Just shy of their 30th birthday, Cannibal Corpse, the original progenitors of gore-drenched death metal, are back with album number 14. In terms of production, Red Before Black steps away from the relative polish of 2014's Mark Lewis-produced Skeletal Domain. Erik Rutan is back in the engineer and mixing chairs, restoring the muddier sound of records including Torture, Evisceration Plague, and Kill.
The first two-thirds of this set are classic-sounding sick and twisted extreme death metal with lyrics drenched in gore, hate, murder, and necrophilia. While it would initially seem that any metal band whose scope is deliberately limited would fall into a creative rut and end up irrelevant, Cannibal Corpse, as always, prove the exception. That said, a hint of complacency does rear its hideous little head during the last few cuts, making them almost indistinguishable from one another. The first nine of these 12 tracks are potent, infectious, and punishing. Opener "Only One Will Die" was written by Alex Webster, whose bass is much more prevalent on this date than it has been in years. It shreds from the jump with drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz's unrelenting, blindingly quick rhythmic shifts behind the punishing, razored riffs of guitarists Pat O'Brien and Rob Barrett, who create the intended menace and aggression. The title track opens with angular, almost atonal guitar and bass riffs before blasting into overdrive with George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher's guttural pipes spitting and roaring out the usual mayhem about torture, murder, and all inglorious forms of death as a way of life. That angularity also introduces "Shedding My Human Skin," and the pummel and crack of Mazurkiewicz's drums and Webster's bassline create a serrated groove. "Scavenger Consuming Death" is a highlight, specifically for the way in which Webster creates a sub-low end, sinister groove as the band and Fisher roil around him. "Heads Shoveled Off" has a knotty, driving riff and almost incessant swinging blastbeats underscoring and running counter to Fisher's staccato growling. In fact, he seems to syncopate as well, almost singing in counterpoint directly against the music. The guitar breaks are positively unhinged, blurring keys and scales with technically sublime aggression. The last three tracks don't run out of steam; they all contain a sheer peel-your-face-off sense of menace, but there is little in the way of imagination to make them memorable. They won't prompt you to shut off the deck -- at least not the first time or two -- but you may find yourself wishing Red Before Black was a tad shorter than 43 minutes. That complaint aside, the remainder is essential Cannibal Corpse.