Cannibal Corpse

By Cosmo Lee

You might think you have Cannibal Corpse figured out. They have albums with absurdly gory artwork and ridiculous song titles like "I Cum Blood" and "Sanded Faceless." Because of their hilarious appearance in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, you might think they're a joke band. They play death metal (no -core suffixes) and wasn't that so last century? Sure, they managed to draw the ire of Senators Joe Lieberman and pre-Viagra Bob Dole (who admitted he'd never heard the band), and their music and merchandise has been banned all around the world. Nothing's shocking, I guess, in a world where guys wear their girlfriends' jeans while singing about killing them.

Well, listen up, because Cannibal Corpse hasn't sold a million albums worldwide for nothing. The best-selling death metal band in history has returned with perhaps its best album ever, Kill. Cannibal Corpse albums have always been reliably brutal, but this one has an energy and aggression to it that's just unreal. Perhaps cleaning house helped - long-time guitarist Jack Owen left, replaced by one-time member Rob Barrett. Instead of Neil Kernon, who produced the successful Gore Obsessed EP and The Wretched Spawn, Erik Rutan (of Hate Eternal and Morbid Angel fame) manned the boards. The result was hands down one of this year's finest metal albums. Drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz answered some questions about the house of Cannibal Corpse.

You and Alex are the only remaining original members of Cannibal Corpse. How does today's lineup compare to the original one?

It's definitely a lot more advanced in the sense of musicianship. When we started the band 18 years ago with the original lineup, all of us were very young and very inexperienced with our instruments. We'd only been playing for a couple of years, so we were still learning. It's hard to compare in that sense, because the newer lineup - well, we got a good guy, Pat O'Brien, in the band who's been playing guitar forever, and then, of course, somebody like George ("Corpsegrinder" Fisher) who's one of the best death metal singers out there that can do basically anything when it comes to that, and the same thing with Rob Barrett being an amazing guitar player. Obviously myself and Alex (Webster, bassist) have grown, I would think, over the years since the start of the band. So it's tough to compare, but this lineup we have right now is incredible, really.

With all the lineup changes through the years, do you think the essence of Cannibal Corpse has changed?

Not really. I mean, myself and Alex were vital parts of the band starting out. I guess with Jack leaving, [the band] might be a little bit different, because he was a main key as well. But I really don't think the essence has changed. We've stuck true to what we've started. When we brought George in, immediately [it] shut everybody up when they heard him sing. He kept the essence there, and if anything, he made it better. Pat - the same way. He fits right in now. When we got him in the band, he brought a whole different style of writing to Cannibal that we were unaccustomed to. We were writing a maybe little more simplistic; I mean, we had some [technical] stuff, but we were [only] starting to get to the more crazy things. Pat just [came] along and blew us away. I really do believe, though, that as he's progressed with the band, his songs are just as much Cannibal songs as, say, Alex's songs, or when Jack was in the band writing his songs. I could say the same thing for Rob, a guy that we sort of grew up around in the same city. He knew of Cannibal back in the beginning, so him being a Buffalo guy, he knew what we were about, and he knew us as people before the band got anywhere. I really think the essence has stayed there and we've stuck true to what we started 18 years ago with the original lineup.

You've been playing death metal for almost 20 years. Do you feel old?

Yes (laughs). We do and we don't, obviously. Age is a number. If you're going to go, "Well, I'm 40 years old and I shouldn't be doing this and I feel decrepit" - we don't buy that, because obviously we're all pushing up there. Pat is 41 now, and he's going strong, playing the best he's ever played. It is kind of weird, though, because a lot of bands come up to us and [say], "Man, you were a big influence for us when we were growing up." We've been around a long time, and some of these newer bands, they're half our age. We feel young, because we're playing some crazy, hyper music that I always looked at as a very physical kind of music, because we're headbanging, we're going nuts up on stage, obviously I'm moving around [and] not just relaxing [and] playing 4/4 or whatever. We're having fun with what we do, this is the best lineup we've ever had, Kill is the best CD we've put out, and we're playing the best we've ever played. So in that sense, we feel like we're young. But when you're talking to 17, 18 year-olds going, "Geez, you guys were just born when we started the band," that makes you feel a little old.

Kill is your most energetic album in years. To what do you attribute this?

I don't know. It's kind of weird. We always strive to make the best CD possible at a given moment, of course. When we're writing songs, we're always trying to write the best songs possible. It's not like a couple albums back, we really didn't care and we were just putting something out - it's never the case, you know? So it's kind of strange how everything came together for this CD. The songwriting was just phenomenal, we all played great and were well-rehearsed for it, Erik did a good job producing, and we got a product that is "kill." It's our most energetic, in-your-face, brutal CD we've done in a long time, if not ever. I can't pinpoint why, really, other than we were just trying to write the best songs possible and really trying to be a straightforward, brutal death metal band.

