Somewhere, someone writing or YouTubing (or however kid's today get their point across) a review of Cannibal Corpse’s 15th album is kicking it off with some variation of, ‘what more can be said about these death metal legends?’ What isn’t said enough about Cannibal is how after 33-some-odd years in the game, they keep adding masterstroke upon classic to their name. Ostensibly, the blood-stained veterans continue to create albums that raise the bar when the majority of newcomers influenced by them, their contemporaries, and old-school buddies alike have issued cut-out bins filled with sonic water-treading in order to get/stay on the road or soak up the adulation-on-steroids of the European festival circuit.
Indeed, the band could hardly ever be accused of phoning it in at any point of their career. They have crafted some indubitable metal mainstays over the years, entire issues of magazines have been dedicated to them, their setlist is a veritable treasure trove of death metal history and instruction and, most remarkably, they’re a band that appeals to headbangers across the board, not just the dudes who claim to have thrashed out of the womb wearing studded armbands and Devourment long sleeves. Who’da ever thunk any of the above would have ever been the result delivered by the maniacal band yours truly witnessed opening for the Goo Goo Dolls in Toronto back in 1990? True story.
Still, they keep topping themselves, and Violence Unimagined continues the upward movement of a band in the phase of existence that would have most others needing water wings and O2 tanks to keep from being swallowed up by a cutthroat industry, creative malaise, and/or the simple ravages of time. There will always be someone to come along and loudly proclaim “Hammer Smashed Face” as their songwriting pinnacle, or the [former vocalist, Chris] Barnes-era being end-all, or that their ascension beyond the world of underground death metal somehow invalidates the music. But their career has demonstrated that the only thing that’s going to stop Cannibal Corpse from topping themselves are themselves. Not even the plague or the recent personal troubles of long-standing ex-member guitarist Pat O’Brien can stem the claret from gushing from the open wound.
There’s a live wire coursing through Violence Unimagined courtesy of new guitarist Erik Rutan. The Hate Eternal mastermind has a long history with the band as a producer of four previous albums, tour buddies, fill-in guitarist, and roommate to Alex Webster back in the day. He was practically a sixth member before he became the fifth member, but it would appear that sinking his tentacles deeper into the band as member and producer have added kerosene to the eternal flame.
Rutan not only wrote three songs in their entirety but also pieced together the production in the midst of rampant Covidiocy and Webster living on the other side of the country. The result is an album teeming with soon-to-be-classic riffs molded by palatable technicality wrangled into a churning dervish of songs. There are technique and complication inherent in the guitar work and riffing, but those elements don’t end up making the result impenetrable; in fact, not humming along to “Condemnation Contagion” or “Cerements of the Flayed” will be more of a challenge than trying to decode each song’s theoretical tack.
Vocalist George “Corpsegrinder” Fischer continues to extract gnashing cadences and grizzly growls through his bulbous neck, the solos are mostly song-within-a-song masterstrokes themselves and the warm and powerful snap of Paul Mazurkiewicz’s drums teeter on the edge of collapse as he weaves in and out of accents, minor-key staccato note flairs and blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em rests.
“Murderous Rampage” bursts from the silent slumber with a swarming locust of choppy riffing, infectious chord progressions, a freight train chugging mid-section that spills into a window where the leads are cranked out with virtuosic elan. As the album opener, it does an A-1 job of setting the mood by jumping out of the speakers to sandpaper your face off. Cut from the same claret-stained cloth is “Necrogenic Resurrection” where guitar lines spiral around one another to be countered by a stomping bridge that’s equal parts doom metal and NY hardcore.
“Inhumane Harvest” brings prominent ascending bass pops to the fore and adds a unique dimension to the sinister and slinky riff that Mazurkiewicz commands and conducts, taking things from mid-pace crawl to full-on Florida-groomed rager. This one should be up there and in the running to eventually be spoken of in the same breath as the recognized classics from their discography.
On the more unique, if not progressive, end of things “Surround, Kill, Devour” throws a math rock-ish riff into an almost danceable groove with the result being a song that’ll cock eyebrows before it opens up a pit. Prepare to witness participants bopping their shaggy heads and shimmying the COVID weight-gain on their hips instead of body checking one another into lunkheaded oblivion. This track has the distinction of being one of Cannibal Corpse’s most outlying moments but is brilliant for the very reason that, despite the ledge they stride out on, it still sounds and slays like Cannibal Corpse. As well, “Bound and Burned” has little bits of Voivod angular weirdness nipping at the edges of a spinning miasma of fast-and-faster riffs before the interjection of lead guitar wails that, above all, hook into the listener’s noggin’ like rusty earworms.
For more traditional fare, there’s “Follow the Blood” which early on lurches like a meat grinder at mid-pace before rocketing off into a wiry thrash that bridges 21st-century death metal with 1985 Exodus and Slayer with some prog-rock bass noodling thrown in for good measure. “Slowly Sawn” is (or will be) the song they use to teach advanced classes in headbanging at a slow and deliberate pace while the world of guitars, bass, and drums converges around you to judiciously crush every cell in your body in stages totaling its 3:31 running time. Excellent bits of fusion influence in the solo and the unresolved finish to the track as well, dudes!
Then there’s “Overtorture” which is possibly the band at their consistent start-to-finish fastest. After this many years, and also considering it’s the album’s penultimate track, that they can deliver the amount of death metal mayhem as this single song does says much more about Cannibal Corpse’s power as a unit, the unwavering brightness of their future and just how much more difficult they’ve made it for themselves to construct a fair and balanced set list representative of all eras and albums.