Death Atlas

Death Atlas

As longtime critics of human behavior, Cattle Decapitation once offered a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Humankind: The greatest natural disaster of all time.” Such is the theme of the San Diego death metal squad’s eighth album, Death Atlas, an interlude-laden extremity featuring contributions from an international cast of musicians including Riccardo Conforti of Void Of Silence, Laure Le Prunenec of Igorrr, Dis Pater of Midnight Odyssey, and, naturally, Jon Fishman of Phish. “This album is about how we’re an extremely destructive species,” Cattle Decapitation vocalist Travis Ryan tells Apple Music. “We’re like flies on a carcass. It’s an extremely pessimistic and sad record.” Below, Ryan takes us track by track through Death Atlas.
Anthropogenic: End Transmission “The intro music is a collaboration we did with Riccardo Conforti from a phenomenal band called Void Of Silence from Rome. The transmission is meant to symbolize humanity’s place in the universe. At the end, it cancels out—the End Transmission—because we’ve been destroyed. We had to get clearance from NASA to use the sample that’s in this. It’s the 55 languages of planet Earth, taken from the Golden Record that’s on the Voyager space probe that was sent out in the late ’70s. The lady at NASA was super cool and we got everything cleared. It’s by far the best intro we’ve ever had on an album.”
The Geocide “I came up with the title before we even had the song to go with it. I have an ongoing list of probably 150 song titles that aren’t even used yet—I’ve had it for years. With ‘The Geocide,’ I was thinking it’s weird that no one’s ever used it before. It’s not even a real word, I don’t think, but any idiot can look at it and figure out what it means: the destruction and death of a planet. So the song is basically talking about what’s happening on the album cover.”
Be Still Our Bleeding Hearts “I actually went into this one wanting to call out people like myself. I don’t want to get into politics or anything, but I think it’s fair to say that I’m left-leaning. I can’t be considered a bleeding-heart liberal, though—I just have too many fucked-up ideas and thoughts on life. But to me, that’s true liberalism. You have to take everything into consideration. But that’s not what’s happening [in the world] right now. People are staying on their own side and not really wanting to hear anybody out. So the song is basically just saying, ‘Chill out. We're not really worth it.’”
Vulturous “This started out as a song about being very angry at certain people in our lives, but it took a different turn. I like the idea that we're vultures. It’s another way of explaining the human condition. This was also the first song where I started getting poetic in the lyric writing, which I didn't really see coming. I didn't go into this going, ‘I'm going to be all Johnny Poetic’—it just ended up being this way, and I had a lot more fun with it.”
The Great Dying “This interlude has my sister on it. She’s awesome—she quit her job and sailed the Pacific Ocean with her husband for about a year. She comes home, trying to figure out what to do for a job, and she just wakes up one day and goes, ‘You know what? I’m going to get into voice-over.’ And she did. Within six months, she’s making insane money, makes her own hours, and I couldn’t be more proud of her. For this, I wanted her to sound robotic, like a computer, and she completely nailed it. Then I did all the synthesizer stuff myself. It’s neat to be able to collaborate with your sister on a death metal release.”
One Day Closer to the End of the World “I was looking through some old paperwork from when I was in kindergarten and doing bad in school. I was hyper and distracted, and they were trying to figure out what was wrong with me. It was the ’80s, with Ritalin hysteria and all that, and I was diagnosed with ADHD. I saw this analysis from the therapist, and one of the things he said, which still rings true today at age 45, is, ‘Travis sees each day as an opportunity for failure.’ That really bummed me out, because I realized I'm still that way. So that's where this song actually came from. It’s like the extreme metal version of therapy, but in a very pessimistic way.”
