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  • Review by Faye Coulman

REVIEWED: Cattle Decapitation + Signs of the Swarm + 200 Stab Wounds @ O2 Academy Islington, London

If you’re the rare breed of gig-goer who favours cosy and casual, understated venues purveying a charmingly dishevelled, independent aesthetic, suffice to say that the O2 Academy Islington is most definitely not - as the kids so succinctly put it - ‘the one’. Despite its generous proportions spanning both ground and balcony level, the place is as horrendously packed with punters as the Victoria Line at 8.05 on an exceptionally tense and unpleasant Monday morning. And as fans continue to pile into the venue in seemingly endless, ever-increasing frequency, forcibly pushing and jostling their way to the front despite the borderline hazardous levels of overcrowding going on here, the present, densely populated scene unfolding before us ironically creates a pretty compelling case for Cattle Decapitation’s somewhat controversial views on the human race. Still, factoring into the mix that it’s a. Friday night and b. London’s first, tremendously longed-for opportunity to witness material from lacerating 2021 smash ‘Terrasite’, rest assured our present circumstances could quite assuredly be worse…

Amassing a pulverising, delectably scabrous presence within mere moments of a set that sees gargantuan slabs of blackly churning bass and lightning-paced fretwork gather frantic, brain-liquefying momentum, Ohio’s 200 STAB WOUNDS more than easily evoke all the joyous ultra-violence their decidedly hyperbolic band name suggests. Yet, with an intelligently layered repertoire spanning dynamics as varied as densely entangled, sinewy groove and staccato-laden hyperblasts together with a searing multitude of airily whirling tremolo, this is no simple exercise in primitive and uncomplicated brutality. And from intoxicating episodes of weightily lunging, filth-stricken riffage that palpably reeks of the grave to blistering extremes of pummelling ultra-violence capped off with Steve Buhl’s exceptionally nasty, putrefying screams, theirs is a gratuitous, tautly manipulated calibre of carnage.

With a stringently policed health and safety regime together with an endless list of venue rules and regulations appearing to take their cues from the Thai prison system, the O2 have done their level best to suck every last drop of ease and enjoyment out of the otherwise simple, uncomplicated pleasures of attending a gig. Even to the extent of now forcing customers to check any bag “larger than a sheet of A4” into the neighbouring Premier Inn (we shit you not, ladies and gentlemen). Happily, though, hardcore-laden US aggressors SIGNS OF THE SWARM clearly aren’t the type to worry themselves too much over a spot of minor rule-bending, as evidenced from the moment frontman David Simonich bellows, “I need a fucking circle pit!” into the mike and unadulterated chaos readily ensues.

Heaving forth an intensely corrosive onslaught of visceral, diaphragm-puncturing howls so intensely guttural and warped as to barely resemble the human animal, Simonich is one quite literal Hell of a vocal talent. Paired with a towering, relentlessly energised presence that sees tonight’s audience visibly hanging on his every viciously barking cue and command, the staggeringly expansive wall of sound they stir up from the get-go soon transforms the venue into a mass of frantically colliding limbs and hair. Have that, O2 fun police!

From a rhythm section so humongous and densely percussive in scale as to have erupted from the brimstone-scorched depths of the abyss itself to tremolo accents keen and caustic enough to strip flesh from bone, CATTLE DECAPITATION wield brutality on a scale quite unfathomable to the feeble human brain. With its densely muscled central backbone of double bass-laden blasts amassing sound barrier-shattering warp speed below frenzied, multi-directional strains of bristling fretwork, long-awaited choice cuts from 2021’s globally lauded ‘Terrasite’ are greeted with riotous wave upon wave of applause.

Supplying the perfect soundtrack to humanity’s grim and inexorable march toward self-annihilation, opening number ‘Terrasitic Adaptation’ marks a deliciously ominous point of entry into tonight’s proceedings, its icily entrancing atmospheres and sumptuous choirs teeming with apocalyptic horror. Wasting scarcely a millisecond in hurling us headlong into a raging tsunami of hammering aggression and vocal cord-liquefying shrieks that all but rip the stratosphere asunder with their piercing, preternaturally sustained impact, theirs is a sound sourced from a truly unique configuration of musical trappings and traditions. And although liberally laden with frenetic, brutally pummelling grindcore and groove-laden death metal, there’s a tangible aura of morbidity and despair stirring here in amongst these synapse-scorching displays of tautly muscled brawn and aggression. With its coldly entrancing crescendos of ghoulishly contorted vocal harmonies and vast swathes of blackly reverberating bass, unimaginably hostile standout ‘Scourge of the Offspring’ is furnished with more than its share of deathly, intensely disquieting atmosphere.

Elsewhere, COVID-era anthem ‘Bring Back the Plague’ revels in a myriad shades of unhinged brutality, its sinewy slabs of churning bass quickly settling into a fiercely infectious groove in amongst its various propulsive, blastbeat-stricken attacks. Sourced from darkly electrifying masterwork, ‘The Anthropocene Extinction’, the closing portion of Cattle’s breathlessly energised live repertoire sees ‘Pacific Grim’ combine tombstone-heavy layer upon layer of gnarly, densely reverberating groove and low-slung riffage to epic, intensely sinister effect. Together with a nightmarish wealth of larynx-shredding shrieks and soaring, raggedly abrasive verses, this brutal yet eerily cinematic epic comprises a fine pinnacle of ripping aggression elevated to something truly ghoulish by these various, obsidian-hued shades of apocalyptic horror.


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