I first heard Anomalies, the fourth album by Denver, Colorado’s Cephalic Carnage, on the same day I spun the new album by Kansas death metal band Origin for the first time. Listening to Origin, I was struck at first by how punishing the music was, how technically proficient the guitars and drumming were, but as the half-hour disc wore on, the more the album started to slip dangerously toward self-parody. The musicianship was there, no question, but the big problem was that the music had no personality whatsoever, coming off as nothing more than an exercise in death cliches, just cookie cutter death metal, nothing more. It’s okay for extreme metal music so sound mechanical (hell, even Meshuggah has personality), but Origin, underneath the dexterous façade, were painfully uncharismatic and bland.
Frustrated by the best efforts of Origin, I popped in Anomalies immediately after, and from track one, the difference was jarring: now these guys have personality, and like the dude said, personality goes a long way. Not that I have to tell people this, as Cephalic Carnage have been putting out their highly enjoyable brand of death/grind for the last decade, highlighted in recent years by 2000’s Exploiting Dysfunction and 2002’s Lucid Interval, the dizzying technical prowess of both records daring to rival The Dillinger Escape Plan. Cephalic Carnage are a very easy extreme metal band to like, simply because they refuse to confine themselves in the rigid structures of traditional death metal and grindcore, and they’re up to the same old tricks on Anomalies. These boys will not allow themselves to be categorized, and the music is all the better for it.
More than anything, what you hear on Anomalies is the sound of a highly talented band having loads of fun, and there are moments where you’re not sure if they’re serious, or just taking the piss. In fact, this album is all over the friggin’ map, a schizophrenic sampler of nearly every metal genre in vogue today. The band’s progressive hardcore element still remains prevalent, as several tracks contain impressive (and often brilliant) time signature changes and furious drumming by John Merryman, highlighted by tracks such as “Wraith”, “Enviovore”, and “Litany of Failure”. Meanwhile, the band proves they can do the grindcore thing as well as anyone, from the ferocious opening track “Scientific Remote Viewing”, the more murky “Counting the Days”, and “The Will or the Way”. Any notions that the tunes often resemble San Diego’s Cattle Decapitation and grind legends Napalm Death are driven home, thanks to guest appearances by Cattle Decapitation’s Travis Ryan (“Scientific Remote Viewing”) and Napalm Death’s Barney Greenaway (“The Will or the Way”)
They might be veterans now, but Cephalic Carnage are still capable of surprising listeners, and their descent into slower territory on a couple tracks provide the album’s most memorable moments. “Piecemaker” is a fantastic piece of Southern-tinged sludge, starting off nestled in a cool, midtempo groove, before slowing right down to a Cathedral-style pace, the band churning out massive sustained notes. “Sleeprace” takes on more of a theatrical quality, guitarists Zac Joe and Steve Goldberg.creating an effective mood piece as versatile vocalist Lenzig Leal whispers his psychodramatic lyrics ominously, before the song shifts into a considerably more intense second half.
Their wicked sense of humor remains intact, thanks primarily to the hilarious “Kill For Weed”, the pummeling, extremely slow arrangement a dead-on perfect Cannibal Corpse imitation, as Leal complains about the police “Ripping my place apart/for an ounce of buds,” as he obsessively rants and raves, “Killforfuckingweed!” Just as funny, but much more subversive, is “Dying Will Be the Death of Me”, which pulls off American metalcore so perfectly, it’s startling, right down to the melodic chorus, as Leal slyly parodies the angst-ridden wailing of suburban mallcore bands (“Born with it all… Dying ’cause I’m bored”). The song is so good at sounding like metalcore, that a mediocre band like Sinai Beach could make it a hit.
With an album like Anomalies, for all its positive attributes, it’s tempting to wish Cephalic Carnage would pick a genre and stick with it, but they’re too talented, too insane a band to even consider doing such a thing. All their experimentation might not work all the time (the lengthy “Ontogeny of Behavior” does get a bit tedious), but in their case, we’ll take one blip on an otherwise ingenious, highly demented album like this one, anytime.