For all the gainsaying that Cannibal Corpse have been liable to over the years – and justifiably so, too – one can never deny that they remain the only band from their peerage to have stayed consistent to their original vision. That initial impetus may have been lost and regained and lost again, but despite their unbelievable success, the band still shreds as furiously as ever, still goes on about chainsaws and serial killers with tongue-in-cheek glee, and still puts on a live show as intense as any available. Those bemused at their longevity need only take heed of these facts; for better or worse, Cannibal Corpse are the global face of death metal, but all things considered, who would you realistically, knowing the ways of the marketplace and the collective mind, have take their place?
All Cannibal Corpse music since George Fisher took over vocal duties can be broadly classified into three tropes: (1) rapid-fire hammer-ons and pull-offs that act analogous to the low E chug of speed metal, serving as rafts to get from one point to another, (2) a breakdown technique that comes in two flavors, one presided by a happily punkish beat to which a friend once broke into an impromptu garbha jig when the band performed here (garbha being the effete danceform in vogue in the Western part of India during the festival of Navratri), the other being a more standard alternate-picked thrash maneuver, and (3) Fisher, himself, with a style of vocal delivery lacking in nuance or sense of placement. Not infrequently do guitar lines reduce to plain-vanilla, open string picking to let him get his breathless words in. A percussive and rhythmic vocalist, yes, but certainly not a musical one.
All three attributes are in safe attendance on Red Before Black. Admittedly, the band is far distanced from the tangibly verse-chorus forms of the Chris Barnes era; while certain patterns make themselves repeatedly felt, and notwithstanding the inclusion of cheesy single ‘Code of the Slashers‘, there is a certain progression to these songs. Riffs are not static, and the band attempts some novel things with dissonance and black metal phrasings (‘Shedding of Human Skin‘) but as always with Cannibal Corpse that is not the chief point of contention; the dissent arises over whether those riffs mean anything at an individual level or in the context of the song. One can only judge a band on what they purport to do and Cannibal Corpse have been nothing if not unabashed about their one-note agenda; while that is admirable and has its queer, gratuitous appeal, Red Before Black is grievously short on lateral motion, meaning the band never truly emerges out of its comfort zone, of tempos and melodic voicings. As a result, to an audience exposed to the wide expanse of classic death metal, this album will be emotionally lacking and dead on arrival.