Metal Review – Cannibal Corpse: A Skeletal Domain

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Metal Review – Cannibal Corpse: A Skeletal Domain
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Cannibal Corpse: A Skeletal Domain
Death Metal
Metal Blade Records
September 16th, 2014
Release length: 43:58
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If there is one band in Death Metal today that doesn’t actually need an introduction, Buffalo, New York’s Cannibal Corpse is it. Easily one of the most important figures to ever have existed within the genre, they have cracked open the skull of Billboard, appeared in the mainstream as the style continued to bloom, as well as recently celebrated their twenty-five year anniversary, a career that can be heard through a number of EPs, DVDs, as well as twelve full-lengths recordings. For 2014, the legends of over-the-top brutality return with their thirteenth studio album, A Skeletal Domain. With fans frothing at the mouth in anticipation, will this new outing make up for the rather tired sounding Tortured, or will it be the revitalization needed for this ominous force?

One thing that needs to be noted before diving into the songs themselves is the way the album sounds. The band revealed they had been using click tracks in the studio lately to tighten their sound when recording, which may have been the reason why Tortured sounded a bit exhausted. This time around, however, everything works out perfectly to create an offering of tight brutality that easily dwarfs the last two albums at the very least. The guitars have just enough edge and distortion to work with the mid-range twang or pulse of the bass guitar, and the drums sound as though someone had slapped some dirt on the captured sleeker output. But there is one glaring issue to it all: The monotone vocal presence. Yes it’s still powerful for what it is, but there’s little range or layering for effect present. Even the bellowing raspy shouts that can beef up a song incredibly or just add a little extra depth are absent. This may seem like a deal breaker, but it and the sometimes simpler than normal lyrics that often repeat the title for the chorus, are greatly shadowed by the mix of complex chords and authoritative grooves utilized throughout to keep the listener engaged.

“High Velocity Impact Spatter” perfectly highlights every little thing mentioned above. The noise given off by the guitars sets up an astral environment for the first forty seconds, building to the standard jumping between blast beat and groove passages with some technical leads thrown in until the catchier, slightly more ominous chorus kicks in with the song name spread out through it four times. It’s your typical Cannibal Corpse track in every way possible, but the subtle heaviness reminds you why you fell in love with the band in the fist place. That is until “Sadistic Embodiment” kicks in with a lot more enthusiasm all around, especially in the tighter, faster vocal performance that desperately needs a few hearty rasps that, as mention, are for some reason completely absent.

“A Skeletal Domain” is a truly burdening experience overall, really putting the emphasis on the machine gun speed of the drum kit’s bass kicks. Thankfully this isn’t all its made up of, allowing a good amount of variety to the mix, especially the tempo in which it all moves. As you approach the three minute mark, things start to creep along before the volatile solo hits a bit after. That trudging is felt again about two minutes into “Icepick Lobotomy” in those similarly paced passages that sound as though the music were trapped inside a meat locker set to maximum over night. But it’s “Kill or Become” that stands out the most. The crawling across the guitar neck during the intense blasting of the drums adds a little more power to the infectious grooves that crop up from time to time. The faster lead-in to the chorus does sound like it’s forced in at first, but this ends up a common element through much of the song, as if a nod to the Progressive Death Metal genre as it commands you to “fire up the chainsaw” and “hack their fucking heads off” before entering easily one of the most addicting segments of the album that tells you exactly what the title says you need to do if you want to live. Just make sure that you take note of your surroundings when blasting this to avoid getting locked up on terrorism charges in these turbulent times (much like what happened to me not too long before posting this review)…

But then you have darker songs like “The Murderer’s Pact.” While not a largely blistering assault, the lower chugging chords and simpler drum patterns compliment the throbbing bass guitar to build a great deal of tension, as if being stalked by Jack the Ripper himself among the hazy Summer night streets and back alleyways. The guitar solo cuts through it all as if you had been caught, set up with a grand volition that finds some Neoclassical influence at work before fading out as if that killers deed were done. “Funeral Cremation” feels like the band struggles to keep that aspect alive a bit, but it’s put to rest immediately with a steady Death Metal performance that charges ahead in a mid-tempo pace that rarely hits you with blast beats, instead focusing on grim and creepy atmospheres, and even what sounds like an early DevilDriver Groove Metal presence behind the solid guitar solo.

One other thing that makes Cannibal Corpse typically stand out doesn’t quite seem to be here either. Throughout the band’s career you can tell that they try to do something a little different with each album. However, with A Skeletal Vortex, this isn’t the case. In fact, this seems to be more like a random collection of brutality that spans their career. When you consider their debut was issued about twenty-four years ago, you could conceivably argue this is more of an anniversary recording, or even look at the tighter sound from that aforementioned studio click track and how well they work with it this time around is that different sound entirely. If you go in expecting this to be any different than Evisceration Plague, or even Torture, you’ll be greatly let down. While it boasts an audio quality akin more to 2006’s Kill, there’s only a handful of songs that really try to give this album it’s own unique quality. It’s not enough to do it effectively, but this isn’t exactly a bad thing, really. Cannibal Corpse‘s most recent efforts do seem a bit formulaic lately, but that in no way means the music here is anywhere near boring, repeatitive, or remotely unimpressive. It’s actually quite the opposite.

A Skeletal Vortex doesn’t really show Cannibal Corpse treading away from their comfort zone. Instead of taking a risk to create an album dynamically different from their last (which at this point begs the question of what more can they do to offer something you haven’t heard from them yet) you get more solid musicianship that’s a lot tighter, sounds better, and ultimately just destroys with what career spanning variety they incorporate into the mix. A Skeletal Vortex doesn’t set out to establish new ground orreach new heights. Instead it takes what has made Cannibal Corpse such a powerful force to music in general and continue to perfect it. Aside the vocals not quite getting the same treatment as past releases, this is an album made specifically for fans of Cannibal Corpse and the progression they have made over the years. If you’re not one of those then you may not enjoy it as much, but with the technical brutality and commanding grooves we’ve come to know and love on display in a stricter fashion, it’s impossible to not get pulled into their Cenobite equivilent world of violence and pain that makes you simply not want to leave after that first gloriously decadent ravaging.

01. High Velocity Impact Spatter – 4:07
02. Sadistic Embodiment – 4:10
03. Kill or Become – 4:43
04. A Skeletal Domain – 4:31
05. Headlong into Carnage – 3:54
06. The Murderer’s Pact – 5:58
07. Funeral Cremation – 4:34
08. Icepick Lobotomy – 4:09
09. Vector of Cruelty – 4:18
10. Bloodstained Cement – 4:34
11. Asphyxiate to Resuscitate – 4:40
12. Hollowed Bodies – 3:58
Initial Pressing Score: 8.5/10

Cannibal Corpse
Cannibal Corpse

Digital review copy of this release provided by Metal Blade Records via Earsplit PR.