CANNIBAL CORPSE – Mr. Hammer Smashed Bass ALEX WEBSTER

April 8th, 2009
by Hanntu

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Interview conducted and transcribed by HannTu

Alex Webster is one of the most well-known and respected musicians in the metal genre, and despite being the founding member and principal songwriter of one of the most influential and popular bands in death metal, he’s supremely down to earth and friendly. We had a great long chat about Cannibal Corpse’s new album EVISCERATION PLAGUE (already shaping up to be one of the better death metal releases of 2009) and about his personal approach to his music and his passion, Cannibal Corpse.

EVISCERATION PLAGUE

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It’s a great honour to meet you and talk to you, and I love the new album.



Thanks very much.

What did you set out to achieve in your 11th album?



Umm, you know, it’s really…I’ve probably said this in a bunch of interviews so I hope I don’t sound like I’m repeating myself or giving the same answers, but every album we just try and make it the best death metal record we can. When I say the best I mean the heaviest, the most memorable songs, the best playing, the tightest performance. You know, everything better than what we’ve ever done before, that’s what we try to do.

So how do you think you’ve progressed, musically, from KILL?



Umm, from KILL I would say…once you get to a point, like I was actually talking about this a little bit before in a different interview, but the biggest progressions probably happened on the first couple of albums, cos we were learning, learning a lot and fast…

Well you were one of the pioneers in the brutal death metal scene…

Yeah and when you’re starting out, you’re just kinda figuring out what you’re doing, as a musician and a songwriter and as a recording musician, you’re just learning. By the time we got to, say, VILE or GALLERY OF SUICIDE, we were pretty seasoned veterans at that point in the studio and as songwriters and as touring musicians, the whole thing.

So we progressed a little bit more gradually from there; the leaps, it wasn’t like one big leap after the other like it was on the first few albums, and I would say, if there’s any progression from KILL to EVISCERATION PLAGUE, it’s not necessarily a huge one, but there are probably a few differences, like maybe…some slightly…I mean, we tried out a few…I mean, this is kinda boring musical stuff, but just we tried out a few different scales, some different drum patterns and things like that. Nothing that’s going to make people think it doesn’t sound like Cannibal Corpse, but just a few things to make it interesting while still staying well within our self-imposed boundaries.

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Well that’s the thing with the reviews I’ve read. It’s more a sense of ‘Yep, that’s Cannibal Corpse’. We know it is, it’s what we love, it’s what we love about the band, it’s your sound.

We’re comfortable with that, as long as…you know, for us, we don’t want it to be just another album, we want it to be the best one. We TRY to do that, I’m not gonna say we succeed every time cos that would be hard, but we absolutely try. We go into the studio thinking ‘okay, this is the best material we’ve ever written and we’re gonna make it the best sounding record’ and so on. We really are trying to make it the best one, using whatever means we can.

And was there a shift in the songwriters, as in you still write the majority of the tracks…



It’s about the same as it was last time actually, Rob (Barrett) did one song, Paul (Mazurkiewicz) did one, Paul does lyrics for his song and Pat’s songs. Pat (O’Brien) did two songs, Pat actually wrote a little bit less this time, and you’d have to ask him why. I mean, everybody’s open to write as much as they want, it’s just, for me, I guess it’s that I don’t currently have any other hobbies besides playing bass! The other guys like Pat likes to go shooting, Rob goes and does whatever y’know, like everybody does things where I just go home and start working on songs. So where one guy might have been out at the bar or going to see a show or going to the shooting range or doing something else, I was home practising the whole time, writing music, so I end up coming up with like, yeah I came up with seven and a half songs for this record where the other guys came up with less. And it wasn’t because I wasn’t letting them write stuff, that’s just what I like to do, I love to write music, it’s a lot of fun.

And it seems you guys have got the whole process down…

Yeah, we’ve got a pretty good system going…

It’s so focused and coherent.



