Being one of the hardest working death metal bands throughout the years, Cannibal Corpse recently released their 13th album A SKELETAL DOMAIN. The long time death metal veterans visited Finland and played a couple of shows in front of crazy audiences. Before Cannibal Corpse hit the stage, Metal-Rules.com had the great opportunity to talk to the band’s bassist Alex Webster.
Interview and pics by Arto Lehtinen
Thank you. We are very happy to be here.
I tried to count how many times you have been to Finland, but I lost count. But do you remember when you played here in Finland for the first time?
Yeah. It would have been with Dark Funeral in 1998 – Dark Funeral and Infernal Majesty.
Godamn – You remember it.
I remember well, because it was our first time here. So, we were very excited and had a great show. That was awesome, a lot of people were In corpsepaints that night too. Of course Black Metal is still popular but at the time it was super popular, so a lot of people were wearing the painting.
Did you notice there were hardcore kids in other side and death/black metal guys on the other side, when hardcore kids got into the pit, death metal guys tried to kick them away ?
I didn’t see that actually, I didn’t notice those details, but there was a lot of people in general. There was probably 500 people or something in that show.
If I remember right, after the tour Infernal Majesty never ever made it to Europe again?
Maybe not. I don’t know, maybe not.
I got a T-Shirt from Kenny Hallman after the show. I still have it and have never worn it. It’s still in my closet.
It is a good collector’s item, because they don’t tour so much. They are still doing stuff though, we are very good friends with all those guys to this day. I remember that show.
CANCELLATIONS IN RUSSIA
You came from Russia to Finland?
What happened in Russia, because I read that your gig in Moscow got canceled in the very last minute?
Yeah. That one, we had some problems. We were actually going to be releasing a statement today. That talks a little bit about it. It’s tough for us, we can’t explain in detail because we don’t actually know all the details. We only know what people was telling us was happening. We don’t really know how things work over there, but we had all the proper visas. We were told at the beginning of the festival or the beginning of the tour that we had all the proper visas and paper work and everything. We were hoping the tour would go smoothly, but three of the shows got canceled.
Yeah. We were supposed to do eight shows. One in Ufa got canceled, they turned off the power and they said the venue hadn’t paid the rent for the power. So, they turned off the power. We played a couple of more shows and those were great. The shows we got to play were amazing. They had such killer fans, really high energy and a lot of these places we had never played before. So people seem very excited to see us and we had a great time. But they were clearly individuals that probably didn’t want us to play there, we had heard about these things. But anyway the official reason are like – Or not like the official reasons, we don’t really know. Like I said; the details are sketchy, but we only know what we were told, the first one they set the powers off. So, you can’t play and then the next one that got where we had problems the police actually came to the show in Nizhny Novgorod, which is a city just a little bit East of Moscow. The police came in the middle of the set, we had already played nine songs. We were playing our tenth song and they stopped the show right in the middle of that, and they said that they had to look for drugs or something in the venue. They stopped the show and we went to Moscow, we thought we were going to play in Moscow and then right at the last minute they told us that apparently they had found out that we don’t have the right kind of visa to perform, which we had been told before the tour that we did have the right kind of visa. Anyway, they wouldn’t let us perform in Moscow and then the same thing for St. Petersburg, wrong visa – We were said we can’t play. They said if we did try playing that they would take us off stage and hold on to us and then deport us the next day.
Were you aware of those risks of playing in Russia, as Behemoth also had problems in Russia as well as Marilyn Manson had problems there ?
We had heard about these things, but we were sure that everything was in order for our tour. We did the best we could. We realized that it was potential for problems. We are very sorry that all that happened, it was beyond our control. We did everything we could. We were ready to play all those shows and we were prepared. We were as well prepared as we could possibly be with paperwork and all those things, we did everything we could. We were at every show; we sound checked for every show. We were ready to play all of those shows and we were not able to for reasons beyond our control.
THE 13th MASTERPIECE OF BRUTAL DEATH METAL
The new album A SKELETAL DOMAIN being the 13th album in a row. Your albums are coming nearly every second year. That made me wonder if you are writing the stuff on tour or are you just creative persons?