Bring Back the Plague “So we put this song out and of course there’s all these keyboard warriors going, ‘The plague never went away—look at China!’ Dude, I know. The song is supposed to be cheeky. There's a concurrent thing, while we're dealing with really sad topics or very important topics, there’s always a tablespoon or so of tongue-in-cheek-ness to it. I think that comes from me being the class clown, but it’s also a coping mechanism. I like to throw some comedy in there to try and cover as many dynamics in the spectrum of human behavior and thought as possible. But yeah, the plague never exactly left. It’s just not taking out millions of people anymore.”
Absolute Destitute “This was originally going to be called ‘Despair Porn,’ but the entire band fought me on it. I can’t remember a time when I wrote a song title or a lyric and everybody unanimously went, ‘You’re not going to fucking call it that.’ They were like, ‘Dude, we can’t have a serious song with the word “porn” in the title.’ I think they’re crazy, but I get it. Anyway, this is a song about how our behavior seems to suggest that we are obsessed with destruction, or that we’re in love with being sad or being depressed or having a problem. It’s like we’re getting off on it.”
The Great Dying II “This is literally part two of the first ‘Great Dying’—the same text was used, but this time it’s me and a vocoder, and I’m doing some more synths. I went for a slightly different feel on this. I like noise and ambient stuff and just brought a little more weirdness to it. It ends with a really cool clincher statement, too: ‘Annihilation is necessary.’ These interludes will also double as filler during live shows so I don’t have to talk to the crowd—because I honestly don’t like it. I’m not good at being a hype guy.”
Finish Them “This is a fun one—this is the album’s ‘Forced Gender Reassignment,’ I guess you could say. It’s a heavier song, and I did some really weird vocals on it that I’ve never done before. It’s just a brutal beatdown, talking about purging everything with fire, just deleting everything. So it’s a very angry song, but it also has a bit of a funny vibe to it. One of the lyrics is ‘We fuck biology’s eye sockets, we skull-fuck futures for our profits.’ It’s just talking about how ridiculous we are.”
With All Disrespect “This is just a very point-blank call-out to the human race—with certain people in mind, but we won’t really get into that. I’ve never been a fan of hardcore or punk because I’ve always felt it was too blatant and too ‘Fuck the government—oi!’ There’s not enough art in there for me, I guess. But I fall into that trap sometimes, too. So this song is just me being pissed off.”
Time's Cruel Curtain “This song is about how time is actually our enemy, and it doesn’t give a shit. It’s static, there’s no changing it, and it doesn’t give a fuck about you and your feelings. In that way, it’s rather cruel. And the curtain is the actual closing of your life, of any person’s life, whether it’s all of humanity or one single person. It’s one of our more...I hate to say pretty, because we’re talking about extreme death metal...but it’s 2019—come on. It’s one of the more emotional songs on the album.”
The Unerasable Past “So this is actually Jon Fishman from the band Phish talking on this one. He’s a big Cattle fan, which still trips me out, because that dude has sold out Madison Square Garden three nights in a row. He came to see us maybe 10 or 11 years ago—it was [drummer] Dave [McGraw]’s first tour with us. He saw Dave playing and his jaw dropped. Then he bought our record and looked into what we were about, and now he’s seen us a bunch of times, which blows my mind. So we gave him this text to read, which he recorded out at his place in Maine, under the night sky—you can hear crickets in the background. He ad-libbed a little line at the end which is very Phish, very psychedelic. And we got the dude from Midnight Odyssey, this very obscure Australian one-man band, to do the music. It just fell right the fuck into place.”
Death Atlas “Whereas ‘Geocide’ is the actual act of destruction, ‘Death Atlas’ is the aftermath, the conclusion. It has the longest fucking fade-out ever—the fade-out is longer than half our discography. I went into this song saying, ‘Guys, I want that feeling like your dog just died. Just utter despair.’ Why? I don’t know. Maybe I just don’t see it being done in extreme music. But it’s a side that we all share and maybe don’t show. The track ends with this lady, Laure Le Prunenec from Igorrr, this phenomenal operatic singer, basically giving you goosebumps.”


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