Interview: Cannibal Corpse
It’s all still Cannibal Corpse style death metal, but the focus is really just that much more than it's ever been on making these very catchy songs
Titans of death metal Cannibal Corpse have just released their immense fifteenth album Violence Unimagined and true to form, it’s another collection of songs containing the pummelling death metal that Cannibal Corpse are renowned for and turns the brutality right up as only they can. Ahead of the album’s release, Gavin Brown caught up with Cannibal Corpse bass player Alex Webster to hear all about Violence Unimagined and its creation and the unorthodox method this album took in its recording process as well as the band’s new lineup, the video for the album track ‘Inhumane Harvest’ and the band’s approach to making videos, touring with Morbid Angel and Slayer and working with longtime artist ally Vincent Locke on Cannibal Corpse artwork.
E&D: The new Cannibal Corpse album Violence Unimagined comes out very soon, how did the creation of the album go?
Alex: Well, it would have been similar to how all the other albums have been for us. Where, we’d go into the studio after we’ve spent a few months writing. Once the songs are ready, we’ll go into the studio and and record them, and that was the plan this time. It went like that for most everybody, except for me because I live on the other side of the country from the rest of the guys currently. I’m over in Oregon and they’re down in Tampa and we recorded in April of 2020 and then in May and June. That put us in a situation where normally I would have flown down to do that, but it just didn’t seem safe to do so at the time. In fact, it might’ve even been a situation where I wouldn’t have been able to anyway, I’m not sure what sort of lockdown was taking place at the time, but I ended up recording in my own home studio, so that was the big difference, for me personally, I did my bass tracks here in my home studio in Oregon, instead of flying down and recording with everybody else down in Tampa. Otherwise it was fairly normal for those guys, I guess, but for me it was a bit different,
E&D: Was it a strange experience doing that?
Alex: Yeah. I mean, I have done home recordings before that are professional level. It’s not that hard with bass guitar. You just really have to get a good direct signal and that’s not that hard to do nowadays, you just need a direct box and have to know how to control a program like pro tools or something like that, so it wasn’t that bad and it’s something I’ve done. Like I said, with the other side projects, like the bands Conquering Dystopia and Blotted Science, I’ve recorded that before, but it was weird for me because with Cannibal Corpse, I normally am there in the studio with the rest, so that was different. There are plenty of bands out there that do remote recording where one guys in one city and one is in the other and they do that regardless of a pandemic or any sort of situation like that, but for us, this was the first time that one of the guys was recording on the other side of the country. It was different and I would’ve liked to have been there, but I’m still very happy with how everything turned out. We kept communicating with each other as you can nowadays, texting instructions and calling each other and so on, so we were still communicating a lot, but nothing is going to replace the convenience of just being in the same room with the other people.
E&D: Have you met up with the rest of the band since to play the songs or has it still been unsafe to travel?
Alex: I have not, no, I’ve been out here on the other side of the country the whole time, and again, we’re in touch all the time. Of course, we’ll have conference calls and things like that and then we’re constantly texting and calling each other and email, whatever, so we’re in touch a lot and I’m home practicing this stuff, but I have not played with the band since about a month before all the lockdown started happening. I had gone down to Florida to work with the guys, sort of like a pre-production kind of thing and I worked with them for about a week and we did the band photos at that time. Then I went back home and I was supposed to return in April and then everything I told you about happened. It’s been a different situation. I can’t wait to jam with the guys again, this is the longest ever since Cannibal Corpse has been a band. This is the longest I’ve gone without jamming the songs with the rest of the band. I’m keeping my chops up, practicing them at home, but it is different. I think I believe where I live, getting the vaccine will be possible for my age group by June. I think once I get that. We don’t have any tours coming up, so there’s not really a reason for me to rush down there, to jam with those guys but once I’m vaccinated, we’ll probably get together. I would think thats what will happen.
