It has been over three years now since ‘A Skeletal Domain’; the thirteenth full-length studio offering from American death metal behemoths Cannibal Corpse hit listeners’ ears. With a generally peerless discography and a well-documented reputation that is difficult to deny, ‘Red Before Black’ joins the ranks of Cannibal Corpse’s collection of albums upon its release in November 2017.
Considering this band is almost thirty whole years into their career, it has become clear at this point that two things are absolutely guaranteed when it comes to a Cannibal Corpse record: brutally violent sounding music, and song titles and themes to match the unparalleled levels of sheer aggression. ‘Red Before Black’ is no different in this regard, with the opening track “Only One Will Die” identifying with the gore-based lyricism that Cannibal Corpse has built its name on, as well as the song itself being a shovel to the face in terms of how it physically sounds – a brilliant way to kick things off.
The title track “Red Before Black” and “Code of the Slashers” follow with the latter song having been able for listening as the album’s promotional single online and on various streaming services, with its own music video to boost its individual appeal. “Red Before Black” does the job without feeling too much like the main centerpiece of the album, but the brief guitar solo in the song’s final third goes a fair way in giving the track some individuality of its own. As for “Code of the Slashers”, the slower more grinding mood of the song at its beginning that is reminiscent of a modern sounding take of ‘Bloodthirst’-era Cannibal Corpse showcases the band’s unflinching ability to bounce between sludgy death metal riffs and quicker sections designed to get you to nod your head as the song progresses.
“Shedding My Human Skin” is able to introduce a new musical dynamic in that the instrumentation appears to quicken the more frontman George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher unleashes his disgustingly violent growl at the listener, plus the addition of a song introduction that reminds me heavily of what Lamb of God did once upon a time is a fresh reminder of Cannibal Corpse’s ability to innovate even within an admittedly stable genre like death metal, in that straying from the formula can sometimes be difficult to implement.
“Remaimed” meanwhile, (lots of gold stars for that brilliant song name by the way – just screams what this genre is about), remains traditional Cannibal Corpse fare, which of course is not a negative criticism of the track whatsoever. In essence, however, it doesn’t accomplish much that allows it to stand out from the other 11 tracks on ‘Red Before Black’. The songs that follow, however, are entitled “Firestorm Vengeance” and “Heads Shoveled Off” respectively (again, what a cracking name for a death metal song), with this pair of songs balancing themes including a combination of various tempos throughout the same musical composition as well as furiously fast instrumentation that has become associated with this style of music since its initial formation back in the mid-to-late 1980s.
We’re two-thirds of the way through the album at this point. “Corpus Delicti”, (delicious corpse, evidently), kicks off with one of the most relentless opening slabs of extreme metal across all of Cannibal Corpse’s discography before relying on past musical mechanics to see it through to its natural conclusion. The inclusion of “go!” before a rampant fast section of instrumentation is a nice nifty feature, however.
The only major ‘problem’ with Cannibal Corpse’s sound is that there isn’t much room to experiment and dabble in creative musical endeavors, unfortunately leaving the band unable to expand on what they’ve done in the past. The remaining handful of songs on the album are a testimony to this: while no means bad, they lose their intended brutality when everything you’ve heard up to this point sounds incredibly similar to what these songs have to offer.
With that being said, however, the bass-lines that are dotted here and there throughout “Scavenger Consuming Death” are a pleasant surprise – particularly reminiscent of 2012’s “The Strangulation Chair”, and “In the Midst of Ruin” brings the group’s musical style back to what it was like on ‘Torture’ as opposed to ‘A Skeletal Domain’, with sludgy guitar tones and ferocious drumming to back it up. The last two songs, “Destroyed Without a Trace” and “Hideous Ichor” achieve the arguably difficult job of wrapping up the newest album from a band that has defied censorship and political outcry to become one of extreme metal’s most recognizable entities.
‘Red Before Black’ is without a doubt a perfectly faultless addition to Cannibal Corpse’s vast back catalogue of bloody dismemberment and graphic gore, but fails to stack up to the songwriting standards of what the band has released over recent years, such as ‘Evisceration Plague’ and ‘Torture’. Despite this, diehard Cannibal Corpse fans will find plenty to enjoy with ‘Red Before Black’, but if you’re a casual listener aiming to deepen your interest of this band, this new record isn’t one of the best places to start your journey to the dark side.