w/ Josh Elmore of Cattle Decapitation

(Sanchez 2015)
(Sanchez 2015)
Lisa Sanchez
​Cattle Decapitation is like a fine whiskey: they get better with time, but always make you feel a hard fireball in the pit of your gut. The band has been around for nearly two decades and have established themselves as the kings of deathgrind and environmental awareness, a distinction Al Gore has yet to accomplish. I spoke with Cattle Decapitation's guitarist Josh Elmore while the band was on the road with this year's Summer Slaughter tour as they prepared to release their seventh studio album, The Anthropocene Extinction.
Despite the band's serious political posturing, Josh Elmore was easy going and witty as he discussed The Anthropocene Extinction and how the band decided to record and create their most recent album. The anthropocene extinction refers to a specific environmental epoch that scientist's created to identify the time period at which humans began having significant negative impact on the earth. "People have different opinions on when that it [the anthropocene extinction] began," Elmore said. "It could be when stone tools started emerging and that started the domino effect; that is arguably true. Others want to get straight to when the negative really started; when the industrial revolution came around. All these factories started popping up, people could settle longer, the population started shooting up, that's when the bad stuff really started happening. I'm more of that opinion, that the industrial revolution was the tipping point for our downfall. But, we had to be a little smarter than the other apes and be more adept at killing each other."
Cattle Decapitation have made it their business to act as a heavy metal PSA about the destructive nature humans have on the environment and on themselves, but Elmore said The Anthropocene Extinction takes the band's message to a new level. "With each album there is an evolution of the idea. If you want to get super general and dumb it down, it's 'human bad', but each album has its own little facet of what it focuses on, like 'well, why bad now?'" Elmore continued. "Everyone is always flabbergasted at how people could be so crappy, awesome sometimes, but just so crappy. I think it's an evolution with more information becoming available and more horrible things brought to light."
Elmore and Cattle Decapitation have always crafted the band's content around real world topics and impacts, which can be a welcome dose of truth in a saccharine music industry or an overly fictionalized metal genre. "Anymore, the sort of fantasy gore of death metal albums where it's all serial killer kind of stuff-everyone has favorite bands where that's their topic of choice and that's fine, it's not to detract from that part of the art form-but, thrash bands touched on this like 'Hey man, the horror show is on the news. The horror show is what's happening in other parts of the world, our own country, around the corner.'"
"There's not fantasy tied up in that...Our thought is that this [music] should be insanely powerful. Even taking our band out of the equation, anyone who is conveying this, sharing this information; that should at least give people a pause." Elmore kept the conversation light, but is obviously bothered by and aware of the state of the planet and the people who act like it's irreversible "It's like it's always someone else's problem. We're going to find out here, sooner rather than later, that it's going to be everyone's problem. It's like throwing trash all over your house and then saying 'Why clean it? It's going to be dirty anyway."  
Elmore jokes about the composition on The Anthropocene Extinction is a result of him getting old. Considering Cattle Decapitation has existed for twenty years he may not be wrong, but the guitarist has some interesting perspectives on the state of new bands and the oversaturation of the genre. "Sometimes a whole lot of new stuff just doesn't say a damn thing...There's just so much more longevity to stuff that's just written really well. That's what we've been trying to do. Just really focus on songwriting and make every part 'that part' and mash them all together in a cohesive song." At one point around the late 00s the guitarist felt like he had to compete with the onslaught of young progressive bands that were blowing up the scene, but eventually realized Cattle Decapitation didn't have to strive to be more complex, just more memorable, "We just want to make riffs that stick with you, lyrics that are great, patterns and melodies that have a longer lasting impression...We're just too dumb to quit."
The Anthropocene Extinction is Cattle Decapitation's seventh studio release and Elmore said that the band really buckled down on this album. He went on to explain once each album loses its new sheen the band is able to pick out pieces and parts of songs and improve upon them for their next release. "I want to be just as critical, but have less and less to be critical about over time," the guitarist explained about the band's discography. "There's always room for improvement and we just want to do that. Over the last few years we've had a little more attention or people have started to catch on to what we're doing and like it, how many years in? None of us have kids or anything like that, this is just what we do," Elmore laughed at the band's sudden increase in popularity after staying consistent for more than a decade.
Summer Slaughter is like a second home for the California band, considering they've played the festival during summer 2007, 2013, and now 2015. "This is our third year on Summer Slaughter," Elmore commented. "2013 was sort of a weird bill for us and a ton of bands we didn't sound anything like. If I could pick the bands for Summer Slaughter it would go belly up really quick. You could do it in a room with 150 people and they'd be really happy, but everyone else would be like 'Who are these guys making chirping crow noises?' This year both parties had a mutual necessity because unless you're a big big name, it's hard to compete with this tour." Summer Slaughter 2015 lined up perfectly with the release of The Anthropocene Extinction and the rest was history for Cattle Decapitation.
Elmore is accurate in his assessment of Summer Slaughter, especially considering the buzz that has surrounded Rockstar Mayhem Festival this year and its inability to bring in fans. Elmore had some strong opinions on the ethics the promoters claim to stand by and how it affects the bands touring under the festival banner. "There are bands on the second stage that would do amazing on their own tours either headlining or with a combo and they have to pay $30,000, or whatever it is, to buy onto that tour," Elmore stated. "If that's how they operate it, that's fine, they have to make money to cover themselves, but I don't want anyone to bring their punk rock ethics into things when you're doing exactly everything the corporate ones do so fuck yourself. Fuck yourself. I have respect for those ethics, I agree with a lot of them, but don't try and act all Donny DIY when you're a businessman first and foremost who listens to a different soundtrack. They're fucking hypocrites. Maybe those people never even operated in an ethical DIY sense they were just like 'I like this kind of music, cool,'" the guitarist finished, showing that punk ethics are still alive and well inside Cattle Decapitation.
Cattle Decapitation was able to play five minutes longer than originally allotted because two bands, Obscura and After the Burial, were not able to perform at Summer Slaughter this year for various reasons. Every second the band was on stage was like a Street Fighter style uppercut to the jaw. The band focused mostly on material from The Anthropocene Extinction such as "Manufactured Extinction," "Mammals in Babylon," and "The Prophets of Loss," but also slipped in a few songs from 2012's Monolith of Inhumanity. Although Cattle Decapitation was one of the first bands to play, they made that stage completely theirs and personally made all of Summer Slaughter worth the ticket price.
Lead singer Travis Ryan comes out and immediately becomes a wet, wailing monster of a human being who constantly drips and punctuates songs with coordinated snot rockets. Ryan makes noises onstage, live, unfiltered and unadulterated that would kill lesser men. The appeal of Cattle Decapitation's live show is that I'm sure at any moment one of their members is going to keel over because they are constantly driving the crowd toward eternal oblivion. Elmore is constantly shredding on his guitar, never faltering in the blistering fast pace of "Blisto Inhumanitas" and "Mammals in Babylon." Bassist Derek Enemann wields a bass simultaneously like a weapon, a classical instrument, and a pretty lady, he is never tapping and strumming with a ferocity that convinces me his E string will break. Of course, drummer Dave McGraw is a walking shrapnel factory. The entire set I watched him pummel his kit and feared for his vulnerable face and eyes considering he struck his snares and symbols with a velocity that only NASA could recreate.
The band came out, left all of their bodily fluids on the stage, and absolutely destroyed any misconception the crowd had that they were just a death metal band. The Anthropocene Extinction was released on August 7th on Metal Blade Records. After their stint on Summer Slaughter, Cattle Decapitation will be touring as direct support for Cannibal Corpse.