It’s not just me that’s writing, that’s the good thing. It’s me it’s Rob, its Pat, it’s Paul, the four of us. George doesn’t write anything but the other four of us are pretty busy writing enough. But we do it when we are home most of the time. I don’t really think the other guys do any writing on tour. Like for example, I think the last tour ended in July 2013. For the tour for Torture, I think the last show we did was Guadalajara, Mexico. If I’m not mistaken. That was the last show and then after that we took about a month or so just to rest and then we started writing. So we were writing until about January. So, that’s a good six months of doing nothing but writing. You can write an album in that time, especially when you have four people doing it. That’s what we did and then the recording began in February and we were finished by I think the end of April. So here we are.
Do you have some kind of schedule to get an album out in a certain time?
We force ourselves to have a schedule. It’s important I think to give yourself a deadline, so that you will do the work. You kind of have I think a deadline helps to inspire you to work. We will book the studio time even before we have songs written and then we have like we got to start writing, make sure that everything is ready to go by that time. We still had to actually move the studio time back a little bit, because we were a little behind schedule on certain things with the writing. So, we were originally going to record at the beginning of February and it wound up being pushed to the middle of February.
How do you start writing songs, do you basically gather together in a rehearsal room, checking out a riff or do you create the stuff on your own at home, then exchanging files through Internet?
For me I work at home on the writing most of the time, almost all the time now. It wasn’t like that in the beginning. In the beginning, we did a lot more writing at the practice room. But it’s just a little bit easier to write at home and focus a little more when you have that time to relax, try different parts again and again to find the best sounding parts. Mostly our writing at home. I think Rob and Pat, they probably come up with the riffs at home, but then they work with Paul on the drum parts for their songs together. For me I actually like to write a lot of the drum parts at home too, I’ll let Paul change if he wants to play something different. But the general idea I’ve already written. We each write just a little bit differently, I’d say at the beginning of the songs are all started at home and then we might finish off some small details together to practice them.
THE TRADEMARK SOUNDS
It has been said that Cannibal Corpse uses the same formula, repeating same thing. But in my opinion you have got a trademark in your sound when you hear Cannibal Corpse you can recognize the band, the sound immediately from the first album up till now.
I’ve heard those kinds of criticism too and I’d be interested for them to explain to me what this formula is, it’s very easy for them to say that word but then; okay, if we are following a formula please explain this formula to me. What do they mean? Do they mean… 9.00 I don’t understand what they mean the formula actually by us following a formula. Do they mean all the songs sounds the same? If that’s what they think then I don’t think they’ve listened very closely. Do they mean that we always use the same type of song arrangements? Or that we have the same length of song? I’m interested to, I think they need to be more clear with the criticism. Say exactly why you don’t like it. Maybe it would be easy enough for them to just say, “I don’t like it.” There are probably 5,000 other bands they could listen to, so if they really don’t like it; if you are going to criticize, it’s being very clear with your criticism or just don’t listen. I think there is so many other bands to listen to if you don’t like us.
As for this trademark thing, every band has its trademark. You can easily recognize a band when you listen f:ex to Obituary, you know this is Obituary, Cannibal Corpse you immediately recognize it, when listening to Morbid Angel you know this is Morbid Angel. I guess the trademark in your songs is completely important for you to…
Yeah. I think it’s something natural that happens, it’s not easy for us to even figure out what our sounds is. How do we sound? What makes us sound like Cannibal Corpse? I don’t know. I think a lot of it could be the people in the band and how we play, like George’s voice is part of the sound. The way Pat and Rob play guitar, the way I play bass, the way Paul plays drums. I think that in addition to the songwriting style is the trademarks. I think if these songs were played by different musicians and sang by a different musician, they wouldn’t sound like Cannibal Corpse. The personality of the musicians has as much to do with it as the songwriting style.
You have really good chemistry in the band when writing and doing the new stuff?
