For much of the time since the 1996 debut of George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher, there have been two types of Cannibal Corpse records. In the first instance, you have the solid, reliably brutal and gory releases that keep the band's devouring vermin satiated (e.g., Vile, Gore Obsessed, Evisceration Plague). But in the second case, you have true peaks of excellence that forces the metal world to take notice (e.g., Gallery of Suicide, Kill, Red Before Black). Things were probably destined to stay this way in perpetuity, that is until Erik Rutan joined on guitar.
Don't get me wrong, 2021's Violence Unimagined was still a Cannibal Corpse record. Corpsegrinder's vocal delivery is unmistakable, and the rhythmic duo of original members Alex Webster and Paul Mazurkiewicz continues to steer the band's bloody ship. The song structures, tempo changes and overall feel established on 2006's Kill remains intact. Additionally, two-time guitarist Rob Barrett will always carry the band's sonic legacy within his expert hands.
But Erik's guitar playing added a new dimension to the band's sound. Sure, he'd already sat in the producer's chair for nearly every album since 2006, but this time he had the opportunity to lay down his own riffing style. Erik's guitar work, going all the way back to his days on Ripping Corpse's classic Dreaming With the Dead has always split the difference between dizzying picking technique and despairing melodic passages that leave a snake-bite-like imprint on the listener. It's somewhere between the tormented maze-work of Trey Azagoth and the everlasting fire blazed by Robert Vigna. This blend reaches its apotheosis on his work with Morbid Angel and, of course, Hate Eternal.
And so it makes its presence known on the band's latest album, Chaos Horrific. As the record kicks off with the bass-grinding intro on "Overlords of Violence," it's clear we're listening to a Cannibal Corpse-style audio assault. For much of the song, you'd be forgiven for thinking Rob wrote all the guitar parts, that is until the solo, which immediately stands out from those found on most of the band's pre-2021 output. When you'd get a solo in the past, it was mostly dissonant and chromatic sounding, a sound that reflected the chaos of the music in general. But not here. The solos on this album have a distinctly melodic character, the one on "Summoned For Sacrifice" being a particularly good example.
I'm sure opinions vary on this, but I think Erik has had a profoundly positive impact on the band's sound. The band was on a fantastic winning streak with the last few records with Pat O'Brien, but that could not have lasted forever. There's simply parts present on this record and the previous one you simply would not get from Pat, Jack Owen or Bob Rusay. It makes it a genuine joy to seek out the moments of Hate Corpse or Cannibal Eternal tucked within the folds of flesh and guts.
Beyond this, it's simply amazing how HEAVY this record is. I know that sounds superficial, I mean … come on, it's a death metal record. But seriously, the way Erik dials in the guitar tone and syncs it up with Alex's bass and Paul's kick drum and snare just makes for a totally lethal combination. This is especially apparent on songs like "Chaos Horrific," "Blood Blind" and "Frenzied Feeding." Across the album's 10 tracks, there's a constant feeling like you've just been electrocuted, but in a good way. Like in a way that doesn't kill you … if that makes sense. This is what you come to Cannibal Corpse to experience, along with Corpsegrinder's head-banging.
Speaking of Corpsegrinder, he delivers the vocal punishment as he always does, but I couldn't help but feel like his voice was a little low in the mix. Several times while listening, I found myself having to pay special attention to follow along with his screams and growls. I tried a few different things on my speakers to make sure it wasn't an issue on my end, and it still seemed like he was buried under the guitars. As a guitar guy, I can't say I mind loud guitars, but perhaps they could have been dialed back a bit here.
Longtime fans will be pleased to see song titles like "Fracture And Refracture" and "Pitchfork Impalement" to reassure them that Cannibal Corpse is still dedicated to almost comical levels of savagery. And these aren't throwaway tracks either, they're two of the best songs on the album. Additionally, there's the album art, this time a party of gore and violence. I totally want to put a leather jacket on and go zombie hunting with that crew. Alas, enjoying the bloody feast that is Chaos Horrific is probably the closest you can come to joining the fun.