Oh thanks, we definitely have learned over the years like I was saying, you learn a little bit every time you’re in the studio, how to make things better, and you try and learn as a songwriter too, ‘Okay this song could’ve been a little more exciting if I had done this.’ You think about some of your old songs when you listen to them and it’s like ‘That’s cool but maybe it would have been better if I had put a fast part in this particular spot’, you know, just for example, those kinds of things that you learn, so hopefully we’re getting better at what we do, I guess that’s what I’m saying. We’re making a full effort to get better and I think we have. I think you can hear an increase in…I don’t wanna say the ‘polish’, but the tightness…

I was about to say, and going back to what I said about focus, the songs are noticeably a bit shorter and it’s more brutal, in-your-face, pounding, it’s two and a half minutes of…



Yeah definitely a song like ‘Scalding Hail’ or ‘Beheading and Burning’, those ones are pretty fast, just blazers, they go from start to finish pretty much fast, and ones that have some real pounding parts in them, so hopefully there’s a good variety from song to song, but we try not to have any of them be too long, because I found that a fast song…if you’re gonna have a song be full power from start to finish, it’s better to keep that song a little bit shorter, and then if you’re gonna have some peaks and valleys, maybe some slower parts, then it’s okay to have it stretch a little bit longer. But when a song’s just pure speed like ‘Scalding Hail’ it’s better to keep it around two minutes.

No unnecessary breakdowns or things like that…

Yeah I like those, probably one of my favourite songs on the record is ‘Scalding Hail’, we’re not playing it live tonight but we’ll be playing it live on our headlining tours later in the year, and it’s gonna be fun! I can tell, it’s just gonna be like a fun song to play cos it’s just full power the whole song.

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Well, which do you think will be live favourites?

From the record? Well, we’ve been playing ‘Priests of Sodom’ and ‘Evisceration Plague’ and those have been going down well. I mean ‘Evisceration Plague’ is obviously a different kind of song for us, because we don’t normally do a song where it’s mostly just slow to midtempo the whole time, and we thought we’d mix it up, we thought it was heavy enough that we could get away with doing something a little different on that song. That one goes over really well, but then I’m sure there’s kids in the audience that are like ‘okay, this is killer but I can’t wait for the next fast one!’

So I suspect that the ones that will go over best live will be the ones that have a bit of variety, like ‘Priests of Sodom’ or ‘To Decompose’ should end up being a good live song, or Rob’s song ‘Shatter Their Bones’, we’re probably gonna play that one live. Like I said, ‘Scalding Hail’ just for me personally would be my favourite one to play, no matter how the audience reacts I’m gonna have fun playing it.

Cool. Well you were talking about polish then, I want to ask you about Erik (Rutan, Hate Eternal) and his production job. He’s famous as a great producer but listening to FURY AND FLAMES, his own Hate Eternal, which you played on, and this album, he’s mastered the various techniques for producing death metal. What was it like working with him?

Well you know it’s great, he’s been a really good friend of mine for a long time actually, probably since the early 90s, and so the personal relationship between him and the rest of the guys in Cannibal Corpse has been great for a long time, and the professional relationship has come along really well too, we first worked with him on KILL and that was great, and so we decided to work with him again.

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It’s the exact same band lineup, the five of us, me, Rob, Pat, George (‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher) and Paul, and same people working with us in the studio at the same studio, so you know, that shows that we were happy with KILL and we were happy with the job Erik did, and working with him again, it kind of felt like we already knew how to get to KILL’s level and the job was to try and get a little bit past that, as far as heaviness and tightness goes.

And Erik’s good for that kind of thing, cos he’s a great death metal producer, but also a great death metal guitarist, so he knows death metal inside and out. For example the guitar sound, I’m so happy with the guitar sound we got on EVISCERATION PLAGUE…

Well everything, I mean the vocals, you can hear what George is saying, the guitars have bite, and the drums sound really good, really organic.

Erik’s definitely got a good grasp of how to make something sound really tight and focused, without it sounding over-produced and over-polished. As much as it’s an album where we made sure we went through it again and again and again to make sure everything was damn near perfect as far as the performances go, it still has a live feeling to it somehow, because just the sounds that he gets, it doesn’t have that overproduced sound, even though we definitely spent plenty of time making sure everything was just right. We also wanted to make sure that everything sounded, y’know, we wanted to sound like a band jamming as opposed to a collection of instruments put together.

This might be a silly question, I’ve never been in a studio before but did you guys record separately or as a band?

