So, if you’re unaware and the moniker wasn’t an asteroid-sized hint, Cannabis Corpse was originally designed to be a Cannibal Corpse-inspired, pot-powered death metal parody act. Featuring Municipal Waste/Iron Reagan’s Phil “LandPhil” Hall and his twin brother Josh “Hallhammer” Hall (or is all that THC making you see double?) alongside present-day guitar tandem of Brandon Ellis (Arsis, the Black Dahlia Murder) and six-string prodigy, Ray Suhy (Six Feet Under), Cannabis Corpse originally was a weed-centric riff on death metal’s most popular band with titles and lyrics appropriately altered. “I Cum Bud,” “Reefer Stashed Place,” “Force Fed Shitty Grass” and the title of their debut itself, Blunted at Birth initially meant that this was destined to be a quick and easy belly laugh before moving on. Well, that was over ten years ago and what was presumably supposed to be a one-off has now bloomed beyond all expectations as the band readies to bestow their fifth album on bleary-eyed headbangers of the world.
Let’s get all mystical and coincidental for a minute. If one were to trace the growth of the band from Blunted at Birth to Left Hand Pass, a loose parallel can be likened to the growth of the strength and veracity of the legalization movement. When Cannabis Corpse first hit the scene, there weren’t nearly as many places in North America in which purchasing and smoking weed didn’t involve furtive movements and late night phone calls to questionable characters. While this may be an over-dramatization of what it’d take to get one’s hands on a dime bag, now, in most states across the Republic of Trumpghanistan you can get the stuff medicinally and outright legally in others. There will probably a few more states to legalize marijuana before the album cycle for Left Hand Pass runs its course. Across the border in Canada, it’s going to be fully legal across the country by summer 2018, though it’s been largely decriminalized in most provinces for a long while already. So, one could look at Cannabis Corpse as participating harbingers of change and a cultural signpost (albeit still a vastly underground one) signaling a shift in attitudes towards mary jane. Or, as is the listener’s prerogative, feel free to keep on looking at them like a parody/joke band.
Dismissing them as the latter, however, does a great disservice to the quality death metal on tap here. Granted, for those metal heads who can’t stomach any amount of humour, you’d be well advised to steer clear of the band both on record and in a live situation – listening to Hall's stage raps and song introductions remain some of the most hilarious shit I’ve ever heard – but you’ll be missing out. As Cannabis Corpse has expanded their shtick beyond strict Cannibal Corpse salutation, they’ve also incorporated other tangents from the world of death metal. Example: their last two albums were entitled Beneath Grow Lights Thou Shalt Rise and From Wisdom to Baked. On Left Hand Pass, they demonstrate their ability to entwine good and evil (i.e. a good time with evil sounds) in “Effigy of the Forgetful” which twists an obvious Suffocation reference with Floridian tropes and a wry lyrical stop/start sequence.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that a song with a verbose title that incorporates some reference to weed and ancient Egypt – “Papyrus Containing the Spell to Protect Its Possessor Against Attacks from He who is in the Bong Water” – contains some measure of musical homage to Nile with riffs utilizing a rapid-fire technique and penetrating complexity to brush away the doldrums while also posting a decent helping of catchiness. On the other hand, “The 420th Crusade” and “In Battle There is no Pot” aren’t entirely beholden to Bolt Thrower as they flash shades of reference to both Entombed and Exhumed. “Grass Obliteration” draws on the sort of fantastical story telling death metal has historically excelled at (the song appears to be about a fed-up-with-society stoner who builds a killing machine powered by weed) and mixes it up by pulling in some Cephalic Carnage and Grave. Then there’s the title track, which chugs like Roadrunner and Earache classics to the lyrical tune of “A horrific demon appears/in a burst of flame to do my bidding/I command it to bring me a joint of hells sativa/From a bag made of human flesh it pulls out a doober/I spark it up making sure to pass it with my left hand/The joke was on me/that joint was all stems and seeds.”
There are moments within a number of the ten tracks where you can hear the identity of the musicians jockeying for position against the shtick’s requirement that they make casual and ongoing reference to established death metal styles and motifs, if not riffs. “The Fiends that Come to Steal the Weed of the Deceased” has a myriad of recognizable death metal moments interjected into some pretty solid riffing that could have come from the fingers of Erik Rutan, but I swear I’ve heard the melody leading in the main guitar solo elsewhere before, just can’t put my finger on it. This will be a game those of you with extensive record collections of death metal across the obscurity continuum will find yourselves playing over the course of this album. At the same time, to the untrained ear, all of the above is nothing but nerdy hair splitting; your significant other who knows nothing about metal and your mom will continue to hear a bunch of fucking directionless noise. Though, if you spark one up and pass it along and who knows what they might hear.