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CANNIBAL CORPSE – Demented Aggression
Anthony Morgan
March 2012

Cannibal Corpse (l-r): Alex Webster, Rob Barrett, George Fisher, Patrick O’Brien
and Paul Mazurkiewicz

Cannibal Corpse studio full-lengths ten to 12 – namely Kill (March 2006), Evisceration Plague (February 2009), and Torture (March 2012) – equally share a common trait, specifically the line-up involved: co-founders Alex Webster and Paul Mazurkiewicz occupying bass and drums respectively, George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher supplying vocals, Pat O’Brien handling lead guitar, and Rob Barrett performing rhythm guitar. Arguably, this has allowed the outfit’s chemistry to improve as musicians and songwriters.

“Really when it comes to the songwriting aspect, exactly,” confirms Paul Mazurkiewicz, drummer and co-founder of Cannibal Corpse. “I do believe that we have the best line-up we’ve had ever, and that’s why it’s been this way for so long. Torture is our third album with Rob in the band, and of course Pat and George have been in the band as long as they have. It just seems like there’s continuity and it’s been gelling better than it ever has, and that is key. I truly believe having that longevity and that staying power that we’ve had is due to the stable line-up.”

Torture includes five numbers musically authored by Alex (‘Scourge Of Iron’, ‘Intestinal Crank’, ‘The Strangulation Chair’, ‘Crucifier Avenged’, and ‘Rabid’), four by Pat (‘Demented Aggression’, ‘As Deep As The Knife Will Go’, ‘Followed Home Then Killed’, and ‘Torn Through’), and three by Rob (‘Sarcophagic Frenzy’, ‘Encased In Concrete’, and ‘Caged… Contorted’), possibly lending the outing a greater diversity.

Penning and recording Torture “was a lot of fun,” remembers the sticksman. “We just stepped it up. Having Pat write four songs, Rob writing three songs, and Alex writing five, it was a little more diverse. That always helps of course, to have somebody else writing moreso than just one guy. You can always be diverse as a writer with your own style, but when you have two other great songwriters writing as well then it’s gonna be more diverse in that department. I think when you write a song, you’re always gonna try to write something different than your last song and those three guys are no exception. That definitely makes it a more diverse record of course. Having Rob come into his own and writing the best songs he’s ever written for Cannibal Corpse… I mean, that’s huge. He’s written some great ones as well on every album that he’s been on.

“Even when Jack was in the band, Jack wrote some great stuff too. It’s great that somebody like Rob can come in, and write some great stuff as well. Pat writes great songs too, but these were a little different for Pat. Songs like ‘As Deep As The Knife Will Go’ and ‘Followed Home Then Killed’ are a little different for Pat. It’s good to see though, because I think those songs turned out just phenomenal. Pat’s been in the band as long as he has, and he’s written three really great songs for Torture. That’s a great thing, to have everybody contribute. Yeah, having all three guys contribute and all of their songs being different than the last one that they wrote is huge. It was a big deal.

“I think that’s always been our plan; our idea has always been to try to write some different songs, with not everything sounding the same. Some of them might sound similar here and there from album to album though because we’re not doing anything extremely different. We’re brutal, in-your-face death metal is the way we look at it, but we always really try to write different songs. For some reason though, I think the older we’re getting the more mature we’re getting, and the better we’re getting at our instruments and our songwriting abilities. I don’t know what it is, but we just seem to be taking on a whole new life. We’re arguably writing better than we ever have, so it’s really hard to say why. Like I said, I think we always try to be diverse in any way possible. We don’t want everything to sound the same, and that’s probably been the reason for our longevity as well. We are able to mix it up, and we’ve been doing it for years.”

Paul Mazurkiewicz

“We really got into it right away actually though; we weren’t even done with the Evisceration Plague tour towards the end of 2010, and actually Pat started writing and he wrote two songs – I think it was during the tour we did in October 2010. We had these songs done before we even went on the road, which is very rare for us. We were already getting excited to wanna start creating a new record, and when we got home from that we had his two songs.