E&D: This is the first Cannibal Corpse album to feature Erik Rutan as guitarist. How is the new lineup working out and was it a no-brainer to get Eric to join Cannibal Corpse?
Alex: Yeah, it’s been working out great and definitely, he was the number one choice from the get-go, I mean, he’s just got so much experience working with us first of all. Then he’s such a good friend of all of ours and on top of it, he is one of the most experienced death metal guitar players in the world really having played with Ripping Corpse, Morbid Angel and of course Hate Eternal, so yeah, it just completely made sense, plus he lives down in the Tampa Bay area so it was easy for him to get together with everybody. Of course at the time I was going down there frequently too to get ready for the tour so we were all able to work together really well and after all the touring we did with him in 2019, then of course we’d all been friends for so long, but then you also have that element of knowing, Hey, this is someone that we can get along with great and work great with on the road too, because that’s always another test. There’s certainly people that you might get along with that you don’t necessarily want to live with 24/7 on a bus, even some of your best friends, you might not necessarily want to live with them, but with Erik it just really gelled. There was a really great chemistry with him and the other guys, so it’s it’s been great so far. I’m very happy. I mean, we’re all really happy with the songs he wrote for Violence Unimagined so we’re really looking forward to the future with Erik in the band.
E&D: Erik was obviously the number one choice to produce the album too?
Alex: Yeah. You know, and even before it was decided that he was going to join the band, he was going to produce the album. So once he joined, then he just had additional jobs to do, but yeah, we already knew we were going to work with him on Violence Unimagined regardless of whether or not he was going to join as a permanent member. Having him join, theres that much more synergy between us and him. I mean, obviously he’s in the band and for example, Paul was able to get into the studio early this time to do pre-production rather than doing the preproduction recordings in our little practice room area with an eight track board. That’s what it is. I don’t think it’s sixteen track, it’s eight track. We do fairly rough demos in our practice area normally, but this time we were able to kind of demo the album material in the same studio that we were going to record the album in. So, it’s just having Erik fully in the band created that additional unexpected benefit, of having access to his studio, Mana Studios which is an awesome studio. It’s a fantastic pro level studio, so having that to work at before we even went in to do the album was another great benefit.
E&D: Violence Unimagined opens with the intense ‘Murderous Rampage’. Do you think that song symbolises not only the whole album with its brutality, but also the career of Cannibal Corpse?
Alex: Yeah. I mean, those are the kinds of songs we want to open albums, you know what I mean? We always have to have that kind of a song to start each album. It’s gotta be the one that really goes for the throat. That seemed like the perfect one and just even the title ‘Murderous Rampage’, those words kind of sum us up musically and what we’re all about. It’s just this onslaught of heavy, heavy stuff. I think it’s a perfect opening song. When we write these songs, we don’t necessarily have it in mind from the get-go, which song’s going to be first, but once we were getting into the recording and everything, it kind of became clear that was going to be the right one to open the album with and it’s the right song to open the album and it kind of sets the pace for what’s to come too.
E&D: With how well received to your last album Red Before Black was, did you feel any pressure at all to follow it up with this record or do you just get on with that sort of thing?
Alex: Yeah, we kind of just get going on it and we are really proud of Red Before Black, that one turned out great. I feel like that that was successful for a reason. I think it has some of the most memorable songs that we had done in a while. That’s kind of the direction I think we continued going with Violence Unimagined, just trying to write more of the style that we had gotten into the groove with Red Before Black. I mean, it’s all still Cannibal Corpse style death metal, but the focus is really just that much more than it’s ever been on making these very catchy songs, they’re hard to play a lot of them, but they also have a very straightforward element where you don’t have to be a musician to understand, or to enjoy them. Some of the technical stuff we’ve done in the middle of our career, it’s it’s almost techy enough that you’d appreciate it more if you were a musician where these songs, I feel like even though there is a lot of technical stuff going on, they’re pretty easy to grasp right from the get-go. I feel like we’ve struck a nice balance between keeping things pretty technically challenging, but also having it be very memorable right away, very accessible even though it’s really brutal stuff.
