Hope springs eternal, but not for Cattle Decapitation vocalist Travis Ryan. Granted, extreme metal isn't known for its optimism, but Ryan's grisly visions have the distinct disadvantage of being grounded in present-day realities.
A longtime vegetarian and animal-rights activist, the San Diego musician is haunted by demons that all belong to a single species, one that, in Ryan's view, is rapidly advancing its own extinction. So that's what he sings about.
During nearly two decades of banned album covers and shifting lineups, Ryan has roared his way through an increasingly ambitious repertoire. Early songs, such as "Flesh-Eating Disease (Flu-Like Symptoms Of E-Coli With Complete Digestive Shut-Down)," weren't much longer than their titles. They've since given way to the sprawling anthems of The Anthropocene Extinction, a bruising but brilliant semi-concept album released two months ago on Metal Blade Records.
And while Cattle Decapitation have also expanded their musical vision, the trademark misanthropy remains a constant. As Ryan declares two tracks into the album: "We fucking die tonight, and that's perfectly alright with me."
Indy: During the first Democratic debate, the candidates were asked what they consider the biggest national security threat, and Bernie Sanders said it was climate change. Do you take any hope from things like that? Or do you feel like we're already on a crash course and we're not gonna get out of it?
Travis Ryan: I don't see how we can get out of it, to be honest. I really don't see much hope, and I don't know who's got the answers. In our lyrics, we don't really offer any solutions. We're just kind of bitching about the problem. (Laughs.)
Apart from the whole extinction thing, are you a happy guy otherwise?
Otherwise, sure. I'm an American, so I'm pretty much just as blissful as anyone else.
I used to drive up from L.A. to Northern California on the I-5 through that one stretch where you pass the slaughterhouses ...
Are you talking about Dachcow or Cowschwitz? Sorry, that's a pretty horrible joke.
Have you ever visited one of those facilities?
No, I haven't. It's even worse near Bakersfield and Fresno. It's like the industry is alive and well out there. And every time we drive past them, it fucking reeks and the smell of methane and shit and dead cows stays in your van.
I want to ask about the new album's opening track, the one where you go up a few octaves to what I guess you could call a "clean" vocal. Fortunately, it doesn't have that really awful emo-tinged, side-parted-bangs quality to it. Is that a trap you consciously avoid?
Well, it's not raspy clean, it's melodic harsh, if that makes any sense. I would never do any kind of "whoa, yeah" bullshit, you know, I just would never do it. I was just trying something new. And how it really started was just from trying to mimic the overtones that I would hear in the slap-back echoes from the back of the venue. So I was just making this witchy, raspy kind of weird vocal.
You've worked with Jarboe, the singer from Swans, which not many people can brag about. And you're also touring now with Cannibal Corpse. Are there specific elements of your music that fit with each?
With Swans, the only thing I can think of would be just how frantic some of our stuff is, which would relate to the earlier Swans albums. But that's really it. The hookup came about from us knowing [producer] Bill Anderson, who had worked with her before. And it came out amazingly. That was one of my prouder moments as far as this band goes.
Growing up, were you a New Wave Of British Heavy Metal kind of kid, or Black Metal, or, I don't know, Hall and Oates — what was your gateway drug?
It was Quiet Riot's Metal Health, which was my first album. I was in second grade, Catholic school, and it was my First Communion gift from my parents. And then I found an Iron Maiden Number of the Beast cassette at a yard sale for 25 cents or something. And then Ratt's Out of the Cellar. Those three things all happened in the same month, and started me on a path to finding something much more intense.