Morbid Angels

Cephalic Carnage finds redemption in the sewers of the death metal underground

"The Slipknot guys are extremely cool. We've met them several times, and I've always been a little bit infatuated with them, in the sense that I like to talk to them and just see what it could be like to operate at that level of fame," Zac says. "But when it comes to the music, if somebody feels, like, really blown away or shocked or freaked out by what they're playing, I'm not hearing it that way. It doesn't affect me.

"I'll see some kid with a Slipknot shirt on, and I'll maybe walk up and give him a disc or a Relapse sticker or tell him about our Web site," he adds. "I always tell them, Hey, if you like this stuff, I've got something for you to check out. There is a whole other world out there. Come meet those of us who like to hang out in the sewers.'"

A glance through Lucid Interval's liner notes gives a taste of just what kind of world the members of Cephalic Carnage inhabit. Most of the acts in the album's "thank you" list sport unwieldy and weird names, such as Anal Blast, Cattle Decapitation, Circle of Dead Children, Corpse Vomit, Insidious Discrepancy, Maggot Twat, Severed Head, and Yeast Feast. A gather-round-for-vespers bunch this ain't. Cephalic has made its home in a loose but mobilized nationwide army of metal heads that gravitate to the genre's furthest possible fringe. Fans prefer their metal to be predicated by a few ominous adjectives -- death, black, hate and speed among them.

The members of Cephalic Carnage are proud to be a bunch of grindcore nutjobs.
The members of Cephalic Carnage are proud to be a bunch of grindcore nutjobs.

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Scheduled to perform with Kreator, and Destruction, on Saturday, October 5. Showtime is 9 p.m. Call 602-956-6271.
Mason Jar, 2303 East Indian School

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Elements of all of those metal subgenres show up in Lucid Interval's 14 songs. So do stream-of-consciousness-style lyrics, which blurt forth from the fleshy depths of Leonard's well-worn larynx as a series of low-end barks, beastlike intonations and just plain ol' screams befitting the subject matter -- which ranges from the lechery and disease of medieval Rome to the brain wasting and corruption of modern America. "Anthro-Emesis" is set inside an ancient vomitorium and coliseum where "The slaves that clean the theater/Find corpses rotting, fecal decay/Slipping into pools of sperm." Yum! And though it contains one of the album's most confounding arrangements, "Pseudo" also carries its most straightforward verses: "We're putting guns into the hands of little boys/Suicidal bombers killing for a cause/Nationally exposed internal flaws/Officials above the law."

Harsh, disgusting, vile and violent as they may seem, Cephalic's blast beats, rupturing basslines and purposely punishing time signatures aren't without their own kind of grace. Angular, mathematical, with a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the usually dominant hold of 4/4 time, the songs contain all the controlled energy of the Oppenheimer era. Yes, the music draws comparisons to death metal and grindcore touchstone artists like Napalm Death and Morbid Angel, but it is also occasionally likened to John Zorn's experimental Naked City project -- which paired him with lead Boredoms screamer Yamatsuke Eye and drummer Joey Baron -- and even John Coltrane's hard-bop years. The jazz elements are less obvious on Lucid Interval than on Exploiting Dysfunction, though the patterning beneath the surface suggests a wildly avant-garde aesthetic, blistering and bold as it may be. Lucid Interval does not actually attain anything resembling clarity. But that, according to Zac, is all by design.

"The last album, we had, like, nine days in the studio to record it," he says. "This time, we got to really work on it and do it right. I really think that this album shows who we are. If you don't like it, you just don't like the band. And if you set it against a $10 million-produced album, you might not think it stands up. But personally, I know that we poured our hearts into it. Pouring your heart into a death metal record doesn't sound like something you should do, but that's what we did."

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Cephalic fans are advised to approach the band with some sort of psyche-altering device affixed to their peepers. And should they brave a live show, they'd be wise to be even further prepared, with defensive apparatus.

"There's definitely a theater aspect to what we do on stage," he says. "It's entertainment. We don't want people to be bored and say, Well, it's good, but it could have been 50 other bands.' We want to be a three-dimensional band, want to see people trip out on us.

"Some nights, if we're just kind of low on energy and the kids are just not there yet, we'll look at each other and kind of communicate: We're just gonna have to damage 'em."

And damage they sometimes do, to themselves and the occasional audience member who might make the mistake of standing a little too close to the stage. Zac mentions offhandedly that Leonard sometimes will accidentally conk someone in the head with his microphone or his own body, and that his wife has come to regard his return home with bloody hands and a sore back as surefire signs of a good show.

That was the case in March of this year, when Cephalic Carnage attended the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas; the band performed as part of a Relapse showcase, stunning a house full of industry mongers at the infamous club Emo's.

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