Cannibal Corpse has managed to make a career out of royally pissing people off. The mere mention of the band’s name is likely to turn the righteously indignant into a bubbling mass of frothy phlegm and fury. But then, one suspects that nobody is happier to have caused such a visceral reaction than the men of Cannibal Corpse themselves.
There’s nothing subtle about the band’s album and song titles: infamous albums such as Butchered at Birth and Tomb of the Mutilated contain songs with names as blunt as “Rancid Amputation,” “Meat Hook Sodomy,” “Post Mortal Ejaculation,” and “Addicted to Vaginal Skin.” It’s gruesome stuff — a trend that has continued for nearly three decades, right up to the new Red Before Black album which drops via Metal Blade Records on November 3. But the semi-secret, known only by fans of the death metal genre, is that, under the blood and shredded flesh, there is some genuinely intricate music being played. Those that believe this stuff to be merely power chords and cookie monster vocals are sadly misinformed.
Of course, the focus will be on the horror imagery, which also plays a big part in the band’s album art and T-shirt designs. The members of Cannibal Corpse like it that way — it’s the sledgehammer to the head-approach that they’re going for. Blunt force trauma, metaphorically of course. The band is a musical horror movie — it’s fiction — so anybody getting upset is choosing to get upset about something completely harmless. It’s a silly overreaction, but it’s also the cause of the group’s infamy, thirty years on.
“We still have fun with it, because it’s not like we’re sitting here doing it every day,” says drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz, pragmatically. “When I’ve got to sit down and come up with these lyrics and subject matters that I don’t think about on a daily basis obviously, because that’s not me, but I’ve got to get it done, I do it. It’s not like I’m doing it on a daily basis where my mind is shot because I’m thinking of all these things constantly - 'Arrggghh, gore, horror.' I don’t. So to me, it’s almost fresh to go, ‘Hey, I’m ready to write the new set of songs.’ I’m fine with it. It’s dispersed.”
Which makes complete sense. The guys in this band are sane, regular dudes with families and responsibilities. They make a steady living playing music to a niche group of fans around the world, as they have done since 1990’s Eaten Back to Life. It just so happens that, like many screenwriters and novelists, they deal in subject matter that dives into the macabre. The line between reality and fiction is clear to most, and yet there’s something reassuring about the fact that people still get their feathers ruffled by Cannibal Corpse.
“It’s all about being intense and brutal,” says Mazurkiewicz. “Butchered at Birth, Tomb of the Mutilated, and The Bleeding were pretty much all [former vocalist] Chris Barnes’s writing. We let him do what he wanted to do — we just focused on the music, and we’re Cannibal Corpse, so of course it’s going to be brutal and intense. He wrote some crazy stuff back then, but that was the era. We didn’t care. We were trying to push the boundaries. Now, myself, Alex [Webster, bass] and Rob [Barrett, guitar] are writing the lyrics, and we’ve evolved. We’re still brutal, though probably not as crazy as that. We just try to do our own thing and make it brutal in our own way. It’s all a part of the band.”
That mindset is reflected in the act's new record Red Before Black, which isn’t as instantly hard-hitting as previous titles, but is just as powerful when given a little thought, and paired with the sleeve art. The title refers to the colors seen by the victim of a slasher just prior to death.
“The guy’s over the top of you, and you’re getting stabbed to death, and what are you seeing?” says Mazurkiewicz. “The bloods flying everywhere, and you’re seeing all this red before inevitably you’re dying. Then you’re probably seeing black, I guess. So it’s something different.”
After thirty years in the biz, delighting fans and upsetting critics, it’s perhaps inevitable that the influence of Cannibal Corpse has spread far and wide. There are the bands that went the direct route and now play trad death metal in much the same way, and bands like Suicide Silence, where the influence of Cannibal Corpse is there but a little less obvious.
“It’s definitely gratifying,” says Mazurkiewicz. “Not everybody who’s influenced by you is exactly going to sound like you too. Regardless, how can it not make you feel good? You feel like you accomplished something and feel positive that you helped anybody out. If musicians can inspire other musicians to do it, that’s amazing. And then the fans — there are people who say, ‘Man, if it wasn’t for your music, I might not be here. It got me through some tough times.’ It makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you contributed positively to society, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
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There truly isn’t, and it may come as a shock to people to think that Cannibal Corpse may have contributed positively to society. But that which offers people a release, the art that helps them work through things, is subjective. Thankfully, there are far more bands than Cannibal Corpse out there doing the good work, even if the old school guys don’t like it all.
“You’ve got bands that are not necessarily new, like the Black Dahlia Murder,” says Mazurkiewicz. “There are some good bands out there. It’s just so different to me. I hear a lot of this new stuff, and I can’t get into it like I got into it when I was younger. I love brutal death metal, and so many bands incorporate so many different styles, and that’s just not me. I don’t even know what’s going on out there half the time, other than I know death metal is still going. We’re still going — all the bands that are playing death metal and playing shows, putting out albums and doing well. We’ve just got to hope that there are going to be bands we can pass the torch to.”
On November 22, Cannibal Corpse plays the Summit here in Denver, and Mazurkiewicz says that the band always plays a great show in Colorado. The set will feature a bunch of songs from Red Before Black, and a heap of old favorites too. If you really want to have some fun, set yourself a challenge: Try to sing along.
Cannibal Corpse plays with Power Trip and Gatecreeper at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, November 22, at the Summit Music Hall, 1902 Blake Street, Denver, 303-487-0111.