Review by Greg on February 6, 2024.
Do you know that story of Captain Beefheart and his best-known album Trout Mask Replica? For those of you who don't, the guy was the pretty peculiar leader of a pretty peculiar band, who worked with Frank Zappa among others. At some time in 1969, in the wake of the composition for his soon-to-be magnum opus, Beefheart locked up his bandmates for months in a rented house, forbade them to leave and verbally abused them until they collapsed and played exactly what he wanted, even recording the whole album in one take. All this, coupled with the fact that the leader himself wasn't exactly a virtuoso neither a music theory docent, resulted in one of the weirdest, most cryptic and experimental albums ever put to tape.
I like to think that 2008 Biomechanical had become a similar kind of band, with four brand new members under the whip of the mastermind John K. Actually, on Cannibalised we still found the same old lineup... it's just so unrecognizable I swear that the 'dictatorial frontman who starves some new dudes and exploits them to pursue his most demented musical dreams' theory seemed the most logic. But just like when I first heard Trout Mask Replica, the first question I asked to myself was: what the fuck did this guy have in his mind? I have some serious difficulties to think that the idea of music of a human being can be something like this. I'm not even sure they are playing in existent time signatures.
The problem is, on The Empires of the Worlds there was already a lot (and I mean really a LOT) going on, so giving a good dose of steroids to said album's sound does not seem the best idea to have. Or at least, even acknowledging that Biomechanical's musical offering is not the most accessible you can imagine, Cannibalised feels like a step too far. Whereas the previous albums had hooks catchier than syphilis, like the choruses of 'Do You Know Me' or 'Enemy Within', drowned in an oppressive, cold, desperate atmosphere (especially on the sophomore), here the closest cut is 'Fallen in Fear''s one, which would be similar to the latter, except for the fact it's continuously fragmented and kills any momentum. I know, catchiness is not the primary requirement for music like this, but when you've got something to hum along or something that sticks in your mind after you stop the music, the experience is really better. And they showed they could, already. They basically reached a complexity limit where they could still compose songs with a proper logic, and then proceeded to surpass it by a couple miles. Even said 'atmosphere' is no more tangible on this. Which brings me to the next issue...
The real problem is, with its predecessor's production this could have worked a lot better. It would still be headache inducing and feel a handful of hours longer, but at least you could HEAR all the little things they clearly spent a lot of time composing. Really, it's like they perfected the material to the finest and then threw it to the first sound engineering enthusiast they met in front of their rehearsal studio, without being interested in how it would turn out. Okay, obviously it was a conscious decision (John K said 'to give it a more old-school cut', I read somewhere), and the hypothetical random guy in the street was actually Chris Tsangarides (R.I.P.), but my version works a lot better once you hear the end result. It's baffling. The marvelous bass work of Jon Collins is completely lost, the guitars and drums got way softer and muddier, even John K himself is intermittently suffocated by the uncontrollable chaos on display, and coupled with the shitload of voice tracks it gives the idea of numerous individuals constantly screaming/singing/whispering at a very low volume in your ears from multiple angles. Try to decipher the title in the chorus of the title-track (a good contender for the most annoying tune) without looking at the lyrics (incidentally the only interesting feature left), but it's only one of many examples. To sum it up, think of literally every good aspect of Andy Sneap's work on The Empires of the Worlds, then make it worse, or remove it, and you got the idea. I can't stress enough how K perfected a formula, coupled it with the most perfect production imaginable, and shelved everything for... no apparent logic reason. I just can't wrap my head around it to this day.
Granted, just like Trout Mask Replica, Cannibalised may benefit from several listens too, if you dare. It won't help you give a good half of the songs a meaning, but at least you will recognize that the aforementioned 'Fallen in Fear', 'The Unseen' or 'Predatory' have somewhat of a typical song structure, even if the guys try their damned hardest to hide it. Incidentally they're also the most enjoyable tunes, in a way... personally I come back to them from time to time, yet inevitably ending up exhausted after one of them ends. The opener is still the best of the bunch, even if I don't know if I'm the only one to think that its symphonic intro sounds accelerated or whatever, but it's not a good first impression. 'Predatory', while starting in a slightly more traditional way, soon rises up to the album's heights of incoherence, to a point I literally cannot follow what's being said even with the lyrics under my eye – again, clearly not the only example, with the title-track and its riff forcing his way above everything being the worst offender, and 'Violent Descent' a close second. It's frustrating. But enough ranting on the production, for the sake of keeping this review on the rails.
'Breathing Silence' and 'Through Hatred Arise' at least initially provide a bit of room to catch a breath of oxygen, if nothing else; mind you, light years far from a 'Save Me'-type ballad – yeah I liked it so much I've mentioned it in all the 3 reviews – just the same stuff played slightly slower and with some disjointed clean interludes. And... 'Through Hatred Arise' borders on awful, to be honest. I was hoping to hear more of K's impeccable falsetto vocals in some less chaotic moments, but... no. Just no. By contrast, 'Violent Descent' is the fastest and most outright insane song on here, and you would expect me ejaculating all over the place like the first time I heard 'Hands of Fate' by Sadus or 'Buried by Time and Dust' by Mayhem (those were the days...); but I didn't, since it feels so... fake?, and incoherent that it wouldn't have been possible. Think of Ministry's 'WTV', remove the killer riff, and turn the intensity of everything to the triple. There has to be someone who enjoys this kind of stuff, hell, I thought I were one of them, but I guess I've changed my mind after listening to this. The songs I haven't mentioned earn deservedly my personal 'most technical filler music' award, making every Meshuggah song drop to the second place. Sorry Jens, that was the only field which I saw your band triumph in, before now.
I really, really wanted to rate this higher, since I always thought Biomechanical were becoming more and more interesting, but when the first song already tires you in a mere 4 minutes and at the same time it's also the best song on here, there has to be something wrong. The only uses I can find for this album are to scare your non-metalhead friends, if you're that kind of guy, or to remind yourself what pushing the limits of something past the common sense can give life to. I, for one, think I'll stick with Eight Moons and The Empires of the Worlds, but I'll miss the guys, and I'd love to see John K involved in another serious project sooner or later, even if seeing his website I get the impression he may be done with metal after all.
Rating: 3.8 out of 1073