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Chris Barnes

Undead and Unborn are collectively the first studio full-lengths to be issued since the pair’s departure. “I think these are kind of stand-out albums, and are kind of connected for sure – musically, lyrically, story-wise, and the album covers, the artwork and everything,” the frontman critiques. “I think they’re definitely more of those ones that stand out in our discography. Undead has more of a straightforward, sheer death metal approach, is faster paced, and has little more detailed time changes and stuff like that. Unborn is more I suppose atmospheric and rhythmic, and maybe more dynamic as well. As a package, it’s all really kind of interwoven together. It was all meant to be very dynamic and across the board as a whole.

“They kind of stand alone to me right now, but my point of view kind of changes on those things as time goes on. I’m sure I’ll look at them in a different light in a few years. I think both Undead and Unborn are pretty special albums though, for sure.”

Much of Unborn’s material was recorded within the same timeframe as its predecessor’s material. “A lot of it was written at the same time but we came back to it after Undead was released, re-tracking a lot of things and adding a couple of more songs,” Chris informs. “So yeah, it was kind of an ongoing process. I finished the bonus material in early February – we’ve still been in the studio working on things for this album. It’s been a really cool way to record. I learnt a lot in these sessions, because there was such a large amount of material written and recorded. It was a learning process, once again. You never stop learning, as they say.

“This is really the way that I feel the most comfortable recording, actually writing a song and going in and recording it the next day or the same day. There’s an energy from that by doing that, but sometimes something comes back to the room to work on more. It was more of a laid-back pace than just being in the studio for one week and having to get something done instantly, and really being under the gun. It was a different way to work. I learnt a lot about myself and things like that by doing these past two albums like we have. I’ll work any way I can to get the best performance out of myself though, and the people in the band. If that’s gonna get us to lay down some cool songs that sound really good, I’m all for continuing like this, but there’s a lot to be said for being under the gun. Sometimes that sparks a little bit of a different product (laughs).”

Although self-produced, Unborn was recorded with a lot of assistance from Chris ‘Zeuss’ Harris, who mixed both Undead and Unborn. “Zeuss really did a great job of bringing it all together, putting it together, and finding common ground with all of the different songwriters, musicians, tunings and everything that he had to decipher on his side of things,” the singer reckons. “He just did a wonderful job; I give him a lot of the credit for this album sounding so tight and excellent. I really wanted to use him on Undead too, but it just didn’t come to be for some reason. We’d been in contact though.

“When we’d play a gig up in his neighbourhood in the north east, we’d just meet up and come to listen to some of the songs that we had been working on. He just critiqued things, and told us what he thought. When it was time to do this album he was the obvious choice, and I had really wanted to work with him for awhile. We asked him to do it, and he agreed. It was just wonderful working with him, because he really wanted the album to sound how we wanted it to sound. How you envision your album to sound as an artist, he builds upon that. He doesn’t come into it blindly.

“He just wanted to share his perspective on the whole thing, not just ‘This is what I do, and I’m gonna do it like this.’ He really gets into the personality of each song, and really tries to understand what you want to accomplish with the album. He really is a patient person too, and very, very knowledge in the art of audio engineering. It’s an interesting job being an audio engineer, because you really have a lot of different elements to work with. You have to have what I like to call the zen of recording, where you have to be at one with the artist, the music, and the whole craft. You have to be able to let all of that breathe and live on its own, and be aware of that. Zeuss really has all of those techniques in place, and like I said, he’s a very patient guy that pulls off magic in the studio.”

Chris wasn’t alerted to Zeuss’ talent through past records the man has been associated with, per se. “Probably just the first Whitechapel album that he did, but that’s probably about it,” he thinks. “I just knew how good he was, and I knew that he worked with a lot of bands exclusively. That makes me feel as though he’s one of those guys like Scott Burns, where once you work with him you don’t wanna work with anyone else. That’s kind of the feeling I got from working with him. Instead of from listening to stuff that he’s done though, I really wanted to work with him through meeting him and hanging out with him as a person. I enjoy his company, and I really feel like we’re on the same wavelength. Sometimes you meet someone for the first time, and you’re like ‘He’s not one of us. I don’t think I could really handle hanging out with that guy too much, maybe five or ten minutes (laughs).’

“He’s the type of guy where I met him though and felt comfortable, and felt a real camaraderie with him. That really is important I feel when you’re giving up something that you consider almost to be a child, an album that you’ve worked on and nurtured along. It’s like giving your little kid to a babysitter for the first time, letting a stranger watch your child. It’s probably not as severe as that, but it still feels like some kind of violation in a way (laughs). That’s definitely more important to me than the stuff he’s done, because working with Six Feet Under never sounds like anyone else or any other type of production. I don’t think he’s the type of guy that really attacks the production side of things and the mix to where he has to put his signature on it, or anything like that. I really think mostly all of his mixes are different. I know he’s good. It’s more like ‘Yeah, let’s work together. You’re cool.’”

