Red Before Black
Metal Blade Records/Rocket Australia
Reviewed By Michael O'Brien
Cannibal Corpse will always hold a special place for me, because they were one of my primary gateways into heavy metal many moons ago; hearing "Hammer Smashed Face" on the local community radio metal show back in the day was nothing short of a revelation.
I'm not really sure whether or not Cannibal Corpse still serve a similar purpose for people these days, but I think a fair case could be made for them deserving to simply by virtue of the fact that they've arguably gotten better with age (even though 1994’s The Bleeding remains my personal favourite, with 1996’s Vile a very close second). While I don't think the band has ever deserved charges of simplicity, the contrast between the complexity of the material between the Barnes era and the Fisher era is as stark as its growth has been gradual and subtle.
Red Before Black - the band's 14th full length - sees Cannibal Corpse continuing on the path of 2014’s A Skeletal Domain, with a decidedly thrashy spin on the band’s otherwise distinctly recognisable death metal sound. Considering the very strong run of albums that began with 2006’s Kill, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have expected the winning streak to continue, and for the most part Red Before Black does deliver on that expectation, though the album is a little more uneven than I had hoped it would be.
To be clear, Red Before Black is a good, sometimes really good album, and there’s nothing amongst its 12 songs that I would consider to be filler, but I did find that the overall quality (or at least the impact) of the tracks tended to vary for me quite a bit.
Like just about every Cannibal Corpse album that I can think of, Red Before Black opens with a powerful statement of intent with "Only One Will Die", which is a surprisingly fast paced and aggressive number. The album as a whole is quite aggressive actually, but the songs that resonate with me the most are the ones that dial back the speed and focus either on chunky riffs or on groove (or both). "Shredding My Human Skin" is a real standout, not just because of its super catchy central riff, but also because of the clever way it frequently transitions into an entirely rhythmically different riff for the briefest of moments before returning again. It’s a nice little touch that toys with expectations. Other highlights include the monstrous guitar tone of the opening riff of "Remaimed", the groove of both "Firestorm Vengeance" and "Corpus Delicti", and the frenzy of album closer "Hideous Ichor".
At 14 albums in, and with a very, very long streak of homogeneity in their work, there really is only so much that can be said about any given Cannibal Corpse album of the past 20 years or so (and especially those of the last decade). That they can continually release quality albums is a real testament to the band’s talent, but it is also true that surprises are getting harder to come by as the years pass, and as enjoyable as I found Red Before Black to be overall, a surprising listen isn’t what I would call it.