How in the hell has Cannibal Corpse grown into the monster you see today? I remember my first discussion about the band. The 13-year-old version of me had seen a commercial for Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and thought it was the funniest trailer ever ever. I was really starting to figure some major-decision shit out for myself, boy I tell ya. Especially with music. What was heavier than Rage Against the Machine in 1993, right?
Unholy fucking wrong.
What th… who was this band in the movie? It was too damned noisy, with little setup and almost no screen time—my brain was not prepared. Much time passed; it would be another 13 years before Kill made me suffer. Now the Buffalo bonecrushers are out for even more tympanic Torture, and we’re pushing as deep as the knife will go with bassist/co-founder Alex Webster …then driving past the hilt. There’s a lot about movies, a little about zombies, early misogyny clarification, layers peeled back about their latest work, and how they perpetuate the juggernaut of Cannibal Corpse.
FUCKED WITH A LEGACY
When looking at the Cannibal Corpse back catalogue, you see two things rampant, especially in the early days: gore and misogyny. Why did those subjects recur, and how does it speak to you today?
Most of the misogyny lies with Chris Barnes. None of the lyrics were ever meant to be specifically offensive to women, and we certainly don’t condone violence in any way, nor respect or admire the despicable characters we write about in our songs. We’re keeping them at a distance. When you’re writing a horror story, there’s usually a victim—there’s an antagonist and a protagonist. Having the victim be a woman—at least in Chris [Barnes]’s mind—brought an added element of fear. Since we asked him to leave the band, Paul [Mazurkiewicz] and I have been in charge of writing the lyrics. We keep it horrifying and gory, but it’s not focused against women. At least not like the first four albums.
This knee-jerk negative attitude toward their earlier work elicits censorship in some countries. Alex describes his deep-seated love for the simple, friendly, and fair laws that govern how much people may hear about faces being smashed by hammers.
It’s very unclear. I barely understand United States law, and I’ve lived here my whole life, so to understand what’s going on in all these other countries in terms of censorship is very difficult. Their laws are as impenetrable and difficult for a lay person to understand as ours. Sometimes we go to Germany and there’s no problems. Sometimes we’re not supposed to play certain songs or sell certain shirts, and sometimes we can.
Fuck that, more horror! We got cinematic for a spell, and talk tropes like the “final girl” and just general subject matter.
We look at each song as an individual story, and try not to be influenced by the others. “Orgasm Through Torture” from Vile, for example, has a female antagonist. It’s hard to remember them all because we have like 140 songs now! We like to do different perspectives: first person as victim, first person as killer, and a lot of third person stuff that describes a scenario. To mix it up, I’d like to see the obvious hero/heroine offed at the beginning of the movie.
I bring up Feast, but surprisingly, he had not seen it! Or much horror at all these days. But I wanna know, besides what grosses him out, which movies actually makes him uncomfortable on a deeper level. Inside and Martyrs were the two names I dropped.
Oh yeah, Inside was a great movie. I also really liked Irreversible—not really horror, but it has a horrifying rape scene. There’s different ways for things to be horrifying. I think the movie that made me the most uncomfortable—or heartbreaking because it was based on something that actually happened—was The Girl Next Door. It’s really brutal; heavy duty.
One thing that doesn’t have much on-screen gore is their video for “Encased in Concrete”. But you still align and sympathize with the character, all the while growing more claustrophobic under the deadly dripping demise. It’s as grimy as it needs to be, and looks like it was made for under $1,000 …awesome!
Yeah, you don’t need something gory on screen for it to be horrifying. We have plenty of gore and it certainly is part of our imagery, but our guidelines for songwriting revolve around a more general horror. So it could be anything from the goriest, most violent horror to something more subtle and creepy; maybe even old-school like Edgar Allan Poe. [This entire time, I searched for an allusion to The Cask of Amontillado that never came… oh, well! ~Ed] So being encased in concrete—is that a little bit better than having your stomach pulled out by an “Intestinal Crank” like another song on the album?—maybe marginally, but you’ll still end up dead.
INTERVIEW THROUGH TORTURE
I like funny connections. So when I saw Cannibal Corpse grace the Decibel Magazine “Zombie Issue” the first thing I thought of was how many fewer zombies are on this one, as compared with Evisceration Plague.
Well, yeah, I guess when you open Evisceration Plague there is a whole heap of zombies, but they’re the non-traditional type—the “infected” kind. It’s true that there is only one zombie on the cover of Torture, but he’s in the process of torturing a bunch of people, so he’s getting a lot of work done—quality, not quantity!