It’s almost always recorded separately and the job is to try and have it sound like a cohesive unit by the time you’re done, and usually it will, everyone’s playing at the same time at the end of the day, but yeah we usually…on this album we did it a little differently actually. We recorded a scratch guitar track and then had Paul play along to it, cos it was recorded along to a metronome, that way it would keep the beat straight and everything.

So Rob and Pat recorded scratch guitars, and Paul played along with those, then after that we recorded the rhythm guitars with Rob and Pat, and then the bass, and then the vocals then guitar solos. Guitar solos and vocals were done at roughly the same time, it’s kinda been like that for the past few albums. A lot of the time we do jam together for the scratch tracks, this is the first time that we actually had a guitar scratch track recorded before Paul even jammed the songs in the studio. And of course we practise the songs together for eight months before we even go in, like we were working from January until August, I guess that’s seven or eight months there, on the songs, so we’re well prepared as a band before we go into the studio for Cannibal, Cannibal’s a full-on, full-time band…

*At this point my recorder decides to shut itself off and we lost about a minute and a bit of conversation*

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Sorry about that. Shit, I’ve lost my train of thought.

Oh that’s okay then. What we were talking about, yeah I just said, it’s been a good positive reaction worldwide and we’re very satisfied.

You’ve been with Metal Blade ever since the start of your career, and they’ve definitely supported you in everything you’ve done. You’ve never had the inclination to change?

No, I mean of course there’s going to be occasional disagreements about things or whatever, that’s natural in business but our personal relationship with them has always been really good…It’s got a very good family feeling to it at this point. I mean, I’m not saying we would never look at another label, because you have to look out for yourself of course, and if there’s some label out there that was going to give some really unbelievable deal, we would at least think about it. But I’ll tell you, I don’t want to change. I would definitely love to stay with Metal Blade for good. With this band, it would feel weird to be with anybody else, with any other label. I can’t explain it, but really, we’re part of Metal Blade in a way, almost as a family thing.

It’s really rare to have a band with 11 albums on the same label.

Yeah I think it’s pretty close to a record, I know they’ve done a whole bunch of records for Fates Warning too. Metal Blade’s got a few really loyal bands…

Well Amon Amarth have been with them since the beginning…

Yep, Black Dahlia Murder, they’ve been around a bit, not nearly as long as us but still they’ve been with Metal Blade every time for every album.

Your artwork has sort of been toned down ever since KILL, you’re definitely not going back to the gore?

Well, we could, and there’s some gory stuff on the interior, I don’t know if you saw the interior?

No, we just get promos…

Oh okay, well you see, obviously we’ve had a problem with censorship throughout our career and with the record business being the way it is these days, unfortunately you have to consider that when you’re dealing with a record company, they would like to be able to sell the album as opposed to making a bunch and then having them sit in the boxes in warehouses where no one can buy them. If we make an album cover that record companies in America won’t stock, that’s a problem. Now, we’re thinking we don’t want to censor anything, we want as much gore as we feel that we need to have for our records.

So we talked to the label, and they said, well you know if you put something really gory on the interior, they probably won’t notice. So that works out better, because what we’ve done in the past is make a gory version, which was extremely hard to find, and a censored version which was easy to find but not very many people wanted, because it had a not as cool cover and lyrics. So this way, we’ve actually got a really cool darker kind of evil-looking cover that we all like a lot, and then on the interior, there’s this really gory piece of a zombie pulling himself apart and some other people ripping their stomachs out and stuff, it’s really cool. We get two pieces of art, all the lyrics, it’s all in one package and no censorship problems at all, so we kind of, as the saying goes, we’re kind of having our cake and eating it too. It’s a way to beat the censors and the fans get two pieces of art, everybody gets the lyrics and everybody wins. I think it’s a decent solution to that sort of problem.

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And besides, we like the creepy darker kind of covers that are a little more subtle anyhow. I mean, one of my favourite covers is the censored version of GALLERY OF SUICIDE, I think it looks better than the uncensored. The uncensored is great, it’s really bloody, but the censored version is really dark and ominous, and I love gore, but I also like dark ominous stuff that creates a good atmosphere. Those are the kinds of covers that I lean towards a little bit, although no doubt in my mind that our best album cover ever was BUTCHERED AT BIRTH, that’s the all-time champ…

I think TOMB OF THE MUTILATED…

That’s a great one too, that’s in the top five as well.

