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Eaten Back to Life (1990)
 

Cannibal Corpse has always been a controversial and polarizing band. Not so much for the reasons one might think, such as all the attention that they received for their gory cover art and graphic song titles. But within the underground, a lot of people hated these guys just for the fact that their records were considered to be inferior to those of many of their peers, yet they became the most popular Death Metal band in the world. Though Cannibal Corpse was never the best, and even their classic years produced albums that were only half-developed, their debut is a different beast altogether and is often forgotten. Released in August 1990, Eaten Back to Life sounds almost nothing like those records that followed it.

Musically, this L.P. is much more varied and interesting than the band's later recordings. The songwriting shows a fairly strong Thrash Metal influence, owing a bit to the likes of Slayer, Sodom and Sepultura. One can also hear similarities to the second Death album, Leprosy. Rather than being driven by the vocals and percussion, as is the case with Butchered at Birth and Tomb of the Mutilated, at times, Eaten Back to Life is very much a riff-oriented album. The guitars are the dominant feature of this recording and there are many memorable riffs to be found. In particular, the opener "Shredded Humans" includes riffs that will probably remain with you for years, even if you were to never touch the album again. The same can be said for  "Scattered Remains, Splattered Brains" and "Born in a Casket", both of which feature riffs that actually create a dark atmosphere, something that th band soon after forgot. There are plenty of high-speed sections, but they rarely last for too long and often give way to thrashier parts. This is probably a good thing, as the drumming gets somewhat sloppy when the pace quickens. The vocals of Chris Barnes are much different than the more guttural approach that he would adopt for the next release, utilizing more of a dry and raspy sound that really gives the impression of a half-rotted corpse that has just clawed its way from the damp soil of an ancient grave. This adds so much more to the deathlike atmosphere of the album, it is really unbelievable that so many Death Metal bands preferred the deeper and more useless vocal style that Barnes used after this. He sounds somewhat like a more demonic version of Evil Chuck, here. Also worth noting is the presence of Glen Benton (and some other guy) doing guest vocals on a couple of songs. The songwriting, overall, is much stronger than one would expect and never gets too dull. The less interesting songs actually clock in at under two minutes, so they never get the chance to become too boring or to annoy the listener. While much of the compositions are different than what they would later do, "Buried in the Backyard" very much foreshadows the direction that was to come.

In this case, credit should be given to the often-horrible Scott Burns for managing to give the album a powerful and yet sharp production job. This was before he decided to make the guitars on every record blend into the background and sound weak and ineffective. On Eaten Back to Life, the guitars are heavy and the drums are forceful, without distracting, and the overall sound is very similar to Sepultura's Beneath the Remains. The Slayer-esque solos are clear and carve through you, while the vocals are at an appropriate level, not rising too far above the rest and yet not getting buried in the mix. Perhaps, if the band utilized this sort of production for the following releases, they would have been more enjoyable and less bland.

All in all, Eaten Back to Life is a solid old school Death Metal album. For anyone that has written this band off, without hearing this, you should give it a chance. It fits well among the likes of Leprosy, Persecution Mania, Consuming Impulse, Resurrection Absurd, Beneath the Remains and Slowly We Rot and should appeal to fans of late '80s Death Metal as much as the more vicious Thrash that was still being released at the time. While not exactly a classic, this is probably the best album that Cannibal Corpse ever recorded and the one that possesses the darkest atmosphere, from the vocals and riffs and even the nocturnal graveyard on the cover. If you are looking for a good mixture of horror and Metal, this is certainly worth a listen.
 
(17 Aug. 2013)

 
 

Cannibal Corpse has always been a rather prolific band, going all the way back to their earliest days. Though nearly every album of theirs has sounded the same for well over a decade, such was not the case in the beginning. Each of their first several records had a rather distinctive sound. Released in 1991, Butchered at Birth came across as a bit darker and more serious, leaving behind the '80s Death / Thrash and campy horror movie lyrics in favour of something more disturbing.

