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Of all of the more well-known death metal bands out there, I've always thought that Cannibal Corpse were pretty much the worst. Having heard much of their work with both Chris Barnes and George Fisher, I gave this band a chance time after time and always ended up sorry that I did. While all their albums usually had one or two worthwhile songs, most of their stuff is just bland, uninspired, and boring death metal, with lazy drumming, repetitive and grating vocals, and a dull selection of riffs. Up until recently, I had pretty much completely written off Cannibal Corpse as a band that will never really change for the better, and therefore a band that I will never like.
Then I finally heard Eaten Back To Life.
Holy shit, what exactly happened to this band after this amazing debut? This is a fantastic album in pretty much every aspect. Considering this came out in 1990, when most death metal bands were still fighting to distance themselves from the extreme-thrash from which they were birthed, Eaten Back To Life stands, along with other groundbreaking releases such as Altars Of Madness and Deicide, as one of the earliest examples of pure, full-on death metal. Sure, there is still some traces of thrash here; in fact, its present more than on any of the band’s subsequent albums. But the influence lies more in the tone of some of the riffs (check out “Rotting Head“ for an example of this), rather than the song structures, which consist of all the blasting speed, brutal slowdowns, and deranged solos that would define much of early-90’s death metal.
But what really stands out about this release is how fundamentally catchy and well-written these songs are. What I’ve always disliked most about Cannibal Corpse was their apparent refusal to sound like they were actually enjoying playing what they were playing, but every song on Eaten Back to life bursts with energy and enthusiasm, the result of a young band who hadn’t yet killed their love for their own music and was still just having fun with their craft. Pretty much every riff on this one is a winner, and each track has enough hooks to not only make the songs memorable (another thing this band would seemingly disregard in the future) but fucking addicting. These guys obviously put a lot of time into making these songs as good as they could be, and it shows in every aspect of the album. From the outrageous chorus of “Mangled” to the palpable melody (?!) in “Bloody Chunks” and “Buried In the Backyard” to all the little touches, such as the blasting drum solo that introduces the main part of “Scattered Remains, Splattered Brains,” this is old-school, gory death metal at its absolute finest.
While the band’s musicianship would obviously improve on subsequent albums, the more primitive playing on Eaten Back to Life (though still pretty damn technical) definitely works in the band’s favor on this release, allowing the members to stop tripping over themselves to write music as technical as possible and just play the damn songs. Drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz’s unique reliance on the “backwards blast” gives the songs a great, off-kilter feel that suit’s the riffs perfectly, and Chris Barne’s raspier, higher-register vocals are way catchier and more effective than the endless grunting of future albums. Guitar and bass work are top-notch of course, and the production on this album is surprisingly good; with its hefty tone and instrument clarity, its strange to think how bad the production on some of their other albums was…this was their debut after all.
I guess Cannibal Corpse can be summed up as simply another band that started out full of ideas and inspiration and just lost it all after their debut. Considering how much of a step down Butchered At Birth is in every aspect compared to this album, its almost hard to believe they came from the same band, and only one year later at that! I’m not sure what exactly happened to this band that stripped them of their talents and turned them into one of death metal‘s biggest lame ducks; perhaps it was the pressure of competing in a genre exploding with great new bands, or maybe they just got so fixated on being gorier and more shocking than everyone else that they simply lost sight of the music itself. But it doesn’t really matter, because Eaten Back to Life is a brilliant death metal album. Its well played, well produced, innovative and catchy as fuck. And in old-school death metal, what else do you really need? A classic.