Vocally speaking, “there are a multitude of emotions in each song on Undead and Unborn, but it’s really specific to each lyric. There’s anger, fear, just a lot of sorrow, joy as well, and thoughts of dreams I guess. Dreams (laughs).”

Engineer Chris Carroll formerly aided the Six Feet Under mainman in the cutting of his vocals, but that hasn’t been the case since November 2008’s Death Rituals. “It’s more effective cost-wise to do it here locally in Tampa than to go all the way down to Miami, or bring Chris all the way here up to Tampa,” he reasons. “He’s an awesome guy, and I worked with him for many years in the studio. I never really liked anyone else to record my vocals, but another really good friend of mine has a home studio (DOI Digital Audio). He lives about 12 minutes down the road from me, and he’s got a really, really nice studio. He’s one of my best friends too, and he’s really great to work with. His name is Chaz Najjar, and he’s just a great, great guy. He’s always ready to record at the drop of a hat, and get some tracks together. That’s really important to me, to be able to get my ideas out when I need to. I’ll probably record with Chris again one day though, because he’s an awesome engineer and I just love him to death.”

Six Feet Under (l-r): Kevin Talley, Steve Swanson, Chris Barnes, Jeff Hughell
and Ola Englund

Engineers supply feedback concerning respective vocal takes. “If I’m unsure of something or if I just heard something in particular, then we’ll come back to it,” Chris reveals. “They’re like ‘I think you can do that better.’ I’m always up for critique – I’m not difficult in the studio about that. That’s why I like to be surrounded by engineers that record my vocals who I respect as people, and whose opinions I respect. I want someone to be on the same wavelength as me, and understands what I’m trying to get done. If someone just has ulterior ideas about something and just doesn’t see the whole picture of it, I can’t really understand and communicate with someone like that.”

The cover artworks for both Unborn and Undead were designed by Seattle, Washington-based artist Dusty Peterson. “They’re really interconnected, because the albums are interconnected with the writing and the storyline within the lyrics,” the lyricist observes. “I’ve been working with Dusty Peterson for awhile now, and he really gets it man. He gets the whole thing. He focuses on the music and the lyrics when he’s coming up with his designs. I had an idea in my head of what they both should look like, and he definitely nailed each one of them down to a tee.”

The composition ‘Illusions’ comprises bonus material for Unborn. “It’s a song actually that myself and my nephew put together,” Chris tells. “His name is Ryley Dipaola; he’s 18-years-old, and an amazing drummer. I’m really proud of him; I think he’s gonna be an amazing musician in the future. He’s an awesome drummer, and technically amazing. He plays guitar as well, and he came up with a couple of really cool songs. This one song was really interesting to me. It’s super-raw, but it’s just a bonus track. It’s called ‘Illusions’. It’s more of a demo, but it sounds really, really dark and interesting from my perspective. It’s kind of a special track for all of the fans that search out material from us. I like doing those little bonus tracks that are kind of off the wall. We did a track years ago called ‘Dead And Buried’, and that one was picked up by the fans. They were like ‘Oh man. Where did that one come from?’ That was cool. I remember that one going over big.”

Tampa, Florida-based death metal outfit Cannibal Corpse will celebrate its 25th anniversary in December 2013, a faction the vocalist was a member of from December 1988 until late 1995. “It’s just another day to me, man,” he muses. “It’s really no big deal. I’m always really happy that they’ve continued this long, and that I’ve been able to continue this long based off of those first four albums. I’m really proud of that. It’s just been a wild ride man, for all of us. We just had a lot of fun, and I shared a lot of good times with those guys. I learnt my craft and what I do through all of those intense hours of rehearsals that we used to have – I just really learnt a lot from those days. Things to do and things not to do, I guess.”

Of the four Cannibal Corpse outings Chris lent his voice to, his favourite is a choice between two. “It’s a toss up between Butchered At Birth (July 1991) and Tomb Of The Mutilated (September 1992), I guess,” he considers. “It’s hard to pick. The cover album for Butchered At Birth really got it all started for us, and drew a lot of attention towards us – good attention and bad attention. It really did a lot for the death metal genre of music, did that album cover. I think that that album’s really important to me. My vocals on that I’m super-proud of, and also as far as Tomb Of The Mutilated. It’s hard to pick between the two, because Tomb Of The Mutilated has ‘Hammer Smashed Face’ on it, and that song really kind of… I guess it’s the best-selling death metal song of all time. It was in a movie (1994’s Ace Ventura: Pet Detective), and was just really, really strong. It’s probably one of the best death metal songs ever written, I would say. We play that in the Six Feet Under setlist. We play that song, and we play ‘Stripped, Raped And Strangled’ (from April 1994’s The Bleeding).

Chris Barnes

“We’ve played those two songs for the past couple of years now, now that I have players in my band that are able to play songs like that. I have a drummer that’s obviously the best drummer in death metal, and have a bass player that is an equal of amazing bass players like Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse) and stuff, and two guitarists in the band… So yeah, that’s definitely the reason why. I wanted to be able to have the freedom to play those types of songs, or be able to revisit songs like that and give the fans something that they’ve been craving for awhile – to hear those songs sung by me. I’m really enjoying doing that, and really enjoying seeing the fans enjoy it.”

