Death metal, unlike its edgy cousin of black metal, has never taken itself all that seriously. With many of the genre’s progenitors having cited the aesthetic sensibilities of horror fiction as the primary inspiration for their almost comically over-the-top portrayals of sadistic physical and sexual violence, a sense of spectacle has always remained rooted at the core of the appeal of death metal, compared to the very serious political and religious zealotry of the excessive misanthropic sentiments of black metal. Of course, plenty of prominent death metal outfits have woven cutting political and religious commentary into their stylings, with Dying Fetus, Morbid Angel and Immolation being prime examples, but the likes of Cannibal Corpse, Obituary and Macabre have always been so excessive in their depictions of torture, mutilation and rape that it still remains a wonder how so many political figures have missed the point of their deliberately offensive lyricism entirely and called for their music to be banned. Through the decades, countless death metal acts have retained a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek and sometimes overtly comedic tone to their lyrics, even if they do not necessarily conform to the slasher film theatrics of their predecessors. A recent specimen comes in the form of Undrask, whose record from earlier this year, Battle Through Time, may just end up being my favourite metal album of the year, with their fat frontman parading a huge, Mjölnir-like hammer on stage during the band’s live performances, as he tells tales of vikings drinking their way to victory. Although concerned with a very different topic, weed-themed supergroup Cannabis Corpse are one of the most celebrated bands to be keeping the comical side to death metal’s torch (or blunt) lit for the past decade.
Currently comprised of members from Municipal Waste, Iron Reagan, The Black Dahlia Murder, Arsis and Six Feet Under, Cannabis Corpse are a metal band for hardcore metalheads, with their album and song titles, like their band name, all being marijuana-related puns based on albums and songs from other metal groups, with half the fun of listening to one of their projects being the track titles alone. Unlike Cannibal Corpse’s expressly extreme and vicious song names, Cannabis Corpse use esoteric ganja jargon to transform I Cum Blood into I Cum Bud, Tomb of the Mutilated into Tube of the Resinated and Fucked With a Knife into Fucked With Northern Lights. Like all previous albums from the pothead project, Cannabis Corpse’s latest album, Left Hand Pass (a parody of Entombed’s debut album, Left Hand Path), is packed to the rim with witty, weed-themed titles, all of which are plays on the names of famous metal songs, such as In Battle There is No Pot, Grass Obliteration and, my personal favourite, The Fiends That Come To Steal the Weed of the Deceased. Of course, the appeal of Cannabis Corpse extends beyond just some dope-related quips that are bound to tickle any nerdy metalheads, with Left Hand Pass reinforcing the thrashy riffs and hook-heavy grooves that have typically defined the group’s approach to death metal. What’s perhaps even more pungent on Cannabis Corpse’s newest record, however, is the clean production style that encases their brutal-leaning brand of death metal, with many of the melodic tones struck across the album being somewhat similar to those that can be found on a modern Dying Fetus record, not necessarily in their technicality alone, but in their potency within an uncharacteristically crisp and resonant production paradigm. Although this may not suit the tastes of death metal purists, it’s a production style that undoubtedly suits Cannabis Corpse, given just how sticky their riffs, hooks and grooves tend to be. As such, it could even be fair to say that lamenting the lack of a lo-fi, gritty sound on Left Hand Pass somewhat misses the point of Cannabis Corpse, as the band aren’t interested in being as abrasive and dirty as possible. Instead, their primary concern is entertaining the listener not with horror film gore, but with weed-related wordplay, infectious melodies and headbanging grooves, and in this sense, Left Hand Pass is perhaps one of the most shamelessly fun metal albums of the year thus far.
As has been the case with Cannabis Corpse’s past output, the gut-busting grooves and strong melodic body to the pieces featured throughout Left Hand Pass constitute a rigid songwriting blueprint that provides ample substance beneath the band’s surface-level stoner aesthetic. Although a brutal death metal act at their core, Cannabis Corpse’s forcefulness arises not from their unfaltering ferocity, but from their astute ability to craft songs that pack a punch in how plainly catchy they are, courtesy of a burning flair for fiery performances and hooks that wriggle into the listener’s ear before mercilessly burrowing into their brain. In the case of Left Hand Pass, this unforgiving earworm-ery is evident right from the onset with the opening track, The 420th Crusade. Opening a death metal album with an extended passage of slow-paced, clean or acoustic guitar melodies with some distorted guitar incidentals playing over the top before busting into the full-force of the first song has become somewhat of a cliché at this point, but Cannabis Corpse prove that this trope can nevertheless be used to great effect on The 420th Crusade. The space left lingering by the broken chords in the clean guitar is grappled onto by the searing lead harmonies, whilst the subtle building of tension that comes as the meandering grumbles of bass and the buzzing guitar licks become gradually more elaborate leads smoothly and satisfyingly into the main body of the song, which is where the stomping grooves kick into full effect. A pummelling drum breakdown bolsters the same broken chord progression from the track’s introduction, before the the listener is battered with the brunt of Cannabis Corpse’s brutal riffage, as blast beats sound like artillery fire under the cover of chugging, thrashing riffage, whilst Landphil’s stories of lighting one up on the battlefield are delivered through his savage snarls that nevertheless remain impressively clear. With a song such as The 420th Crusade, part of the reason that the cut remains so contagious is due to the distinct melodic tones that Cannabis Corpse work into punctuated rhythms that cling to the listener with ease, with