The sophomore effort from Cannibal Corpse is a much heavier record and this is a result not only of the lower tuning for the guitars, but also the thicker production and the bludgeoning riffs. Also, the vocals become less discernible and more of an instrument that pushes the compositions forward, as Chris Barnes uses a deeper and more guttural style than before. This is one of the more negative aspects of the album, as his voice on Eaten Back to Life possessed a deathlike feeling that was lost with the arrival of the infamous "cookie monster" vocals. As for the music, the band discarded more of the trappings of their Thrash Metal roots and embrace a more pure Death Metal style, featuring more droning tremolo riffs and blastbeats. In some ways, Butchered at Birth seems to utilize a more percussive approach. Rather than just keeping a beat, the drums drive the music along just as much as the guitars and vocals. Even during the mid-paced sections, the double-bass never stops rumbling. Some of the riffs start to blend together, and one may have a hard time remembering which one belongs to what song, but then there are tracks like "Vomit the Soul" (featuring guest vocals from Glen Benton of Deicide) and the powerful closer, "Innards Decay", that stick with you long after the album concludes.

Though the production is not as raw and the vocals lack much of the unique character from before, Butchered at Birth is filled with memorable riffs and still stands as a guitar-oriented album. Because of the tuning of the guitars, the lower-pitched vocals and the prominence of the drumming, the sound of this album comes off as rather muddy, in a sense. It is like a wall of sound that repeatedly smashes you in the face, which may have been what the band was going for.

Cannibal Corpse was never the greatest Death Metal band out there, gaining a lot of notoriety from their album covers and promotion and so on, but they were solid in their early years. Butchered at Birth shows a bit of decline in quality from Eaten Back to Life, but it is still a decent Death Metal record with a fair amount of memorable riffs and ideas, if not actually memorable songs. If you are new to the band, or only familiar with their recent output, put that trash away and stick with their first few releases.
 
(23 Apr. 2014)

 
 

Tomb of the Mutilated, released in 1992, very well may be the most well-known and beloved album from Cannibal Corpse. This is quite unfortunate as, even for this band, it is far from the best of their early works. It has its moments, but too many negative things drag it down.

To begin with, the vocal performance by Chris Barnes is terrible. His voice is much deeper and more guttural than before, lacking any feeling whatsoever. As opposed to the evil, risen-from-the-grave ghoul from Eaten Back to Life, he just sounds like someone vomiting into a toilet bowl and capturing the sound on tape. It does not to evoke a feeling of death or horror. It's just another percussive instrument, on an album that has far too much of a percussive sound as it is. Occasionally, he lets out a raspy scream, though these moments only prove that he could have done better and just chose not to.

The songwriting is not as good as that of either Eaten Back to Life or Butchered at Birth. There are far too many plodding, mid-paced riffs that really do nothing but serve as a background for the horrible vocals. The thrash influence seems to have completely died by this point, as well. There are some decent faster-paced riffs, but the wretched production has them buried beneath the percussion. Nonetheless, Tomb of the Mutilated does possess several memorable parts, found in tracks like "Addicted to Vaginal Skin", "Necropedophile" and "The Cryptic Stench". Things gradually improve throughout the course of the album, with the riffs creating a bit of a dark and morbid atmosphere, despite all the rest of the elements that are actively working against this. Some of the guitar riffs from songs like "The Cryptic Stench", "Entrails Ripped from a Virgin's Cunt" and "Post Mortal Ejaculation" really could have been expanded upon and worked into better, darker songs. As for the latter, it features the best moments of the whole record, with some riffs that might have been better suited for Black Metal. The break near the end, with the guitars standing alone and then a high-pitched cry and the blasting drums coming back in... this small part of the song possesses the darkest feeling and shows a bit of potential. Ever since my first time hearing it, so many years ago, I've felt like they could have done so much more with that section and with this album, in general.

The lyrics are a point of interest for many, and in this regard Barnes did quite a good job at conjuring up a variety of unsettling images and scenarios. While many have attempted to write rather disgusting lyrics, often just to outdo the next band, Barnes comes across as genuinely disturbed and that does add to the atmosphere of the record, to an extent. The lyrics would have had more of an impact had he chosen to utilize a more raw and decipherable vocal style, however.

The production is a definite step down from Butchered at Birth. The bass and drums are far too high in the mix, giving the overall sound a really weird vibe. The guitars do not possess the same kind of tone as on the previous two albums, somehow feeling weaker. The poor mix only emphasizes this even more. The vocals are probably mixed about as well as possible, given the circumstances.

In the end, Tomb of the Mutilated could have been much better than it is. A different vocal approach, and a production job that was less percussive, would have done quite a lot for the album just as it is. As well, some of the more boring riffs could have been scrapped. Despite all the setbacks, Side B showcases some rather decent material from Cannibal Corpse and certainly beats the hell out of anything they have done in the past twenty years. There's much better old school Death Metal out there, but this is still worth a listen if you're a fan of this band.
 
