Travis Ryan of Cattle Decapitation Talks Death Atlas, the apathy of humanity and pushing extremity for 25 years - Knotfest
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Travis Ryan of Cattle Decapitation Talks Death Atlas, the apathy of humanity and pushing extremity for 25 years

Posted by Corinne Westbrook in Culture on January 10, 2022

Set to return to the road on the Death…At Last Tour, Cattle Decapitation are eager unleash their brand of brutal truth in what amounts to one of their best live sets in their career.

Cattle Decapitation’s latest record, Death Atlas, is finally getting the treatment it deserves here in the US. After being stalled by COVID, Cattle Decapitation is about to kick off/finish their long awaited US tour, joined by The Last Ten Seconds of Life, Creeping Death, and Extinction A.D. 

Excited to be back on the road, Travis Ryan sat down with us to discuss the tour, the album, and his inspirations throughout his career. Travis, whose emphatic live performances and unique vocal delivery made the band’s latest album one of the most impactful on Metal Blades recent discography, the vocalist is thrilled to get back on stage.

“That first moment of the first show going into the first song – I’ve pretty much fantasized about it 100 times the past 6 months. The first year plus of this I was super content being at home and with my family as we had a whirlwind of unfortunate events take place and I am just thankful to have been forced to be home during it. But that majority of that is now over and its high time to get the fuck back out there.”

“The album came out halfway through our last USA tour in Nov/Dec 2019 and we were doing shows in Australia, New Zealand and Japan after that so we did get a small amount of touring in for it. Enough to know that it was the best setlist we ever had in my opinion. We really were on fire with it and trucking right along. So it’s going to be nice to get back into it. And yes, the USA is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to waste and energy consumption but will they read it? I don’t know and it’s not for me to force them to. Hopefully people get something from it but I’ve never been much of an arm-twister. That part is hewn into the lyrics. You’re either gonna care or you don’t.”

Death Atlas continues the stark warning Cattle Decapitation has been putting out for years. Anyone who has been paying attention knows that they have been relaying socio-economic, environmental and ethical warnings since their inception, and with Death Atlas + the pandemic, you really should have zero doubts left, but of course people still do. 

“I think if anything the last two years have politically polarized people so much that the second someone mentions climate change with any amount of sincerity it’s going to either be met with agreement or denounced as tree-hugging “cuckery”.” says Travis. 

“Just like with the virus, I don’t know why this is so hard for people to fucking grasp. The virus, climate change… these things don’t care about your feelings. They don’t exactly care what you think. They’re gonna do their thing as long as we’re doing nothing in an attempt to mitigate it. All we can do is try and it seems like so many people have simply given up on trying. I do feel we’ve set ourselves back the last couple years. And I don’t think that what celebrities or certain political parties have to say about it is going to amount to anything. Our species is one that’s too intelligent and with that comes free thinking and the will to do what we want. We’re nomadic. We conquer. We war. And people are too wrapped up in our own shit to remember that we have a whole other problem on the horizon, one that your children and their children are going to have to deal with. Why people are still shitting out kids is my question. We’re leaving them a huge mess to deal with. I don’t have kids and never will and I can’t wrap my head around the concept of looking around in, now 2022, and saying to myself “yep… time to bring another human into this”. What the fuck am I missing here.”

For all the explosive riffs and grind, Death Atlas creates a nightmarish soundscape of  psychological noise and immense tonality and structure. For Ryan, the lyrics and politics are a secondary but important factor in the creation of the album.

“I think heavy music has always been political and what I’m doing is nothing new. My early inspirations are Nuclear Assault, Megadeth, Carcass…” he explains. “They successfully hewn politics, whether governmental, social or otherwise, into their lyrics and art and I was always inspired by that. But if you’re going to pen something to accompany music, might as well make it worth something, make it be about something important. I’m a firm believer in “music is music” and lyrics and vocals are all added on top. While I feel “frontmen” get a little too much credit in comparison to the rest of a band, I think it’s still obvious nobody eats the sundae for the cherry.”

With everything that has happened over the past two years, and all of humanity’s flaws that are examined in Cattle Decapitation’s lyrics laid raw and bare, the balance of the hope to inspire people to change and the reality of what humans really are becomes increasingly skewed.