“We kinda hit harder on it on January 1st, 2011, but man, everything just seemed to step up in a lot of departments. We worked really hard; Pat and Rob really wrote the best songs they’ve ever written in Cannibal Corpse like I said, and I worked really hard on doing the best that I could do to step things up of course. Alex does a great job always, and he wrote some great songs. It was just a lot of writing of course throughout the whole year, and just trying to come up with what we think are some great songs. I think we came up with some great, diverse Cannibal Corpse stuff, and a little bit of old school sounding with new school. Overall, I think it’s a great record. We just worked hard at writing as soon as we could, hit the studio in September, recorded for a couple of months, and now here we are.”

Such feelings would suggest Cannibal Corpse is like a fine wine, becoming greater with age. “I think so, the way it’s going with Cannibal Corpse,” Paul muses. “Just look at our last three records; Kill and then Evisceration Plague, and now this one. We’re doing better than we ever have, selling more records, and I really believe writing better and playing better. I guess Cannibal Corpse must be like a fine wine, yeah.”

Certain hallmarks arguably define the songwriting tendencies of Alex, Pat, and Rob. “I think so,” the co-founder reckons. “I think a lot of times it’s apparent who wrote what. Pat has his own style… It’s a little tougher maybe on the new album, because of songs like ‘As Deep As The Knife Will Go’ and ‘Followed Home Then Killed’. Some of the parts don’t sound like Pat, but with the main riffing on ‘Followed Home Then Killed’ you realise that it was written by him. Three of them have a distinct style of writing, and that’s great. You have to have that distinction in the style of writing that separates it where one guy isn’t sounding like the other guy, but to me it’s apparent. I’ve been around them long enough and I know how they play, but I would think that the Cannibal Corpse fans would figure those things out too for the most part. Maybe it’s not always apparent, but for the most part you can hear who’s writing what.

“Pat is very note-y of course with very crazy, fast guitar parts. Songs like ‘Frantic Disembowelment’, ‘Dead Human Collection’, ‘Make Them Suffer’ and ‘To Decompose’, I think it’s apparent those are Pat’s in the way the riffing works. Alex writes note-y stuff as well, but it just seems like it’s not as crazy in the playing department and the timings might be a lot more different. Alex really likes to delve into that, where the time signatures are changing or are different than on the last song and doing a lot of mathematics. A song like ‘Intestinal Crank’ or ‘Unnatural’ or ‘Rabid’, those songs I think are Alex’s just in the way the riffs are put together. To me Rob just always had more of a thrashy feel to his songs to where his riffs go, a little bit of a more old school feel.”

Alex being a bass player as opposed to a guitarist perhaps lends his songwriting different idiosyncrasies. “You’re gonna have a different approach of course if you’re a bass player, and not a guitar player,” Paul concurs. “Of course Alex is knowledgeable in the way of guitarists where he can write on bass and knows what it might sound like on guitar, and already knows in his head what bass line he might have. He’s a veteran in that way, but I think you’re always gonna look at it a little bit different just because you’re playing a different instrument. At the same time though, you can write a lot on bass. I don’t how much different it would be if Alex was a guitar player. Maybe his writing would still be different, or it would be more like Pat’s. A lot of parts written on guitar would be very hard to play on bass. I’m sure the fact that Alex is a bass player means he writes a little bit differently than if he was a guitar player, but who knows? You never know.”

George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher

Previously helming both Kill and Evisceration Plague, Hate Eternal frontman Erik Rutan once again spearheaded production duties though recording was split between Texas’ Sonic Ranch and St. Petersburg, Florida’s Mana Studios. “We thought Erik did a great job with Evisceration Plague and with Kill, so we wanted to use him again,” the drummer explains. “There was really no talk about using anybody else; we knew we wanted to use him. The only thing we wanted different was to utilise a different studio, which is what we did. The first step was going to Sonic Ranch in Texas, which is where we did Bloodthirst (October 1999), Gore Obsessed (February 2002), and The Wretched Spawn (February 2004). We brought Erik over there, so we did the first half of the record at Sonic Ranch. We loved it, and wanted to go back. Doing two at Erik’s was great but it was time for a change, time for a mix-up. We don’t want to get just caught in the same routine of driving to the studio every day for over an hour and that kinda thing, so we felt it would be easier and better for us to go out for at least the first month to do the basic tracking over there where we could live on the grounds and concentrate fully on the record. It was great, and we finished off of course at Mana Studios in St. Petersburg. We did the solos, the singing, and the mix and all that in St. Petersburg where we had done the last two. Yeah, we wanted to use Erik again. Like I said, he did a great job on the last two and we knew he could do a better job on this one.