(22 June 2014)

 
The Bleeding (1994)
 

My best friend and I were in junior high when this was released, in April 1994. A short time later, we got our hands on a Metal blade catalog and proceeded to order the fourth full-length album from Cannibal Corpse, The Bleeding. It is most unfortunate that this has the distinction of being the first Death Metal album that we ever heard. I'd grown up with traditional Metal and Thrash, so the only thing that was really new about this was the vocal style. I've encountered a lot of people that have had difficulty in getting into Death and Black Metal, due to the vocals, but I took to it quite easily. Despite the fact that I moved far beyond this album, in the years that followed, I must give credit where it is due. This acted as the gateway that would lead me into the realm of Death Metal, where I'd soon discover much more relevant albums, such as Altars of Madness, Scream Bloody Gore, Consuming Impulse and many more. This opened up a world beyond NWOBHM and Thrash Metal. Whatever my current opinion is, I cannot deny the importance of this album, on a personal level.

It begins with "Staring Through the Eyes of the Dead", opening with rather odd sounding riffs. The song speeds up a bit, about halfway through, though this does not last long. As it slows down again, there's a nice morbid effect with the vocals and the bass. A couple of Slayer-esque solos follow this, being kind of worthless, in the long run.

"Fucked With A Knife" was the one that got me into a lot of trouble, at home. When this album was discovered in my possession, this created some annoyance for me. Unfortunately for me, I didn't have the censored version. No, I had the uncensored version, complete with lyrics. It's funny to look back on, these days. Musically, the song wasn't too far off from the Thrash Metal that I was already quite familiar with. Only the vocals were new, really. The high-pitched scream, at the end, was always one of my favorite parts. Chris Barnes utilized more variation in his style, on this album, and it probably helped prepare me for the Second Wave Black Metal bands that I would later discover, as well. I always thought the band would have benefited had he chosen to use these raspier screams on earlier albums.

The next song has always sounded like the one that was intended to become a staple of the live shows. "Stripped, Raped and Strangled" has that radio-single quality to it, though there was no way in Hell that this was seeing any airplay, with the exception of college radio. However, it seems really catchy and this always got on my nerves a bit. However, the faster riffs make up for this. Of course, this was my first exposure to such lyrics, and I enjoyed them in a sick way. This was before I was completely desensitized to this stuff, by hearing it a million times.

"Pulverized" starts with a decent tremolo riff and a lot of speed and intensity, compared to the previous song. Lyrically, the approach isn't simply that of random violence; there is a dark and twisted element present. The main character of the song, literally, asks to be stopped. It adds an interesting dimension to the story. While being fairly straight-forward, there are still variations in the tempo and a few riff changes. Again, Barnes employs a raspy, high-pitched vocal style, near the end.

"You tried to stop me
Dead before you started
Put me away
Before I put another in the grave"

"Return to Flesh" begins with a mid-paced riff, accompanied by a razor sharp tremolo riff that nicely accentuates the main theme. This is one of the best of the whole album, though it comes and goes. As the song gets going, it alternates between a mid-paced thrash riff and the aforementioned tremolo melody. This comes together well, creating a morbid feeling. The solo is much more thought-out, adding something to the song rather than being pointless. With this song, Side A really ends on a strong note, as this is one of the best songs on the record.

Side B starts out with "The Pick Axe Murders", which sounds like the name of a novel. Whereas the previous song ended with a slow pace, this one is much faster. Even at this point, the band's thrash roots are still quite evident. Another Slayer-esque solo precedes the vicious vocals, again alternating between high and low. While many Cannibal Corpse fans probably prefer earlier albums, The Bleeding succeeds where the others failed; i.e. each song stands out from the rest, being easily identifiable. The album never gets boring, even by Death Metal standards.

"She Was Asking For It" begins with explosive riffs and tremolo melodies. It has such a fast pace, that the drums almost seem as if they're having difficulty keeping up with the rest. But this is only an introductory section, as the song slows down as the first verse comes in. As before, the lyrics are interesting and are easy to follow along with. This one features more of a complex structure than some of the others, giving it sort of an epic feeling. following another fast part, the song gets even slower and utilizes some whispered vocals to add to the eerie effect.

