There are very few bands that you can rely on to deliver the goods with every release. Over the years My Dying Bride and Napalm Death have both earned a place on the list and another name that must surely be added is Cannibal Corpse, a band who have proved to be remarkably prolific over their 20-odd year history and have yet to release a bad album. Controversial, sickening and possessed of an unswerving dedication to their craft, various members of the band have come and gone over the years but Alex Webster, the band’s bassist, has been there since day one and when we were offered the chance to interview the great man, even though it meant scurrying out of Paradise lost’s landmark Draconian Times performance, we were more than happy to do it.
Thus, a few minutes before Paradise Lost are due to take Kentish Town Forum’s stage to play an album that I have loved since its 1995 release, I find myself, along with James (head of SonicAbuse’s London department) standing outside a church of all places with a mobile phone, a list of questions and a slight case of nerves. As the phone rings I ponder on the suitability of our setting (seriously – could there be any setting more apt than a church from which to interview a member of Cannibal Corpse?) and the reliability of my phone (HTC have a habit of cutting people off mid-sentence) all of which only adds to my nerves when Alex Webster picks up the phone and I find myself stammering out a greeting which makes me sound like a teenager phoning an explicit hotline.
Starting out in 1988, Cannibal Corpse have, to date, released 11 albums (with a twelfth in production), a box set, several DVDs, appeared in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (much to everyone’s surprise) and toured countless countries around the globe. While fans bicker over their favourite record, very few have an object of hatred in the way that some Metallica fans attack ‘Load’ or ‘St Anger’, say, and with a firm global reputation in place and an enviable, brutal and gloriously depraved back catalogue in place Cannibal Corpse are one of THE big names of death metal.
Appearing at last year’s Bloodstock festival, we had hoped we might have a chance to meet Cannibal Corpse in person, but time constraints prevented it and we were unable to question the band about their unique contribution to extreme music over the last 23 years.However, now we are incredibly proud to present this interview to you discussing a wide range of topics from Cannibal Corpse’s longevity to Alex Webster’s views on freedom of speech and the band’s lyrical fascination with everything depraved. Read on…
SA You’ve been around for almost twenty-five years now, in which time you’ve remained remarkably consistent in terms of your quality and delivery – how do you feel you’ve developed as songwriters and musicians in this time?
AW. Well, first of all I just want to say thanks because being consistent is something we’ve intentionally tried to be and that’s a quality that we like in our favourite bands and we wanted to be that way as well – staying focused on what the original goal of the band was, which for us was to make the heaviest death metal that we could and to make it very gory and horror orientated. So we’ve just always tried to keep those original goals alive while writing and I think that any development that we’ve made has been us improving on that original formulae. We’ve not tried to do a different style…ever, and we wanted to keep it more or less the same style our whole career and just write better songs along the way and hopefully we’ve become better musicians along the way and more proficient but the goal has stayed the same – you know gory, brutal death metal much as we were in the beginning but maybe we’ve become better at writing memorable songs in that time.
SA Back when you started, did you ever imagine you’d be making a career out of Cannibal Corpse some twenty-five years later?
AW. Oh, definitely no. When we first started it was pretty much unheard of to even have a heavy metal band… You know heavy metal had only been around for twenty years when we started (we started back in ’88) and death metal itself had been around for maybe six years at the most before we got together so there was no precedent for the career like the one we’ve had. You know, no band had played death metal for twenty years so we simply couldn’t imagine that it was going to go that long, I mean we had no idea what was coming. I remember even after our fourth or fifth album came out I still thought “well OK, but I’ll probably be doing something else when I’m forty,” well you know I’m forty-one and we’ve done eleven albums and we’re working on our twelfth so we definitely couldn’t have predicted this but we’re really happy things have turned out the way they did but there was definitely no way we could predict it, no way.
SA. With so many bands hopping labels all the time, you’ve been with Metal Blade since day 1, they must have been very supportive over the years?
AW Yeah! I mean they’ve been great since the beginning. I mean there’re always little things that we have minor complaints about here and there…and I’m sure they have about us as well. There were things that we did which we hoped they could have been better on certain things, for example when we did ‘Bloodthirst’ and ‘gore obsessed’ they didn’t want to do promotion so that was something about which we were in disagreement but those are really minor disagreements in the great scheme of things, I mean we’ve always gotten along with them really well. I think a big part of it is that the Metal blade label is pretty much from top to bottom comprised of people who love metal of one kind or another be it Death metal, traditional heavy metal or whatever – it’s kind of a requirement to work there I think; that you’re a fan of metal and all in all there’s just something about them that makes it easier for bands to get along with them. I know it has for us, we really feel like the label people are our friends instead of just people that we work with – they’re people we like to hang out with, you know, so they’ve always treated us well, we’ve always got along with them well – we’ve never seriously considered looking at another label – not once.
SA Cool, it’s quite refreshing to hear that nowadays actually, you said earlier that you set out to be the heaviest, goriest band that you could be – could you tell us a bit more about the development and concepts of your lyrics? I mean obviously horror movies have been a big influence but have you ever rejected anything for being too unpleasant?
