Cannibal Corpse are a death metal institution and, as such, it’s difficult to judge their albums objectively. On the one hand, they have a specific sound to deliver, and it’s difficult to complain when they do exactly that, on the other hand, it’s certainly true that certain Cannibal Corpse albums stand out from the pack more than others. ‘Red before black’, the band’s fourteenth studio album, is a case in point. It has the unfortunate task of following on from two absolutely killer albums – 2012’s ‘torture’ and 2014’s ‘a skeletal domain’ – and, as such, it has much to live up to. This it mostly does, although a couple of the tracks lack the potency of the whole and a little more quality control might have resulted in a more concise and brutal experience.
‘Only one will die’ is Cannibal Corpse at their intimidating best. The guitars fight the percussion in a bloody knife dual, the bass churns away somewhere near the earth’s core and, of course, the vocals that emerge from the centre of this gore-soaked mess are delivered with customary thuggishness. Better is the razor-sharp horror of the title track which is delivered with a bug-eyed ferocity that is positively unnerving. It is here, with the band at their most incisive, that Cannibal Corpse re-stake their claim as the reigning kings of death metal, standing atop a pile of bloody corpses, looking down with malevolent disdain. Arguably, Cannibal Corpse are at their most intense when they allow a touch of Autopsy-esque doom into proceedings as they do on ‘Code of the slashers’, a syrupy, slow-motion nightmare that gains greater weight for its methodical pace. Of course, when the track finally does explode into a whirlwind of gore, the impact is all the greater for the wait we’ve been forced to endure. A somewhat weaker track, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with ‘Shedding my human skin’, but following on from the gargantuan riffs of ‘code of the slashers’, it feels somewhat Cannibal-Corpse-by-numbers in comparison. Fortunately, the lumbering horror of ‘remaimed’ is not far behind, and it does much to get things back on track before ‘Firestorm vengeance’ emerges to flatten the mosh pit altogether with its death-infused thrash fury.
Wasting no time to assault the listener with sheer, unthinking hatred, ‘heads shovelled off’ is a blunt instrument wielded with little finesse and incredible violence. Similarly ‘corpus delicti’ delivers its cadaverous thrills in a whirlwind of proto-thrash riffing and diabolical percussion. Over it all, Corpsegrinder delivers himself of his typically unhinged bark, sounding more animal with every subsequent syllable. Signalling another album highlight, the cruelly distorted bass that leads into ‘scavenger consuming death’ allows scabrous pustule of tension to rise before bursting in spectacularly gruesome fashion as the guitars rain down in a shower of crimson fluid. If the short ‘in the midst of ruin’ feels a touch undercooked, the manic ‘destroyed without a trace’ is dispatched with all the violence of a sudden home invasion before ‘hideous ichor’ slows things down, bringing the album to a suitably malevolent end.
Cannibal Corpse aren’t capable of delivering a bad album, but there is a sense that ‘red before black’ is more of a holding operation than a genuine attempt to advance beyond the previous few albums. That’s not to say that the album doesn’t savage the listener with all the maniacal glee of a small boy pulling the wings off flies, it’s just that it doesn’t quite strain at the leash in the way that ‘a skeletal domain’ did. Nonetheless, few bands deliver death metal as potent as Cannibal Corpse, and there is much to enjoy amidst the severed limbs and inhuman grunting for those who delight in extremity. 8