"People aren’t used to hearing vocal melody over a wall of ‘blackened progressive deathgrind’ or whatever the hell you call it." Cattle Decapitation might be playing arenas, but they're still one of metal's most extreme bands

Cattle Decaptiation Travis Ryan
(Image credit: Press)

It's been over 20 years since Cattle Decapitation first shared their grotesque vision with the world. Yet the band have never wavered in their mission to push extreme metal boundaries and turn stomachs while they're at it, a combination of grotesque album art and brutal lyrics concerning topics including environmental devastation, genocide and animal cruelty ensuring they never fail to make a mark with each new release.   

Starting out in the realms of goregrind, the band have found space for technical death metal, prog and even black metal in their compositions over their eight album run, latest effort Terrasite earning accolades as one of the best metal albums of 2023

With the band selling out shows in the UK and making the jump to arenas as support for Amon Amarth in the US, we thought it high time to catch up with vocalist and chief lyricist Travis Ryan to find out how they went from death metal pariahs to extreme metal darlings. 

Metal Hammer line break

Some of the venues you played in support of last year’s Terrasite album were 1,000+ capacity – impressive for a band as nasty as Cattle Decap! Was it your most successful year ever? 

“2022 was the worst year on record personally, but it ended rather amazingly with the band playing our first arenas opening for Amon Amarth. It set the tone for 2023, which was nothing but insane shows on the heels of our new album.” 

How did Cattle Decapitation blow up to the point of playing arenas? 

“I don’t know that there’s any real answer. For lack of a better example, I’ve been calling it ‘the Doom EP effect’. It’s not that Job For A Cowboy’s 2005 Doom EP was this magnificent piece of art; what I witnessed was a band receiving a benefit of ‘timing’ in the form of a fucking golden key to the city. Them and Suicide Silence exploded, and it appeared to be from a generation of kids where it hit them all at a certain time in their lives and just popped. We’re seeing it again now with this… what, third wave of deathcore and this ‘new wave of old school death metal’.” 

2019’s Death Atlas grieved the end of the world. Where did you even start picking up with Terrasite after that? 

“Bug monsters! [See the human/ cockroach hybrid of the cover.] Death Atlas is our most important album musically, but Terrasite blew the doors open from all that misery to finally have some fun concept-wise and some slightly more upbeat bangers.”

 Your ‘unclean’ melodic vocals are pretty legendary at this point. What does it take to maintain that voice? 

“A warm-up I learned from Trey Anastasio from Phish – he uses a straw that you put in about three inches of water in a bottle, and you blow into it while doing this really dumb high to low and back again spectrum. People just aren’t used to hearing vocal melody over a wall of ‘blackened progressive deathgrind’ or whatever the hell you call this stuff!”

Does it excite you to sneak these experimental elements into death metal records? 

“Since the beginning, I have always wanted to subvert the death metal paradigm. I’m considered by some to be a death metal elitist, but in the early 2000s we were pariahs of the local death metal scene. I feel we’re now relishing in the fruits of our labour.” 

How much of your lyrical content should be taken as literal calls for social and political action, versus leaning into the bleakness for extreme artistic expression? 

“When reading the lyrics, you’ll see that I mostly use the words ‘we’ and ‘us’ when describing humans, adverse interactions with the planet, its resources, its organisms. I’ve never claimed to know the answers, but I sure do a lot of bitching and complaining. I can’t say there’s a direct anything in there, other than a disdain for our species.” 

Now on your eighth album, you’re more popular than ever. How did you manage to avoid being one of those bands who are defined by their first few albums? 

“In this manner, Cattle Decapitation are truly an anomaly. In the late 80s through around 1992 or so, I was one of these ‘the first four albums’ kind of guys. The Black Album was absolutely ruinous to the way I viewed bands and music at the time, as I just wanted to hear things get faster and more aggressive. It told me that you may one day feel that your heroes can just turn on you and put their middle finger right up against your face, while smiling all the way to the bank.” 

Do Cattle Decap get much of that? 

“There definitely are a few out there who feel that’s what our best stuff was, but they’re practically silenced by the fans of our last 10 years of output. It’s one of the reasons we don’t play the old stuff live anymore - the crowd dies down when we do. Getting older is a trip, but seeing your band rise and do what you always wanted to do as a young adult adds considerably to the mindfuck that is aging. I thank you all from the depths of my heart, from the superior section of its aorta to its distal, inferior ventricular counterpart. May you survive everything that’s coming.”

Terrasite is out now. 

Perran Helyes

Beginning contributing to Metal Hammer in 2023, Perran has been a regular writer for Knotfest since 2020 interviewing icons like King Diamond, Winston McCall, and K.K. Downing, but specialising in the dark, doomed, and dingy. After joining the show in 2018, he took over the running of the That’s Not Metal podcast in 2020 bringing open, anti-gatekeeping coverage of the best heavy bands to as many who will listen, and as the natural bedfellow of extreme and dark music devotes most remaining brain-space to gothic and splatter horror and the places where those things entwine.