How was working with Erik Rutan, and how was it different from working with Neil Kernon?

They're both great producers, they're both great guys. I guess the big thing, of course, is that Erik is our friend. We've all known him to some extent, but Alex is really good friends with him and lived with him at various times. When we did the CD's with Neil, The Wretched Spawn and Gore Obsessed, he was a great producer [and] a really great guy, one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, but we didn't really know who he was. We got to know him, of course, after doing a couple CD's. But Erik was a guy we already knew going into the recording process. We'd already hung out with him, we'd done some tours, [and] we're friends with him. That might have made [recording] a little more laidback. Not that we just felt like, "Oh yeah, we're going to make a great CD" or anything - we worked our asses off, and he worked his ass off, too. The fact that he is a death metal guitar player, too, might have helped us to some extent - he might know more what to look for than somebody that's not a part of this music. It came together really good, it came together really smooth. He did a great job.

As always, Vincent Locke did the album's artwork. Why was it more restrained this time?

We wanted to do one cover. On the last couple, there's been the censored and uncensored [versions]. Metal Blade was really pushing to have one cover and to get it into all the major record chains. We had a problem with The Wretched Spawn - of course, look at it. We've obviously had some pretty sick album covers in the past. We love [the covers for] Bloodthirst and the uncensored Gallery of Suicide, and Gore Obsessed, which was cool but maybe not as brutal as Butchered at Birth or Tomb of the Mutilated. But we felt like, "Let's get a cover that can get out there, and it should be pretty cool, but not [so] over-the-top that we're going to have a problem." When Vince first showed us the artwork, I was like, "Man, this is killer." Then a little time passed, and guys in the band were feeling a little reluctant about the artwork. The guy with the knife that's inside the CD tray - that was going to be the cover. Then we thought maybe it wasn't what we'd like for the cover, so maybe we should do something that's even more simplistic. That's when we came up with [the decision] to just put the word "Kill" and make it very simple. Music is first - that's bottom-line. Lyrics, artwork, everything else is secondary. Of course, it makes a great package, because that's what we're about, but we've always concentrated on the music first. This time around, we were more adamant [about that] - if people are going to buy this CD just because of the cover, are these the people that we're catering to? No. We want people to listen to the music and buy it and own it and like the band because of the music.

The official video for "Make Them Suffer" is more graphic than the MTV version. Was this due to censorship?

The one on MTV, of course, is the censored version. The director [who] made the video knows that we're a brutal band and he wanted to make a brutal version. We were like, "Hey, we're fine with that." Of course, for the MTV version, we're not going to be able to do that. We want the thing to be played on MTV and that's kind of the point of doing it. It's cool to have other versions out there - you got your Internet version, great, a lot of people can see it, and it's brutal, and that's cool. But, of course, to get it on MTV, you can't be as brutal as you'd like it to be. So we have to compromise, we have to have [the censored version] out there to get to the masses. Of course, if it was up to us, we'd love to have a brutal video that's just like a horror movie that would be able to be played on MTV. But that's never going to happen, so you have to compromise a little. I think the video turned out great. I really like both versions. It doesn't make much sense when you see the MTV version because it's like, "What's up with this guy?" But that adds to the mysteriousness of the video, so it works out.

Can you explain what goes on in a performance video shoot? It seems the drummer has to play for real while everyone else just tosses their hair around.

Yeah, it's kind of weird. Obviously, we're not playing, but you have to act like you're playing. For that video, for instance, we're in LA between two warehouses in an alleyway outside. It was freezing out - it figures that the one week we go out there to do it, there was a cold spell. At night, we're freezing [and] they're playing the music over speakers super-loud because we have to hear what we're doing. Everybody tries to play, though. We want to make it look realistic, of course. You can't just go bang your head and that's it. We're trying to play like we're playing the song. It's almost the opposite for me back there - I can get away with not doing as much, [like] not hitting the kick drums. I gotta still hit the cymbals and toms because otherwise it would just look completely silly. So there's a lot of dummy equipment going on - the [amp] cabinets aren't plugged in, they're not even real. They had dampened black pads over the drums, so when I do hit them, you're just hearing a thud, so it's not gonna overtake the music [on the speakers]. Same with the cymbals - I got dummy cymbals that are basically two cymbals glued together. In the video, of course it looks like real cymbals, but when you hit those cymbals, all you're hearing is a "tink" because it's not going to have any sustain. So it's kind of weird, but it has to be done that way, it's the only way things are going to sync up.

How was doing Headbanger's Ball?