“He’s just a workaholic, and that’s a great thing. He loves to push, and loves to get the best out of you. He knows what he wants; he’s a very demanding guy, and he’s a great guy on top of that of course. We’ve known him for years and he’s a friend of ours, but we work as a team – you have to. We’ve done that with all of our producers; we’ve never had a producer just kinda come in and tell us what’s going on, or tell us ‘This is the way it’s going to be.’ We’ve always had our producers working with the band, and especially moreso now than in the past. We’ve done it. We’ve been in the studio; we know what we want and what to expect, and all that thing. You really need somebody that’s gonna work with you, and Erik does a great job of that.”

Musical challenges awaited the musicians involved in Torture, as ever. “For me personally, just a lot of the fast stuff challenged me,” Paul discloses. “The song ‘Torn Through’ is very uptempo; the tempo is pretty high for that, and it’s also challenging because it’s a very demanding song throughout. ‘As Deep As The Knife Will Go’ has a lot of double-bass and a lot of blasts, so that’s always a challenge. With some of Alex’s songs, it’s just learning the patterns – it’s not like hitting 4/4. A song like ‘Scourge Of Iron’, the whole pedal part and the pattern shifts. A song like ‘The Strangulation Chair’ with all the parts in the beginning, and the way the drum pattern goes. Very challenging. For the most part though everything on the record was very challenging, and that’s the way you want it – you want to be able to step it up. You know you’re eventually gonna be able to play it but it makes it worth getting to that point, and I know those guys always have the same thing going on when they play their parts. Everybody writes different, so usually Pat will always tell you his songs are hard for him to play. He tries to do something he doesn’t normally do, and tries to push himself to where it’s hard even for him – Alex and Rob are the same way. Everything came together, and the challenging parts we worked a little extra hard at. Eventually we got them following repetition, and over time. That’s the way it is, but there’s always gonna be some challenging stuff for everybody on every album.”

The sticksman feels that Torture has the ‘frenzied attack of Butchered At Birth (July 1991) or Tomb Of The Mutilated (September 1992).’ “It’s just the primal aggression I think from the beginning of the band,” he clarifies. “Songs like ‘Demented Aggression’, ‘Encased In Concrete’, ‘Rabid’, and ‘Intestinal Crank’ in the speed that we’re hitting and the brutality reminds me a lot more of what we did in the old days of Cannibal. We seemed to stray away from certain things that we’ve done a lot. Not always, but it was mostly really the key. A lot of the beats we were doing, they got a little more controlled in the latter years. We really made an effort to pump it up a little bit, and tried to have that fury that we had back in the old days. Songs like that remind me of the old days.”

Alex Webster

The flavour of more recent Cannibal Corpse material is represented on Torture as well. “Even though it’s got the primal aggression, the timings and so on in ‘Intestinal Crank’ remind me more of our newer songs,” Paul suggests. “Even though it has a simplistic riff and all that, ‘Scourge Of Iron’ is very basic and driving. A lot of that with the whole middle part where there’s a lot more thought going into the song at that point, that reminds me of the newer Cannibal style. Maybe a song like ‘The Strangulation Chair’ is something a little different than we normally do, and maybe sounds a little bit more like the newer style of Cannibal with a lot of craziness happening and the bass guitar from Alex. Those songs in particular I think are the newer style of songs that we have on Torture.”

