Machine Music's Albums of the Decade: An Interview with Cattle Decapitation
This is the 28th installment of the Albums of the Decade series of interviews. For the rest of the series go HERE.]
Artist: Cattle Decapitation
Album: The Anthropocene Extinction
Label: Metal Blade Records
Favorite Song: "Plagueborne"
The Bare Bones: The Anthropocene Extinction is the seventh full length by San Diego death/grindcore band Cattle Decapitation. The album marked the band's further progression into more melodic territory, that had begun in earnest in the band's previous album, 2012's Monolith of Inhumanity.
The Beating Heart: With The Anthropocene Extinction Cattle Decapitation achieved a rare, some would say unprecedented feat, especially for a band as extreme as it is. Without sacrificing a gram (metric system here, sorry folks) of artistic integrity and outright brutality Cattle Decap was able to incorporate more melody, dynamics, and clean-sung vocals and created what probably hasn't happened since Carcass' melodic masterpiece Heartwork – crafted twisted riffs and inhuman growls into a song of earnest, exposed, and mournful melancholy. But that's only half the feat, you see, because Cattle Decap did all this all while sustaining the much-maligned ultra-modern, uber-triggered modern metal production. Which means that withThe Anthropocene Extinction Cattle Decapitation was able to use that very inhuman sheen of sound and mixing to the advantage of its music and its message, making this album and Cattle Decap as a band stand almost alone in what could be called the school of "hyper-technical-metal-production-used-to-somehow-sound-more-human," along with bands such as WORMED and later, to an extent, Rivers of Nihil.
Before proceeding to my conversation with band fonrtman, leader, and man of a thousand scary voices, Travis Ryan I would like, as always, to encourage you to read the rest of this ongoing interview project, which will be running until the end of the year (and probably spilling into the beginning of 2020), with a lot more exciting conversations to be published. You can follow us on any one of our social media outlets (Facebook, Instagram, Spotify) and also, if so inclined, support us on Patreon. My aim has been to use whatever support we can get to produce interviews like these, focusing on the art and life of that art, as well as other projects supporting our local scene, such as our compilation MILIM KASHOT VOL. 1 of amazing local black metal, death metal, grindcore, folk, and more. To the interview. Enjoy!
Is there a song or album that you remember, maybe as a younger person, that really changed how you viewed music? A kind of watershed moment where you said: “Oh, OK, I didn’t know you were allowed to make music like this?
I’ve had so many of those moments throughout my life, its hard to pinpoint just one. I guess an obvious one would be Carcass’ Symphonies of Sickness. Mainly because I’m just trying to answer the actual question. When I first heard it, it unnerved me to the point where I got to the end of the first side I think it was and stopped, and came back to it two days later after I deliberated in my mind what the fuck it was I just heard. Kind of like when you first see gratuitous gore or porn or something… A couple days later I returned and that was the watershed moment. I had desensitized myself now and this was the new yardstick upon which to judge future music by. It's crazy to me now to think that the version of Carcass that did that for seemingly everyone else was Heartwork. I got that on import cassette two or three months before it came out in the states and was so bummed, haha. I eventually got into it but I just missed that grittiness that ended with Necroticism.
What have been some of the most influential non-metal artists you can remember? Even more recently, or at least as an adult, and are there ways to hear those influences in CD music, or even in your process?
For me, definitely The Cure, U2, Sisters of Mercy as far as when I was growing up and Beethoven was what started my love of music off as a kid. I am rather technical-minded so to know that this man was deaf and could still create this amazing music freaked me out beyond belief. I don’t know that you can hear a bit of that in Cattle Decapitation, especially since I don’t write much of the music and definitely not in my lyrics or vocals. Maybe in the new album [Death Atlas] as I do some different style stuff that’s more reminiscent of Sisters and old new wave or goth, but that’s it if anything.
Obviously environmental issues have been and are a major thematic preoccupation for you. Is there a way that you feel metal, or heavy music in general, lends itself to these kinds of discussions? The limits of the human, maybe, or perhaps the scale of the issue?
I think it always has. Issues that affect society as a whole have always been discussed even since Black Sabbath. Thrash was practically built on talking about nuclear war and societal woes. Metal to me was always rebellion against the status quo and with that a lot of times comes opinions on politics and the major components of our society.