To date, all of Cannibal Corpse’s recorded output has featured the artwork services of Michigan-based designer Vince Locke. “Vince is great, man,” the frontman praises. “C’mon. I was really the guy that got hold of him. I kind of stalked him down, because I had always loved his artwork from the Deadworld comics back in… I don’t know when it was, but probably 1990. I started looking his information up. This was before the internet, obviously. It was just ‘How do you find someone, talk to them, and ask them about doing an album cover?’ I looked him up in the phone book, basically (laughs). He lived somewhere in Michigan; he really wanted to work with us, and loved the imagery we were trying to portray. He’s been with them ever since. His artwork is still really interesting, and is really stand-alone. He’s a very talented guy. He worked on A History Of Violence (1997, with John Wagner), which was adapted into a movie starring Viggo Mortensen (2005). He’s a very imaginative person. I think it takes someone like that to do the artwork for Cannibal Corpse for 25 years, and the stuff that he came up with for the new special edition is really, really cool, man. I think it’s some of his best stuff.”

Metal Blade mail Chris reissued versions of early Cannibal Corpse endeavours. “I have a collection of them somewhere,” he chuckles. “I haven’t got anything for the 2013 picture disc reissues yet, but I’m sure I’ll get a box of goodies here pretty soon (laughs). That’s gonna be really cool with the picture discs, man. I didn’t know that they were doing that. I’ve kind of been in my own world as of late. They don’t tell me anything though, bro (laughs). I had no idea that that’s how they were doing it. I guess they had no reason to tell me, other than getting me to sign something to say that it’s okay to put the songs I did with them on it. But yeah, that should be fun.”

During a 2007 interview, the singer expressed his desire to perform ‘Hammer Smashed Face’ as a live duet with current Cannibal Corpse vocalist George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher. “I would love to get onstage and do that with those guys, and do something like that,” he reaffirms. “Man, it would be fun. I don’t think those guys share my opinion on that, but I think it would be fun (laughs).”

Bassist Alex Webster confirmed that he was receptive towards the idea during a 2013 interview with Metal Forces. “Wow, that’s really cool man,” Chris esteems. “Alex is such an awesome guy. Man, it’s funny. I get along with him better now I think that I’m out of the band, and he probably shares the same view (laughs). We actually reconnected a little bit in 2012; we hung out at a few shows and stuff, and shared a few laughs and stuff. He’s always been a cool guy, man. That’s great. I would do it in a second, man. I’d fly myself in to anywhere that they asked me to, and do something like that… for free, even (laughs). All they’d have to do is ask, man. That’s all they’d have to do. I’m there. It’s a song that I still remember how to sing. I will definitely do it. I know how to sing those two, at least (laughs).”

Cannibal Corpse 1994 (l-r): Jack Owen, Chris Barnes, Alex Webster, Paul
Mazurkiewicz and Rob Barrett

The Six Feet Under mainman should broach the possibility with Alex. “I don’t ever wanna overstep, or bother them about stuff,” he cautions. “I put things out there, and… I can only ask once or twice, and then I kind of feel like I’m being annoying. I don’t really wanna do that. I was annoying enough when I was in the band (laughs).”

The release of further Six Feet Under studio content, meanwhile, is in the pipeline. “After 2013 is over, there’ll probably be a short break from touring,” Chris assumes. “I’ll just think about what I’m gonna do with these other 12 songs I have (laughs). You know man, I never stop working on stuff so I am always in the studio demoing stuff out once or twice a month, or three times a month maybe. So yeah (laughs). It never ends, man. I love writing and exploring music like this, and coming up with cool stuff that we haven’t done. It’s really fun, man. It’s just like working on a car, or something. You learn something every day. You just keep plugging away at it until it’s finished. This is a big project, so I have to keep working on it and making music (laughs).”

“There’s a lot of stuff that me and Ola have been working on. There’s just some stuff that’s pretty interesting. There’s a couple of things we have that are just maybe an outline of stuff. There was something that me and my nephew are working on, but we ended up using that as a bonus track. There’s all sorts of stuff, man. Jari’s actually working on some stuff too, so we have a few things that are outlined, a few things that have been completed as far as being demoed out and stuff.”

The Undead Chronicles have reached a conclusion. “This was all written as one thing, so this is pretty much the whole package right here,” the wordsmith corroborates. “The next album will be something different. We always try to keep it fresh and exciting for ourselves, and keep progressing as far as we can musically I guess.”

Further instalments in the Graveyard Classics cover album series – of which three were issued in October 2000, October 2004, and January 2010 respectively – aren’t planned. “I always just thought of that right from the beginning as a three-part series,” Chris notes. “It just felt right to end it right there. They’re three really different cover albums from each other, so I just feel as though it’s complete as it is.”

Unborn was released in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland on March 15th, 2013, in the rest of Europe on the 18th, and subsequently on the 19th in North America, all via Metal Blade Records.

Interview published in March 2013. All promotional photographs by Stephanie Cabral.

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