"Dead to the world, I see only black
There's blood on my hands
Dead to the world, I see only black
The blood of the dead"

The title track opens with a very good riff, building a decent atmosphere of horror. This, easily, solidifies this record as being the most interesting of this band's career. It seems that this is around the time that the band, finally, gave in to creativity and put more effort into making something interesting, as opposed to trying to be the most brutal band out there. "The Bleeding" is filled with awesome riffs, a lot of thrash actually, and good variation in the vocals. The whole album is like this, really.

I am not sure if epic is the right word, but I cannot think of anything better to describe the feeling that builds throughout the latter half of this album. "Force Fed Broken Glass" shows the continuation of something that has slowly grown, over the course of this record. In some way, you can tell that the album is reaching its conclusion. The first minute or so is pretty fast-paced, though not incredibly intense or anything. A couple minutes in, the pace slows, considerably, and there are the sounds of someone gagging and choking (presumably on broken glass). The riffs create a sense of dread, working well with the vocals as well. The song speeds up again, but this is ephemeral. Again, the pace slows to something morbid, as hellish solos are accompanied by sparse acoustic notes. This is a flash of brilliance, by the standards of this band, and something I wish they had explored. There is the feeling that this would have been a good way to end the album, but it isn't over yet.

"An Experiment In Homicide" telegraphs the fact that the end is upon us. It's faster than the last song, though possessing slower parts as well. It is a fairly short song, giving the sens that the life has been fully drained and that there's no point in going on. As the last echoes fade, your fate is clear.

"I set the dead on fire
To decay in flames"

The Bleeding is, by far, the most interesting album Cannibal Corpse ever recorded. It was at this point that they seemed fully comfortable with their instruments and willing to go beyond the strict boundaries established by their earlier albums. Perhaps sentimentality plays a part here, but it would seem that the band was well on their way to achieving something greater than they would actually go on to do. This would mark the end of the Chris Barnes era. After a couple more albums, they decided to make a career of rehashing old material. However, more than a decade since I have cared at all for this band, this album is still quite enjoyable. I recommend this as a good starting point for anyone looking to check them out. It may also serve as a good stopping point, depending on your point of view.
 
(3 Aug. 2009)

 
 

Upon its release in May 1996, the fifth Cannibal Corpse L.P. was surrounded by some amount of controversy. Chris Barnes had been kicked out of the band and replaced with George Fisher, only known for his work as part of the very mediocre Monstrosity. Along with the new frontman was a new logo, which looked awful. As such, Vile was under closer scrutiny than any of their previous records. The end result was quite disappointing.

While one would think that Death Metal vocalists are much more interchangeable than someone like King Diamond or Rob Halford, the truth was that many considered Barnes to the driving force behind the band. He drew the logo, came up with concepts for the cover art, wrote all of the lyrics and did all of the interviews. Even though his 'cookie monster' vocal style seemed rather generic by this point, changing the voice of any band is always a tricky move. His replacement didn't help matters by giving a rather half-hearted and weak performance. He failed to either match up to his predecessor's work or to stand out on his own and really leave his mark on the album. Anyone could have taken his place and done a better job. He honestly sounds like any Cannibal Corpse fan trying to do a Chris Barnes impersonation.

Musically, Vile follows the approach of The Bleeding, in some instances. Whereas the last album sacrificed some of the 'brutality' of the earlier offerings to focus on atmosphere (with songs like "Return to Flesh" and "Force Fed Broken Glass"), the bulk of Vile feels a little more technical and this doesn't really work so well. There are some decent riffs here and there, like the tremolo bit in "Perverse Suffering", though the majority of the track is dull. Similarly, there are very brief parts in "Bloodlands" and "Orgasm Through Torture". Songs like "Disfigured" and "Eaten from Inside" sound like rehash from previous records, something of which Cannibal Corpse would go on to build their entire career.

By 1996, it appeared that Death Metal had pretty much run out of steam and all of the classic albums were already at least a few years old. None of the bands seemed to really have anything left to contribute, other than to just rehash what had already been done. After hearing the Created to Kill recordings, it is clear that the fifth Cannibal Corpse album was destined to be boring, no matter what (and Six Feet Under's second full-length proved that Chris Barnes had allowed his voice to completely deteriorate and should have quit making music). People can blame the new vocalist or the different logo as the only reasons why Vile is looked down upon, but the fact is that it's just not very good. Making an album of regurgitated ideas, spiced up with extra technicality, was never going to work. If you're a fan of this band, stick with the earlier albums; not just because of the vocalist or the logo or any reason other than that Cannibal Corpse said all that they had to say with those first four records.
 
(27 Dec. 2016)

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