Cannibal Corpse Exclusive Interview: The Bloody Truth
Monday, February 25, 2002 @ 11:50 PM
Cannibal Corpse Bassist Alex W
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Sometimes truth really is stranger - or, in this case, sicker - than fiction. For more than a decade, death metal splatter gods Cannibal Corpse have reveled in every atrocity imaginable, yielding such ditties as “Meathook Sodomy,” “Fucked With A Knife,” “Blowtorch Slaughter,” “Dismembered and Molested” and “Butchered At Birth.”
But nothing their twisted minds have come up with to this point can hold a candle to the grotesque spectacle unearthed in mid-February in northwest Georgia. The story of the crematorium operator whose property was littered with corpses he was supposed to have cremated tested even the strongest stomachs as authorities discovered bodies faster than they could count them.
“That’s about as gruesome as anything I’ve ever heard,” said Cannibal bassist Alex Webster on the phone from his Tampa condo, as the search of the crematory grounds continued for a third day. Though he’s more desensitized than most, having written the bulk of the band’s gory epics since the departure of frontman Chris Barnes, Webster’s as appalled as everyone else by the news.
“I can’t think anything worse than finding out that someone you had put to rest years ago has just been rotting somewhere,” he said. “What a horrifying story. There’s a couple hundred bodies up there. How was that guy able to live like that, having these bodies just lying around in his yard?”
The crematorium story broke about a week before Cannibal Corpse’s eighth album was issued. Appropriately titled Gore Obsessed, the album is jam-packed with Cannibal’s usual Grand Guignol mayhem - “Hung and Bled,” Sanded Faceless” and “Hatchet To The Head” are among the highlights - and proves the veteran Florida-based band haven’t lost a step. If anything, the band is more brutal than ever on streamlined, relentless Obsessed.
With death metal enjoying a higher profile these days thanks to Morbid Angel’s arena adventures with Pantera as well as Slipknot becoming the most brutal band to sell a million records, Webster thinks Cannibal might even be able to pick up a few new fans with the new record. And after living hand-to-mouth in the underground for a dozen years, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
With Cannibal getting ready to hit the road on the Spring Neck Break tour with Dark Funeral and Pissing Razors, Webster took a break to talk about the band’s long career, the death metal audience and, of course, gore galore - real and imagined.
"We’ve got something like 80 songs and all of them have something to do with people getting killed or something really horrible -- all of them about something horrifying."
KNAC.COM: Would you draw any inspiration from something like the crematorium story or the everyday atrocities you see on the news?
ALEX: I want to write about stuff that’s never happened before or that couldn’t happen because it’s something supernatural. I’d rather keep it more fantasy than reality. I have done some stuff that’s more blunt. Like “Savage Butchery” from the new album is something that could actually happen. That’s about a guy who starts beating the shit out of someone and ends up stabbing ‘em and chopping them apart.
But I’ve never tried to copy a true story and I’ve never written about anyone who’s real. I never wanted to use someone else’s misfortune and the subject for a song. Not that I’m saying it’s bad for a band to do that, I think Macabre’s Dahmer album is classic. But if someone killed someone in my family, I don’t know if I want some band writing a song about it.
KNAC.COM: I see what you mean.
ALEX: I’ve been trying over the past couple albums, because I’ve had to shoulder a lot of the lyric writing after Chris left, to make interesting stories out of these songs, come up with something that maybe hasn’t been done before. “Grotesque” on the new album is about a guy who keeps having visions of murdering his friends and he doesn’t know if he’s really doing it or just dreaming about it. It’s kind of a warped thing.
“Mutation of the Cadaver” is another one about a coroner working on a body and every time he leaves the room and comes back it seems like the body’s changed a little bit until the face on the body starts to resemble his own. Obviously I can’t have a really full plot in a 3-1/2 minute song, but I try to give some imagery that will make people think a little bit.
KNAC.COM: After eight albums, how many methods of death and killing have you guys chronicled?
ALEX: (Laughs) It’s gotta be a couple dozen. We’ve got something like 80 songs and all of them have something to do with people getting killed or something really horrible -- all of them about something horrifying. But what can we do? We’re a death metal band. Everything should be horrifying. And there’s still a lot of stuff we haven’t gotten to yet.
KNAC.COM: I’m amazed you hadn’t thought of the Gore Obsessed title sooner since it pretty much says it all about your band.
ALEX: It’s tough, after eight albums, to have a good title. Somehow we never had used the word gore in a song title or album title before. And now we have (laughs). The subject matter of 95 percent of our songs is gore, so Gore Obsessed works pretty well.
KNAC.COM: When did you become gore obsessed yourself?
ALEX: When we were starting the band, that was a time when just for fun all of us would watch movies by George Romero, and Lucio Fulci movies like The Gates of Hell. We’d get together and get some beer and everyone would be watching horror movies and partying. It was a favorite kind of movie not just for us, but a lot of the people who were into thrash and death metal in Buffalo, and I’m sure everywhere.