E&D: Your long-term collaborator Vincent Locke did the album cover again for Violence Unimagined. When you approached him with the new album, do you give him an idea of what you want or do you just give him the title and just let him do his thing, being that you’ve worked so closely together since Cannibal Corpse started?
Alex: Usually we just give him the title and let him do his thing. There’s been a couple of albums where we had some suggestions or kind of gave him a direction, but I’d say for most of the fifteen albums, it’s pretty much just been him coming up with ideas based on the album title, or we might also give him a few song titles or some song lyrics or whatever, but yeah, for this one, as far as I know, because it’s Paul who was in touch with him, I think Paul just gave him the title Violence Unimagined and told him to come up with some sketches. He came up with four pencil sketches and we all checked those out and we decided to go with the one that became the cover and he made the album painting out of that. We were really happy with it, it’s obviously a very graphic and pretty grotesque cover and once we saw it, we were super happy with it, but we also knew, Hey, we’re going to need to know an alternate. He did an alternate cover as you’re probably aware, that one is the closeup of the monstrous mother character and that’s also a great cover, so whichever one the fans manage to find that their store or wherever their local outlet has, because I know certain countries are a little stricter than others when it comes to these kinds of things. For example in Germany, it’ll probably be pretty hard to find the gorier version, but either piece of artwork is really cool so you can’t lose, they’re both really great pieces of original art that Vince Locke came up with for this, so we’re really happy this time, it’s some of our favorite stuff he’s done for us in a while,
E&D: You have done a brilliant video for the track ‘Inhumane Harvest’. Can you tell us a bit about the video and its themes?
Alex: Well, it’s directed by Dave Brodsky and Alison West. They’ve worked with us before, actually on ‘Encased In Concrete’ and ‘Killer Become’, I believe those are the only two other videos they did for us. This time the band’s not in it as you can see, part of the reason for that is COVID. Those guys are up in Pennsylvania and I’m over in Oregon and the other guys are in Tampa, so it just seemed like this would be a good time to do a video that the band wasn’t in, just for safety concerns, but also it is kind of a cool way, this is stuff better for Dave and Alison to answer, I guess but it gave them probably a little bit more room to focus on the narrative and taking Rob Barrett’s lyrics and bringing them to life in the video. stuck really. I think they spoke with Rob quite a bit about it, to make sure that they were going in the direction that Rob wanted and then they just went with it, it’s very closely based on the lyrics for music’Inhumane Harvest’ and it’s a strong song Rob wrote the lyrics for, and it’s about organised crime harvest, you know, harvesting organs and selling them on the black market. It’s a pretty graphically descriptive video and I think David and Alison did an awesome job with it.
E&D: Is that an avenue you’d explore again, the lyrics of Cannibal Corpse songs put to the visual medium, sort of like mini movies rather than your standard music videos?
Alex: Yeah, it definitely makes sense and I think that’s a good way to do it, especially if the band isn’t going to be in the video, you kind of want to focus that much more the lyrics. If we have another video somewhere down the road where we’re all jamming in it, then it’s a little bit less important. You can have things flashing back and forth, for example, if you look at our video for ‘Priests Of Sodom’, from the album Evisceration Plague it’s really very focused on just watching the band perform, so when you take the band visually out of a picture, it gives a chance for the director of the video to just go with it and turn those lyrics into three or four minute long miniature movies. Like I said, we’re really happy with what the directors did for this video, they did a great job with it. They managed to tell a story and having it make sense in three or four minutes is not so easy. I think they did make it pretty clear what was happening and it’s pretty interesting, it fits the music extremely well. We’ll be doing that more definitely because all the songs that we write, they are kind of like little horror stories, of course, they’re not going to be the same. It’s not the same as prose where you can write however many pages you need to get the story across, it’s different, you have to write these lyrics, still have some sort of a story and also make the lyrics fit the music rhythmically, they have to be musically good and fit in there well with how George is going to sing them and everything. In addition to having a story that’s pretty cool. You also want them to work musically, and it’s got to tell the story in a short amount of time, it’s actually kind of challenging and ditto for the videos I’d imagine but again, that’s a question that directors could answer better.
