The bitch is back. Static-X puts the pedal back to the metal on their fifth album.
Forgive me for quoting the tagline of a now-dated horror movie to open up a review on an album, but this line is especially appropriate to Cannibal: the bitch is back. Right from the cover art, to track names as unfriendly as “Cuts You Up”, “Team Hate” and “Destroyer”, to the album title itself, one assumes a significant amount of energy on Static-X’s fifth album has gone towards putting the pedal back to the metal. And indeed, Cannibal is the band’s heaviest, most gritty and frenetic effort since their debut, 1999’s Wisconsin Death-Trip, which established them, alongside Slipknot, as one of the most extreme bands to emerge from the “nu-metal” movement. They’ve experimented with (gulp) broadening their sound in a number of ways since then, and have even trademarked a crossover sound, “evil disco,” so named because the band has a surprising knack for mutilating otherwise perfectly danceable industrial beats.
Cannibal, though, is one of the most back-to-basics, intentionally “balls-out” albums released of late. The production is basic enough that even the most diehard metal fan should appreciate it, but it's not underdone, and the group’s MTV exposure also means that the album is considerably more vicious than anything readily available on the rock market. Most of all, frontman Wayne Static (aka "the guy with the vertical hair") is the dominating feature, letting loose with a tortured, near-black-metal scream, sounding in finer form than he’s been in a long time (see their whiney minor hit “I’m the One”). He kicks off the proceedings in spectacular fashion with this line:
“Thrash it bash it live to smash it!”
As if that doesn’t sum up the disc’s aesthetic enough, the track’s backdrop is a flurry of industrial noise which owes more to Slayer than it does to Korn, and, in true evil-disco style, the guitars do not roar, as one would expect: they pulsate with the beat. There’s even a solo from Rob Zombie guitarist John 5, and it ends with Static spitting “Cannibal! Cannibal!”
“No Submission”, which earned itself a place on the Saw III soundtrack, has a brutal sense of rhythmic control to it, locking into a complex vortex of electrical patterns and clashing, augmented riffs -- but it’s really the mighty chorus of “No! Submission!” that without a doubt makes it the album’s best cut. Drummer Nick Oshiro, of ex-Seether fame, is a shock; you’d never have guessed he could thrash as hard and as precisely as he does from anything he contributed to with his previous band. “Behemoth” gets by on a groove-heavy, bouncy beat, accomplished by fretters Static and Koichi Fukuda slugging their downtuned instruments as fast as possible, and the flailing, bloodthirsty “Cuts You Up” does just what its title says.
Unfortunately, as highly recognizable as their mix is, it begins to lose steam outside of those top-notch cuts -- it is, after all, hard to keep bringing up new takes on the jet-engine metal sound, even if it does have bleeps. In addition, some of these tracks are sorely in need of better (that is, more than one word) hooks. “Reptile” is a deeply disturbing example about being eaten alive by a reptile, with a typically stupid Static-X chorus of “Reptile! Reptile! Reptile! Reptile!” Boring! Boring! Boring! Boring! “Hate Team” is even worse. Static himself is the star performer... his guttural yelps fit in perfectly with the serrated industrial-thrash atmosphere, but the other players are at a stage where they need to grind their instruments on something a little more challenging to cut it. “Destroyer” has a verse built entirely around one chord -- would it be too much to ask them to change positions once in a while? Using only one chord makes anything seem tediously one-dimensional.
Then again, being one-dimensional is Cannibal’s outlook. The only way to enjoy it is as the pounding, albeit superficial, soundtrack to a disco in hell. At its best, the outfit is surly and thick-skinned; trying to fight against the whirlwind they create is like running against a wall. While that will turn off the fans of alt-rock that this kind of fare will be slid next to, anyone looking for a product that’s made of tougher stuff than most of what’s on the radio should start here for a decent beating. Sometimes you’d prefer to have your head crushed into oblivion than mystified with all sorts of peculiar musical experiments, and it’s a rush to hear Static-X genuinely aggressive again.