Still at the top of their game

Red Before Black is the fourteenth full length album from death metal veterans Cannibal Corpse. It has been hailed as ‘the culmination of the best’ of the band. Will it live up to such a bold declaration? This reviewer aims to find out.

Album opener ‘Only One Will Die’ kicks off in impressive fashion. That typical Cannibal Corpse blasting wall of sound, instantly combined with Corpsegrinder’s signature throat-razing vocals. It’s solid, breakneck and groovy. They picked quite a fast one to open with, but it serves as a keen statement of intent, proving that the band does feel that this album is as solid as any they’ve done. Title track ‘Red Before Black’ begins with an imposing set of riffs before launching back into speed. As a whole, this track goes for the throat a little more than the opener did, showing that Cannibal Corpse are able to introduce elements of melody to such fast-paced violence and intensity.

‘Code of the Slashers’ starts from a relative crawl, before breaking back into that speed again. At the same time, Corpsegrinder’s vocals are what’s pushing this piece along. His vocals are still as impressive as ever, and this sounds all the better for the reliance on them. Midway through, a frenetic solo offers a slight change of pace before Corpsegrinder brings the violence; leading back into the opening crawl. The lurching pace mimics the subject of the lyrics: it’s akin to being slashed to pieces.

‘Shedding My Human Skin’ is an exercise in skill from the iconic rhythm section of Alex Webster and Paul Mazurkiewicz. They’re able to control the tempo here, and it serves to show just how key they are, and always will be, to Cannibal Corpse’s sound. Rob Barrett and Pat O’Brien’s riffs and leads weave in and out as Corpsegrinder tears his throat above it all. In some ways it represents the key Cannibal Corpse ‘formula’, but it displays great results when the band have such great synergy. ‘Remaimed’ features more of that classic Corpse atmosphere. It’s brutal and unrelenting, and one track where Erik Rutan’s clear, but gritty, production is able to shine through. ‘Remaimed’ takes no prisoners; the guitars cut through as sharp as knives albeit with just enough of those grimy, jagged edges that the band is known for.

‘Firestorm Vengeance’. The quality of this track is almost belied by its name. A mid paced lurching riff opens, before it breaks out into bouts of thrashing, frenzied chaos. Again, this one contains a lot of the typical Cannibal hallmarks, but it’s constructed so well that there’s a freshness to it all. ‘Heads Shoveled Off’ is a standout in the middle of the album. It’s a mid-paced exercise in brutality. The edges are a little sharper here, Webster’s bass playing is as skilful as ever, and Corpsegrinder’s vocals move in deft sequence with the blasting, propulsive drumming. A wild series of solos kicks in before Corpsegrinder decisively growls the title of the song, to lead us out.

‘Corpus Delicti’ is another trademark mid-paced workout. It’s easy to picture this one going over well in a live setting, with its pummelling rhythms and catchy vocal lines from Corpsegrinder. I’ve noticed an absence of his trademark screams throughout the album, and while that might be a stylistic choice, ‘Corpus Delicti’ sees him in no less commanding form.

‘Scavenger Consuming Death’ kicks off with some propulsive bass, which anchors the track amid repetition of solid riffs and pounding drumbeats. The genuine technicality and relentlessness displayed in this track proves that Cannibal Corpse haven’t lost a step in spite of forming nearly thirty years ago. ‘In the Midst of Ruin’ sees the band introducing some off-kilter rhythms that simply add to the chaotic nature of the track. This much variation, this late in the album sequence, was a welcome surprise. The brief solos work in tandem with these rhythms, and Corpsegrinder’s trademark savagery to make this track a highlight.

‘Destroyed Without a Trace’ carries on that chaotic nature displayed in the preceding track. It’s not a carbon copy, but it’s easy to see what the band were going for when pairing these tracks together in sequence; It’s an unabated auditory assault and the unpredictable nature provides the perfect lead in to the next track. Album closer ‘Hideous Ichor’ is an immense foreboding beast. It brings back that swamp-like, lurching nature found in the opener before erupting into an intense expression of violence. Taking no prisoners, swiftly changing tempo. It’s an exercise in what Cannibal Corpse have done so well for near thirty years; unrelenting brutality.

Red Before Black as an album draws from the best of the deep well of Cannibal Corpse’s recent songwriting. There were elements that reminded me of Kill, Torture and even from the band’s earlier years. The quality of tracks did tend to take a dip in the middle of the album, but that might have been a sequencing issue. With that said, there were enough new elements introduce to again prove why Cannibal Corpse remain at the top of the heap, and the top of their game.

1. Only One Will Die
2. Red Before Black
3. Code of the Slashers
4. Shedding My Human Skin
5. Remaimed
6. Firestorm Vengeance
7. Heads Shoveled Off
8. Corpus Delecti
9. Scavenger Consuming Death
10. In the Midst of Ruin
11. Destroyed Without a Trace
12. Hideous Ichor