It was cool, man. We'd never done it before, so that was big. If you don't get on MTV now, it's almost detrimental. I mean, look at all the bands that are doing so well over the last few years. We believe a lot of it is [due] to the fact they are getting MTV airplay. For us to get on there finally as the guest band, I think that was big. [That] kind of shows that people do care, that we're not some joke band that people don't take seriously.

At the same time, how much of Cannibal Corpse is humor?

None of it. None of it's humor. People are going to take a lot of the song titles and lyrics - I can see how people can see the humor in them. But when we're sitting down with the lyrics and song titles and music, we're 100% serious. We're not writing to be funny. We're writing to be graphic and hopefully to conjure up some images that [cause reactions of] "That's just not right. That's disgusting." I can understand people reading it, and if they're not into it, they might find it funny. But I really think the fans that are into it - I would hope they look at it the way we do, that we're being serious. So we're 100 % serious; not one iota of humor is directed into any of that by us.

So when someone comes to practice, and they say, I wrote this song, and it's, for example, "I Cum Blood," no one laughs?

You might have a chuckle. No, we don't laugh. Maybe a couple guys� I mean, I know I never laugh. I come up with a lot of the titles, you know. I know George has come in a couple times when we've come up with titles, and he goes, "Shit, that's so ridiculous, it's funny." And we go, "Yeah, alright, I can see it's funny." But, man, just think of that. Think of what it would be for something like a "Frantic Disembowelment."

(Laughs)

You might think it's funny, but at the same time, if you think about it in all seriousness, that's pretty brutal. Like "I Cum Blood," too - it has a tinge of humor to it, but it's a pretty disturbing thing if you really think about it. I don't think we've ever [tried to be funny]. We might have joked around here and there, but we've never done a song where we're all laughing about it and we can all say, "There's humor in it" - [if that's the case] then we're not going to do it.

Death metal has some of the best drummers around, like Flo Mounier and Derek Roddy. Do you feel competitive with them?

I don't feel in competition with anybody. I just do my thing. That's the kind of drummer I am. I know I'm not the best drummer in the world by any means in any form of music. But I do what I do, and I like what I do: I play Cannibal Corpse-style of drumming. Yeah, I look at some of these drummers out there, like Tony Laureano and Derek Roddy and Nils from Aeon, and I'm like, "These guys are just incredible; I could never play that." I don't sit there racking my brain and beating myself up over feeling like I have to play like that. I don't want to play like that. I want to play the way I play. I feel that's what kind of sets us apart from other bands. Drummers like Pete Sandoval, Derek Roddy, and Dave Culross - they're incredible, amazing drummers. But I think they're kind of more "textbook." I think my style is more unique because I've never taken lessons. We just wrote as we wrote when we were growing up. Five guys are playing, and it might not make sense on paper, but if it fits in the end, it doesn't matter if it's wrong or right or whatever.

You guys often mention Kreator as an influence. Where is the influence?

Oh, the early Kreator! That was huge. If you listen to, say, Eaten Back to Life or Butchered at Birth, I think we had a lot of Kreator [influence]. We worshiped Kreator; the first two Kreator CD's are unbelievable. For me - the drumming style, too. Ventor was a big influence for me. So you listen to Pleasure to Kill, for instance - not that I mimicked him or anything, but I really do feel I had more of a Ventor style back in that early day, just a spastic, crazy type of drumming style. A lot of our early riffs were definitely influenced by Kreator. I think you'd have to go back; [the influence] might not sound so much now, of course. Definitely back in the early days when we started out - that's where anybody's influences for any band will shine through, until you truly find your own identity. It took us a couple of CD's before we were in our own niche and had our own style.

Cannibal Corpse is stranded on a desert island. The only way to survive is to eat each other. Who goes first?

Oh, geez. Well (laughs) - that's a good one. I would have to say it would be George. He'd probably keep us alive for quite a while (laughs).

You gotta live up to your name, you know?

Well, I guess so! It would probably take me a while, though, because I'm vegetarian. I'd really have to be completely, fully dying to go that route. That's another thing, too, [that] people ask, "You're in Cannibal Corpse, how can you be a vegetarian and not eat raw red meat?" That's another story, though.

What is a cannibal corpse? Is it a corpse that eats things, or is it the dead body of a cannibal?

Yeah, it's kind of a weird thing. Alex thought of the title when we were forming and we needed a name. He came up with "Cannibal Corpse," and we really didn't get too in-depth on it. We just kind of thought, it's crazy, it's two words that should not go together. I guess it would be a corpse who's a cannibal. "Eaten Back to Life" might sum it up - it's a corpse that busted out of the grave and there he is, chawing on himself. He doesn't necessarily have to eat himself; he could probably eat other people, I guess. I've never really thought about it too much (laughs).

Originally published in "Hails & Horns" No. 2, Fall/Winter 2006.