“I think that’s asking too much of people from the evidence put forth by the populace. While I have many people thanking me or praising us for what we talk about, in the end, I think most just don’t really give a shit. And I talk about that in almost every album. The fact that we’re a rather full of shit species. Do I hope to inspire change? Sure. Do I think it will? No, not really. In the end, I’m just another extreme metal vocalist yelling about things I see going on. Not sure how much that truly helps to be honest, but it’s what I feel I should do.”

All jadedness about humanity aside (or as much aside as we can, because, let’s be real, humanity sucks) Ryan in his 25 years in the industry has grown from a kid blasting Carcass to an industry juggernaut himself.

“Carcass’ Symphonies of Sickness absolutely set the tone for me.” Travis reminisces. “When I first got it on cassette around 1990 or so, I did one solid listen while reading the lyrics. I put it aside for a few days wondering what the fuck that was all about and on my second listen I was hooked. You know when you eat something for the first time that at first you’re like “hmmmm…. I don’t know about this, it’s kinda… I don’t know…” but then a week later you find yourself craving it again and then you try it again and then it becomes one of your favorite things and you never look back? That’s kinda what it was for me. I was 14 years old and it was just a lot to digest. 2 years later I’m doing essays in class on mortuary science and I wanted to either be a pathologist or a mortuary technician of some sort. All because of that damn Carcass album. My high school graduation cap even said “see you on the slab” on the top. I was so fucking into it and it really did set the course for me, personally.”

One of the most beautiful things about metal is the ability to pull from any genre, any part of the world, and absorb it into the mammoth that is the metal mega genre. After 25 years in the industry, Travis continually looks to the outside for sources of his inspirations. 

“I try to look towards anything but my peers for inspiration. So, metal isn’t what I look to for it as I feel I already have had metal coursing through my veins since I was in 2nd grade, that’s where it started for me.” he explains. 

“I’d rather look to things outside the realm and try to include them in this realm. Like pitching screaming vocals for instance. Taking a raspy, fried vocal and make it do a melody. I know a couple members of the band have been very motivated by black metal and I’m really into the more atmospheric stuff. Can’t say much of it influences me directly, I’m still mostly doing the stuff that I was doing when I started doing this stuff at age 16. The “tongue high” vocals that I do were implemented back in 1999 to try to emulate the sound of 2 voices at once in a live setting. There are a whole bunch of people doing it now which is a little frustrating as it was something I did for so damn long before others started doing it. So I felt I had to move and try other things, hence dabbling in doing actual singing voices and stepping outside the comfort zone, trying new things.”

This is a trend he hopes to see continue as the music world progresses into the future. “I would hope artists would move away from the boxes they’re in and try doing something “genreless”. I get it, we need labels on things so we know what they are before we open them up, but I’ve really liked the idea that bands like Soft Kill can tour with bands like Skeletonwitch. I would hope that musically, things move to a more proprietary nature. Each band having their own sound instead of a sea of copycats. I see it happening a lot in the pop and rap realms now so metal can easily do that and I think it is in some aspects. Such as bands like Oranssi Pazuzu flawlessly mixing the psych jam band aesthetic with black and extreme metal. Such a fresh sounding band.”

As is tradition, we stepped briefly away from the music to discuss an often ignored topic as we get into our adult years: dinosaurs – a family of creatures we may end up with more in common than we would like if Cattle Decapitation is correct. Speaking on his favorite dinosaur though, Travis comments: “Since for the longest time I was doing those tongue high vocals and people would call em “pterodactyl” vocals, I should just go with that. Lots of people are doing that style now but before people started putting cute names to it, most people just called them “pterodactyl” vocals. I always just called them “tongue highs” or “air displacement”. But Pterodactylus works.”

As dark as Death Atlas is, and rightfully so, because again, humanity sucks, there is a certain air of positivity that courses through the band and that is evident with the eagerness for this tour. “Just really can’t wait to get back up there on stage and DO THIS. We’ve prepared quite the set and we just need to physically get out there and do what we’ve been put one this planet to do.”


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