Butchered at Birth was Cannibal Corpse’s breakthrough album. After a mediocre debut release that had minimal success and caught the ears of very few people outside the Tampa Bay area, it was time for Cannibal Corpse to prove themselves worthy. Before this album came out, the only other death metal bands that had already professionally released at least one full-length album were Possessed, Death, Bolt Thrower, Autopsy, Carcass, Deicide, Morbid Angel, Obituary, and Atheist. I personally think that 1991 was the year where the popularity of death metal and the amount of bands exploded. Just a few of the bands that released their debuts in 1991 are Malevolent Creation, Suffocation, Dismember, Grave, and Immolation. And yes, I know that at this same time, grindcore and black metal were also rising out of the crypts, but we’re here to talk about good ol’ death metal.
When this album came out, it was considered the most brutal album ever created, and for some reason it still is. Many say that Cannibal Corpse may owe their elongated success to a writer for some metal magazine. I read in this book that talked about the history of death metal where this magazine “journalist” was interviewed. When he was asked about where he first heard about Cannibal Corpse, he said “I was sitting at my desk in my apartment where I lived with two of my friends. One of my friends burst through the door, ran over to my desk and slammed down a CD with a bloody album cover and said ‘you wanna hear somethin’ new? Here’s something better than that Bolt Thrower of yours.’ I listened to the album and was paralyzed.”
I don’t know if the rumor that the band owes their success to that guy is true or not (I don’t think anyone will know), but he did spread the word about Cannibal Corpse outside of Florida and eventually out to Europe. It was then, when countries started taking a look at Barnes’ lyrics. Starting in 1992, countries started banning the sales of Cannibal Corpse CDs and banning Cannibal Corpse to perform in their country. Although it was only five years until the amount of countries banning Cannibal Corpse started dropping, it was being talked about far and wide.
Now that we’ve talked about the background and what was going on beyond this album, let’s talk about Butchered at Birth shall we? Of course when you look at the majority of old school death metal records, Butchered at Birth is undoubtedly one of the most brutal out of the bunch. I suggest you to first just look at the repulsive song names such as “Meat Hook Sodomy”, “Vomit the Soul”, and “Innards Decay”. Then, I want you to look at the lyrics on this album and think “how the hell can someone come up with this??” That’s certainly what I thought when I took a peek at the lyrics to Meat Hook Sodomy (for those of you that don’t know what sodomy is, it’s a fancy word for anal sex). And although I’ve talked a lot about the lyrics and put a lot of emphasis on them, I’m one that tends to naturally focus more on the music and the sound of the vocals than what’s being said.
I will admit that I find the sound of the guitar distortion kind of annoying. It’s very crunchy and high-pitched. This is fine, but not if it doesn’t have a bunch of bass to back it up (which this album doesn’t). And the crappy guitar distortion is somewhat understandable because this was about five years or so after the creation of the “indie” record label, where there were a lot more crappy sounding recordings due to the bands/labels having little money to pay for adequate recording/producing equipment. On top of that, the guitars pretty much drown everything else out; I really wish I could hear Chris Barnes’ orgasmic growls, but they get drowned out by the guitars for most of the record.
The songwriting is pristine. There is a much greater demonstration of organization amongst the band compared to their debut. The best example of this amazing songwriting would be one of the best-known headbanging songs, Covered with Sores. The re-released edition has a bonus track of the band performing this live, except Corpsegrinder is on vocals, which makes the song not sound as good. And don’t get me wrong, Corpsegrinder is fucking amazing; I just think that Barnes fits the old school Cannibal Corpse sound perfectly. That’s why I was quite disappointed when I saw Cannibal Corpse live in 2009 and they played some older tracks like Hammer Smashed Face, Vomit the Soul, I Cum Blood, and The Bleeding because Corpsegrinder’s gutturals don’t sound good with those songs. I was though very happy when Six Feet Under played Hammer Smashed Face when I saw them at the 2011 Summer Slaughter tour.
Overall, this album is an obvious classic that everyone should have in their collection. Kicking off with the pure sound of the guitar distortion in Meat Hook Sodomy and concluding with a breakdown at the end of Innards Decay, Butchered at Birth has proved itself to be one of the best death metal albums in the genre. If you haven’t heard any old school Cannibal Corpse, look up Tomb of the Mutilated first, then Butchered at Birth. I would rate this album 18/20.