E&D: Your albums Kill, Vile and Butchered At Birth are fifteen, twenty five and thirty years old this year. Do you pay attention to milestones like that and have you got any plans to commemorate them at all?
Alex: Oh, you know, we keep track of it mostly when people remind us, because at this point, we’ve got so many albums and we’re mostly thinking about the new one. Violence Unimagined is album number fifteen and it’s the album that’s most on our minds right now, but doing interviews, people have been reminding me, “Hey, Butchered At Birth is thirty years old this year”, yeah, Vile is twenty five and Kill is fifteen, but it’s hard to keep track. We have so many albums, it’s hard to remember which ones are having anniversaries and things like that. We don’t have any plans and it’s possible we might do something for one of the albums in the future, but it’s I think we are like every other band in the world, we would just be happy to be able to get out there and do shows, you know, just a regular set would make us very happy right now, so haven’t even considered, say, doing the entire Vile album live or something like that. I think the record label is releasing some stuff for Butchered At Birth, they might be doing a special edition for the anniversary, that kind of thing but we personally, us guys in the band, we haven’t thought about any commemorative type stuff or doing any commemorative shows or anything like that, not yet.
E&D: How did, one of the last tours you did, The Decibel tour with Morbid Angel go a couple of years ago and what were the highlights of that tour? I was fortunate to catch the show in New York on that tour and it was incredible!
Alex: Oh, thanks. Man, it was a great tour and at the time we had to cut it a little bit shorter than we would have liked because we got offered the Decibel tour with Morbid Angel and we were very excited about that of course. The other bands were Blood Incantation and Necrot, so this killer line up and we’re like, all right, great. Then we get something that could be even more amazing than and that was getting offered to open for Slayer and the thing is with Slayer, part of the deal was like, “Hey, you can’t play the same cities in a row”, so we ended up not playing a bunch of the shows and Immolation took over for us after the New York show because a bunch of the shows were in conflict with the Slayer tour, which was coming just a couple months later. It was a great time touring with Morbid Angel but it was short, I think it wound up being less than fifteen shows or something that we did on the Decibel tour because it was already not that long of a tour. It was in the mid twenties as far as number of shows I think. We ended up, like I said, having to not play the last week or so of them in order to not interfere with the Slayer shows that we had coming up, but yeah, it was great and I think the guy who it was probably the most unusual for would be Erik because that was his first tour playing shows with us, plus he’s doing them on tour with a band he used to be in, so yeah, a very unusual situation for Erik I would imagine, but you’d have to speak with him about it to get his feelings on it. For sure it was just such a great opportunity though, because we’re all big fans of Morbid Angel and to be able to tour with them is great. I would love to do it again, so hopefully. I mean, that’s really only the second time we’ve toured with them. We had toured with them in Europe back in 1994 and that was like a shorter festival tour again, you know, maybe only like eight or nine shows I think, so we’ve only played with them probably under thirty times and we’d be happy to play with them more though. We enjoyed it, but it was shorter than we would’ve liked.
E&D: How was it playing with Slayer on their farewell tour and what are some of your favourite Slayer memories over the years?
Alex: Oh, well, like I said, it’s really a highlight of our career. One of the highlights is getting to actually tour with them on a tour like that. We had been on tour with them on the Mayhem Fest in the United States back in 2009 but we were on a different stage and it was a very big package tour with like fifteen bands I think, it’s not quite the same as being part of a smaller package, just four bands and we’re on the same stage. It was an incredible opportunity and an honour. We are such big fans of Slayer, all of us, so it was awesome. You can’t ask for anything better if you’re into music and you get to play your gig and then watch one of your favourite bands when you’re done, it’s as good as it gets. It was another one that was short but we would’ve been happy to do hundreds of shows with them, but I think it wound up being like nineteen shows that we did on that tour, but we’re just extremely grateful we even got to do that. It was awesome, great experience.
