What Cannibal Corpse Has Taught Us About Album Reviews

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Apple Pie!You know something that fascinates me?  Food reviews. Let’s say we’re reading a review of an apple pie on some food website.  This pie recipe has over a thousand reviews describing the taste sensation with the intention of either promoting or discouraging trying it.  Then my dumbass comes along, makes the pie, tries it and proclaims, “yeah… tastes about like every other apple pie I’ve had.” Apples, cinnamon, and brown sugar.  

This fascinates me because either I’m getting a very different experience out of my pie-eating habits, or most of those reviews I’ve read are full of shit. I can’t tell because my family is biologically obligated to tell me my apple pies are magically delicious, so there goes outside affirmation.  

So what does this have to do with Cannibal Corpse? Replace the pies with human brains and it’s the same argument. Cannibal Corpse is as American as apple pie, they’ve been around for over 30 years, and they’ve built a career maintaining this unchanging apple pie status.

Cannibal CorpseBand members have come and gone, but Cannibal Corpse is still Cannibal Corpse.  However, that has not stopped any number of people on the internet, be it Metal-Archives.com, YouTube comments, or any guitar forum, from having a stunningly wide variety of opinions. This interests me because my opinion has long concluded music reviews are nearly useless and more to the point Cannibal Corpse (and similar bands) have already made their points clear.  So what’s left to be said?

First, the low-hanging apples.  Album reviews have shown themselves to be nearly useless for a variety of reasons – the most profound being how subjective music is. Tastes vary so much from one person to another that even fans of the same genre can’t always agree on what is classifiably good.  

At some point one must say, “this band plays blues. You like blues, so check it out.” I say let’s just start and stop there.

Besides. Tastes change, even for people. I remember writing a review for Chickenfoot, an album I bought and greatly remember enjoying.  However, when I hear the album now I find myself bored and interested in switching back to something less conventional. Never thought I’d find myself bored with anything by Satch, but there it is.

So why should you listen to a photograph of my opinion at the time?  Oh yes. That’s because reviews like that don’t really matter after so much time has passed. Most reviews function as a promotion tool than anything else, so their value goes straight to zero after you’ve purchased the album. All you can do is see how your thoughts compare to someone you likely can’t interact with.

Now a moment to establish what I’m not implying about music reviews.  

Some bands actually do warrant a sort of music review or at least an extended analysis.  Bands like Opeth, Metallica, and any of the virtuosos. In the case of groups like the first two, their music styles can change dramatically from one album to the next that, yes, it becomes worth discussing and describing.  Why did they change? What did they change? What is still the same?

In the case of virtuosos, often there are very specific uncommon rhythms and patterns exploited that just can’t be found anywhere else. Things like Steve Vai’s Velorum.  Irregular things like that are worth bringing up in an extended discussion, otherwise yahoos like myself will just derp right past it.

Finally, we discuss the apples that are flat out lying on the ground.  Cannibal Corpse has made their agenda clear. As of this writing the last album they released was Red Before Black, and I have heard two songs off it.  However, before hearing those two songs I could tell anyone everything they’d need to know already. Sounds like their other albums. Fast, chugging riffs, erratic solos, and George Fisher grinding corpses (or Chris Barnes getting high.  Depends on the era).

Done. Copy and paste that onto every release listed on Metal-Archives and it will be completely accurate. And that’s fine. The band has their gimmick and it pays their bills. They aren’t the only group to do this, and they won’t be the last.  But the differences before Chris Barnes left to afterwards are just details. Same with before and after Jack Owen, Pat O’Brien, Rob Barrett, and so on. All we can discuss are details that have had a trivial impact on the overall Corpse agenda. The details change, sure, but the songs remain the same.

In the end, album reviews offer us limited utility.  Perception of sound varies so much from person to person that the reviews are more useful for comparison in the aftermath than they are as a means of marketing.  Tastes often change far too much to have any long-term meaning beyond creating a time capsule of past ideas. Furthermore all of this is null and void when the band has a decades-long career of one gimmick.  There is simply nothing really worth writing about at that point. So just go get yourself an apple pie, turn on some music and figure out if you like what you hear.


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Kyle Smitchens

Kyle Smitchens is the Guitar-Muse Managing Editor, super hero extraordinaire, and all around great guy. He has been playing guitar since his late teens and writing personal biographies almost as long. An appreciator of all music, his biggest influences include Tchaikovsky, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Steve Vai, Therion, and Jon Levasseur of Cryptopsy.

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