Words by Alex Distefano
Since the band’s inception in 1996, Cattle Decapitation has been pushing the boundaries of extreme music, championing the intensity and technicality of grindcore. With lyrical themes detailing the gory horror of animal abuse, mankind’s destruction of the environment and a world where human beings are factory farmed for mass slaughter - the collision of style meets substance have long positioned the San Diego outfit in a league of their own.
Over the course of the last two decades and some seven full length studio albums, Cattle Decapitation has risen from the murky underground as practitioners of deathgrind to become one of the most respected and longest tenured contributors in their respective space.
At the creative helm of the chaos, vocalist Travis Ryan and guitarist Josh Elmore have remained the constant in the band for for over twenty years. Rounding out the team of proper personnel, the line-up of drummer Dave McGraw, guitarist Bellasario Dimuzio and bassist Olivier Pinard found their stride with 2019's Death Atlas. The effort landed on several year-ending 'Best of' lists and further reasserted the rank of Cattle Decap as one of the most consistent in the game.
While fate would do it's best to interrupt the momentum the band gained with Death Atlas, the album proved to have an enduring shelf life. When pandemic restrictions finally allowed for touring, Cattle Decapitation resumed their live campaign while simultaneously plotting the follow-up to such a landmark record.
Cattle Decapitation would close out last year with a run on the Great Heathen Army Tour. Flanking the likes of Amon Amarth, Carcass and Obituary, galvanized existing fans with new ones on a tour that celebrated the diversity and generational reach of extreme music. Closing out their Death Atlas cycle on the massive tour, Cattle Decapitation wasted little time in unveiling their next horrifying chapter with the introduction of their latest slab of brutality, Terrasite, which is due out in May, on Metal Blade Records.
Coinciding with the release of the album, Cattle Decapitation will embark on the Decibel Magazine Tour 2023 across North America, along with Swedish black metal pillars Dark Funeral. Together with emerging death metal revivalists 200 Stab Wounds and black metal outlier, Blackbraid, Cattle Decapitation has again positioned themselves to reach a broad base of fans that appreciate the artistry of extreme music.
Vocalist Travis Ryan took time to speak with Knotfest about the band’s latest album, Terrasite, the takeaways from the band's recent touring stint, their latest upcoming run with Dark Funeral and how he doesn’t necessarily want to play all over the world with Cattle Decapitation.
Ryan revisited the recent run with Amon Amarth and offered some important insights. The run was punctuated with a finale at the Forum in Inglewood, California. While the stage is legendary, the room isn't exactly the ideal environment to best experience a Cattle Decapitation show.
Ryan explained, “I don't believe there have been any Death Metal bands to ever have played the forum, I'm pretty sure we were the first of that ilk to play that thing,” he said. But it’s important to be honest and real with ourselves here. With a name like Cattle Decapitation, it’s a miracle we even got to play that venue. Unless we go out with another insanely large band, I just don't see it happening. The reality is we are very thankful for the opportunity we were given as we are fully aware this kind of stuff doesn't get handed to bands like us. With the venue itself, I’m not the biggest fan of the 20-foot gap between us and the crowd, we feed off the crowds' energy. Give me a decent sized venue, with a decent stage that's closer to the audience with a sick PA and I'm stoked.”
As for the next phase of the band, Ryan spoke enthusiastically about the thematic elements and the kind of musical contrast Terrasite offers in relation to Death Atlas.
“Conceptually, this album and the title equates our species to cockroaches - one of the most reviled and insidious lifeforms on planet earth. Musically and aesthetically, it does an about face to what we did with Death Atlas. The artwork purposefully takes place in the daylight, the music is heavier, faster and dare I say more upbeat. It’s about rebirth and adaptation. It’s so anti-human that its almost pro-human and vice versa.”
Ryan added how Terrasite also breaks new ground for the band in terms of lyrical themes, “For the first time a lot of personal themes come into it as well such as mental health struggles that I feel too many people feel to be ignored, myself included in that. There are some vibes in there of trying to understand humanity while at the same time condemning it.”
