Travis Ryan has never really
liked the taste of meat.
"I always thought there was
something wrong with it," the singer for death metal lynchpins Cattle
Decapitation says during a recent phone interview. "My body always kind of
rejected it, long before I ever claimed to be a vegetarian."
Since 1996 the San Diego band
has inveighed against the factory-style slaughter of animals for mass
consumption — and humankind's deplorable treatment of our natural
environment — through ghastly artwork and a vertiginous blend of death
and grind metal.
As a teen Ryan was inspired by
the clinical sound and lyricism of legendary metal band Carcass. When he met
the rest of Cattle Decapitation, who were just getting started as a group, he
realized he could marry both influences. Ryan admits he's changed more minds
through Cattle Decapitation than he ever thought possible.
"A lot of kids come up to me
saying they've gone vegetarian or vegan from reading our lyrics and being
disgusted by the imagery," he says. "It made them look into it. I always say
please don't do anything just because of us. Look into it yourself and see if
it's something you think you should do. We don't want to twist anyone's arm. I
wouldn't want anyone doing that to me."
In fact, not everyone in the
band is vegetarian. Derek Engemann, their new bassist, is a carnivore. Drummer
Dave McGraw eats seafood, mainly shellfish. Only Ryan and guitarist Josh Elmore
maintain a strict diet.
"We're a band first and
foremost," Ryan says. "We're not going to abandon those ideas, but it's never
really been a requirement. It just kind of happened that way. Music comes
first. Otherwise we wouldn't be a band, we'd be an organization."
While Ryan doesn't entirely
align himself with the animal rights movement, he works with San Diego-area
animal advocacy organizations
"That's the best way to see any
kind of action," Ryan says. "Unfortunately it seems PETA kind of gives
vegetarians a bad name. I think universally they've left a bad taste in
everyone's mouths. They mean well, but I think some of their methods are kind
While Cattle Decapitation's
music is manically fast and aggressive, their latest work, last year's The
Harvest Floor, includes instruments like
the electric cello that are generally foreign to the death metal genre. Female
vocalist Jarboe also guests, a hookup courtesy of album producer Billy
"It totally fit; that's the
thing," Ryan says of the unusual elements. "It wasn't just, here's our wacky
cello part. That's one of my favorite things about the record – a lot of
the more musical things you don't find too much in extreme music."
Ryan's throat-rattling growl has
made him one of metal's most notorious vocalists. Now 35 years old, he's honed
his demonic roar since age 15 by performing everywhere from backrooms with PA's
on sticks to venues where the sounds are ruthlessly amplified.
"It sounds a lot different when
I'm just sitting here in front of you," Ryan says of his vocal style. "You'd be
like, 'Oh, that's it?'"
Cattle Decapitation's message is
conveyed just as much through their album covers. Two of them – To
Serve Man, which shows a guy filleting
himself and Humanure, which
depicts a cow excreting human remains – were either censored or outright
banned in some places. Reaction to The Harvest Floor's cover, by contrast, has been subdued. Ryan doesn't
"If the image of a
slaughterhouse on a hill with the world's populace being herded into it by some
fascist-looking regime is tame, then what does that say about us?" he says.
"That's the flip side of what the cover represents – first being the
obvious and second being if people are going to talk shit about this not being
a metal enough cover, then what can you do? Because that is a horrible image."