Over one billion animals have been burnt alive and dozens of people have died in Australia’s worst bushfires. Worldwide, coronavirus is at pandemic levels, infecting thousands and killing hundreds. Is mother nature finally rejecting her destructive hosts? Cattle Decapitation vocalist Travis Ryan has shared his thoughts about this, their apocalyptic 2019 album, ‘Death Atlas‘, and this month’s Australian tour. “This is really shit timing on our end, for us to have such a record like that,” he says. “For this tour ad to have a fucking human skull with fire coming out the top and the world sitting in it. But at the same time, it is very apt. It is relevant. We were horrified by what we saw – the images from over there.”
Death Atlas’ cover features a human skeleton holding a scythe and carrying a flaming globe on its back in outer space. The globe is rotated to the Americas, with plumes of smoke coming from North America. The Australian tour poster, which was released in October, is just as morbid. There’s a human skull opened like a can of beans with a flaming globe sitting on top. This time, the globe features Australia in flames. The band weren’t to know the savagery that would engulf the country just two months later. Ryan says the band felt ‘weird’ heading to Australia without helping out in some way. “We all kind of stepped back and said, ‘Dude, I feel really weird coming over there’. Yeah, I mean everybody needs entertainment. Your lives can’t stop. You still have to be able to go out and see a show and live your life, but at the same time, I just felt weird about us not doing something. Fuck, we’ve gotta do something. Shit.”
The band looked to friends in Australia for guidance and came up with merch and VIP upgrades to raise money for wildlife. “I have a couple friends, one of them is pretty knee deep in the animal rights activism over there – Ashley Avci – she’s actually on Housos and Fat Pizza. We’re going to do a couple fundraisers for the Cobargo Wildlife Sanctuary over there. I worked with her to narrow down somebody that could really use some help, some funding, instead of throwing it to some big corporation or organisation. I wanted to get something a little more grassroots. So, we’re selling a t-shirt where 100 per cent of profits go to that. So, I’m just happy that with our resources and people we know, we’re able to help out and hopefully get some money for them. There’s a lot of red tape to cut through to make those kinds of things happen, so it’s taken some elbow grease.” The t-shirt design features the band mascot embracing koalas and a kangaroo and is available online only. Additionally, the band are offering VIP meet and greet ticket upgrades for both new sales and pre-existing tickets, with 100pc of the upgrade proceeds going to CWS.
Ryan says while this disaster is on another scale, he can relate to the pain, living in a bushfire and earthquake zone himself. “Everybody we talked to – we’ve got a lot of acquaintances over there – are like, ‘It’s nowhere near me but the fucking sky is orange’, which I’m familiar with, because we live in California and every single year there’s out of control fires destroying wildlife and vegetation and homes, so I feel your pain. I had to go help evacuate my parents place while they’re off on vacation and stuff, so I know the stress. I’ve seen first-hand and it’s very brutal.”
Unbeknown to Ryan, the wildlife sanctuary they are helping is also located in the same town where Prime Minister Scott Morrison was recently met with a hostile reception. “I watched footage of him going to, I don’t know the name of the town, but it was a town that had been affected by the fires and they were practically kicking him out, telling him get the fuck out of here. He’s trying to shake people’s hands and they wouldn’t shake his hand. There’s no talking sense into an evangelical Christian. Straight up. It’s pointless.” Ryan says world leaders need to start listening to climate science before it’s too late. “It depends on if the world leaders want to start taking scientists seriously. I think a lot of pessimism I’ve exuded comes from the fact that it’s a death metal band or whatever. It’s an extreme metal band; it comes with the territory and this is my angle on it.” However, he asserts he’s not a full-blown nihilist. “The world’s too big for any one thing to be the end all, unless it comes in the form of some sort of plague or an asteroid or fucking nuclear war obviously.”
