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It’s very unprofessional for anyone reporting on or reviewing a collection of music to fully disclose his/her biases right from the onset, but honesty is always the preferred route to trying to fake objectivity when dealing with the highly visible Cannibal Corpse. Although more a band associated with the changeover from extreme thrashing with shouted vocals and occult themes held over from the blackened swamps of the early 80s to the real life horrors of blood and gore, “Eaten Back To Life” is an album situated comfortably before said transition, and thus my bias is revealed. When it comes to death metal and myself, the more archaic the sound, despite what the actual lyrical content is, the more pleased I am with the experience.
While lyrically this is as sick and perverted of an exercise in shock mongering and vivid descriptions of unspeakable carnage as the rest of the band’s extensive catalog, the sonic landscapes are more akin to a somewhat fantastical hybrid of zombie horror and haunting rituals. The principle forces at work in inspiring this malevolent collection of sickening tales are among the more extreme fringes of thrash metal, namely Slayer, Sepultura, Sodom and Kreator. The guitar tone reeks of the dark hearted punch of “Beneath The Remains”, but the actual musical contents offers the atonal melodic aesthetics of “Reign In Blood” and the rhythmically precise yet morbidly foggy tremolo riffing interchanges of a number of Teutonic releases.
Though this is about as far up my alley as they tend to come with old school filthy death metal, it isn’t quite a perfect collage of thrashing 80s holdovers. Chris Barnes’ vocal attack, while inhuman and forbidding in its guttural insanity, is very flat and one-dimensional. Thankfully it only plays a secondary role in what is primarily a riff driven album, but the quality of this takes a notable up tick vocally on “Mangled” and “A Skull Full Of Maggots” when Glen Benton chimes in. In a similar fashion, much in the same fashion as this album’s esteemed guest vocalist’s own band, the lead guitar work is plagued by an all but 100% plagiarizing of the Slayer formula of frenzied shredding and whammy bar howls. For a better example of how this style can be complemented with some structured elements, see Death’s take on it in the 3 albums that were released before this.
But make no mistake, in terms of straight up death metal, this album delivers a nice bit of variety that would disappear from the band’s format until after Barnes left the fold. In much the same way as the similar sounding though more occult inspired Deicide, there is a good mixture of slower chugging breakdowns and distinctive mid-tempo sections to be found amongst the fits of blazing speed, freeing this from being trapped inside the “Reign In Blood” box. Particularly the longer efforts in “Mangled”, “Buried In The Backyard”, and the epic riff fest opener “Shredded Humans” show a band willing to back things up a bit and allow that guitar to speak before the drums start blasting up a storm of cadavers. But even among the shorter ones that come and go about as quickly as the filler songs on 3rd Slayer album tended to, there’s a few really bright spots in the nightmarish “Scattered Remains, Splattered Brains” and the sickeningly chaotic “Rotting Head”.
But perhaps the best element at play here is that though this is now more than 2 decades old, it still manages to offer something refreshing, particularly in light of all the current bands that tend to be more grindcore inspired. This hearkens back to a time where extreme didn’t necessarily mean that you sat on a blast beat for a full 30 minute album and threw out a few chugging riffs as token contrast points to what is otherwise an endless sea of noise. In terms of historical significance, it is more of a throwback to the 80s than a forward looking 90s release, so it tends to be passed up for older works such as “Leprosy” and “Slowly We Rot”. But for anyone who is a sucker for the older works of the Florida scene like myself, this is the one out of Cannibal Corpse’s extended repertoire to seek out.