It seems that the band is always changing, changing its sound, sometimes its members, sometimes its style. And a lot of times bands that go through that tend to lose focus, lose fans, get shit from the press. And yet it seems you guys are only getting better and more popular as you go along. Is there a “good way” to change or to pick up and add new elements?
I mean, when you let go of a member, the obvious idea to me should be to replace them with someone of an upper tier, be it musically, professionally or personally. I think that’s all that’s happened here. Josh [Elmore] and I knew where we wanted to go when getting Dave McGraw and so on and so forth with the others. We ALL write, no one person dominates the writing, it's a group effort and always has been so that’s probably where the stylistic changes come in. When you have four to five different opinions all working together, that’s where the magic happens.
Over the last two albums and especially in The Anthropocene Extinction, it seems that part of the formula that appeals to so many people is the juxtaposition of the most intense music and emotion with some super melodic stuff, whether through clean vocals, melodic interludes, and even a an almost power-metal sense of flair. Did your progression entail also a sense of accenting the heavier stuff with melody and song dynamics? That you don’t just have to pummel your music in 100 percent of the time?
I can’t speak for the actual songwriters when I say what I’m about to say, but for me there’s only so long you can do the same thing and with each album I know personally I’ve wanted to squash out any potential boredom that might come with writing extreme metal and just do stuff that’s different. Using this time to experiment and push things further and further towards the brink of if something can even be called what its called anymore. Our new album for instance features both extremes. Brutal an intense to the most quiet and somber feeling possible. To me, that is truly extreme music. But its still gotta be good and make sense in the end. That’s the tricky part.
A lot of times the term “grind” come up in discussions of CD’s music, The Anthropocene Extinction included, despite the fact that you yourself have stated that the term doesn’t apply since it’s a very specific genre with a specific history. But, is there a way in which some of the confusion at least is rooted in the band’s political nature? That grindcore is often associated with what, at least in the metal scene, would be considered “progressive” or “left-leaning” politics? Not that environmentalism and vegetarianism would necessarily be aligned with those politics, and yet they sometimes are.
I guess some part of it, yeah. But really I think that term is applied to us simply because of the grindcore-esque dynamic our music still has to this day but mostly also due to the fact that we very much started as a grind band. The first album is blistering, intense grind. Just not typical grind with d-beat parts or whatever. I never thought of it as from a political standpoint, mostly musical.
Whether rightfully or not I think the perception of the band is that you run the show. And obviously that may be the case from certain aspects, like the business or the lyrics. How do you balance the two, being the pointman while also staying open to new ideas?
At the end of the day… “its gotta be Cattle Decapitation.” Thankfully for my sanity and interest in the band, it's progressed the entire time. So there’s no getting bored and there’s most likely no running out of ideas. We keep things fresh and nowadays, fun! I’m open to most everyone’s ideas, I just have to be aware as does everyone else, that it must be Cattle sounding and luckily, the people we have chosen to be in the band have understood that and “got it.” One thing that we can’t have happen is someone not be on the same page and that’s easily to establish quickly after all these years of experience.
This may be a silly question, but I honestly think you have one of the best band logos in the game. And interestingly, it too has been in a process of slow evolution over the years. Can you tell me a bit about that logo’s history, and the decision, a dangerous one sometimes for metal bands, to change it gradually?
Thanks! I think its a decent logo but I fucking hate it for logistical reasons, honestly. Here’s why… and seriously, new bands take note of this cuz its important and you’re not gonna have anyone telling you to do this… Our logo is basically a weird, misshapen square in graphic arts terms. It's why we don’t have… say… embroidered hats, for instance. They can’t work with that extraneous tail at the bottom (which are supposed to be trails of blood). So, you’ll see our logo truncated a lot of times and that sucks. It wasn’t designed for that. The best thing you can do is have a logo that looks more like a rectangle. Like Internal Bleeding’s or Cannibal Corpse’s later logo. Those can be worked with in any capacity. But ours? Shit… I see the most fucked up versions of it all the time cuz of how misshapen it is. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the logo, especially the latest Gruesome Graphix reworking of it, but as the guy in the band that curates and commissions all our artwork, designs, merch, presentations… it's a fucking nightmare to work with.
I know you’re knee-deep into recording the new album, and that some time has passed, but is there something about The Anthropocene Extinction that makes you especially proud, when you look back at that album?
That we were actually able to pull it off. Considering how things were going at the time internally and logistically… that album is a fucking miracle.