TOURING


Some fans are surprised that you’re opening for Bodom, when most people would say you’re probably the senior band.

Well definitely in years we’re the senior band, I think they’re all about ten years younger than us, give or take a few years. Well, the bottom line is when you’re doing a tour, the band that is more popular is the headliner and if Children of Bodom sell twice as many records as we do, and generally pull twice as many people to their concerts as we do, it wouldn’t make sense for us to headline, and that’s…that’s just how it is. I mean, it doesn’t matter how long the band’s been around, when to a booking agent and to promoters, what matters to them is which band is bigger. We’re completely happy to be on this tour, and we’re flattered that Bodom would ask us. I mean, they’re a great band, obviously what they’re doing is a bit different from what we do, but they’re super talented musicians and great guys and we’re happy to be out here with them. It’s been a great tour so far, we’re being treated very well. We get soundchecks for basically like an hour to two hours a day! We get as much soundcheck as we like, which is uncommon when you’re opening.

Well you need it don’t you?

We don’t really need it that much actually.

Don’t you need everything to be like perfect?

Well you need it to be right, but there’s a lot of times, when you’re an opening band, you don’t always get a soundcheck. Sometimes you just go up there and throw-and-go! You get your stuff onstage, set it up, do a brief line check and then you’re playing. They’ve been really accommodating to us, so band and crew have made us very comfortable and we’re having a great tour, and it’s been really an excellent combination I think, because you got a couple of bands that definitely do have a certain amount of crossover between their fans, but then there’s a lot of fans that wouldn’t go see them that will go see us, and vice versa, and this way it makes for big crowds and both bands are getting to introduce their music to different people that might not normally have gone to see them, and that way it’s really good. We like to do a variety tour and then like a full-on death metal tour that’s catering more to our genre, that way, on this tour we might pick up a few more fans and then on the next tour, if those fans come see us again, it’s obviously good for us and it’s also good for the death metal bands opening for us, whoever happens to be opening.

Your North American tour, you’re taking…

It’s Faceless, Neuraxis and Obscura. That should be a great tour, just a great one! Like I said, we love this tour and I love touring with Diablo and Children of Bodom, it’s awesome to tour with them and it’ll be great…any band where it’s cool guys and they’re making quality music, whatever type of metal it might be, we’re actually quite comfortable doing tours like that. But there’s nothing quite like doing a full-on death metal tour. That’s probably our favourite.

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Well then you’ve got the tour with Marilyn Manson, how’s that gonna work out?



Oh that’s gonna be crazy yeah…

It’s going to bring a whole new type of fan…

Yeah it’s going to be really interesting to see how those shows go, cos it covers so many different areas of metal. You got Marilyn Manson, Slayer, us, Job For A Cowboy, the Black Dahlia Murder, Trivium, God Forbid, Killswitch Engage, Behemoth is on there as well, so that’s a lot of different stuff and it should be awesome. I can’t see this being a tour that could be beat, I think it’s an unbeatable tour for metal in the United States.

It’s what Ozzfest should have been.



It will be the tour of the year. There’s no doubt in my mind this will be the biggest metal tour of 2009 in the United States.

Touring in the US is a bit different from touring in Europe. You tend to get more festival tours like Ozzfest, travelling festivals.

Yeah that works out better, because in Europe you can have big festivals here and there like Wacken and Graspop and With Full Force and those kinds of festivals, Download here in the UK, where you don’t have that sort of thing in the States, instead you have the festival tours. Like a couple of years ago we did a great festival tour called Sound of the Underground and that was a good experience as well, touring with a few different types of bands, As I Lay Dying, In Flames, Trivium were on that, Behemoth as well, Black Dahlia Murder, so that was a great package. But then we’ve, umm, well, we’ve been off for a few years doing other tours and then writing, and now we’re back to do this one and this one will be even bigger I think, Marilyn Manson and Slayer, that’s a huge tour in its own right, so for all these other bands to be on it, it’s a guaranteed winner and we’re very excited about it.

Are you planning a world tour, cos my Australian mates and my Malaysian mates assure you of fanatic support down there.