Cattle Decapitation do touch on plagues with track seven, Bring Back the Plague, though Ryan says not everything of theirs should be taken literally. “A lot of this is metaphoric and irony. Our lyrics have always been steeped in that. There are things that should be taken literally and there’s things that shouldn’t be. I think that’s just how life is. It was really just a joke. I mean, it’s kind of a joke at the end of the day, let’s face it. I don’t want to see my parents and my wife, and my family succumb to a horrible plague. It’s that running joke that we need a new plague. It’s like, ‘What the fuck are we doing?’ It’s more commentary on human condition. From our standpoint, art is just a mirror of reality.”
CD love to stir things up, and in addition to their more friendly Aussie t-shirt design, they caused some chatter in 2015 when they dropped a gory yet humourous ‘drop bear’ shirt. The design features two koalas eating a man who is holding a jar of Vegemite. “Well obviously we got the idea from the fucking King Parrot dudes giving us shit – doing the whole spiel you guys do when tourists come over there – especially Americans. I remember him telling me and I’m like, ‘You’re full of shit, I’m not buying this. This is some shit you guys tell tourists’, and he’s like, ‘Absolutely mate’, and he explained everything to me, and I thought it was fucking hilarious. We may talk about some serious topics but a lot of our t-shirt designs and a lot of the way we do things, when it really comes down to it, a lot of it is tongue in cheek. A lot of it is humorous. I like making people laugh, so we decided to let you all know we’re in on the joke. It was actually my wife’s idea to have the Vegemite bottle.”
Ryan has great affinity for Australia but says they have a “weird schedule” going and has had a word with management to rectify this. The band toured the country for the first time in 2014 – two years after ‘Monolith of Inhumanity’ and returned in 2018 – three years after ‘The Anthropocene Extinction’. “We put out a record and two fucking years later we get around to coming out there. It’s really annoying. So, this record I made sure to tell our management, agents and stuff, ‘Hey, make sure we get out there sooner than later’. Preferably in your summer or some shit, which is downtime for us over here because (in) Europe and the US the weather is so shitty. We try not to tour, it’s just too dangerous. We’re trying to go for the long time. We’ll try to get out there twice during this record instead of just once two fucking years after it comes out.”
Ryan, Josh Elmore (guitar), Dave McGraw (drums), Belisario Dimuzio (guitar) and Olivier Pinard (bass) touch down in Australia on February 13, playing in Brisbane first. According to Ryan, they’ll be performing a good chunk of their latest record but won’t be dipping very far into the early days. “(We’ll play) a lot of Death Atlas, a lot of the last two records. To be honest man, we’ve got a long fucking catalogue and it’s hard to go back and pick older songs to play, and then when we do, we find ourselves getting a little bored with it and they also happen to be what we like to call ‘set killers’. The crowd kind of dies down a little bit. Their reactions kind of slow down a little and they end up standing there instead of going crazy. I think we got a lot of new fans with the last few records and we enjoy playing that stuff more, and luckily for those intents and purposes, people haven’t complained enough to where it’s like, ‘Fuck, we’ve really got to throw some ‘To Serve Man’ or ‘Humanure’ or whatever.”
While the band is still branded as deathgrind, Ryan says they have been adding more influences into their latest few works. “It’s definitely an evolution. Everything is like slowly dripped into each other. The water at the top of the mountain looks a lot different when it’s down in the valley. A lot of things have been collected over time and now we are writing stuff that is not dissimilar enough from the last two or even three records. I think ‘Harvest Floor’ is where I really started trying to make notational sense of screams – words that have some sort of melody – but Monolith is where we were actually able to make it pop, come a little more to the forefront and actually manifest fully … we found a producer that did it right I guess you could say, or that I was able to work with right to make that kind of happen. And then from there we started writing, and they were like, ‘That’s cool, I’m gonna write some stuff with those vocals in mind and that’s why it’s got to be more of a verse chorus – more of a traditional structure. And we’re getting older. I’m sure that’s got a little bit to do with it, I guess. And I don’t think we’re… there’s no selling out. The band’s called Cattle Decapitation. We get it. There’s a ceiling to what we can do. We’re just doing what we want and luckily people seem to be gravitating towards it, so that’s cool for our future, I guess.”
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