I think so, yeah. Like I said I mostly write by myself these days, but everybody seems to like it and like they come up… For example; Pat can come up with really great lead guitar parts and things like that for the songs I write. Paul and Pat and Rob work really well together when they are writing their songs. Yeah. I think we have a pretty good relationship as song writers at this point, we know how to get the most out of each other and we know what the strengths and weaknesses of each guy in the band are and how to write things that bring out the strengths and kind of hide the weaknesses. Because nobody is perfect. So, you want to play the things you are really good at.
WORKING WITH MARK LEWIS
Audiohammer – that’s the place where you recorded the new album with Mark Lewis behind the desk?
Was it kind of challenging for you to start writing, working with a new guy that you had not worked with before; whereas Eric was familiar with Cannibal Corpse?
Yeah. We liked some of the albums that Mark had recorded. In fact he had done some really good sounding stuff. We figured he’d be a good fit, because in additional to working with newer bands like White Chapel and Black Dahlia Murder. He had also worked with some old school bands like Deicide and Six Feet Under.
Yeah. I think Death Angel; they were at Audiohammer, but not with Mark. They were with Jason Suecoff I think, but really Jason and Mark both had a fairly similar style of working from what I understand. Anyway it’s still Audiohammer. We knew it would sound good because they made a lot of really good sounding albums there. As far as working with him goes, that’s of course the question mark : “Is it going to be easy to work with him or hard?”. It turns out it was very easy to work with Mark, he’s a really great guy, very easy to work with. I can see us a developing similar relationship with him like the one we had with Eric Rutan. After a couple of albums that a person starts to feel almost like they are in the band. It was difficult for us to not work with Eric gain, because we are still very good friends with him and we love the productions he did for us. We really just wanted to make a change. Before A SKELETAL DOMAIN, the last time we worked with the different producer, it was with Neil Kernon in 2003 for The Wretched Spawn. We just wanted to try something different, when you are doing. When your career is really long like ours, it’s good to make changes sometimes.
It’s kind of refreshing the sound as well as musical ideas ?
I think so, I mean the ideas… All the songs are written before we go there, Mark does help with some creative ideas regarding maybe how a solo might sound or some harmonies, things like that. We ask him questions : “Which way would sound better? This harmony or that harmony?” – Things like that. But the big difference with him is the way – The kinds of sound he’s going to choose I guess, Eric has one idea about what sounds super heavy and Mark has another idea. They both make super heavy sounding albums, but it’s a little bit of a different way.
You had a really long partnership with Neil Kernon and Eric Rutan. Does that mean you are going to continue working with Mark Lewis in the future?
I believe so, yeah. I think we are all pretty happy and we want to try another album with Mark before we change producers again. At least one more I think.
LYRICS – SOURCE OF INSPIRATION
As far as the lyrics are concerned, I have understood that you watch the news quite much ?
I remember reading a piece of news from Florida that some crackpot, totally messed up, had attacked some person on the highway and started eating his face…
Yeah I think that happened in a pretty desolate area like somewhere there was not anybody around to help this guy. I think he was a homeless man. The guy who was attacked, it was two homeless guys or something like that. I don’t remember the exact details, but there is bad things happing everywhere. Florida certain has a large amount of strange crimes unfortunately, but there are of course crimes; weird crimes happening all over the world.
Do these kinds of things inspire you to write from reality ?
Maybe a little, we really try to just pull the ideas out of the air. But of course when you think, you are pulling an idea out of the air really you’ve been influenced by the things you’ve seen. Like the movies we watch, the news, books that we’ve read. All those things are actually influencing us even if we are trying to come up with our own ideas. Our own ideas, the things we have in our head are from our environment. We didn’t directly write a song about that incident, but it’s certainly disgusting enough thing to write about, it’s a disturbing and horrible crime and it would be an interesting subject for death metal songs.
How much do you have to use your own imagination – a more like morbid sense of humor?