Yeahhhh! We’re working on it, I don’t wanna say too much, but it’s definitely being worked on. I don’t know about Malaysia, that might be harder to arrange but Australia for sure will happen before the end of 2009, that’s 99% at this point that we will be down there later in the year. So yeah, we’re psyched about it, it’ll only be the third time we’ve ever been there and that’s not enough, so we need to get there more regularly.

Yeah we don’t get much shows of calibre, I’m from Malaysia, and I think Grave went down there recently and Malevolent Creation are going down, that’s about it.

Oh cool, well, I hope we can go, you know. It’s been clear to us for many years that Malaysia has a great death metal, black metal and extreme metal scene in general, because we’ve gotten CDs and cassettes from people from Malaysia for years. There’s some band, Abhorrent or Abhorrence [Abhorer, from Singapore, close enough!] from wayyyy back, and I have their CD from a long time ago and I’m pretty sure they’re from Malaysia…or somewhere in South East Asia. So we know that there’s been a scene there for a long time so we’d love to go there and play, it’s just a matter of making it work.

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BASS PLAYING and SIDE PROJECTS


Cool, let’s get on to you as a musician. You played on FURY AND FLAMES, are you a full-fledged member of Hate Eternal?

No, not at all, it was just only on the album, I’ve never even done a live show with them. But I did play on the first demo, so I guess I’ve popped in on a couple of sessions, just cos me and Erik are really close friends, and then he needed a bass player, I was in town and I love their music so it was an honour for me to participate and I was happy to come down and work out some bass parts and record for them.

Cool. You’ve got a side project, Blotted Science, what’s the status of that?

It’s currently just a studio project. I mean we’re really hoping somewhere down the road to do concerts, but at this point we’re just going to concentrate on making studio albums…

Cos you’ve just got the one in…



2007 that we released it. Yeah, we’d been working on it for a couple of years. Because we do everything by ourselves, it’s totally a Do-It-Yourself kind of band where Ron (Jarzombek) is doing all the production, I record the bass tracks in Tampa, Charlie (Zeleny) records his drum tracks in New York, we send them to Ron, and Ron puts it all together down in San Antonio, in addition to playing all the guitar parts. Me and Ron worked a bit on the writing together as well, although Ron definitely leads the way, he wrote at least 80% of the material if not more. But yeah, I really love being a part of that, it’s one of the musical highlights of my career as a musician really, it’s been very exciting. Ron and Charlie are just amazing musicians, and I’m just happy to be able to jam with them.

It allows you to express yourself.

Yeah! It’s just the perfect thing, it’s exactly what I wanted to do as a side project. Obviously I didn’t have the exact thing in mind but I was thinking it would be great to do an instrumental project that’s still pretty heavy but also a bit different. And then Ron approached me, I’d been thinking about it for a few years like ‘wow it’d be cool to do something like that’, and then he got in touch, and I’m like well, he’s the master of this kind of stuff. I love Watchtower, Spastic Ink and Ron’s solo albums. If you’re into progressive and technical metal, Ron is one of the most important figures in the scene…

Well if you’re a guitarist for Marty Friedman, it does say a lot.

Yes indeed, indeed it does. So it was a great opportunity, I’m so happy I was a part of it, and I will keep jamming with Ron as long as he wants me to.

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Cool. Do you have any other side projects, cos I’ve heard you’re involved in a jazz trio…



Ummm well, I jam with a couple of friends of mine but it’s not live or anything, we just got together, Jerry and Roy’s down in Florida and then we just get together and jam, we haven’t recorded anything other than, y’know, just recording something with one mike for fun, just improvising. But nothing for live performance, the only band I’ve performed with live besides Cannibal, it was Alas, Erik Rutan’s other band, his melodic metal band that he made an album with a few years back. I played on a couple of demos for that as well, and we did a couple of shows back in 1997…

Okay, I haven’t heard of…

Yeah it was a long…it’s twelve years ago now that we did those shows – but those were the only other two live shows I’ve done since I’ve joined Cannibal Corpse in 1988. Before that I did a bunch of shows with Beyond Death. So I’ve only played live in like three or actually four bands, if you count a band I played with in my high school talent show, doing some Bob Seger songs and shit like that, just for fun with some friends… *laughs*

Well you gotta start somewhere…

Yeah, it was just really a matter of some friends wanting me to play, so I played.

