Like it was ever going to be any other way. Cannibal Corpse’s thirteenth studio album was always set to be a brutal piece of work given the overwhelming commitment and dedication the band have continually displayed over the course of their twenty-four years as a band. Indeed, Cannibal Corpse have become a death metal institution, releasing albums ever one or two years and, remarkably, never dipping in quality nor moving too far from the original template that attracted fans in their legions to the band’s gore soaked imagery and unerringly vicious sound. 2012’s excellent ‘torture’ showed that time had done nothing to slow the band’s furious assault and the preview song ‘sadistic embodiment’ from ‘A skeletal domain’ showed just how thoroughly unpleasant Cannibal Corpse could still make themselves – in short, ‘a skeletal domain’ has rightly been one of 2014’s most anticipated extreme metal releases.
Opening in a haze of feedback, ‘High velocity impact spatter’ provides the perfect opener to the album, Patrick O’Brien’s lead guitar impressive, Paul Mazurkiewicz’s ferocious drum patterns as entertainingly hyperactive as ever and, lording it over the whole gory mess, George ‘corpsegrinder’ Fisher unleashing a roar that is ripped straight from the bowels of hell. Very much business as usual, fans would no more wish Cannibal Corpse to reinvent the wheel than slayer, and what we have here is a powerfully recorded, entirely noxious blast of unhinged death metal delivered with the skill and passion that fans have come to expect. Delivered at the speed of light, the familiar ‘sadistic embodiment’ gives no quarter as it rampages roughshod over the listener and then ‘kill or become’ marches into a view, lurching between ghastly mid-tempo trudge and knife-wielding hyper-speed fury in a schizophrenic display that demonstrates exactly the elements that have kept Cannibal Corpse at the top of the death metal heap for so long. Slowing the pace and offering a doomy contrast to the opening triptych, the title track gains added weight from the monstrous riffs employed by Patrick and Rob (Barrett – the band’s rhythm guitarist), although it does not take long for Paul to up the ante and send the track spinning off in a foaming frenzy. As the name implies, ‘headlong into carnage’ is a full-tilt and relentless blast of death-infused thrash metal, Cannibal corpse sounding like the chemistry in the studio was really cooking as they cooked up this refreshingly toxic brew. At five minutes, ‘’the murderer’s pact’ is the album’s longest and most gleefully inventive song. Like the horror maestro who finally delivers an epic tale of blood and butchery, Cannibal Corpse deliver a piece of music full of devilish twists and turns and it is, without doubt, the album’s bloody highlight.
Briefly allowing atmospheric sound effects to allow the listener a moment’s much needed respite, ‘Funeral cremation’ emerges out of a mire of noise to deliver a blistering few minutes of howling menace before ‘icepick lobotomy’ does its best to provide an aural simulation of the titular event via taut guitar riffs and Fisher’s commanding bark. Another highlight is the crushing menace of ‘vector of cruelty’ with its proud, disdainful delivery recalling the imperial cruelties of latter day Rome. With the sudden explosive fury of a back-alley mugging, ‘bloodstained cement’ sounds like the work of a young band, eager, hungry and desperate to make their mark on the world so focused and brutal is the delivery. Equally, the riffs that introduce ‘asphyxiate to resuscitate’ send the adrenalin coursing through the veins as the band once again lay down a challenge to death metal bands old and new to top the gleeful extremity on offer here. The album concludes with ‘hollowed bodies’ – one last shatteringly intense display of aggression and horror-soaked abandon before the album dissipates leaving the listener feeling as if they have just lived through the events of the evil dead.
Ultimately on ‘a skeletal domain’ Cannibal Corpse deliver exactly the album their fans want and need. If you’ve not yet found yourself drawn to their relentless and gore soaked assault then the album will certainly not change that, but what really strikes the listener is just how utterly committed the band sound to their cause. Some thirteen albums in you’d expect a touch of ennui, a slowing down of the assault, but against all expectations Cannibal Corpse sound as excited to be in the studio and making the music they love as they ever have. There’s not a weak track on the album, not a single moment that doesn’t get up close and person, fixing you with a bug eyed stare before eventually smashing your brains out on the pavement. It’s vicious, unpleasant and thrillingly over the top and Cannibal Corpse fans would surely have it no other way. Thirteen is clearly the band’s lucky number because ‘a skeletal domain’ not only stands proudly within the band’s great back catalogue; it damn near comes to the top.