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Cannibal Corpse 1992 (l-r): Alex Webster, Chris Barnes, Paul Mazurkiewicz,
Bob Rusay and Jack Owen

Lyrics penned during Chris’ tenure pushed the envelope to its very extremities, perhaps too much so in the case of numbers like ‘Necropedophile’ (from Tomb Of The Mutilated). “It’s totally disgusting, yeah,” Alex recognises. “That’s a sick and appalling song, for sure (laughs). He was never writing any of these lyrics from the point of view that the characters in the songs were cool though, or were people that he related to. I don’t wanna speak for him too much, but he’s not into any of that stuff. It’s just interesting stuff to write about. If you have a movie with evil characters, people understand that the guy who made the movie doesn’t relate to those characters. If you have a horror novel with evil characters in it – like a horror novel that features a rapist or a killer or a molester – you understand that the author doesn’t relate to those characters, and isn’t espousing that type of behaviour. Neither are we. You have horror movies, and you have horror novels. Death metal is a type of horror music, and we’re not saying that any of the characters in our songs are people that we admire.

“They’re fictional characters, but still described in a way that can be quite realistic. Unfortunately, things like what happen in our songs have happened in real life. We don’t admire that kind of behaviour at all, but we’re trying to make horror here. We’re not trying to make a happy story; we’re trying to make a negative, frightening story, and that requires sometimes very disturbing imagery. Chris never wanted to limit myself though, and he didn’t. You can see it in the lyrics that he wrote. He had no limits and some of it is really disturbing for that reason, but it’s what he felt he needed to do. Those song lyrics are the way he wanted them to be, but it’s not a reflection on his character or anything. He’s just a normal guy like anybody else, but he didn’t want to be limited.

“We still feel that way, although I’d have to say for sure that we generally don’t go as extreme as he did, especially on the first couple of records. The second and third probably had the most disturbing lyrics of all of the records, and that was just Chris being completely unfettered. We gave him complete freedom. We said ‘Dude, write about whatever you want. It’s fiction. Just do it.’ If he needed to write something really disturbing, we didn’t stop him. He just went all out, and the results are there. It can be pretty gross at times, but I think the important thing for people to realise is that we know it’s gross and disturbing enough. We don’t wanna promote that sort of thing at all though. We’re not into promoting any kind of violence in the real world; this is strictly a fictional, escapist kind of entertainment.”

Chris expressed an interest in performing staple cut ‘Hammer Smashed Face’ as a live duet with current vocalist George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher during a 2007 interview. “I’m not totally against the idea,” the Cannibal Corpse co-founder considers. “It’s really something that the whole band would have to talk about, to see if they all wanted to do it. Me personally, I think it would be okay to maybe do that once at the right show, maybe a big festival or something. I wouldn’t rule it out, but the main decision ends up lying with George because George is our singer and has been for a long, long time. I would wanna make sure that he’d be comfortable with that. It’s up to him. The main vote on sharing the microphone is with George, because that’s his job.”

Alex Webster and Chris Barnes performing live with Cannibal Corpse (1992)

A one-off, fully fledged concert performance with Chris in celebration of the outfit’s early years would perhaps be a step too far, however. “Doing songs where Chris was onstage with us and George wasn’t would be too much,” Alex contends. “George is the singer of Cannibal Corpse, and has been since 1995. That’s a tremendous history in its own right. We’re quite a veteran band at this point. How many years is that now that’s been with us? I’m thinking of the maths right now… It’s like… what? 18 years?”

A long time. “It’s been a long time,” the bassist agrees. “Like I said, it’s George’s microphone. Once Cannibal Corpse gets onstage, George has the mike and anybody else onstage is a guest of his (laughs). He would be the one to make the decision on anybody else being up there putting their mouth with the mike.”

Credit where credit is due, George is an energetic live performer. “George has his own thing up there,” Alex observes. “He’s totally a super high-speed headbanger. He’s just built for it; he’s genetically gifted for headbanging (laughs). He’s got a neck that’s just as thick as his head, so he’s really built to headbang (laughs). He does a damn good job of that, and people seem to notice. I guess how could they not. If you’re watching our band, you’re gonna notice what George is doing up there. He does a great job of it.”

