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Cannibal Corpse have spent almost twenty-five indefatigable years delivering high octane death metal without ever once compromising their vision. As one of death metal's most visible purveyors, Cannibal Corpse have done much to spread the word and wealth around without ever once compromising their personal integrity or artistic principles. As a lightning rod for controversy, they attract intense criticism (as well as mindless adulation) but speak with clear articulation as to their principles and intentions. It may seem odd for a band so gore-soaked but Cannibal Corpse are actually fantastic ambassadors for extreme metal. And if you'd asked me that in 1993, I would've venomously disagreed.
See Cannibal Corpse and I basically came-of-age together. Founded in 1988 (the year I first found metal), their third album (Tomb Of The Mutilated) was among the first wave of death metal to hit my excited and unprepared ears in '92. That record sickened and repulsed me. Which also meant it fascinated me. And I never quite hurdled that cognitive dissonance. There was an uneasy alliance between us. One that became more strained as I aged. When Barnes split from the band, I split with him. Records I had once enjoyed for their disgusting splatter tactics now seemed a bit of an embarrassment to me. I had matured and I wanted albums that suited these expanding moods accordingly. Years passed and I never gave Cannibal Corpse another glance until Bloodthirst crossed my path.
I was working at a college radio station spinning jazz. But ever the metal fan, I always dug through the crates to see what new stuff came in. I saw Bloodthirst and was immediately dismissive. The album art looked budget and the track list seemed to indicate a mediocre re-hashing of previous efforts. Still, I was curious. I put it on and was blown the fuck away! Every preconception, recollection, prejudice, and intention I ever had about this band were completely shredded and left in the dust. The musicianship was on another level entirely from their earlier works -- far more proficient, violent, energetic, and exciting. Ditto the vocals. I hadn't heard George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher before but any unreasonable expectations I had of him being a mere Chris Barnes clone were obviously informed by my own ignorance. His vocals were mammoth bellowings of prehistoric hatred, a deep octave roar as if his trachea were hell's cavity. I was absolutely slack-jawed. Listening again thirteen years later these initial impressions hold up. This is the sound of Cannibal Corpse peaking.
Doing a track by track analysis or singling out a few personal favorites is basically pointless as each song sets off chugging windmills of pounding adrenaline and unremitting bestial aggression. The music is virtually flawless: tight, compact, catchy, and engaged for all its thirty-four minute run time. The vocals too are expertly delivered in varying degrees of impact. Fisher can actually sing, displaying a coherent range of power, dynamics, and subtle melodic shading that leaves me shaking my head in dismay at how talented he is. This album's unbelievably energetic output is (of course) tremendously aided and accelerated by Colin Richardson's outstanding production job. He is easily my favorite producer and this is a true behind-the-boards masterpiece. Every instrument is sharp and balanced. The mix is heavily centered and beautifully separated. The vocals ride powerfully on top of the maelstrom, never undermined or buried. It's their best sounding record by far.
The only criticism I can levy against Bloodthirst is in the lyrical department. As much as the band has matured in their musical abilities, they are still unfortunate purveyors in puerility. And while I am not looking for PhD level dissertation work here, more subtle shadings or a broader emphasis would be welcome. I can only handle so much misogyny and gore without my stomach churning and with Fisher's bellowing clear enough to actually understand, it makes complete and attentive listening a bit of a chore. This is personal preference however. The band are outspoken in their artistic "horrorshow" aesthetic and I do not begrudge them it enough to consider it a true detraction. Cannibal Corpse are metal for life and each year they remain on the road is another year death metal reaches more ears and energizes more people. Hopefully, all those exposed will turn to "Bloodthirst" as the most complete summation of this band's enduring character.