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In the year 1999, Cannibal Corpse peaked. Some will claim it was in ’92 with the banal, gore-soaked Butchered at Birth; others that it was in ’96 upon the addition of George Fisher to the microphone. But it was with Bloodthirst in ’99 that they truly went above and beyond their capabilities. The only full album that sounded as good as this was Eaten Back to Life way back in ’90, and that was a very different Corpse than what would develop by the end of the decade. Finally utilizing Fisher to his full potential and cutting the fluff to allow only the tightest, nastiest ideas to survive, Bloodthirst is not only the apex of Corpsegrinder-era CC, but of their entire discography.
Now this statement might seem a bit presumptuous, as Cannibal Corpse are still alive and kicking (plus I haven’t heard the new album yet to judge it), but I can rest easily at night knowing I’ll never have to expect the band to put out an album better than this one. And who knows, they might just surprise me with a brand new classic, just as they surprised me with Bloodthirst, an album that had no right being as destructive as it is when taking in consideration the albums before and after it. No one expected a triumphant comeback after the half-hearted Gallery of Suicide. And after listening to Gore Obsessed or The Wretched Spawn, who would have thought that such marginally interesting albums could have been devised by the same band that unleashed THIS just a few years before. Perhaps these observations are all in hindsight, but let them stand as testament to an album that delivers unbelievably well in spite of a legacy of disappointment.
The first aspect of Bloodthirst that forcibly grabs the listener is the production. Never before has Cannibal Corpse sounded so devastating. Alex Webster’s bass is neither drowned out nor over-highlighted, allowing his basslines to slither between the guitars effortlessly, often creating harmonies that are otherworldly (see: “The Spine-Splitter” at 1:38 or “Ecstasy in Decay” at 2:08, among others). You won’t find riffs like that on a Deicide or Suffocation album, no offense to either of them. Paul Mazurkiewicz also performs at his very best, bludgeoning the listener with his most intense (not to mention best-recorded) drumming to date, but showing even more finesse in the highly variable tempo changes and technical time signature modulations. And Corpsegrinder finally gives a performance worthy of his nickname: his roars on here could indeed grind corpses. Additionally, it is worth noting that since the addition of the talented Pat O’Brien (ex-Nevermore) on second lead guitar, lineup staple Jack Owen has improved his leadwork to match his bandmate’s. Expect lots of crazy solos from both of them. I’d love to give them more credit for riff-writing, but most of the choice cuts on here were penned by Webster. O’Brien and Owen make up for it with flawless performances and a very brutal, but very, very discernable tone, never allowing a single riff to sound muddy or sloppy. Commendable job, gentlemen.
But speaking of songwriting, that’s the other significant difference between this album and the rest of the band’s work. Your average CC album consists of a few standout tracks, but scattered amidst a few too many by-the-book death metal anthems that neither impress nor displease. Not so on here, where every track is guaranteed to deliver at least one moment of exceptional creativity. Sometimes it’s the riffs, sometimes it’s the drums, and often it’s the lyrics. Opener “Pounded Into Dust” would be meritorious enough just from being so damn skull-crushing, but then there’s that chorus. “Blood soaks the ground…in their own….they will DROWN!” A Cannibal Corpse chorus that isn’t just brutal, but catchy? But yeah, lots of memorable riffs for once. From the dizzying verse segment and impossibly heavy chorus of “Dead Human Collection,” to the deceptively down-tempo riffs of Unleash the Bloothirsty” that explode into all-out fury by the bridge, to the crazy harmony riffs, solo exchanges, and all-around badassery that manifest in various other tracks throughout the album, Bloodthirst delivers quality death metal intensity track after track after track. Take special notice of the band’s uncharacteristic subtlety as well. There’s none of the awkward progressions that plagued previous albums; this album is tight and concise. The innovative atmosphere that was botched on Gallery of Suicide returns here, but rather than long tracks designed to showcase it, it’s integrated a little bit at a time, such as in that “Ecstasy in Decay” intro riff or that “Blowtorch Slaughter” interlude breakdown. But the thing I most admire about Cannibal Corpse’s songwriting here occurs during the song “Coffinfeeder.” Listen carefully to that half-time stomp riff immediately after the chorus ends. It is arguably one of the coolest riffs on the entire album and it is played exactly once. They play it again the next two times the chorus rolls back around, but only once at a time. They could’ve used it as a bridge breakdown or a chorus riff itself, expending it ad nauseam as a lesser band would, but instead they chose to play it only once, and not even long enough to mosh to at that. This sort of restraint is nearly unheard of in death metal (outside of say Atheist) and adds an air of mystery to that song that has not yet dispersed for me, even after repeated listening. There’s lesser moments like this in other songs, but they’re valid nonetheless. Don’t expect this degree of subtlety on future albums, but feel free to enjoy it as you listen to this one.
Barring a miraculous return to glory, I will continue to insist that this is Cannibal Corpse’s finest hour. I know I’ve said it before about their pre-Eaten Back to Life demo, but this is truly their definitive work. Top-notch performances, riffs from hell, respectable lyrics, dexterous arrangements, and a wicked ass cover; it’s about all you could ever want from this band. And even as I shit on their other albums I haven’t reviewed yet, for releasing this monstrosity of metal, CC will always be okay in my book.