Album Title: Cancer Culture
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 27 May 2022
It is testament to the hunger and desire of some musicians that they carry on creating music in the face of serious adversity. Wacław “Vogg” Kiełtyka is one such musician, one of the founding members of Polish extreme metal band Decapitated. In 2007, a decade after their formation, the band were involved in an accident involving their tour bus, leading to the tragic death of Witold ‘Vitek’ Kieltyka. Then, after resurrecting Decapitated two years later, the entire band were arrested in 2017 in the US on charges that were later fully dropped. Nevertheless, some bands and musicians might have given up. Not Vogg, and five years later, with a slightly altered line-up once again, Decapitated have returned to release ‘Cancer Culture’ on the metal world. For perseverance and steadfast belief in the music, I doff my cap to Vogg.
But, having spent some decent time with ‘Cancer Culture’, the eighth full-length of Decapitated’s career, I have to doff my cap once again to Vogg, because he and his band of merry men have delivered another slab of impressive extreme metal, one that sees the band stretch further once more. For this release, Vogg is joined by the long-serving vocalist Rafał “Rasta” Piotrowski, drummer James Stewart, and bassist Paweł Pasek who returns to the fold having been with the band between 2012 and 2016.
I’ll be the first to admit that I maybe haven’t paid as much attention to Decapitated as perhaps I should over the years. As such, I was fully expecting and ready for a blast of out-and-out sharp, incisive, and technically adept death metal. Instead, I find myself listening to something just a little different. The music is still very technically adept and definitely extreme, but their output can’t really be described as ‘out-and-out death metal’ if we’re being as accurate as possible. I say this because it’s more nuanced and varied than that, as well as being rather instant in terms of my enjoyment of it. This has naturally surprised me a little, but in a positive way. I like brutal death metal, but I’m also a fan of bands that are prepared to do something a little different along the way. Remaining a force to be reckoned with, Decapitated have done just this and pulled me willingly along for the ride.
At around 37 minutes, you’re certainly not going to get bored or overwhelmed with the music on ‘Cancer Culture’. In fact, where this kind of music is concerned, it’s not far off being the perfect length. If we’re talking about perfect things at this juncture, I have to reference the production of this record because it is insane. Everything is right about it, from the overall clarity to the separation of the instruments, and from the power of the instruments through to the volume. For the record, I’m not an audiophile, so when I say the production is perfect, I’m saying this as a fan rather than an expert, someone who really likes what they hear.
I don’t think that the ten tracks that comprise ‘Cancer Culture’ are perfect, but to be honest, they are collectively not that far off. The minute long intro, ‘From The Nothingness With Love’ is a little something or nothing, albeit a decent scene and atmosphere setter. But from that point on, very few missteps are taken. In fact, the title track comes out of nowhere with not even a pause for breath. Blastbeats, sharp muscular riffing, and some intriguing dystopian sounds emerging from the depths kick things off in almighty fashion, before the growls of Piotrowski loom large over a groovier verse that gets the head banging vehemently. The momentary lowering of the intensity via creepy whispered vocals over brisk double-pedal drumming is a lovely touch, adding a sinister touch to the otherwise bruising slab of extreme metal. There’s even room for a hint of melody in the latter stages as well as a brilliant lead solo that is fast and technical at the outset, becoming more soulful as it develops. However, both are executed well, meaning that neither interfere with the power of the song.
‘Just A Cigarette’ is notable for a few reasons. Firstly, it is quite simply a really engaging extreme metal track. Secondly, with its blend of fast-picked riffing and blistering blastbeats, it carries with it an air of black metal which I thoroughly enjoy. And finally, it is the track where I sit open-mouthed and marvel at the musicianship of the musicians. They all bring their ‘A’ game, but thanks to the production, the drumming of James Stewart sounds immense; his playing is so precise, thunderous and dextrous that I love homing in and listening to his performance alone at times.
There’s liteally no let-up as ‘No Cure’ takes just a smidge over three minutes to tear our ears to pieces with a razor-sharp, fast attack to the senses. However, like the two preceding tracks, the aggression is measured, nuanced, and stylish, balanced with light and shade, and offering plenty to admire from every corner of the band.
One of my favourite tracks on the album is ‘Hello Death’. It offers something a little different in that, after a frantic opening, in comes guest vocalist Tatiana Shmayluk of Jinger fame, to sing with passion over some clever syncopation. The atmosphere that surrounds this song is powerful, but not as powerful as the melodic nature of the song that begins just short of the halfway mark. Still heavy, still abrasive, it is also bordering on the anthemic thanks to the clean female and growled male duet that works brilliantly.
But Decapitated are not done yet as their rich vein of form continues until the very end of this album. I’m intrigued by the all-out bludgeoning groove of ‘Iconoclast’ in particular as it introduces some clean male vocals for the first time atop a melodic section that then culminates in a vocal delivery that sounds scarily similar to Robb Flynn of Machine Head. Add into that some melodic lead guitar work and you have another great track on your hands. Or how about ‘Last Supper’ which, after a ponderous intro laced with wailing lead guitars in the background, explodes into a full-on thrash-infused assault? Talk about ending the album with a bang. There’s no foot off the pedal here, as the album comes to an all-too-quick halt; if anything, Decapitated deliver one last aural battering. It’s one that is still laced with a touch of dark, menacing melody in places, but it’s a battering nonetheless.
As extreme metal albums go, ‘Cancer Culture’ has to be up there with the very best that 2022 has had to offer so far. Everything from the slightly disturbing cover artwork to the performances, and from the production to the songs themselves, Decapitated have returned with one hell of a bang. But crucially, the bang is not only thunderous, but it is intelligent, varied, and completely engaging from start to finish. To create something that’s as on-point as ‘Cancer Culture’ consistently is, takes dedication, talent, and hunger, so once again, I doff my cap to each member of this hugely impressive band. If only all extreme metal was like this…
The Score of Much Metal: 93%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: