No matter which way you look at it, only one thing in this life is certain: we're all going to die. One day, each of our clocks will stop ticking, and there's not a thing we can do about it. With full knowledge of this, we all take different approaches to life. Some choose to see the glass half-full, other half-empty. And some just pour the glass out and throw it on the cement, shattering it into a million pieces. Where am I going with this analogy, you ask? On the latest opus from Cattle Decapitation, there is no longer any doubt as to where they stand when it comes to the fate of humanity, and yet in the same way, there is also no longer any doubt that they are one of the greatest extreme bands of this generation.
Within its 14 tracks, broken up by several existentially bleak interludes, Cattle Decapitation doesn't just give a masterclass in how to play extreme metal right, they outdo even themselves in terms of extremity. In short, they provide an appropriate sonic counterpart to the extreme conditions which they surmise will mark humanity's end, ironically caused by humanity itself. Song titles such as "The Geocide," "One Day Closer to the End of the World," and "Bring Back the Plague" leave nothing to the imagination in terms of the message Cattle Decapitation are trying to broadcast to an ignorant world oblivious to their own self-imposed destruction.
Vocalist Travis Ryan said of the album, "The core concept of this record is humanity's insignificance despite what we've convinced ourselves.That's kind of why this album cover takes place in space, to remind you that 'the universe always finds a way to purge.' In the grand scheme of things, our species is merely a fleeting thought." The listener can feel these sentiments rather potently in each curdled scream. Whether you agree or disagree with what Ryan has to say, he gives an impassioned performance, which is certainly saying something for a death metal album.
And then there's the musicianship, which is just on another level this time around. Dave Otero's rich and modern production allows each instrument ample space to punch through in the mix, whether it's Oliver Pinard's frantic bass acrobatics (who is of Cryptopsy fame, by the way) or the dual guitar onslaught of Cattle staple Josh Elmore and newcomer Belisario Dimuzio. Of particular note is the alien performance by drummer Dave McGraw, whose pummeling power and hyperspeed blasts somehow get stronger and faster with each subsequent album.
The aforementioned interludes give Death Atlas a decidedly conceptual feel, more so than any of Cattle Decapitation's other records. As always, the songwriting remains a cut above most other bands in this subgenre, never sacrificing extremity for the sake of coherence but rather using the extremity as a way to craft legitimate movements, motifs and dare I say feelings within the songs. Ryan's tormented cleans juxtaposed against his grating screams make for some interesting dynamics – "Time's Cruel Curtain" being the best example of this.
The record closes on a high note with the nine-plus minute title track, which features guest vocals from Laure le Prunenec of Igorr, not to mention an intro featuring spoken-word narration by Jon Fishman of Phish. This track is not only a highlight of the album but one of the best songs of Cattle Decapitation's career as a whole. It embodies everything this band is about: merciless extremity with a purpose. As bleak and hopeless as their outlook may be, Cattle Decapitation proves that death metal just might have the potential to save the world.