And that’s really what’s so great about Cannibal Corpse: the focus on memorable songwriting. But I had to ask about “The Strangulation Chair” and Webster being apparently mixed low in the second half—Cole noticed and wrote about it, and I heard the same.
I did not notice it. I don’t know if it’s intentional or it’s just the way things turned out. The intro was probably boosted in the level; engineers tend to do that when the bass is by itself. This is more of a question for our producer, Erik Rutan. Maybe people think it drops off because of that bass solo break in the middle.
RANDOM REFERENCES RIPPED FROM A RADIO’S SPEAKERS
It was “π Day” (March 14th) earlier that week, and I was reminded of the Archimedes story, and how he discovered density through displacement by being removed from his element. “Take a bath” was the advice from his wife. So with that in mind I went out of my own element and heard coincidental prompts on the radio. I heard “Jungle Love” by Steve Miller Band and the lyrics “everything’s better when wet” and “swim in your blood when it’s warm” made me jump to Johnny the Homicial Maniac and the work of Jhonen Vasquez.
Well getting back to the beginning of the question, I like the movie π a lot. But I am not familiar with what you just described.
Crap. Well I’ll plant the JTHM seed in your brain, and switch to the second random song I heard on my drive: “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” …so what’s your favorite night—not for fighting, but for playing out?
Definitely Friday and Saturday. Mondays are always the hardest because most people are just getting back to work. If you look at our tour schedules, we often take Mondays off for rerouting purposes.
So my strange inspiration was slightly “off” that morning, but where does Alex find his?
Just regular, straight-ahead rock like AC/DC or Van Halen—and more for the placement of parts, not the riffing style. Sometimes when you write super heavy, unconventional, bizarre-sounding riffs, it’s okay to arrange them in a conventional way. My riffing style comes more from jazz fusion and darker orchestral/chamber music—especially [Krzyszstof]Penderecki.
And this impressive mesh of styles is why the name Alex Webster is mentioned alongside luminaries like Tony Choy and Steve DiGiorgio—melodic, elastic bassists who still function strongly in their songs, despite the dense nature of the music as a whole.
Tony and Steve are a couple of my favorites, and great guys, friends of mine. There’s a lot of young guys, too, like Erland Caspersen, Marcin “Novy” Novak, Jeroen Paul Thesseling… I’m sure I’m forgetting many of my friends right now. There’s plenty of good players out there making an impact. For me, it’s being able to hear every note the bass is playing for the whole song—it seems like a no-brainer, but it can be very difficult.
That’s actually one reason I admire Geezer Butler so much—he always has a presence.
Oh, yeah. But the thing with Geezer Butler, Steve Harris, Peter Baltes, Ian Hill—it was a little easier to pop out back then. There wasn’t all this low-tuning, palm-muted, ultra-heavy sound you started to find with bands like Metallica. When Metallica helped introduce the world to that saturated, heavily palm-muted sound, that ate up the sonic space occupied by the bass guitar. And it has been a struggle since then for bassists to cut through without losing the heaviness of that guitar sound. Basically, something’s gotta give, and you have to find a place in the frequency range. It’s not easy, but to bring it back around full circle, I think we found it on Torture. You can hear the bass throughout the whole record, and it doesn’t detract from the guitar sound. I also must really recommend a record that just dropped the same day as ours with some extraordinary bass playing: Incurso by Spawn of Possession.
THE TIME TO CONCLUDE IS NOW
Which musical directions would Cannibal Corpse never take, yet seem plausible; and what has been considered, but not implemented?
There’s a lot of music we like outside of death metal, but we would never want Cannibal Corpse to be anything but a death metal band. We have inspirations from other types of metal, but it’s all related to death metal so we can seamlessly integrate. Thrash, death, and black metal all come from the same root: “Rabid” has galloping picking that may remind people of thrash metal, but it’s still a death metal song; on “Torn Through” Pat uses a lot of minor chords that may remind people of black metal, where fast-picked minor chords are common, but it’s just a black metal flavor in a death metal song. Anything out of those boundaries would be taken up in a side project. Paul likes ’70s rock, so he had a project like that a few years ago to scratch that itch. Then I’m also in a band called Blotted Science, which is more progressive extreme metal; still really heavy, but a lot of it wouldn’t work in Cannibal Corpse. I think it’s the best way to get out different areas of yourself as a musician, without wrecking the project you’re already in. We want Cannibal Corpse to be what it is.