the following track, In Dank Purity (presumably a pun on Monstrosity’s In Dark Purity), doubling down on this accented infectiousness. With much of the track being laced with discordant guitar squeals and riffs that almost border on a blues-like structure at times, such sections seem to be directly tailored towards framing the outbreaks of old school blast beats that are broken apart by tumbling drum fills and cascading guitar melodies, creating a suitably unstable barrage of brutality that is more than capable of buffeting the listener with rapid-fire sucker punches. On other tracks, most notably the likes of Final Exhalation and Papyrus Containing the Spell to Protect Its Possessor Against Attacks From He Who Is In the Bong Water, it’s specifically the way in which the syllabic structure of Landphil’s vocal lines are punctuated that makes for some of the album’s stickiest moments. For instance, the frontman’s screeches during the latter song of, “Long have we / travelled seeking / weed most divine / We must get high!” comprise one of the catchiest moments on the record, with the way in which the vocal part is split up and accented adding to just how comedic his proclamation is. With Effigy of the Forgetful blending snappy thrash riffs into a gut-punch of a galloping groove, whilst The Fiends That Come To Steal the Weed of the Deceased boasts a jig that manages to maintain its catchiness in spite of its flourishes of strange time signatures, Left Hand Pass is rife with fantastically well-worked riffs, hooks and grooves that are completely upfront in their enjoyability. Whilst certain cuts undoubtedly read as slightly rudimentary for a brutal death metal album, with Chronic Breed being one of the most obvious examples and was likely chosen as the record’s lead single for the sole reason of baiting a comprehensive death metal audience, each track is nevertheless executed with impressively polished compositional prowess, whilst the tracklisting’s length of 10 songs, which clocks in at under 40 minutes, means that the album is never in danger of overstaying its welcome.
It’s at this point that it becomes clear just how much the masterful musicianship of each of Cannabis Corpse’s members plays into the overall potency of their music, with Left Hand Pass being bestrewed with brief moments of technical finesse that break up many of these songs, keeping them from feeling at all stiff, whilst also providing plenty of short bursts of skill that may not always become evident upon one’s first listen of the album, leaving much to discover on subsequent spins. Landphil’s playing, for instance, thankfully bucks the trend of the bass being largely inaudible across a death metal record, with the frontman injecting songs such as The 420th Crusade with pithy eruptions of mind-boggling fretboard gymnastics that work especially well when paired against the latticework of the duelling guitars throughout the track. On the topic of the album’s guitar work, as is the case with Landphil’s flourishes of bassy madness, cuts like Chronic Breed are laced with sudden spasms of uber-technical guitar tapestry that really enliven songs wherein the guitars largely stick to their low-end, whilst a track such as In Battle There is No Pot brandishes an almost alien-sounding solo that features just the right amount of flashiness for its primary purpose of providing a well-worked pay-off following the build-up in the instrumentation up until this point. When it comes to Landphil’s vocals, as has been previously mentioned, the frontman’s growls are both caustic and clear in a slightly similar fashion to those of Cattle Decapitation’s Travis Ryan, which is perfect for a band like Cannabis Corpse, as it allows the frontman’s humorous lyrics to be easily understood, whilst nevertheless being more than sufficiently ferocious. What has not been mentioned, however, is the vocalist’s constant flip-flopping between guttural growls and piercing squeals across these songs — again, much like Travis Ryan — which makes for a multi-faceted and dynamic sound all around, with tracks such as Final Exhalation and Glass Oblit showcasing the effect of this style perfectly, as their thunderous, thrashy riffage is bolstered by Landphil’s booming barks, whilst the sharp guitar leads glide alongside his shrill shrieks. Although this technique is successful for the most part, it must be said that, at times, it becomes rather apparent that the frontman is far more at home in his lower range, with there being brief points across songs such as The 420th Crusade and In Battle There is No Pot wherein Landphil’s higher screams are accompanied by less instrumentation, which highlights that they can sound somewhat weak without the support of a fuller instrumental timbre. Outside of quibbles such as this, however, it seems as if the members of Cannabis Corpse and their approach to their craft plays directly into the band’s strengths, whether this be in terms of reinforcing the catchiness of these songs or providing brief blazes of angular complexity to disrupt the group’s strong grooves should they ever become too rigid.
For metal outfits with such a brazen gimmick to their stylings as Cannabis Corpse, it’s all too easy for people to merely look at their name and disregard them as a novelty act who may very well be entertaining for one listen, but won’t give the listener any reason to return to their material once they have got the gist of the joke. On Left Hand Pass, however, and perhaps more forcefully than ever, Cannabis Corpse grab the listener by the ears and demand their attention, with their tangles of mighty melodies, meaty hooks and irresistible grooves putting plenty of other death metal groups to shame, all whilst never taking themselves too seriously and, most importantly, hosting a fantastically fun listening experience. Even in spite of the odd nitpick to be found here and there, Cannabis Corpse can certainly not be denied their presence as showmen and entertainers at any point across Left Hand Pass, which contributes massively to just how much this album is bound to stay with the listener long after their first listen. In short, Cannabis Corpse continue to marry their light-hearted, weed-themed comedy with genuine compositional chops and musical dexterity, making for a record that can be thoroughly enjoyed on multiple levels with Left Hand Pass.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10