Sunday 31 August 2014

Cannibal Corpse - A Skeletal Domain (Album Review)

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 16/9/2014
Label: Metal Blade Records

'A Skeletal Domain' CD/DD/LP track listing:

01. High Velocity Impact Spatter
02. Sadistic Embodiment
03. Kill or Become
04. A Skeletal Domain
05. Headlong into Carnage
06. The Murderer’s Pact
07. Funeral Cremation
08. Icepick Lobotomy
09. Vector of Cruelty
10. Bloodstained Cement
11. Asphyxiate to Resuscitate
12. Hollowed Bodies


Lucky number thirteen? Lucky or not, it's a quantity of releases (not even counting VHS/DVD releases and EPs) and a wealth of material beyond which most bands could even imagine. Cannibal Corpse approaches each recording session with a honed and precise vision of a band in their third decade of existence. With this new entry to their extensive catalog, they have switched gears, opting to work with producer Mark Lewis at Audio Hammer Studios, after having tracked their previous three (Kill, Evisceration Plague, Torture) with Erik Rutan. Mark Lewis is a name metal fans have surely heard at this point; he has produced recent albums from The Black Dahlia Murder, DevilDriver, and many more. Sonically speaking, the result this time around is a massive, belligerent, and deliberate aural attack.

Alex Webster, along with O'Brien, Barrett, and Mazurkiewicz, are all accomplished song writers, that much is no secret. For "A Skeletal Domain," each member made a significant contribution to the song writing. O'Brien wrote five tracks, Webster wrote four, and Barrett handled two and half ("Asphyxiate to Resuscitate" was co-written with Mazurkiewicz). Alex Webster describes the band's song writing proficiency as a "football team with a lot of roster depth. Any of us could write an entire album, but when we're working together and putting forth our best material, we get an even better whole record." That strength is on display in spades, and led to a particularly impressive performance from O'Brien. Mark Lewis raved about the guitarist's playing: "I don't think he's written crazier music than what's on this album. He's never written something like on the solo for "The Murderer's Pact." Simply put, this is legit guitar playing." Webster reiterated that this is "one of the most important albums for Pat [O'Brien]." His solos draw on his oft-overlooked neo-classical background while remaining dark enough to fit comfortably within the band's death metal strike zone. In addition to Pat's contributions, Paul Mazurkiewicz entered the studio arguably more prepared than ever. Mark Lewis elaborated: "Paul came in so prepared and he hammered the hell out of every song. The drums on this record are not over doctored - the toms aren't sampled, Paul just HIT HARD." In addition to his drum performance, Mazurkiewicz's lyrics continued to weave detail-filled tales of death and disgust. The drummer penned half of the album's lyrics, with Webster penning four, and Barrett another two to round out the album.

The musical and lyrical team effort here laid the foundation for the vocal performance of iconic front man, George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher. For "A Skeletal Domain," producer Mark Lewis worked to cull the most potent performance from the vocalist as possible. Lewis explains: "The mindset with George was to capture more high screams. We wanted to revisit the "Bloodthirst" days a bit. There's a violence that lives in his throat that we really wanted to capture." Evidence of these efforts exists in the violent howls in "Headlong into Carnage," the title track, album opener "High Velocity Impact Splatter," and more. Corpsegrinder's trademark vocals are the final piece of the death metal puzzle that is "A Skeletal Domain." Cannibal Corpse have proven time and again that they have more fuel in their tank, more riffs in their minds, and more ways to describe gore than any single group of human beings could ever have hoped. The thirteenth album will prove to be as important a landmark in their career as just about any other. Cannibal Corpse are consistency defined.

The Band:

George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher | Vocals
Rob Barrett | Guitar
Pat O’Brien | Guitar
Alex Webster | Bass
Paul Mazurkiewicz | Drums


Cannibal Corpse are probably the best known of death metal bands- arguably they are the best known of all extreme metal bands. If a non-metal person (!) asks me about my music taste they always seem to get mentioned when I try to explain (From Neil Young to Cannibal Corpse...”) This is not due to them being my favourite death band- far from it. I actually have always followed the likes of Obituary, Deicide, Death and the Swe-Death bands with more consistency... but there is something about Cannibal which sets a bench mark. They are real death metal. No subtleties, no melodies per se. Out and out brutality is what you expect. With “A Skeletal Domain” that is EXACTLY what you will get!

