A death metal band of 26 years like Cannibal Corpse is used to causing uproar when they tour and release new music. On the cusp of releasing their 13th studio album A Skeletal Domain, fans will receive a dual strike as Cannibal Corpse promotes the album, coming via Metal Blade Records in September, on the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival tour this summer. Attendees will be able to witness Cannibal Corpse as they headline the Coldcock Herbal Whiskey stage at 5:45 p.m. each stop. On the first date of the tour in San Bernardino, Calif., Cannibal Corpse bassist Alex Webster talked with Metal Insider about A Skeletal Domain, the changes in death metal over the past few decades, lineup changes and more.
Cannibal Corpse is definitely the heaviest band on the Mayhem tour roster this year. It’s going to be a privilege for a lot of fans to witness your set later today. Are there older Cannibal Corpse songs you have planned for the set?
I think there’s always a couple old ones they can expect to see toward the end of the set like “Hammer Smashed Face” and “Stripped, Raped and Strangled” which are pretty much always in there. With a set like Mayhem, it’s hard to do a whole lot. I think we’re doing eight or nine songs because the set is only 35 minutes. Some of it’s new; some of it’s old. The grand finale is usually the same for us because it works so well that we don’t even want to change it up. We always play the same two songs at the end; it’s kind of a tradition.
You’re also about to release your thirteenth albumA Skeletal Domain, appropriately timed to discuss during interviews on this tour. Has it been difficult to write so many albums and still use the same style?
With the music, it’s really not that hard because you have a few different guys in the band writing music. It’s generally me, Pat and Rob. Each of us writes a lot, especially Pat. I wrote four on this album. There’s a good division of the songwriting in the band. When you have several minds working together on something, you’re less likely to run out of ideas. Rob will do some lyrics and I will do some. If it were only up to one of us it would be a lot harder to keep it fresh.
How do you continue to challenge your bass performance and playing so that it continues to grow?
In recent years what I’ve been working on is consistency. I think you’ll be able to hear it on the new record. especially on the last song “Hollowed Bodies.” I don’t want people to just hear bass a little bit, or here and there, I want them to hear it all day long in every song. I’ve been working on my tone, working on my consistency in my right hand. You never run out of areas to improve on as a musician.
A friend of mine in a death metal band, Gorgasm told me “It’s been extremely difficult thinking of new ways to say all of the gruesome lyrics. I need to find new outlets for ideas.” As a lyricist for the band, where have you gotten some of your ideas from to keep 13 Cannibal Corpse albums fresh?
Cannibal Corpse usually leaves it fairly wide open. If the song is about something dark or about something really violent, that subject is fair game in a way for us. We don’t really have a lot of limits. On this album we have a bunch of different things like fantasy style horror with weird supernatural things happening all the way to realistic stuff. I have a song about a guy who beats the hell out of some guy who tried attacking him and smashes his head open on the pavement. It’s a little different for us, but brains still end up all over the sidewalk. It’s still something that fits in with the Cannibal Corpse thing. It doesn’t have to be about zombies or a serial killer every single time. As long as it has some sort of violent or dark theme, we feel it could probably work with our band.
This year I’ve read books about real-life violence so I was writing about the kind of things that could actually happen. I’ve read a lot of true crime types of books and recently read a few about sociopaths and are interested in the psychology behind it. It’s all interesting, but I try not to draw specifically from one source. If you’re reading things like that or watching movies, you have all these ideas floating around in your head to be able to come up with your own thing.
How have the lineup changes in Cannibal Corpse affected the band over the years? Do you feel that your current lineup is an excellent fit for collaborative songwriting and performing with future group endeavors?
I think it’s the best lineup, that’s the goal. I think everyone who has ever been in the band was important to the band. Whether they were asked to leave or they left on their own, there was always a void that needed to be filled with someone who was at least as good if not better. It’s not easy because we’ve always had good guys in the band. We’re at the best place we’ve ever been musically. Certain people might prefer older versions of the band that were a little more rough around the edges and they may like us simply for that reason. Our first few albums were not as musically solid as what we’ve done in the past decade. We feel it’s the best lineup, but it’s really a subjective thing.
How has the death metal scene changed over the past few decades?
You could definitely write a pretty reasonably sized article on all the things that are different. Technology is a big thing. You could always read about a band in a magazine or a fanzine and write to them with hopefully some contact information and a price for their demo and send them $5. Maybe four weeks later, you finally get the thing and get to hear what it is. Everything is instant now and it’s all free too. The availability is much greater. Death metal used to be the only kind of music that had blast beats and dark growling vocals, and grindcore too. Now there are all different kinds of bands that aren’t death metal, but have elements of death metal and I think you’ll see that all over Mayhem Festival. We might be one of the only pure death metal bands on the whole bill. Death metal has made a mark on metal in general and I think that can be heard in a lot of other modern metal. That wasn’t around twenty years ago.
What was the band’s reaction when Cannibal Corpse was making its way on the map and groups or certain leaders tried banning you and held organized CD smashings?
We were so young. When you’re young and making a gory death metal band, you’re not really trying to make anyone happy you’re just trying to make music you like. We didn’t mind it at all that some people didn’t like our band. The censorship was hard to deal with from a practical standpoint. There were shows canceled in Germany and things like that. But it didn’t bother us; we weren’t insulted people were trying to censor us. If anything, we realized they were at least noticing us. If they are that aggravated by what we are singing about and think nobody should be allowed to hear it, then we’ve made some people angry that should be made angry.
How did your appearance in the movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective come about and why did you agree to do it?
It was a weird thing and I remember thinking when they offered this to us “I hope they don’t make us look ridiculous. I don’t want to have to do something I wouldn’t normally do onstage.” They told us to wear our regular clothes when we got to the movie, but they showed us a wardrobe with purposely ripped jeans. We played our own music, all to backing tracks of course. We knew it was an interesting opportunity. To this day, it’s still the biggest mainstream opportunity that we’ve ever had. People still talk about it because it’s weird for a band like us to be in a movie with Jim Carrey. At the time I know he was at least interested in our music, I’m not sure if he was a big fan or not. We’re very grateful that he was one of us that wanted us to be in the movie because he put us in front of millions of people that wouldn’t have otherwise known about our band.
What’s also been going on lately with your other band Blotted Science?
We’re working on new material. That band at this point has remained a technical studio project. In Blotted Science we have me, Ron Jarzombek from Watchtower and Hannes Grossmann from Obscura. The three of us work on and write material at home. Hopefully we’ll be recording that album by the end of the year, but if you look at Cannibal’s tour dates I’m pretty busy. I’ve also been involved in the band Conquering Dystopia. We just finished a tour opening for Animals As Leaders in May and June. It’s also an instrumental band, but a lot different from Blotted Science. It features some Keith Merrow, Jeff Loomis who used to be in Nevermore and Alex Ruediger. They are a bunch of great musicians that got me involved in their project last year and we did an album self-titled Conquering Dystopia. Those three things are keeping my hands busy.
Other than the release of your new album, do you have any other plans or time off after Mayhem is over with?
We have a few weeks off after Mayhem, but I’ll be working on other stuff and a few guest appearances I need to record. I feel like if you’re in demand, you need to seize that moment because maybe things won’t be this crazy for me in 10 years and wishing they were. I really want to take advantage of the opportunities I have now.
Mattice is a music journalist for Village Voice’s OC Weekly and Metal Insider. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @RachaelM_JC.