Certainly we’re not the first gore band. Before us there was bands like Autopsy and even Slayer had gory lyrics, especially early on, “Necrophiliac,” “Piece By Piece” -- stuff like that. We were basically just doing what came natural. To be honest I don’t watch gore movies like I used to, but I still love movies with violence in them.
KNAC.COM: Since you’ve been doing this for as long as you have, is it getting hard to come up with new and fresh ideas?
ALEX: It’s pretty much no problem. Music is so much fun to write and it’s pretty easy to write music when you get on a roll. If you sit down and get to it, that’s a lot of fun and it’s limitless. That’s one thing I always really loved about music.
I think that the limits of death metal are not what people think it is. There is a lot more to be done with it within the confines of what you call death metal. I don’t want to ever do something that is not death metal, I want it to always be pure death metal, but there are sounds that we have not yet heard that are going to be heard by bands like us and others. And that’s the exciting thing, when you hear something that you’ve never heard before.
I’ll give you an example of a band that we’re friends with. When I heard Krisiun for the first time, the guys in Angel Corpse liked them and they brought a tape over to our bus, and they played me that album and it was awesome. We had never heard anything quite like it. What made that doubly exciting was it was something I had never heard before and it was pure death metal. Bands like that really shut people up who think that death metal is limited and done, it’s played out.
KNAC.COM: Was working with Neil Kernon part of that effort to find some of those new sounds?
ALEX: We did originally plan to work with Colin Richardson again and he had to back out because he couldn’t work out a deal he was satisfied with -- it was a business move. Colin Richardson’s track record with death metal is clear: Sinister, Carcass, Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower… he’s got a great reputation for real heavy stuff. Neil is known more for like Queensryche and Nevermore, and he’s done Dokken albums. He’s done a lot of technical stuff.
But he had done that Macabre Dahmer album that we all thought was great, he really did an amazing job on that album, so we knew he could do it. When we got together to work with him he was completely into making it as heavy as possible, he wanted to show everybody that he couldn’t be pigeonholed as some progressive metal producer.
If you polish death metal too much it takes away some of the power, we want everyone to hear what we’re playing, but I want there to be some rough edges. I don’t want it to sound like a machine and Neil got it right. And I’m really happy with the work he did, I’d like to work with him again.
KNAC.COM: With Morbid Angel having played in arenas with Slayer and Pantera, will that open any doors for you?
ALEX: They seem to be the top of the heap for death metal right now, their tours do well and they have pretty good sales. They can do a very big tour as well. That last tour they did with Deicide was the most successful all death metal tour we’ve ever had here. It can be a little bigger.
I think Cannibal is pretty close to the ceiling, what we need is the ceiling to get a little higher. I definitely appreciate a band like Pantera stepping up and making the effort to take band like Morbid Angel on tour. I believe some of these other bands are getting peoples ears and mind ready for death metal.
KNAC.COM: Such as?
ALEX: The biggest death metal band will sell less than 100,000 records in America. And Slipknot can do a couple million. If you take 1 percent of Slipknot’s fans, if 1 percent of them liked death metal, that would probably be bigger than what is right now.
To me, as a person who likes brutal shit, death metal the most brutal way you can do metal. As long as there’s kids out there who want the most brutal thing, they’re going to be drawn to death metal. The average person is not seeking anything, they hear shit on the radio or see it on MTV and they pick. Death metal you have to look for, but if it’s easier to find, who knows.
KNAC.COM: I wonder if Slipknot fans listened to a Cannibal Corpse record whether they would like it? Slipknot sells tons of records, but they also generate tons of hype and a lot of kids get swept up in that?
ALEX: I think what they are doing will open some doors. They have the complete package, so it’s no surprise they are succeeding. They have good music, they have a salable image that’s very interesting with the masks and stuff and I guess they do a great live show. I haven’t seen ‘em yet. They have all those things together, whereas a band like us, we really are just strictly music. And that’s gonna limit us, but we don’t care about that. We wouldn’t feel comfortable dressing up, and we don’t mind being a smaller band because of that.
We want it to be 100 percent music that you’re paying attention to. I think that when most people are watching our band, they’re watching us play the instruments - or they’re slamming in the pit listening to the music. They’re not really too concerned with that we’re wearing (laughs), it’s pretty boring: black jeans, black T-shirts and black shoes.
KNAC.COM: You’ve toured with black metal bands (Dimmu Borgir, Marduk) that strap on the spikes and lather and wear the greasepaint and you’re taking out Dark Funeral here, do you match up okay?
ALEX: The styles of music definitely have the same roots. 15 or 16 years ago, when this whole thing was getting going, black metal and death metal, really no one was drawing any distinction between the two. You had bands like Bathory, Sodom, Death, Destruction, Possessed and Celtic Frost… nobody was sitting around trying to figure which was which. That’s pretty much where all of us drew our roots from, bands like that.
