Cattle Decapitation – Serving A Dead Man
By: David E. Gehlke
Everyone takes something different away from death metal. Whether it’s in b-horror movie concepts, blinding technicality, or romper-room chunky riff action, death metal offers a wide array of choices to suit just about anyone. These days, there’s less of an onus on shocking people with grossed-out lyrical concepts and more importance placed on having something to say, which is something San Diego’s Cattle Decapitation have made a career out of since their mid-90’s inception.
Notable not only because of their rather twisted name and once-prominent vegetarian angle, Cattle Decap have the musical wares to back everything up. 2009’s excellent The Harvest Floor was the band’s critical breakthrough, lauded for its engaging songwriting and Travis Ryan’s bezerk vocal barks, thus setting up this year’s even better Monolith of Inhumanity. With a bottomless pit of serpentine riffs from guitarist Josh Elmore (see: “Dead Set On Suicide” and “Kingdom of Tyrants”) and Ryan’s multi-faceted vocal approach (including what he calls “pterodactyl vocals”), Monolith is perhaps the band’s most satisfying effort to date.
We caught up with Ryan while the band was on the road with Origin, Decrepit Birth, Aborted, and Battlecross to talk about the new album, but before we got down to business, an audibly-tired Ryan engaged Blistering in a discussion about the surplus of package tours hitting the States this year. Once the singer got past some light-hearted groveling, we dove into a conversation about the scene and its tour combinations…
Blistering.com: What is there? Four or five package this in North America this summer, right?
Travis Ryan: Yeah, and we’re on one of them! [with Fear Factory and Voivod – ed.] It should be cool…that’s a good one we’re on. We’ve done Summer Slaughter in the past and that was cool.
Blistering.com: And it’s an interesting bill. Voivod isn’t a huge draw in the States, so I’m curious to see how it goes.
Ryan: Yeah, but, you’re not taking into the account with the whole thrash revival thing that bands from that era are turning people onto the older stuff. Young kids love that kind of metal now, with their fucking patches and shit like that. It’s kind of cool. I remember back in the day that I’d tell you white Reeboks are cheesy then and they’re still cheesy now [laughs].
Blistering.com: The whole thrash revival was pretty big a few years ago, now it’s dying down.
Ryan: A band we’re on tour with has a little bit of thrashiness in them, Battlecross. They’re actually pretty good. Great kids. They don’t play “space metal” or “djent” [laughs].
Blistering.com: I feel sorry for Meshuggah – a lot of bands are stealing their ideas directly.
Ryan: Yeah, it’s pretty stupid. They all sound the same, but whatever. I have to question the validity of stuff like that. Just like with the thrash revival, it’s like, “Really? Come on!”
Blistering.com: Anyway, The Harvest Floor did well really for you a few years ago, so was there any onus on taking that record to the next level with Monolith of Inhumanity?
Ryan: The thing was, right off the bat it was one of our most critically-acclaimed records. We knew we had to…one-up if we can or do something equally as powerful. I think we did that, especially because of all the reviews and stuff are really, really good.
Blistering.com: Josh’s guitar playing is top-notch too. He has such an unconventional approach to his riffs. Does he surprise you with the type of riffs he comes up with?
Ryan: Honestly, I just wait for them to give me songs [laughs]. I think he’s constantly coming up with shit and stockpiling it away. We were probably more prepared with writing this one than any of our previous releases because we’ve had a long time, although we were touring. There were times where we weren’t doing much, but he was constantly coming up with riffs and ideas. It’s weird…it’s a combination between him, Derek [Engermann, bass], and Dave [McGraw, drums]. He comes up with a laundry list of riffs, brings it to them, they go over it…it’s pretty cool.
Blistering.com: This is your first album with Derek on bass, so was there any type of adjusting you had to do?
Ryan: He had a hand in some of the structure of some of the songs. That was one of the things he kept saying: “I’m really good at structuring songs.” He helped out a lot. I think he’s added something new – Troy, our old bass player had a lot to do with the songwriting on our last few records. It was weird – we didn’t know what to expect. We could have hired him and he could have sucked and been a great person and great on the road. But he also could have totally been a great bass player and sucked as a person [laughs]. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. I don’t know if it was just the timing, he seemed to bring more of a metal edge, especially to our live performance [laughs]. None of us have hair and he does.
Blistering.com: Hey, it’s good to have hair in death metal. I don’t have any hair, so I don’t know if I could fit.
Ryan: [laughs] I know! He’s really into the buzz-saw riffs…the really epic-sounding kind of shit too.