Maybe not like a sense of humour, for the lyrics I’m writing, I don’t want any humour in them. But maybe the other guys add a little bit of black humour here and there. Like the lyrics I did for this album, I did four. I wrote four music for four songs and wrote the lyrics for those four. They were all in my opinion like kind of serious and actually a little bit different; I knew that people had been wanting our band to do something a little different. I thought; okay, I’ll try some different things. They are going to be about violence or something dark, some kind of dark, kind of evil subject but not necessarily things that we had done before. For example “The Murderer’s Pact”, that song is about someone who has been blackmailed into committing a murder against their will. “Vector of Cruelty” is more less about the genetic origins of being a sociopath, so that’s quite different for us. But still it’s an evil subject, so I thought it would work. What’s the other one? “Bloodstained Cement” actually about someone defending themselves in a fight smashing a guy’s head and smashing his brain out, but he’s doing it because he was attacked first. It’s a little bit different. What’s the other one I wrote? “Headlong Into Carnage”; that’s a little bit more like traditional Cannibal Corpse lyrics. It’s just about a group of murderers killing everybody they see.
USA is known for several serial killers, all kinds of maniacs and psychos – Have those kinds of persons ever tried to get contact to you to tell about their own stories to you?
No. Not that I’m aware of. No, I don’t think so. We’ve been around so long that maybe someone did try getting in touch and we just didn’t receive the message. It seems like somebody might have by now, but as far as I remember we haven’t been contacted. We do have a friend who used to visit criminals and things like that to kind of interview them and things like that, he was interested in…
Yeah. But we never did anything like that, we write these things but it’s really our whole focus is making fictional horror. We really never wanted to write about guys who were like real guys, most of the time. I think Rob’s song; “Icepick Lobotomy” is about a real character. But all the songs I write are about fictional people.
Do you think it is a little bit difficult nowadays to top the previous stuff; the lyrics and music what you have done in the past?
I think we can top the music, the lyrics. We are not really interested in topping it, we just want to make good stories, but they don’t have to be gross or something like that. But the music, that’s what we are really striving to make better and better each time. Lyrically we just want them to be interesting horror stories; they don’t have to be gross or something like that. That’s not really the focus of the band. It’s just good horror stories with really good music, I hope. That’s what we are trying to do anyway.
THE PEAK OF BRUTAL DEATH ?
You have been around since ’88. The first album sounded a little bit thrashy. Then you started sounding more brutal, brutal. But nowadays you are more crystal clear with a straightforward brutal sound. Do you think that the peak of the brutal death metal has been reached by now?
Probably not, there is always going to be somebody who could make it heavier somehow.
Is it possible?
I think it is it’s just a matter of opinion what makes it heavy, kind of be faster maybe. Kind of be lower tuning or better riff. I think for us the peak that we are shooting for is a peak of songwriting, like writing the best song, the heaviest song. The one that has the most, that brings up the most aggression in the person, in the mosh pit or whatever. It’s hard for me to put my finger on, but everybody is going to have a different opinion as far as like making the most extremely fast stuff or the most technical stuff. We are not the band for that. We are not going to be able to do that. There is younger bands that are faster and more technical. That’s their job. I think we are going to focus on making the best songs that we can, that’s the area that we are the strongest.
Are you more like a new school death metal guy or old school death metal guy?
Probably more old school just because I’m old, so that’s the music I started out with and I still listen to a lot of the old albums more than the newer ones. I have been listening to death metal right along, the good thing about death metal… I’ve tried to talk about this in a few interviews. I feel like death metal has always, since it started it’s always been around. I feel like thrash metal kind of really did have a point where there were very few things happening with thrash metal underground, but with death metal the underground has been steady. Because if you look like you have Possessed and then you had bands like, it starts with Possessed and Death and Morbid Angel was there in the beginning too and then you have bands like Deicide, Obituary and then after that Nile and Deeds of Flesh. Then we have Krisiun coming out in the ’90, throughout the ’90s there were still killer new bands coming out; Angel Corpse. There wasn’t just one like three or four year period and then nothing, it was like the whole time there were good bands. They were continuing to come out Aeon from Sweden came out I believe around 2000, Spawn Of Possession from Sweden. Vader has been there right along; Decapitated came out in the ’90s. There has been a bunch;.
