Cannabis Corpse – Beneath Grow Lights Thou Shalt Rise (death metal)

Tankcrimes, 2011, DD album, 36m 17s

$6.66 (also available on CD and LP)

Stoner rock, when it is unequivocally metal, is usually doom or sludge. Those styles seem somehow appropriate to the haze of disassociated impressions that characterise the world of the dope fiend, with their mushy layers of distortion, their often slow tempos, and their obliteration of detail in the sheer rumbling savagery of their sonic impact. Death metal is an altogether different proposition, with its focussed intensity, its brutal precision and its considerable technical demands. That, nevertheless, is the means Cannabis Corpse have chosen to express their enthusiasm for the killer weed, which combines with their obvious love of horror to bring us one of the best album covers I’ve seen in a while, along with some hilarious song titles (‘Dead By Bong’, ‘Lunatic Of Pot’s Creation’, not to mention the title track).

The band name alone is almost enough: I am inclined to suspect the concept came first, rather than anyone stumbling upon the moniker as a perfect description for their sound. Musically, this album betrays no particular stoner slant on death metal: it just happens to take animate, murderous cannabis plants as its subject material. For those not familiar with the genre, Cannibal Corpse is one of its best known proponents, which makes this project something of a satire, or at least it would be if it didn’t display such a love for, and mastery of, the sound.

These are some very complex compositions: a style like this is not really one where you can draw a meaningful distinction between material and arrangement, with musical meaning residing more in the riffs than the melodies (if that’s the right word for the savage growling of an enraged predatory beast). The band move together with the unity of an aerobatics team, turning on a dime to change tempo or metre, or to switch between hard grooving, thrash-like riffs and the tremolo picking, blast beat combo assaults of black metal. It takes some serious discipline to achieve a sound this tight, and I couldn’t point to a single bar on the whole recording where the band sound as though they’ve been smoking weed!

There are some very nice, melodic guitar solos, notably in ‘Blame It On Bud’ and ‘Slave To The Chron’ (the latter paying some presumably deliberate homage to the space rock sounds pioneered by pot-heads like Steve Hillage), but they are short and to the point, and this album is not about stratospheric guitar heroism. No, these musicians stand shoulder to shoulder, each subsuming their own musical personality to the group sound, working together to evoke the psychopathology of extreme skunk consumption.

From the listener’s perspective, this kind of music was always a pleasure best buffered and enhanced by that oldest of herbal anaesthetics, but this is the first time I’ve encountered such a brutally appropriate subcultural fusion, jamming weed- and metal-heads together in a way that is common in reality, but rarely reflected in music, outside of the specialist genres I mentioned at the outset. If you want the short answer to the question of what you’ll get if you buy this album, it’s this: some finely crafted, full blooded, bone-crushing death metal, and some very amusing cannabis based lyrical imagery. If those things don’t put you off straight away, you may well like this band as much as I do.

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