That’s brilliant. What’s your practice routine on the road?

On the road you don’t get to do as much, because you’re more concerned with doing interviews and getting your food and finding a shower and that sort of thing. But I do try and play a couple of minutes at least before we go on, that’s a good thing to do if you possibly can, like at least get the bass on for five minutes. Preferably I’d like to be sitting around for 25 minutes to a half hour, and then if we have a good backstage situation and not a lot of interviews, I’ll set my computer up and plug into…I have a Mac and it’s got Garage Band and you can just plug your guitar right in with an eighth inch to quarter inch adapter. So I’ll just plug into that and listen with headphones and play along, I’ve got some drum patterns I programmed in to play along with and some chord progressions, and I’ll just jam with that stuff, just keep my fingers moving to beat the boredom.

Have you ever thought about doing instructional videos, cos you’re one of the most respected bassists in metal.

Yeah, you know, and hopefully I actually deserve that cos I know there’s so many good players out there too, Erlend Caspersen, Jeff Hughell, a bunch of great bass players on the death metal scene, so I’m flattered by all the positive praise I’ve been getting over the past few years.

But I would like to do that, some kind of instructional video, not because I necessarily think I’m better than someone else, or the best or some crap like that, because I don’t, I know I’m not the best…at anything, but you know, as far as…I do have my own style, I do have my own approach to how I play, the way my fingers hit the strings and so on and so forth. Like there’s certain little things that I could show that might be useful for people who want to play extreme metal and are looking for solutions on what to do with all these difficult guitar parts. Like as a bass player, if you wanna play with your fingers in a death metal band you’ve gotta start thinking, how am I gonna approach this, am I gonna try play every picked note, am I gonna play the root, or am I gonna make a walking line. Now there’s all these different options, and over the years I’ve addressed a lot of these options, and if I compiled all those different ways that I’ve approached writing bass lines for a death metal band and put it on to a video, I think it could be pretty useful…

I think it would.

So I’ve thought of either doing it as a book or as a video, or maybe both, whichever I can figure out a publisher for…

And it would give more prominence to the bass as a death metal instrument, because it’s always been the drums driving it…

It definitely has, but in recent years, maybe the past ten years or so, the bass has been coming up a little more. You got like Patrick (Boleij) from Severe Torture and Jeff (Hughell) from Brain Drill, Erlend Caspersen who played on the new Deeds of Flesh album and he’s also in Blood Red Throne from Norway. There’s some good bass players out there making their presence felt, Mike (Flores) from Origin, really killer player. I’m leaving some of my good friends out I’m sure, but there’s a bunch of good bass players out there and I’m happy to see all of these guys making the bass more of an equal instrument in the band, rather than being a backing instrument. I think that’s fine, I don’t think it should be the most prominent instrument but it should be at least equal, that’s all, that’s not too much to ask.

No it’s not, I mean from the days of Sadus…

Yeah!! Sadus was one of the original bands where they put the bass IN there, prominent…

Well up front, yeah, and even some of the Death albums as well.



Yeah, definitely the first Sadus album was a massive influence on me, Steve DiGiorgio, especially in my early years was probably my biggest influence for the early years of Cannibal, the way he played chords and fast three-finger attack, that kind of stuff was a big inspiration to me. Yeah, Sadus’ ILLUSIONS album and Autopsy’s SEVERED SURVIVAL album, I listened to those a lot and I really worshipped the bass playing on those records.

Brilliant, I think that’s all the questions I have, thanks so much.

Cool, well thank you very much for the interview!

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*After the recorder was stopped, we continued chatting for another five or six minutes, where he told me more about the planned forthcoming tours around the world. I also gave him a copy of a demo that my friends in Malaysia back home had just put out, Blood Legion’s EXSANGUINATION, that you can see him holding in the picture. He promised to listen to it, telling me an anecdote of when Cannibal Corpse were just starting out, they gave their CD to Dark Angel who then asked them to open for them, their very first gig! Alex is simply one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, he’s genuine and sincere, incredibly humble and passionate about his music and his art, personable and one of the best interviewees I’ve ever had. I do hope our paths cross again in the future.*


Thanks to Andy Turner at Metal Blade for setting up this interview!

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