E&D: When it’s safe to do so, have you got any tentative plans at all for going back on the road?
Alex: It’s very much wait and see, we’re kind of eyeballing February of 2022 and keeping our fingers crossed for that but obviously, we’re like the rest of the world, we just don’t know, things are fairly uncertain. I think obviously it’s looking up with the development of these vaccines and everything. Hopefully everything will be back to normal sometime within a year or so we are all hoping, but of course nobody knows, but let’s see for 2022 what happens, hopefully we’ll be back over your way, sooner than later.
E&D: You’ve played played hundreds of shows with Cannibal Corpse, but what have been some of the shows that have stood out to you over the band’s history?
Alex: It’s hard to really pinpoint them and some of them stand out for ways that you might not expect. There’s some of my favourites that have been just these shows where it’s like in a really small club, like 400 people jammed into a place that holds 400 people. You know what I mean? There was no way to get anybody else in there and the atmosphere is just perfect.I can think of dozens of shows we’ve had that are like that because even though we’ve been lucky to play some really big shows, we’re really a club band, that’s what death metal is, we play smaller clubs. We play small to medium sized clubs and every now and then we get to play some of the big stuff too so those are probably the shows that are, it’s weird, they’re highlights and it can be like just some show where everything just really jelled, like some we did in Poland in, I think the summer of 2018. I think they were just really great. They were all small and really hot venues in the summertime and just great atmosphere. We’ve had a lot like that really. It’s just the ones where you get the great atmosphere that evening. As far landmark shows for us. There’s a handful of those too, like playing Wacken in 2007 and finally being able to play our proper set because for years we had been dealing with all sorts of censorship stuff and so we got to play and we were actually playing a pretty good slot. It was, I think, around midnight or something on Saturday, that’s a pretty good slot. It’s not really the prime slot, which is about 10 o’clock, but still it was great. Just to be able to have gotten past some of our censorship difficulties there and be able to play a proper show for our fans in Germany was at the biggest festival that they do. It was really memorable. It was great. Of course, now those problems with censorship have come back, but for a good thirteen years or so, from that point on, we were able to play whatever we wanted in Germany so that’s one that stands out too for sure, being kind of getting past the worst of our censorship problems in Germany and doing it at such a big show.
E&D: Have you had any thoughts to do a follow up to the Centuries Of Torment visual release, but focussing on the last decade plus of Cannibal Corpse?
Alex: It’s funny because when we made Centuries Of Torment, the little subtitle or whatever, was Centuries Of Torment- the first 20 years and it was a little bit of a humorous kind of thing where it’s like, well we’re not going to be alive for centuries, but we had been around for 20 years. We could actually make Centuries Of Torment part two, the second 20 years, pretty soon. We’re not far from our 40th anniversary, it’s coming up in a few years, so maybe we would do it then I think and have it be the second 20 years. We’ll have to see, we’re not really the kind of guys that sit around filming things. We’re just doing our own thing and we don’t document stuff probably as much as we should. A lot of it would have to be interviews and reminiscing, We’re lucky that in the beginning, Jack Owen, one of our original guitar players, he was filming a lot and when we went into the studio the first couple of times and things like that, and that was really useful for Denise when she made Centuries Of Torment, to have some old behind the scenes footage. We have some stuff like that now, but not nearly as much as we should. I guess we should probably just start filming more things in preparation for a possible 40th anniversary, continuation of the history kind of thing.
E&D: Thank you very much for the interview Alex, thats been brilliant and hopefully we’ll see you over here playing the new album live next year.
Alex: My pleasure. Thanks so much and yeah, I hope so too, we’ll be there as soon as soon as we can. I can say that for sure.