You still keep your nose on the (under)ground?
I try. There are so many bands that of course I don’t know all of them but I keep an eye out for the good ones.
Does it make you feel good to see the younger kids playing the brutal barbaric death metal?
Yeah. It makes me happy, yeah. I love it man, because no matter what we end up doing in the future. Like if we are not playing in 10 years or something or playing much less. I don’t see us ever like officially breaking up but maybe we would just play a lot less when we get older. It’s hard to tour.
STILL YEARS LEFT
I was coming to that point. I came across an interview with Pete Sandoval where he told that getting old really sucks because you are not able to play fast like you used to do in the young age. What about you – Okay, you said ten years – To be realistic, have you discussed with the band that how long we are able to go on?
We are not really sure, because we don’t really have anybody that came before us to observe what’s happening to them, there is a few bands like Slayer and Morbid Angel with musicians that are a little bit older than… They are actually really about the same age I guess. So, we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. It’s not like this music has been around for 75 years and we can look at other bands and say, around the age of 50 pretty much you quit. Because it’s going to be too hard to play blast beats, we just don’t know. It’s different for individual. Paul is a pretty healthy guy, like he still plays hockey and stuff and he’s practising drums all the time.
But didn’t he have a problem with his back?
But that was only one… It’s funny, you make a DVD and the DVD shows two hours of your life. There is hundreds and hundreds of other days in your life, but the two hours are the only things that the people see, is that DVD. So, people think, “Paul’s got a back problem.” He had one back spasm that day and now everybody thinks he’s got back problems. He’s never had a problem since. But those things could happen for sure, we are getting older of course. Every single person that is reading this is getting older. So, it’s a matter of time. I guess before, because death metal is a very physical kind of music. There is a chance that it will be more difficult to play in ten years, will see. Setting a time limit it would be bad, so will keep going take it day by day and see how we feel.
I have seen you so many times on the stage and I always wonder how George is able to bang his head so severally
I think he’s very lucky to have a good genetically large neck to…
It’s like a bullneck…
It’s perfect for head banging. I think he can keep doing that for a long time.
METAL AND MORE METAL
What about these bands, who have been around at the same time when you started, the late ’80s, the early ’90s, having split up, all of a sudden they are coming out from nowhere, making huge reunions, new albums, going out to tour ?
Yeah. We’ve been active the entire time we’ve been together; there have never been any real breaks. Maybe one month or two months, but nothing more than that. Everybody wants to do different things. That’s the way we wanted to do. We felt like we had a good opportunity to play the music that we love as our career, so we didn’t want to take a break. But if other bands want to take a break, then that’s their right obviously, for us it just made sense to kind of keep going and we really enjoy this. We’ve done so many shows now, I don’t know how many we’ve done, I wish I could count. I wish I had an accurate count, but it’s definitely over 1,000. There is no way it’s less, because we are now on our 13th album and every album we’ve probably done an average of 200 shows for each one. So, it’s a lot of shows.
Have you been surprised when these old bands are coming back with a new album, like Autopsy or Asphyx, how they are strong ?
Autopsy I’m not so surprised because those guys were still in the scene with Abscess, like Chris Reifert was still… Yeah. They weren’t doing Autopsy but they were doing other stuff, so I’m not surprised. But it’s the bands where they completely weren’t part of the scene and then they come back, it’s more surprising then that they make a really good album. Because they have been completely out of the scene, the Autopsy stuff it sounds like they didn’t ever stop. It’s so good, it’s just perfect. I love Autopsy.
Hail of Bullets.
Hail of Bullets is great, great band. I’d love to tour with Autopsy and Hail of Bullets. I love Martin Van Drunen’s voice, it’s such a voice.
It’s coming like from the deep, it’s like ripping your ears when you listen to it.
Yeah. It sounds like every night his voice should be ruined forever; he’s just such an evil gr
You are a huge death metal fan anyway, but I guess you are a fan of different kind of music. As far as I know you are a fan of the progressive music as well?
Yeah, yeah. I love progressive metal and other kinds of metal.
