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Cephalic Carnage - Xenosapien

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Artist: Cephalic Carnage

Album: Xenosapien

Label: Relapse

Review date: Oct. 11, 2007

It seems odd to think thoughts like “this is the most coherent Cephalic Carnage album yet,” but there you have it. For a band that, over the course of its three prior releases on Relapse, has perfected its own unique and sometimes incoherent amalgam which they dub “Rocky Mountain hydro grind” (you figure it out), the allsorts, in-jokes, breakdowns, experiments, and sheer technical juggernauts that have been scattershot across their discs here come together to form an indelible, if considerably busy picture. The band still plays with the same ridiculous chops and, thankfully, generates the same bracing effects. But the technique sounds like it’s more clearly in the service of good songwriting, avoiding some of the over-the-top excess of earlier albums (which, though enjoyable, wore pretty thin after you’re done being impressed).

Consider the song “Divination & Volition,” which seems for a while as if it’s going to wallow in rather twisted hammer-ons and the kind of freakout that comes with a new time signature every second. All of these elements – including the insane counterpoint, the hyper-prog complexity – aren’t simply sewn together arbitrarily. Here they’re situated in actual song-writing, with an expanded harmonic and textural palette that actually seeks to communicate and draw you in as a listener rather than roundhouse you to the head with over-the-top chops. Hear this in the deadly guitar unisons on “Endless Cycle of Violence” or the awfully titled “G.lobal O.verhaul D.evice,” which initially connotes recent Earth with its high lonesome vibrato before morphing into a slow doom-influenced piece with vocals and sax from Yakuza’s Bruce Lamont.

Cephalic Carnage will never strip it down like High on Fire or anything. This band will always combine the ferocity of grindcore with the laser technique of the most exacting death metal (like Cryptopsy trained on Mahavishnu records – just listen to “Heptarchy”), math insanity, stoner doom, and a healthy dose of satire (heard in everything from Lenzig Leal’s presto-changeo vocals to their playful skewering of metal subgenres). What’s to their credit is the way in which they’ve synthesized their influences. On earlier albums, it was at times painfully obvious when the band was channeling some abstracted notion of “jazz,” for example. Now, it’s a blindingly fast, deeply heavy, and pretty damn quirky amalgam.

By Jason Bivins

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