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Cattle Decapitation’s Travis Ryan on Death Atlas, Emotion in Extreme Music, and More

on November 25, 2019, 3:23pm

Cattle Decapitation stand as one of the premier acts in contemporary metal. With each consecutive album, the band continues to expand upon its technicality, bringing forth a fresh approach to brutality and emotion.

Their previous effort, The Anthropocene Extinction, explored topics such as the horrifying environmental changes taking place in our world. For vocalist and lyricist Travis Ryan, utilizing the medium of extreme music has allowed him to speak to these issues and the terrifying results they bring.

Now, Cattle Decapitation are back with their latest studio LP, Death Atlas, which arrives November 29th. Along with featuring two new members (Olivier Pinard on bass and Belisario Dimuzio on guitar), Death Atlas represents the band’s most emotional work to date.

Through further examining the horrors of climate change and the cruelty of humankind, the LP exudes a somber atmosphere. At the forefront of this is Ryan, whose talents aid in presenting the record’s haunting and poetic tone.

We had the chance to catch up with Ryan, discussing his approach to lyricism, crafting the theatricality found throughout Death Atlas, and establishing feeling within their music. Read Heavy Consequence‘s interview with Travis Ryan below.

On his approach to art direction with the band and Death Atlas

[Art direction] sort of plays out in my head well before even hitting the studio to record. I had come up with the front image [for Death Atlas] probably almost three years ago now. I thought of the image and then the title sort of just popped in my head; [I found] it had enough of a ring to it to take. I knew it had to be post-anthropocene. I sort of always deal with static images, not too much action going on and usually more of an “after” scene rather than “before” or “during” an event; the exception [to this would probably be] The Harvest Floor and Monolith of Inhumanity‘s covers. [With Death Atlas], I wanted the feeling to be of fire and ash, and very much the feeling of despair.

On what drew him towards the notion of an atlas for the new record

I love maps, globes, and atlases, and kinda always have. I find ‘em to be really fascinating and I originally had the idea of having pieces of a map on the inside of the [album] layout; but it would have been way too busy with all the band photos and lyrics. The idea of actually making a post apocalyptic wall map for the public came later. I wanted the album to very much have a “global” or “planetary” vibe to it with the focus being on the earth, not exactly other planets or space itself.

On whether or not he strives to inspire positive action through his lyrics

Honestly… that’s more of an afterthought I must admit. I write these lyrics straight from a very disturbed and depressed part of my soul. It’s not completely who I am, but I’m also not totally disassociated from it either. I’m saying what I feel needs to be said, [yet this is] also extreme metal and I come from a death metal background and mindset. So at the end of the day, [the music is] still brutal. It’s still disgusting sometimes. It’s disturbing. The real world is disturbing.

On establishing theatricality in Death Atlas and how proud he is of the album

[The record’s theatricality was] something I feel crept into the songwriting very early on; the cherries on top [of that theatricality] were the collaborations with members from Void of Silence and Midnight Odyssey… two very cinematic sounding bands. What you hear on this record is very much a lot of stuff I’ve personally always wanted to do, but couldn’t for whatever reason, be it lack of resources or plain old lack of foresight. But everything truly clicked right into place on Death Atlas. I’m not going to sit here and say “forget about Monolith and Anthropocene” because those are great albums; but really… Death Atlas is the one in my opinion. It’s the first record [of ours that] I can truly say I’m an actual fan of. The last few were almost there, but this is the one. It has the emotion and intensity that I personally need to get out of my system.

On the writing and recording of the track “Time’s Cruel Curtain”

That’s one of my favorite songs on the album. It is very emotional and I had a great time writing it considering its rather depressing lyrics and vibe. That’s just the way some of my favorite music is! Somber and melancholy. I love the idea of mixing [those feelings] with actual extreme music or death metal … I just remember being really bummed [because] I had so many other songs to work on at the time, and I just wanted to dive right into that one. But it had to be special and I wanted to take my time with it… so I waited. And then the [rest of the band] wrote that song and the closing [self-titled track], and I knew we had something special. Those songs and an interlude make up the last 20 minutes of the album and it’s my favorite 20 minutes we’ve ever done as a band.

On bringing emotion into heavy music and the fan response to the band’s work

As an extreme metal band, we obviously deal with extremities and it does not end at the lyrics. I’m a rather intense person naturally and I’ve been letting the darker side of that out more and more as the guys write epic sounding, plateau-y [sic], and anthemic parts that resonate with emotion, at times [even] sadness. I think some of that has obviously come from the subject matter, but also touring Europe during the festivals and seeing people in the crowd actually crying. That is an extremely powerful reaction to me and has become my favorite thing to see during our performances. It’s actual, impossible to hide, raw emotion. In a sea of bullshit and posturing, that is a genuine reaction that’s impossible to fake. I just connect personally with that willingness to put yourself out there, and it shows us that we’re doing something very right.

Our thanks to Travis Ryan for taking the time to speak with us. Pick up Cattle Decapitation’s new album, Death Atlas, and see the band’s current tour dates.

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