The co-founder assisted Rob by devising the lyrics for ‘Encased In Concrete’, as well as aiding Pat by composing the lyrics for ‘Demented Aggression’, ‘Followed Home Then Killed’, ‘As Deep As The Knife Will Go’, and ‘Torn Through’. Rob wrote the lyrics for ‘Sarcophagic Frenzy’ and ‘Caged… Contorted’ himself, Alex doing the same for his respective tracks. “All of the song titles on Torture are self-explanatory for the most part, but not all of them maybe,” Paul observes. “I mean, the songs that I wrote are pretty self-explanatory. You can pretty much get what ‘Encased In Concrete’ is about; it’s one of those typical Cannibal titles where you know what it’s about. It’s about somebody slowly being tortured that way and getting encased in concrete, so that’s pretty basic. ‘Followed Home Then Killed’ you can kinda figure out I guess – you should. You will do (laughs). It’s more of a stalker song. I was inspired by early 80s horror movies. Entering the house and stalking someone, and killing them in the comfort of their own homes – that’s pretty self-explanatory.

“‘As Deep As The Knife Will Go’ is kind of self-explanatory as well, maybe more of a meeting of… you know it’s about a knife, and you know it’s about somebody stabbing somebody and taking that knife as far as it will go. I thought of the knife as being what makes somebody kill, not per se the killer. The way I look at it is somebody picks up a knife, and that knife really makes them do this. They’ve never killed before in their life and they do something with that knife that they didn’t think they’d ever do, and they like it. That’s what that song is about, and ‘Torn Through’ – the other one I wrote – is obviously a little more vague. You know it obviously sounds violent, and someone is torn through – something happens to somebody. I pretty much wrote that as a revenge song, about somebody drastically and brutally getting torn through the head.

“That’s a basic kill song I guess for Cannibal and for my style, but the other guys’ songs… ‘Sarcophagic Frenzy’, that’s our zombie song and Rob wrote that. ‘Caged… Contorted’ is another one that Rob wrote, which is kind of self-explanatory. I’m not sure what the lyrics are fully about, but you get the gist. Somebody’s being locked up in a cage, and they’re twisted in the thing. Alex wrote ‘Scourge Of Iron’ – a little bit more of a battle kind of song – and ‘Rabid’ being more of a serial killer kind of song. ‘Intestinal Crank’ and ‘The Strangulation Chair’ are the two torture songs he wrote which are really pertaining to specific torture devices, one being the strangulation chair and one being the intestinal crank which you can read about online I’m sure. He did take that from actual devices that were used for torture, and then Alex wrote the song ‘Crucifier Avenged’ which is another one of his where I’m not fully sure what the lyrics are about. I didn’t write them, so I can’t say really much about them.”

Starring Tobin Bell as the cerebral John Kramer, aka The Jigsaw Killer, the Saw horror movie series could be surmised as influences on ‘Intestinal Crank’ and ‘The Strangulation Chair’. “I don’t know,” the drummer responds. “I know Alex has seen them and he likes these newer movies like Saw and all that, but those lyrics just fitted into the torture theme. When we knew we were gonna call the album Torture, I know he really wanted to have some songs that had to do specifically with torture and real devices. You’d have to ask him if he was inspired by any of that – he may have been. I don’t know the answer to that, but we definitely knew we wanted to have some songs like that which were really pertaining to specific torture devices.”

Patrick O’Brien

Torture is a thread throughout some of the album’s tracks, but not all. “‘Demented Aggression’ is a little bit of a torture song I guess, and ‘Caged… Contorted’ – like I said – is about being locked in a cage and being twisted out of shape and all that,” Paul remarks. “There’s obviously some torture going on, but it’s a loosely based thing. It’s not like every song is about torture. We’ve got a few in there, but most of them are about the typical Corpse subjects.”

For the first time since 2004’s The Wretched Spawn, illustrator Vincent Locke was requested to supply a graphic cover artwork. “Great, great art,” the sticksman enthuses. “Vince did a great job; he did a very brutal cover for us, and we’re very pleased to go back to maybe how the covers were in the past a little bit. Everybody seems to be really digging it, like ‘Oh, you’ve gone back to having brutal artwork. This is awesome.’ We just wanted to give it a try again, and do it again. We haven’t done it for the last couple of records, a pretty brutal cover. We’re glad we did it this time, and we’re very happy with it.”