Given the band's greater awareness of humanity, history and social consciousness, Cattle Decapitation have mistakenly been labeled as a political band. For Ryan, he understands why some would see it that way, but explains their message is more about imploring a call to action. “We talk about things that need to be worked on or changed that involves society at large,” he said. There are so many more bands that deserve that word attached to them than ours. Sure, while we have songs like ‘Pacific Grim,’ we also have songs like ‘A Body Farm,’ Which is about research using decomposing corpses, a topic no political stance can be pulled from. In general, I am pessimistic but realistic. We are a warring species. We are a destructive species. We can't even build without destroying something.”
As for the forecast of the coming year, Ryan said that he and the rest of Cattle Decapitation are very much looking forward to touring with Dark Funeral and the prospect of linking with emerging bands like Blackbraid. "I love black metal, but Josh is the one who really is into it though,” he said. “I’m willing to bet he has more in common with bands who probably hate us and think we're posers than bands we are peers with. He really has his ear to the ground with that scene and I’ve always learned about bands like that from him. As far as the tour, I really love we get to tour with Blackbraid. I like the idea of Native American black metal and I would imagine there could be many bands like that here that have a lot to say and deserve to be heard on a large scale.”
Sticking to the topic of touring and live shows, Ryan offered his insight on how to narrow down a set list when you have more than two decades worth of material to cover. The vocalist explained the method is easy; play songs you know most fans want to hear. “I always try to get us to do older songs, but the reality is, they just end up being what we call crowd killers,” he said.
“When we play older stuff, the crowd intensity dies down. I think it’s because we gained a new fan base starting with The Harvest Floor and popped with Monolith of Inhumanity and these fans just might not be familiar - because they didn't grow up with the earlier stuff and those people greatly outnumber the ones that did. I'm totally fine with it, but it’s a bummer for people who want to hear those songs. One thing we don't want to do is bring the intensity of the crowd down as we do feed off the crowd when we're playing live. Boring crowd makes for a boring show. We also have more fun playing newer stuff, so there's that too.”
With the strides Cattle Decapitation has made, Ryan seems to be content with the place the band is in. However, while most bands' MO is to mount a charge of global domination, Ryan explains that the expectations for Cattle Decapitation are a little more realistic - a bit more practical. “There are places we've never played that we now will never play. Places that are either too tumultuous now or we've gotten older and wiser and now would rather not deal with it and suffer from touring in areas like that,’ Ryan said.
“This shit doesn't get any easier as you get older, but you get a better grasp of what you are willing to put up with and for me, that margin is getting smaller and smaller. Life is already miserable enough as it is, I don't need to make it worse by forcing it into something I love to do. We will be on tour for a while, throughout North America and Europe and we have other things coming will we announce soon. If we come through your town, don't miss us. You never know what tomorrow will bring. Or not bring.”
Terrasite arrives may 12th via Metal Blade Records. Order the album - HERE
Catch Cattle Decapitation live on the Decibel Magazine Tour with Dark Funeral, 200 Stab Wounds and Blackbraid. Dates and cities can be found below.
Purchase tickets - HERE
CATTLE DECAPITATION w/ Dark Funeral, 200 Stab Wounds, Blackbraid:
5/15/2023 Granada Theater – Dallas, TX
5/16/2023 Empire Control Room – Austin, TX
5/17/2023 The Warehouse – Houston, TX
5/19/2023 The Orpheum – Tampa, FL
5/20/2023 Variety Playhouse – Atlanta, GA
5/21/2023 The Underground – Charlotte, NC
5/23/2023 Baltimore Soundstage – Baltimore, MD
5/24/2023 Irving Plaza – New York, NY * No Blackbraid
5/26/2023 Club Soda – Montreal, QC
5/27/2023 Phoenix Concert Theatre – Toronto, ON
5/28/2023 Crofoot Ballroom – Pontiac, MI
5/30/2023 The Metro – Chicago, IL
5/31/2023 First Avenue – Minneapolis, MN
6/02/2023 The Summit – Denver, CO
6/03/2023 The Complex – Salt Lake City, UT
6/05/2023 El Corazon – Seattle, WA
6/06/2023 The Vogue Theater – Vancouver, BC
6/07/2023 The Roseland Ballroom – Portland, OR
6/09/2023 The Regency Ballroom – San Francisco, CA
6/10/2023 Regent Theater – Los Angeles, CA