Album Review: Cattle Decapitation - "Monolith of Inhumanity"
What seems like a lifetime ago in 2003, I remember doing a music news report for my college radio station detailing how Cattle Decapitation had announced that their upcoming album, to be released in 2004, was to be called "Humanure." Little did I know that nine years later, Cattle Decapitation would not only evolve into a real thing, but would still be making music for a prominent label. The vegan-fueled extreme metal act from San Diego is back with "Monolith of Inhumanity," another album of guts-to-the-wall, entrails-soaked visions of the destruction brought about by civilization and technology in the name of progress. In truth, no one who entitles a song "A Living, Breathing Piece of Defecating Meat" does so with the intent of fading into the background or producing a sugary top-40 hit. This album is another in-your-face, no apologies, take-it-or-leave-it effort that represents what might be called an ambitious effort in deathgrind.
Based loosely around the principle of the monolith representing technology in Arthur C. Clarke/Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Monolith of Inhumanity" seeks to continue the band's narrative of mankind's inhumanity. Cattle Decapitation has blended some new-ish elements into their usual (vegetarian) stew of non-stop musical assault. There are some interesting solos such as the one in "Dead Set on Suicide," and "Your Disposal" has a damn-near melodic and dare I suggest, memorable chorus. In these moments there is a weak, faint glimpse of musical evolution on "Monolith of Inhumanity," as Cattle Decapitation tentatively mixes just a little flavor into the usually monotone proceedings. The real curveball is that the album's de facto title track "The Monolith" is actually a throw-away; an ambient piece that serves only to lead into the cacophonous finisher "Kingdom of Tyrants."
The snarky cynic in me would want to go out on a limb and point out that for all their anti-civilization railings, Cattle Decapitation seems to have no trouble maintaining their relationship with Metal Blade records, which certainly (and rightly so,) must view Cattle Decapitation as a worthwhile piece of their capitalist vision. (Parenthetically, by no means am I accusing Metal Blade of being a heartless, domineering super-corporation. Certainly though, I assume they would rather turn a profit than not.) But I would only point that out if I were a cynic.
The band speaks frequently about their desire to continually push the issue and create music that challenges the status quo in an intentional affront to common, and possibly good, taste. Which is fine; expanding the nature of music and testing its boundaries is a necessary exercise in the growth of the medium. Except that very argument gives an artist carte blanche to produce any old piece of crap and then declare that detractors are either ignorant of its purpose, or even more defensively sophomoric, pussies.
As a genre, deathgrind (another made-up word, since we've been talking about those lately,) has always achieved the opposite of its intended effect on me; it bores me, to use my wife's expression, out of my tree. I find I can never listen to more than a couple songs consecutively, not because I can't tolerate the intensity or my sensitive ears explode in showers of blood, but simply because I'd rather be doing something else. "Monolith of Inhumanity" does nothing to break this mold. The impregnable wall of noise endemic to the style and the album contains little groove, even less variation, and no chance to truly absorb and digest the music. As a reviewer, it's easy to say, "well, it's a decent album for that genre," but that attitude is ultimately a cop-out. Sometimes, it's necessary to evaluate the entire genre and see if it's worthwhile as an art form or not. But that's an argument for another day.
For what it's worth, drummer Dave McGraw puts forth another fine exhibition of brute-force percussive fury and his role is absolutely essential for the goals of "Monolith of Inhumanity." Without his peerless, incessant hammering, the album would lose all of its bravado and gusto, with songs like "Gristle Licker" and "Projectile Ovulation" losing their purpose.
With all that said, most if not all of the songs on this album sound roughly the same and there is little or no chance to really get into the music and bang your head or maintain any kind of composed rhythm. The production is cleaner and clearer than fans of Cattle Decapitation are probably used to, and that helps in studying the album from an academic perspective, if not perhaps an entertainment one. Still, if looking for a record you can really sink your teeth into, you're likely better off elsewhere.
Odds are that listeners have already made up their mind on "Monolith of Inhumanity" before they've heard it, based solely on their established opinion of deathgrind to this point. There's nothing here that will change your mind on that subject (despite the band's laudable attempt to vary their sound a little,) which means that people who defend this music will continue to call people who reject it weak, while those who have no taste for it will call its fans boorish philistines. There is plenty of music out there where I understand its appeal without having it appeal to me, and so I can't hold it against quality music that simply isn't my style. In this case, I struggle to understand the appeal as well. Either way, this album wasn't for me.