George’s Cannibal Corpse membership dates as far back as late 1995, the vocalist figuring among the line-up of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based death metal group Monstrosity at the time of his inclusion. “We had thought that George was a great singer in Monstrosity for a long time,” the four-stringer effuses. “Chris had already started Six Feet Under – this was 1995. Chris had had Six Feet Under going for several months, and they had just put out their debut Haunted (September 1995). They were gonna go on a tour in October of ’95, and he was gonna record all of his vocals for our album Vile (May 1996)… At the time Vile was tentatively titled Created To Kill, and so he was gonna do all of the vocals for that and then go on tour. We wound up having so much difficulty with him in the studio, going back and forth on various things. We just weren’t really happy with how things were sounding. He didn’t even get done with half of it before he left, so once he left to go do the Six Feet Under tour, he was gonna come home at the end of the month and finish it. During that time though, we decided that he needed to be replaced. This was back before any of us had cellphones, or anything.

“We just had to wait for him to get home to tell him. We got George down there probably the second week of October I think, and started rewriting lyrics. We knew we were just gonna rewrite all of the lyrics that Chris had written, and just use different ones. We renamed a lot of the songs, and just had completely different concepts for some of them. We had already started working with George before Chris knew, just simply because we couldn’t inform him until he got home and I could call him at his house. Once he did get home I called him, and George was actually in the room with me when I called him. I just let Chris know, like ‘Hey man… We’ve been thinking about it, and we want to make a change. We want to get a different singer.’ He was like ‘That’s cool man. I was gonna quit anyway.’ That’s what he told me.

“I think he’d been feeling the stress too, and then he had Six Feet Under going. He was getting along really well with those guys and having a lot of fun with that, and had just done a successful tour together. We initiated the split, but he didn’t seem at all bothered by it and that’s how it went. George ended up stepping up and doing a great job, and the rest of it you probably already know. He’s been with us this whole time. Chris went and did Six Feet Under and had a great deal of success with that too. It wound up being a very controversial split, but I think the fans wound up having two bands that they can enjoy instead of just one. That’s the positive way I want to put it to people who miss Chris being in our band (laughs). I’ve seen him do some of those old Cannibal songs with Six Feet. That’s his band. We’ve got our band, and that’s where it’s at.”

Cannibal Corpse 1996 (l-r): Rob Barrett, Jack Owen, Paul Mazurkiewicz, Alex
Webster and George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher

Talk persists that Cannibal Corpse wished to venture in a more technical musical direction, while Chris personally wished to pursue a relatively straightforward musical direction. “No,” Alex refutes. “There’s not really… I think that Chris preferred more straightforward stuff, and you can see with the Six Feet stuff being mostly a very straightforward type of death metal, that that just really gelled for him. I think playing with those guys and that kind of music worked out better for him. For sure, George… Monstrosity was a more technical band than Cannibal Corpse, and especially then, they were definitely ahead of us in that department. We knew that George would be able to be the guy who could do that kind of stuff as we started to head in that direction.

“Definitely me personally, I was very interested in the technical side of music and I wanted that to start working its way into our band. I had already started to work it in, starting with Tomb Of The Mutilated. Really, some of those songs were fairly technical compared to what we had done. It’s nothing that Chris minded at all, I don’t think. I know he definitely was a fan of the more groove-oriented stuff, but that wasn’t a reason for the split. I didn’t think so, anyway. Maybe if he felt that way, that wasn’t something that I remember him expressing to us. It was more us just wanting to get somebody else in the band. We had had a handful of personal problems with Chris, and then the musical problems were really the big reason we wanted him out.”

The noughties and beyond have witnessed Cannibal Corpse further cementing its death metal legacy. “It does seem like we’ve been able to seem solid,” the mainman notes. “Basically over the last ten years, it’s gotten to the point where I’m not that concerned that I’m gonna have to go get a job washing dishes somewhere or something like that (laughs). From a business point of view, over the last probably maybe not ten years… It seems like things have gotten pretty solid from maybe around 2005 onwards, to where we weren’t constantly worried about that. It seems like we’re here to stay. I guess that seems very obvious to someone looking in from the outside at us (laughs). From the inside you’re always worried about it though, at least I am. I’m just that kind of a pessimistic personality where I feel like something could go wrong, that at any moment it will all be over (laughs). Having this kind of a career, playing our favourite kind of music, and making a living out of it seems like it’s too good to be true. Every now and then, I’m like ‘When are we gonna wake up from this dream?’

