Five Heavy Albums that Changed My Life with Travis Ryan of Cattle Decapitation

You know what I love? A good rarities collection. And you know what’s a real good rarities collection? Medium Rarities, the new one from Cattle Decapitation. The collection digs deep into their goriest and grindiest days, as well as their newer, more death-y output, the diversity of it all making me wonder what five heavy albums might have changed vocalist Travis Ryan’s life.

So we asked. I mean, no surprise to see Carcass here, but read on to find out what other extreme offerings helped shape the life of one of the most extreme vocalists out there today.

1. Carcass – Symphonies of Sickness (1989)
So I’m sitting there one day at a friend’s house with Music Choice on and suddenly a Cattle Decapitation song comes on. We thought, “Whoa, what a trip,” but the weirdest part about it was the info they displayed for it. It said I went to college and took classes in anatomy and terminology to learn how to write my lyrics. Wrong. I, like many who don’t know what to do with their lives, changed my major from psychology to medical assisting and ended up dropping out as I was tired of school and that was when Cattle was starting to do stuff. What really got me into learning about the human body was Carcass’ Symphonies of Sickness and, of course, Reek of Putrefaction. Those albums completely set me on a course for the macabre. I looked into being a mortician but was put off by what they had to say about the industry… and it wasn’t the corpses. When Cattle first started, all we really wanted to do was pick up where Carcass left off when they started being more death metal and less grind. We ended up completely failing at doing that by inadvertently just doing our own thing, and the rest is history.

I bought it on cassette at the local mall at Sam Goody after searching for it for about a year and a half after reading about it in magazines and seeing the cover. I didn’t even know what tape trading was and didn’t have many outlets or friends into the stuff, but I FINALLY fucking found it on my own. Took it home, threw it in, started reading the lyrics. I was so jolted, like the first time you ever saw a dead body, that I took it out, put it down and couldn’t bring myself to listen to it again until a couple days later. When I threw it back in… it never left my favorites list again. I became completely engrossed in it, letting it desensitize me towards all the other like-minded music to come afterwards. It had this sound nobody else had and nobody ever will have, except for maybe The County Medical Examiners, who were created to mimic that sound, 100 percent. It carries the same nostalgia for my teens that G.I. Joes did for me as a child. I still maintain that its the greatest death metal/grindcore album of all time.

2. Coroner – Punishment for Decadence (1988)
If you remember staying up late for the tail end of Headbangers Ball, then you know what I’m about to say… They always saved the most brutal, dark and fastest metal for the end, for whatever bizarre reason, and that’s where I discovered Coroner and their video for “Masked Jackal.” While everyone else was freaking out about Pantera, I was just like… “Why bother with that when we have this?” holding up a copy of Punishment for Decadence. Sure, Coroner’s sound was nowhere near as tight and well produced as Cowboys from Hell, but it offered atmosphere and insane technical ability, which floated my boat much more than that other stuff. Coroner was my segue into darker, more brutal and insanely played metal and next up from that was death metal, and the game was forever changed for me after that.

3. Death – Spiritual Healing (1990)
My first death metal album. This was way back when people would try out albums based on the cover and/or if they were on other bands’ thank you lists, long before the internet. We had to buy tapes and hope they didn’t suck. Well, I lucked out on Spiritual Healing, ’cause I remember my friend and I thinking the cover was kinda goofy looking. The music contained therein was so dark, unlike the cover, which was brightly lit. It actually ended up being one of my favorite album covers ever and definitely one of my favorite albums by the band, quite possibly even a tie with their Human album.

4. Cynic – Focus (1993)
If God was a death metal record, it would have to be Focus. This album proved that you can mix fucked-up genres and splice them together without it sounding like shit. Actually, they made a timeless piece of art with many failed attempts by others to recreate it. As a fan of stuff like Vangelis and doing things like fitting square pegs into round holes, I even appreciated their approach to bringing spirituality into the mix and also the one thing that seemed to turn so many people off… the “robot vocals.” “They didn’t just throw a vocoder on that song, did they?” Why, yes… yes, they did. And it was glorious. When I saw them open for Cannibal Corpse at the San Diego stop of their tour in 1994, they were practically booed off stage while my buddy Brandon and I were up front with our middle fingers turned behind us for all the meathead idiots wanting something they know that they can mosh to. Never mind the sheer brilliance and history-in-the-making that’s happening on stage. Dumbasses.

5. Morbid Angel – Blessed Are The Sick (1991)
Arguably Morbid Angel’s greatest album. It has everything. Speed. Brutality. Atmosphere. What sounded like 50 different fucking recording sessions. Nothing like it. I thought Dave Vincent simply had to be possessed considering every track sounded like a completely different person. That left quite an impression on me and I consider this album to be a huge inspiration.