Any of these bands we meet -- it’s funny, we all like that same stuff, the Marduk guys all grew up with the same shit we did, they just went in a different direction. It’s still a brutal direction and I think that’s why it works on kids. And that gets back to what we were talking about before, that’s why I think because bands that are sonically brutal in a different way, like Slipknot or something like that, have succeeded in reaching a large audience, a death metal or black metal band could probably do better than people think.
KNAC.COM: You’ve been doing this for such a long time, how have you been able to sustain yourselves enough to keep it going?
ALEX: Well you definitely have to be frugal. There’s never been a point where we got a whole bunch of money. We always kind of have just gotten by, we learned to live that way and it’s not really that bad. If you’re playing music that you love and you’re just getting by, even if you’re just scraping, it’s a pretty good way to live.
It can be done, there’s enough of an underground in death metal that a few bands can scrape by. I would love to see the underground get a little bit bigger so more of the killer bands out that are out there could make some money and have a more enjoyable life (laughs). We tour with bands that are talking about two days after they get finished with the tour, they gotta go back to work. Fortunately we haven’t had to do that for a long time.
KNAC.COM: When I was flipping channels the other night, I happened to catch your scene on Ace Ventura. Did you end up getting much mileage out of your one big shot at mass exposure - brief as it was?
ALEX: Well, it makes me realize how rich people can get from royalties from shit like that. If you’re a band that’s on a lot of soundtracks, every time that movie gets played on network TV you’re gonna get money. And it really must add up. Even for someone like us, it keeps trickling down. I get a check for a couple hundred bucks every year because we did that movie.
It was more of a learning experience than anything -- I don’t think it made us a whole lot bigger as a band. The best thing about it is if we’re talking to someone who has no fucking clue about us, if we meet someone in a store or when we stop to buy a burger, we can tell them, “Did you ever see that movie Ace Ventura, maybe you saw us in that, we were in it for like 20 seconds?” And they usually will remember that.
Actually that stuff that you see of us on TV didn’t appear in the theatrical release. They added that in for the TV version, if you can believe that. It was kind of weird.
KNAC.COM: “Edited for television” just took on whole new meaning.
ALEX: (Laughs) Yeah, I don’t know why they did it. It was probably the guys who originally did the movie. They were all so cool to us, the director, Jim Carrey, everyone else… they were all so nice to us. I think they were expecting the worst out of us as people (laughs) because of the music we played. But we tried to be as professional as we could be with them and I think they appreciated that.
We’re a whole country of people who believe the hype and everybody thinks that a band, especially a heavy band, is gonna be throwing TVs out of windows and showing up drunk and doing heroin and shit. And we’re none of that. So I think that might be why there’s more of us in the TV edit. And I’m sure there are lot of housewives and grandparents who see it and think, “What the hell is that?” (Laughs)
KNAC.COM: Well, Bob Dole and Joe Lieberman obviously know who you are. Not that that’s a good thing…
ALEX: Hopefully they have more important things to worry about now. When things calm down again in the world I hope they’re not sitting there thinking, “What am I gonna do today? Lets pick on some death metal bands, because they have no financing for court battles and we can fuck with these guys really bad.”
KNAC.COM: Did them singling you out hit you in the wallet at all?
ALEX: It actually didn’t do shit. In Europe, on the other hand, in Germany especially, we have big problems. We are not allowed -- they actually made us sign legal documents -- to ever play any songs from our first three albums in Germany. That was so we were even able to play in Germany at all. They are pretty hardcore with censorship.
KNAC.COM: But can’t you find every kind of porn imaginable there?
ALEX: They aren’t as hung up about sex as we are here. But here you can watch a show on A&E about Jeffrey Dahmer where they will talk about in great detail about what he did, and it’s just as bad or maybe worse than the shit we write about. In Europe they might not want to have something quite so violent on TV, but they’ll show some tits. To me, censoring sex is pretty dumb; it’s like censoring someone breathing air or something.
Violence, I can definitely see a point in censoring violence… well not censoring it, but not making it available to children. It does have some merit, to a certain point. But if you’re gonna start somewhere why start with us? Violence is so much a part of our culture, from top to bottom. Where do you start? That’s the danger of censorship.
I think because of their history, Germany is really careful about presenting themselves to the world as a non-violent country where fascism has been defeated. But one of the most evil things about fascism is censorship and the denial of free speech and when you make a law to censor violent free speech, aren’t you in fact becoming Fascist in a way? That’s the catch.
The law they enacted in Germany that they used against us is because they wanted to be able to have a tool in their legislature to censor Nazi skinhead bands. Okay fine, but then they use the same law to censor us, and then who’s next? Where does it stop?
KNAC.COM: What is it about your first three albums that’s any worse than what’s on your other albums.
ALEX: That’s the funny thing. I guess it’s okay for us to sing stuff from The Bleeding like “Fucked With A Knife.” I don’t know what they’re finding on those first three albums. On Eaten Back To Life, the lyrics are nowhere near as brutal as they are on The Bleeding or Vile or Gallery of Suicide. There was gore, but it wasn’t quite as disgusting as some of the other stuff we’ve done recently. I think it’s pretty hair-brained.