“For the most part, Vince has as much creative freedom as he wants,” he continues. “We’ve had covers where he just did it on his own; we told him maybe the album title, he came up with his own concept or whatever, and we really trusted his vision. A lot of times we just go with it, and then there’s other times where he says ‘Hey, any suggestions? Have you got specific ideas?’ You can let him know. He doesn’t mind being told what to do, or what we want to do, or what we think the cover should be. We’ve done a couple of those, so it really just depends I guess. I think this time around we had a little bit more of an idea, and we gave him that idea. Like I said, there’s been some albums where it was just ‘Man, here’s the title… We don’t really have an idea.’ We then just see what he comes up with so he can do what he wants, but of course he’s always gonna ask ‘How much gore?’ and all that. We told him this time around to go all out; we said ‘We need some gore, we need some blood. We need some brutality going on on this cover.’ That was fine by him, and he was down with it.”

Paul’s drumming has naturally evolved since the issue of debut affair Eaten Back To Life in August 1990. “I think I’ve just got tighter at drumming,” he deduces. “It might be a little more bold, I think. Thinking back to the first album back when we started, I played mainly by just aggression, raw power, and feel. It wasn’t about precision or whether we were in time, and all that stuff. We just all played together, and if we were all playing together on the same page then there was no right or wrong. That’s the way I look back though. We were young and we were that type of a band, more having that punk attitude and just going out and playing. It didn’t have to be perfect, but I think over the years it’s become that a lot more. Of course with my drumming, we’ve incorporated click tracks of late. That keeps you on your toes, and makes you try to play as perfect as you can. It’s come a long way, but I think I’ve refined most of my qualities. I try not to do more than I can do, and most Cannibal songs are gonna be brutal songs. There’s gonna be some blasts, there’s gonna be some straightforward double-bass, and there’s gonna be some complicated parts. It’s just gotten better, and it’s evolved. It’s more precise possibly now, but it’s still in the Cannibal style. If anything, I’m just trying to refine.”

Rob Barrett

Winding the clock 20 years later, whether it’s just as easy for a death metal musician to tap into the genre’s aggression as it always was is a subject for debate. “I guess it’s about the same,” the co-founder discerns. “We love what we’re doing; we love playing fast. It was never about… I mean, when you’re young you’re young, and you’re angry here and there. I don’t think it’s really like that really. We love playing the songs we play, and of course you’re just feeling the music – ‘Oh, I love this… Oh yeah.’ It makes you just wanna ‘Urrrghh’ and go nuts, so to me it is. If there’s a good riff, and somebody comes up with something then you throw a beat to it, and you’re just like ‘Yeeaahh!!’ I think that’s how we are with a lot of our songs, and is what keeps us going. It might not be a 100% like it was in the early days, but back then in the early days it was just all new and everything, and everything was just maybe a little more exciting because it was all happening for the first time as opposed to 20-plus years later. Like I said, if you hear a killer riff or if somebody’s got a killer thing going the feel you get off of it keeps you going. It still happens to this day, otherwise we wouldn’t do what we do.”

Having formed during 1988, whether Cannibal Corpse will continue to exist for another ten to 20 years is anyone’s guess. “It’s hard to say,” Paul admits. “We’re older now of course – we’ve been around for 20-plus years. We’re all in our mid to low 40s, and we still feel healthy. It would be great to go that long, to go another 20 years. Are we able to? Are we physically able to? That’s gonna be the question. You gotta take it all day by day at this point. We all feel good and we all feel like we’re on top of our game, better than we ever have. We write better than we ever have. Only time will tell; if we’re mentally okay and we feel we’re still able to put out quality music and physically we can hold up, there’s no reason why we can’t go another ten to 20 years. Really it’s just hard to predict that though, because being the age we are now it’s really hard to predict what’s gonna happen tomorrow. We’ll see what happens.”

Torture was released on March 9th, 2012 in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, on the 12th in the rest of Europe, and subsequently on the 13th in North America, all through Metal Blade Records.

Interview published in March 2012. All photographs by Alex Morgan.

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