Interview with vocalist Travis Ryan
By Christopher J. Harrington
Cattle Decapitation’s newest record, Death Atlas (out now via Metal Blade), has the feel of the future, and for all of us sentient life forms it’s not good news. Anyone paying attention to the band over the years knows that they have been relaying socio-economic and ethical warnings from the beginning. With Death Atlas, even if you’re still in complete denial, the message is clear.
“Environmental scientists and engineers now describe the current era as planet Earth’s mass extinction,” a voice echoes in machine tone on the track “The Great Dying.” “Its cause: humans.”
With their new album, Cattle Decapitation rise to the challenge of combining form with substance, the totality of which is shattering, schizophrenic, and of course, headbanging. In fact, as dark as the record is, it’s the most headbanging thing the group has ever laid out.
“Well, we seem to know now what an album needs to have a little more,” vocalist Travis Ryan laughs. “I feel this is our most ‘realized’ record.”
For all the propulsion of riffs and grind, there are equal parts nightmare spacescapes and psychological noise. This variation is something the band has particularly honed-in on since 2015’s The Anthropocene Extinction, a record that is noteworthy for its immense tonality and structure. The dichotomy is even more severe on Death Atlas, and that’s the point.
“Personally, I did want the valleys to be super low, and that means the depressing or slow parts need to be extremely emotional and depressing,” Ryan says. “That’s honestly my favorite kind of stuff, ever since I was a child and heard Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for the first time. I fell in love with that kind of stuff immediately. I’ve always been a fan of goth, new wave, ambient, and synth stuff. So, I’m finding the band to be much more fun, and it’s become much more a force as a creative outlet of late. The last twenty minutes of the record is, in my opinion, some of the best material we’ve ever done.”
Those twenty minutes, starting with the track “With All Disrespect,” and ending with the nine minute “Death Atlas,” package all of Cattle Decapitation’s musical and conceptual revolutions in a powerful way. Using technical prowess to stimulate the content the band relays, the last four songs bend and twist like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Of particular note, “Time’s Cruel Curtain” shows how the band has created a completely unique way to blend melody with pure grind, a feat that people are just now adjusting to.
“It’s morphed from one or two people writing most of it, to the process including everyone, even myself,” Ryan explains. “I might not write any riffs, but arrangements change big time when I bring lyrics into play, and we’ve all adapted to writing catchier songs. They keep me in mind when writing choruses and I keep in mind things I could be doing when they’re writing, and it all ends up coming together, mostly in the studio. We’re making honest-to-god albums now instead of collections of songs. Not to take anything away from the previous albums, it’s just different. We’re more experienced now.”
As dark as Death Atlas is (and rightfully so, for Cattle Decapitation has always proved to be a voice of reason – and now more than ever, we really need that voice), positivity and mindfulness abound on the album. The record exudes an organized and fluid form, reverberating in the creative process, and sending warm vibes down your spine. The album’s message may be death for us all, but the vitality contained within is pure enlightenment.
“Positivity, if anywhere, would definitely be in the subconscious,” Ryan notes. “There’s absolutely nothing positive about our lyrics. But there is positivity in the way we approach writing and recording now, something that was never there before. We have a renewed vigor going on in the band the last couple years, and I haven’t been this happy with everything since I don’t know when.”
Top photo by Alex Solca