certain sections and following faster fare, shrewdly slows the riffs to a portentous groove (though Mazurkiewicz is constantly trying to push tempos to the red), with Corpsegringer in particularly enraged form.
Corpsegrinder has received plenty of due praise over the years for his ability to growl syllables as fast as buckshot fired from a shotgun. However, his mastery of the vocal hook hasn’t been mentioned as much as a high point of his craft. Ever since he bluntly bellowed, “Fire up the chainsaw / Hack their fucking heads off” on “Kill or Become” off 2014’s A Skeletal Domain, he has ramped up the amount of chantable refrains. Off this album, the bug-eyed sloganeering on the title track and “Pitchfork Impalement” will surely decimate venues when Cannibal Corpse take these rotten ditties before baying crowds the world over.
With Rutan fully integrated into the songwriting and showcasing great chemistry with fellow guitarist Rob Barrett, there’s an argument to be made that the current lineup of Cannibal Corpse is their best yet. Sure, there might not be any surprises found on this record outside of the odd unusual riff phrase, such as the waspish tech riff on “Vengeful Invasion”, a track that tells the tale of human trafficking victims taking revenge on their captors. But nobody comes into a Cannibal Corpse album looking for anything other than the group laying down tracks with dazzling technicality, vicious power, and rampant energy (musical and vocal), all wrapped in fantastically grim lyricism and Vince Locke’s grotesque artwork.
Chaos Horrific does all of the above with gusto, and the fact that, like every track here, it has an individual feel under granular inspection while feeling uniform when viewed at a high level speaks to the expert songcraft and confidence of identity that Cannibal Corpse still have. Listen to Chaos Horrific and its immediate predecessor in pain, Violence Unimagined, in quick succession, and you’re left with the unshakeable belief that Cannibal Corpse will continue to brutalize at an apex predator level, à la Michael Myers, for a long time to come.