“We’re playing our favourite kind of music and it’s our career, and we’re one of the biggest – if not the biggest band – in the genre. It’s miraculous, really. It’s not anything we could ever have expected when we first got started. It’s a big deal, to somehow become one of the biggest or maybe the biggest band in this genre. We didn’t think it would be us when we started. I thought it would be one of the other big bands, but somehow we’ve kept it together. A lot of these other bands took time off through line-up changes and things like that, and pursued other projects. We never took any time off. I think out of all of the death metal bands we might be the one with the most full-length studio albums, definitely one of the ones that has the most albums. We’ve never had a hiatus; we might take like two months off at the end of an album cycle just to get away from each other and start writing new material, but other than that, we’re just constantly working together on either writing new material or touring.”

Torture (2012)

A 13th studio opus is planned. “We’re gonna do another one – we won’t be waiting long,” Alex confirms. “We’re probably gonna finish up touring in July. We’re then gonna just stay home and write a new album, and hopefully record it in the early part of 2014 so that we can get back out and start touring again later in 2014. Maybe around summer time. No breaks, you know what I mean (laughs). There’s been any talk of us saying ‘Oh, let’s take a year off.’ We’ve never done that (laughs). It’s not in our DNA, to take time off like that.”

At the time of writing, only riffs have been authored. “We don’t have any complete songs, unless maybe Pat or Rob have a complete song written that they haven’t shown the rest of us,” the rhythmist explains. “All of us have been working on riffs at home. I guess out of the three main riff writers in the band… Paul writes riffs sometimes, but mostly of course us string players are writing the riffs. Between the three of us, we haven’t brought anything to the practice room to show the other guys. We’ll really get started on that in full gear when we get home from all of the tours in July. Four days a week we’ll be getting together, and writing music.”

Plans are at too early a stage to critique said riffs against Torture’s material. “It’s way too early for that, but the chances are the record will be a continuation of what we did on Torture,” Alex surmises. “We really have tried to focus on giving each song its own character, and we try to accomplish that through a number of means. We try to have maybe a fast song, and then a mid-tempo song, and then a slow song, and then a fast song. That means there are a lot of ups and downs on the album. That kind of variety we managed to get on Torture I think you’ll see continuing on the next record. It’s all gonna be killer death metal, but it’s not gonna be just one fast song after the other. There’ll be a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of dynamics.”

How many additional milestones Cannibal Corpse will reach beyond its 25th anniversary is open to debate. “It’s so hard to tell how long it will go, because like I said, we could never have imagined having a 25-year career,” the co-founder reiterates. “That was just unheard of when we started this band – for any metal band, let alone a death metal band. To have a 25-year career, it simply didn’t exist in 1988. We couldn’t predict then what these 25 years have held for us, so I certainly can’t predict where we’re gonna be 25 years from now. I suspect retired. Simply put, this is physical music. It’s athletic music, and in 25 years I’ll be… Jeez… Almost 70. Am I really gonna be able to do a proper performance when I’m in my 60s, of this type of music? I can’t say for sure.

“I can say for sure that we’re not quitting any time soon. We have no plans to quit, but I do believe that as we get into our 50s we are gonna wanna tour maybe a little bit less. At some point that’s gonna have to happen. Simply, it would not be due to any mental fatigue. It would be due to physical fatigue. Mentally we’re still very excited about playing this kind of music and about touring, but the facts are the facts (laughs). The reason that you don’t have football players in their 50s is because a 25-year-old man’s body is really a lot different from a 55-year-old’s body. When you’re dealing with a physical kind of music like death metal, it’s something that we’re gonna have to take into consideration.”

Cannibal Corpse tour quite prolifically nowadays even, in spite of being middle-aged as well as the death metal genre’s physical nature. “In 2012, we did over 150 shows,” Alex reflects. “It might have even been like 160 – I’d have to tally them all up. We went all over the place, too. Within a year’s time, we went to five continents; Asia, Australia. We did South America in December of 2011, so that was there, and then North America and Europe. So yeah, we do a lot of shows. I don’t know the official count of all of our shows in total, but it’s gotta be thousands I’d think. Definitely over 1,000, maybe 2,000 and something. I don’t know. It’s been a lot (laughs). I think that’s a key part of why we’re around, and why we’re doing well. We’ve been really consistent both artistically in that all of our albums are death metal, and then we’ve been consistent in our work ethic in that we’ve never taken time off. I think our fans appreciate that, and they’ve reacted to that over the years by sticking with us.”