You have this Blotted Science and the drummer is the brother of Bobby Jarzombek?
No. Yeah, the guitar player.
Sorry – Yes the guitar player.
Ron and Bobby are brothers, they actually were in Spastic Ink together. That was Ron’s band before Blotted Science. So, I got that and that’s a studio project really. We’ve never done any concerts, we just recorded the albums and it’s really crazy progressive metal. Still really heavy though, so I’m happy about that. It’s different and it’s very progressive, but it’s also very heavy. Some of it is really new to me and then other parts are very familiar. The real heavy riffs in Blotted Science are of course stuff I’m very familiar with, but then the more progressive parts I had to learn a little bit to play that stuff.
Ron does a lot of the writing; I wouldn’t say Jazz is an influence. Ron is not a big Jazz fan, I don’t want to speak for Ron, but he’s never really mentioned to me being influenced by Jazz. I think any time you do music that’s really complex, because Jazz is complex music people might compare it to Jazz. But I would say if anything it’s just inspired by maybe like progressive rock like Rush or something, I’m pretty sure…
Like King Crimson?
Yeah, maybe something like that. Really it’s just Ron’s creativeness, just a very creative song writer. He does most of the song writing for Blotted Science. I contributed a little bit but really it’s mostly Ron. It’s a better question for Ron to answer. There is another band I’m involved with too and that’s this band Conquering Dystopia. That band is also different, I feel very lucky that I have been able to get involved with a couple of side projects that are very different from each other. Its music that I’m very excited and happy to play, but it’s also not like Cannibal Corpse, it’s all still metal and it’s all got very heavy parts to it but it’s all different. Even though Conquering Dystopia is instrumental, Blotted Science is instrumental, they don’t sound like each other at all. Its two different kinds of instrumental progressive metal. It’s very exciting for me to be able to be part of this project.
You are going to have a new EP or album out?
Yeah. We are working on material for that and probably after this tour I’ll start recording the bass at home.
What about Conquering Dystopia?
That also will be more material for that. Conquering Dystopia started by Jeff Loomis and Keith Merrow and me and Alex were sort of brought into the fold to play the songs that Jeff and Keith wrote. We did write our own bass and drum parts, but we were writing them to Keith and Jeff’s song writers. I’m not sure if that situation will be the same for the next album, I’d be happy to write with them but at the same time there is such a good song writing team. Maybe it’s better to just let them to do that.
Yeah. I feel like with death metal I’m in Cannibal Corpse and I have a great outlet for any death metal that I want to write with those guys. With Cannibal Corpse my main band and I have written dozens and dozens of death metal songs with them. If I do something else it will be something different and I don’t think I would want to do traditional power metal, but I wouldn’t mind doing with a singer that sings in pitch instead of a growling voice. It would be fun to do something or I guess, not to say it would sound like that but something like what NeverMore did.
Something like the NeverMore / Sanctuary thing ?
Yes, something like that, but I don’t want to do something where it’s retro really. I’d rather do something that’s moving forward like modern, that’s why I like NeverMore because they had metal singing and pitch, but the music wasn’t trying to sound like it was from 1985. Not that I mind bands doing that, but that’s not what I would want to do.
What kind of stuff are you listening to nowadays when you are on the tour?
I have been watching movies and stuff like that, like I’m watching Game of Thrones right now. I had never watched that before, so I got a couple of seasons of it and I started watching it and I like it. I like it a lot. But as far as like listening to music I have been listening to the new Overkill album a lot. I really, really like Overkill’s past couple of albums. I think they are great. I really like the bassist, the bass just sounds so good. In Overkill D.D. is such a great bass player and has such a great tone. I like listening to them a lot, even though it’s not death metal, but killer thrash.
Before concluding, I have seen you so many times at European festivals. But do you have ever time enough to check out other bands at festivals or is it more like “coming and going”?
Sometimes we have times some times we don’t and I try to check out the bands that I wouldn’t have a chance to see in America. Saxon almost never plays in America, so if we play in a festival with Saxon I always go to watch Saxon. I love Saxon.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you so much and enjoy the show tonight.
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