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Usually when discussing a band as important and influential as Cannibal Corpse, the debut album is the most important, and the ones after less so. Not so with Cannibal Corpse; this album is probably the least frequently discussed, even by CC fans themselves, of all of the band's first four albums with Chris Barnes. Which is a little odd, as this isn't the case with most other death metal bands. Morbid Angel's debut, Death's debut, Deicide's debut, and Obituary's debut are all invariably at the forefront of any discussion about those bands by their fans(or critics, even). Why? They are all classic death metal albums, that's why. So is Eaten Back to Life, actually, but unlike the albums by the aforementioned bands, it gets overshadowed by it's successor albums Butchered at Birth and Tomb of the Mutilated.
Why is this? Well, for one thing it isn't as brutal or as heavy as either of those albums. Is it still death metal? Absolutely. It's heavy, fast, brutal, extreme, caustic, aggressive, nasty, vicious - all typical and important death metal characteristics. It also has some memorable and good songs. So why? Is it that much less brutal and heavy and also that much less good overall than the next two or three CC albums?
In some ways, yes. The speed frequently reaches blast beats and the whole album is overall fast and brutal. And the overall production quality isn't at all bad for an album released in 1990. However, the guitar tone is nowhere near as heavy as it is on the next three albums by the band, and the drum tone is, unfortunately, awfully clicky at times. Everything can sound very thin when the album isn't turned up loud enough. This isn't really a problem, especially on the guitar front, which is still more than heavy enough most of the time, but the clicky, sometimes even tinny drum sound is not good and really does make the album seem significantly less heavy than it's successors a lot of the time. The lack of a very strong bottom end foundation here, especially in the bass drums and the guitars and bass, is probably most likely attributable to this problem. Combined with the album's occasional slowdowns into thrashy speeds when it should be more of a blasting speed, and add to that Chris Barnes's vocals, which are nowhere near as low as they would become in the next two albums, and you have the reason why this album seems to have been largely overlooked in favour of the next two albums by the band.
Does this make it a bad album? Not at all. It indeed is less brutal, heavy, and extreme than it's successor albums. But it is still a good album in many ways. Some of the songs here are excellent. Particularly the over five minute opening song "Shredded Humans", the short but great "Scattered Remains, Splattered Brains", and the interesting "Born in a Casket", which is most memorable for it's long opening.
The overall style is very much that typical of old school death metal, and the lyrics typify this even more. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but unlike the next two albums, this album does not try to be even more extreme, brutal, or shocking than any of its counterparts from other bands were at the time, or at least, not by very much - certainly nothing in comparison to what CC did afterwards. The album artwork is a prime example of how much tamer this album is in comparison to what followed; a zombie with a grin on its face standing in a graveyard, ripping out bits of its own guts to eat. Disgusting? Somewhat, yes. More disgusting than most other death metal album covers up to this point? Possibly. But is it so disgusting that it would catch everyone's attention and possibly actually really offend people or seriously horrify them, or would they just see it as typical cartoony splatter horror imagery?
The latter is clearly what happened. The clear evidence for that is how little reaction this album got from the press in general in comparison to Butchered at Birth. No matter how you look at it, a zombie in a graveyard eating its guts is nowhere near as controversial as two zombies cutting apart a pregnant woman and cutting out her unborn child to consume.
What does this all mean? Well, for one thing, less controversy usually means less popularity. Of course metal should never be judged on its popular standing - it can be good or bad regardless of how popular or unpopular it is. Either way, this album's lesser controversy could certainly have contributed to it being less famous or, more correctly infamous, in the metal world, than Butchered at Birth and Tomb of the Mutilated. But that doesn't make it a bad album, not at all. It's a promising start for what would become one of the world's greatest death metal bands, and was still reasonably controversial even if not as much as the next two albums. Certainly, the lyrics are gory, violent, and nasty, but in contrast to the really perverted, sick, screwed up stuff that would appear on the next album and even more so on the one after that, the gore is more "normal" as typifies slasher and zombie horror flicks. Zombies eating people, mad doctors torturing people, zombies eating themselves, mutants, robbing graves etc, rather than really perverted and disturbing lyrics based on necrophilia, pedophilia, horrific rape, insanity, and the like.
As for Chris Barnes' death growls...well, they are quite low for their time, fairly extreme in their style, and very aggressive, but they are not very guttural or extremely low like they would become on the following albums. They are slightly more raspy and less deep, which still works fine, even if not quite as well as the really extremely low growls that were soon to come.
And again, the music is good. Not fantastic, but still good.
This album would probably be a good introduction for metalheads new to Cannibal Corpse or to death metal in general, as it is at least slightly less extreme than what followed. It's good, solid death metal that shows a band ready to take over the world with their brand of ultra gory death metal. And that's exactly what they soon did.