Alex Webster

By comparison, most death metal veterans undertake more modest touring schedules. “It’s hard to say why that is,” the bassist ruminates. “It’s a question that they’re gonna have to answer. I think it could be that they don’t like touring as much as we do. When we’re due to leave for a tour, I’m really excited about doing it. When we got done with the last tour, I was like ‘Okay, I’m ready to be home.’ Now we’ve been home for almost two months, and I’m ready to go out again. I’m itching to get back out there, and I’ve only been home for two months after doing 150 shows in 2012 (laughs). I think we’re just a bunch of guys who enjoy playing live, but maybe not everybody does.

“It’s not for everybody. The touring life can be kind of annoying sometimes, because you don’t have a lot of personal space. You’re sharing a bus with a whole bunch of people, and the older you get the less appealing that can be. A lot of guys do have kids and things like that, and are gonna wanna be home more and more to be a part of their lives. There could be any number of reasons, but we’re definitely a band that loves to tour. Why some of the other bands don’t as much, I’m not sure. Nothing wrong with that, but for us it’s just a huge part of our lives to get out there and play live.”

The outfit’s personnel all bear working class roots. “All of us are from a working class – either a middle working class or lower working class – background, as far as the money that our families made,” Alex divulges. “My family didn’t have a colour TV until I was 17 or something like that, and I had never flown on a plane until a month before we made Cannibal Corpse. We’re all from very modest backgrounds, and I think that having had to work jobs… I was going to college and then working in the summer, but the rest of the band all worked in construction before Cannibal Corpse did well enough for us to quit our jobs. When you’ve had to work in the real world for a little while and then manage to do what you really wanna do for a living, you appreciate it that much more. I think if a band gets famous before they’ve had a chance to actually work a regular job, they might not appreciate what they got quite as much as a band like us do. We all had to work regular jobs – my last job was in a factory.

“Before we did our first tour for Butchered At Birth… We didn’t really tour for Eaten Back To Life; we just did a handful of shows on the weekend in the United States around the East Coast, but we started doing real tours for Butchered At Birth and that’s when I was able to quit working. Man, I appreciated it. I couldn’t believe we were actually getting paid to do something so much fun, and I’ve never forgotten that. I’ve never stopped appreciating how fun this is, and how lucky we are to do it. I think the other guys in the band feel that way. They’ve all had to do stuff before. When Pat O’Brien got in our band, he was painting houses out in the LA area. He had been in other bands, but not any band that could support him. When you finally do get lucky and you realise what the real world is like, to be able to be in this really great position of living your dream job – being in a band and playing in it – you really appreciate it, and you don’t wanna squander that opportunity by being lazy. We’ve tried to work as hard as we can, to take advantage of the good luck that we’ve had.”

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

Live commitments will perhaps gradually dwindle as Cannibal Corpse advances in years. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say we would never play live, but if we’re ten years down the road I could see us touring a lot less – maybe doing festival appearances, and very short tours in select places,” the four-stringer concedes. “The days of us doing 150-200 shows a year might be over in about ten years, but I don’t think the band will be over. It would just be… Like I said, at some point the touring would have to be scaled back a bit I think. Then again though, I don’t wanna make too many predictions because, really, if we all take care of our health and just keep practising hard then we might be able to go at full speed ahead for a lot longer than we assume right now. Being 55 seems tremendously old to me right now (laughs). I’ll be there in 12 years of course though, and it might not seem that bad at all when I’m there. As long as I stay fit and practising hard, we might not be ready to scale things back for quite a long time.”

In closing, Alex would like to express gratitude to those who’ve supported Cannibal Corpse during their almost 25-year tenure. “Thank you so much for the support,” he conveys. “I can’t tell you how much we appreciate it. It’s just incredible to have this kind of a career, and yeah, without our fans it wouldn’t have been possible. I want to thank our old fans and our new fans, but especially the ones who’ve been with us the whole time, and there’s definitely a handful of them that we run into. We appreciate that so much, but yeah, everybody – all of our fans. From someone who just started listening to us last week, to someone who’s been listening to us for 25 years. We appreciate the support so much. Thank you.”

Dead Human Collection: 25 Years Of Death Metal was released in North America on March 16th, 2013 and subsequently on March 18th in the United Kingdom, all via Metal Blade Records.

Interview published in March 2013

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