The first album I heard of Cannibal Corpse was “The Bleeding” way back when Chris Barnes was in the band. I worked my way through their back catalogue from there and found I liked “Butchered At Birth” a great deal and, well, everything else. I never picked up on the George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher era until a few years after “Vile”- but that record and “Kill” are high points of their catalogue for me.

Now, I wouldn't claim to have thorough knowledge of every record, but I know a good one when I hear it. Rest assured, this is definitive and superlative death metal. The opener 'High Velocity Impact Splatter' manages to be both heavy and catchy and things carry on in the same vein from there. The likes of 'Kill and Become' are not going to surprise listeners with progressive tendencies and overdubbed cello. Nope, this is straight ahead gore worship; mini horror films set to brutal death metal of precise violence. As Fisher growls “Fire up the chainsaw! Hack their fucking heads off!” the tone is set and you should be in no doubt that things do not get any prettier through the title track and beyond. The production is stellar, as is the playing. Every instrument can be heard clearly in the mix- bassist and band main man Alex Webster can be heard all over the tracks.

'Headlong into Carnage' is riffs and blasts- business as usual. There is more to it than that, though- I haven't heard a record this committed to the cause for a long time. The band is totally convincing- masters of their niche craft. Much more so than Obituary (not quick enough, though I love them dearly), more than Deicide (wrong lyrical themes), more than... Malevolent Creation, Immolation, Morbid Angel, even Autopsy and anyone else you care to mention, Cannibal Corpse DEFINE death metal in both sound, image and imagery. Long hair, combat boots, camo trousers and shorts, a giant front man with a neck bigger than his head? Check. Hyper fast musicianship with technical ability and passion? Check. Horrific song titles, themes and lyrics? Check. Memorable songs?! Yes, check that too. With Cannibal it is all there- they embody their genre to such an extent that if someone asked me to play them death metal, if they had never heard it... I would play them this album.

The likes of 'Funeral Cremation' sound exactly as you would hope. Lots of time changes, lots of chugging, lots of speed, great solos and unrelenting horror. Paul Mazurkiewicz plays perfectly with that unusual style of his- bass drums blur with speed, the blasts sound fast and powerful (no mean feat) while O'Brien and Barrett bring the leads and riffs with panache. How does a band this far into their career sustain this level of dedication? I can't answer that, but you could try asking Overkill...

'Icepick Lobotomy' is unlikely to be a left field, left leaning tribute to Leon Trotsky, but what it does not bring in the form of a “message” or “political consciousness” it more than makes up for by being gnarly and dark in theme and content. Whisper it... but this record is also fun. No, really! That is the point which many miss about death metal- it is entertainment, pure and simple. Superbly played entertainment, but entertainment nonetheless. You take the genre seriously? You believe it to be a moral threat? You shouldn't- it is not serious in and of itself. The musicianship certainly is, the themes less so. It is horror fantasy- a raucous expression of all things macabre and gory.

As the record progresses you may be surprised to hear the band bring out hooks (musical ones!) at times when you do not expect it- further explanation of Cannibal Corpse's place at the top of the death pile. While they may be the definitive death metal band, they don't actually sound like anyone else. Others have imitated, but never equalled, much less improved, their sound of whirling fury. Things do slow down a fair few times- but this is not comparable to Asphyx or something. It is death metal- not any other sub genre.

'Bloodstained Cement' is unremittingly savage, but I could write that about any of the tracks here. As the album draws to a close, you may just want to play it again. I did- and that is not something I often do with death metal albums. However, on a packed commuter train these themes make perfect sense to me- I only just held it together, mind.

There are no bad tracks here. The album is complete and completely horrible from start to finish. Play it on headphones and you get the full benefit of the mix, play it in your car and you will lose your licence, play it on a stereo at home and you may destroy the living room. In summary, this is the most enjoyable Cannibal Corpse record I have heard for a long time. They remain at the top of the genre and have set a high bar for others to aim for. Real death metal, as feral and nasty as it gets.

Words by: Richard Maw

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