Review: Cattle Decapitation at the Marquis Theater, 1/6/12

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It's a pretty strange reality to hear a lead singer, in preparation for his show, soundcheck first his real voice and then his "metal" voice in repeat succession. For the record, Cattle Decapitation leader Travis Ryan's do not match -- at all. Both his speaking voice and his stature are diminutive, his band is a little too earnest about your enjoyment of their grindcore show, and three of the members (of a band we'll repeat is called Cattle Decapitation) are vegetarians. So how have they become one of the simplest, most solid rock shows to have survived the late '90s?

Cattle Decapitation's journey here is one rooted in both rock and rock posturing. There are a lot of hand gestures involved, and Ryan can twist both his body and mouth into positions rarely seen this side of an exorcism. The same thing goes for the sound coming out of his mouth, a series of shrieks, belches, roars, groans and screeches that allow him to push out a guttural utterance as deep as it is wide-reaching. Ryan's head would be shaved bald if not for a tiny patch he has let live, encouraged to grow wild and gelled forward into the center of his face. It shakes when he sings, and so does the audience.

It helps that the sound levels are Tyrannosauric.

During soundchecks for both the openers and their headliner, the stools at the back of the Marquis quaked during the drum tests alone. The volume changed little as the night progressed, though the aesthetic traveled through shades of gray before hitting Cattle Decapitation's black. Local outfit Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire, who play what is best described as funeral grind, unloaded a brutal set of clever, eerie hardcore during which the entire crowd stood as if in awe. Combined with local death metal band Cattleist and grindcore outfit Ironhorse, both as raw as their successor, the night was almost overkilled before it began.

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But when Cattle Decapitation took the stage, both of Ryan's middle fingers launched toward the ceiling, the night took a turn toward the experimental. The band's presence in Denver is geared largely toward local recording time for its forthcoming album, out in May. "We love playing this place," Ryan told the crowd. "We thought we'd come down and play some new songs before anyone else hears them."

The set traveled back and forth between old material ("A Body Farm," "Diarrhea of the Mouth") and impressively named, strongly instrumented new releases ("Life Stalker," "Do Not Resuscitate" and one called "Living, Breathing Piece of Defecating" something) in a set that, while obviously unplanned and occasionally sloppy, added to the experimental nature of the mostly new narrative. Cattle Decapitation has established an intellectual activist niche within the genre based on lyrics that, despite their titles, bring light to political issues including genocide, animal abuse and the environment. Their new songs follow the same pattern, though with a turn toward the band's creepier style of instrumentation. Layered with violent, scrambled basslines and sprinting drums, the overdrive guitar combined with Ryan's howls for a sound that is as loud as it is angry. Ryan keeps his mouth so close to the mike it's impossible to tell if he's eating it or upchucking it, and there's equally as much hair-whipping on the stage as in the crowd. Several moshpits formed, freaked out and dissipated as Ryan, bending his body in league with his voice, waved his arms over the tops of heads like a crazed conductor. The only cracks in the band's armor showed when he spoke to the crowd, making small talk while shuffling between songs and deciding what to play next.

"Hi, guys. How you doing?"


Personal Bias: I've seen this band twice, and they exhausted everything they've got both times.

By the Way: That said, I am currently a vegan, and I would never name my band Cattle Decapitation.

Random Detail: Directly in front of me, a mom in light jeans and a fannypack stood with her daughter next to a man in a T-shirt reading, "TRY OUR WORLD FAMOUS HUMANS." In case you're curious, the shirt advertises cannibalism in many styles: smothered, scattered, covered, chunked and speared.

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