The Making of Cattle Decapitation’s The Harvest Floor
By the time the late ’00s had rolled around, San Diego’s deathgrind rubber-burners Cattle Decapitation were already years deep into a career of shattering musical land speed records, visually confronting audiences who’d thought they’d seen it all and poking holes in death metal tropes via a message that, in part, spoke out against animal cruelty while calling for a culling of the cancer of humanity from its host, Planet Earth. While the topics explored on their five previous records and the then-forthcoming The Harvest Floor may not have possessed the prescience of vocalist Travis Ryan bellowing “Bring Back the Plague” on 2019’s Death Atlas (only to have the world shut down at the hands of the plague less than three months later), THF certainly went out of its way to continue foisting the band’s favorite topics onto center stage: pointing out the folly of humanity; stepping outside our own meat sacks for a few minutes to empathetically view how mankind is viewed by non-mankind; and, generally, underscoring how everything is fucked.
One other thing The Harvest Floor did was take the elements that Cattle Decapitation had used in their extreme music boundary-stretching and blow everything into the stratosphere. Simultaneously, they managed a tight grip on the leash of control in the face of unhinged chaos. This allowed the band to improve upon their treasured red-lining while chiseling a holistic work that careened into as many of the listener’s senses as allowable. The overtly dark and ominous depiction of humanity being sent to slaughter (imagined by Ryan and manifested by visual artist Wes Benscoter) was matched by a sonic approach that subverted tradition with literate technicality, frenetic rhythmic pulsation, some Naked City-like quick-change sensibility and ridiculously over-the-top guitar work forced into death metal’s then-two-and-a-half-decade-old maw.
In addition to blasting the technique, extremity and sweep-picking upward with flare gun urgency, Cattle Decapitation were also learning how to wrangle their tools into the creation of actual compositions. And as more cohesion took shape, it was augmented by experimental layers of noise, classical, and vocal instrumentation courtesy of an impressive collection of guests and producer Billy Anderson’s unrestricted open mind. Once everything was paired with Ryan and Benscoter’s bleak and wry conceptual dystopia, the impact was positively pipe bomb-like.
As they themselves describe it, The Harvest Floor was where Cattle Decapitation started to come into their own and go all-in on their future—a future that has delivered nigh on 15 years of rubbery genre-defying/defining death metal that not only scythed their own path, but indebted today’s hyper-tech heads. To celebrate this crowning achievement of precision, forward thought, and all systems being locked and loaded, we corralled Ryan, guitarist Josh Elmore, drummer Dave McGraw and ex-bassist Troy Oftedal onto a Zoom call, let them have it, and watched the sparks fly the same way they were flying in those claustrophobically cramped, wretchedly humid and stale beer-scented practice spaces many years ago. Welcome to our Hall, gentlemen. The conditions are a slight step up from those old rehearsal rooms in the Clairemont, Sweetwater and National City areas of San Diego, but definitely better than the human slaughterhouse depicted on the album’s cover.
Need more Cattle Decap? To read the entire seven-page story, featuring interviews with the members who performed on The Harvest Floor, purchase the print issue from our store, or digitally via our app for iPhone/iPad or Android.