AW Um, well you know we’ve done some stuff, especially in the early days when Chris wrote about some subjects that i don’t particularly… I don’t personally care to write about like a song like ‘necropedophile’ which we did and the whole band let those lyrics go through because… you know it’s utterly disgusting stuff and obviously Chris doesn’t admire the character or the things that are going on in that song either, you know I’m pretty sure I can speak for him on that although he’s not in the band anymore. you know, we’re writing these things – we’ll write about unpleasant awful stuff because we’re talking about characters doing it, even if it’s sung in the first person it’s not really like George, or whoever was singing that song, was that guy so I mean we might sing a song being told by a serial killer but that doesn’t meant that our singer, or anyone else in the band, agrees with that character or what he’s doing in the song or we’re singing about. It’s all totally fictional stuff so we don’t feel limited by it. I mean we’re supposed to write about really horrible, awful stuff but we’re aware of what it is and we’re not saying this is good or this is bad and I think our fans understand that pretty well so there aren’t any limits but we’ve covered about some of the worst stuff you can cover – rape, murder, necropedophilia, ‘I cum blood’ and all sorts of other unpleasant stuff that we’ve already covered so the kind of lyrics we’ve been writing for the past few albums – there’s still quite a bit of graphic violence – but they’re kind of leading in more of a direction I like, which is more psychological kind of stuff and maybe, you know, just some different things like ‘evisceration plague’ with the germ warfare gone bad kind of thing – you know just different stuff apart from serial killers, rape and being really depraved. I mean we’ll probably always have some serial killer type stuff on every album – it’s just an integral part of Cannibal Corpse’s lyrics and everything – I mean it’s always been a really big part since the beginning but we just might look at it in different ways. There’ll still be plenty of violence and horror, it just might be a bit different to what we used to do.
SA. You’ve been censored quite a few times in the past, has it ever gotten to you that there’s a hypocrisy between what is seen as “acceptable violence” – germ warfare, the US Death penalty, biblical violence – that kind of thing; and what’s considered “unacceptable violence” – you guys, slayer, black metal, that kind of thing?
AW. Sure, well I think if you look at it – of course occasionally there’s an isolated case of a metal head… a metal fan doing something bad – committing a crime, you know, like murder or something and that’s always terrible of course. That is terrible, you don’t want that to happen for any reason but that’s always bad when something bad happens, when some kind of crime is committed… But, having said that, how many times does that happen? it’s a few scattered, isolated things that happen, and then how much violence would you blame on religion and political movements and things like that? I don’t see efforts being made to censor those things. I’m totally a free speech advocate and I don’t think any of those things should be censored. I think that people should be informed about things and allowed to develop their own opinion so I’m not into censorship at all and I think that these people who are trying to censor black metal and death metal and other forms of violent media – if those people are really interested in stopping violence they’re looking at the wrong things. If they want to do a body count between any of the major religious texts and any form of music or violent video games or something, there’s no comparison. there’s so much more violence created by politics and religion in this world than there is by violent entertainment. I think, if anything is for sure I’d say that violent entertainment is something that is a reaction to violence that has always been here, you know there’s a violence that is a part of humanity, unfortunately, but it is and it’s been around since the dawn of mankind – people have been doing bad stuff to each other and to write songs about it, make video games that reflect that, make movies and novels that tell stories about those things – those are not the causes. These things would not exist if the violence had not already been there to write about if you know what I mean.
SA. Absolutely, OK on to the next question: you guys are one of THE revered death metal bands. Do you ever feel your legacy gives you pressure when you start recording new albums?
AW. No, we actually feel pretty comfortable…we feel pretty confident that we’re going to do something that’s up to our tandards every time. I mean we know that if we do the right things – work hard, try as hard as we can – that it’s going to be good. Whether or not it’s going to be better than one of the albums, it’s really hard for us to say… which of our albums is the masterpiece…I don’t think we’ve written that yet, frankly. The goal is always to try and make the best album we’ve ever done but if you really get too hung up on that kind of pressure of trying to do that and saying “that’s gotta be the best” that’s obviously what you’re trying to do but at the end of the day it’s very subjective and you do the best you can and hopefully it turns out to be the best and you can’t let any kind of pressure beat you up and start making you doubt yourself because you’re worried about doing well. you just have to kind of do things naturally and try to do your best and if it winds up being your best album so be it and if it’s not as good as the other ones then it’s not your fault – you know you did the best you could so we try not to let the pressure get to us.
SA. We have one last question for you and then I’m afraid we’re going to have to shoot – what ambitions do you have now for the future? Obviously you’ve been very successful and what is there that you would like to see Cannibal Corpse do?
AW Um, we just want to continue to do as much touring as we can, play as many countries as we can and countries that we haven’t played before and do tours with other bands that we haven’t had the chance to. We would love to do a tour directly supporting Slayer at some point – that would be something really fun for us to do and just try to get more people into our music over the years – that’s some goal that any band has I guess – just to continue to spread the word about the band and try to make the best music that we can so that’s kind of been the goal all along I guess – keep spreading the word and keep the quality as high as we possibly can and just work really hard on it and make the music the best it can be. So hopefully someday we’ll have something we can consider a masterpiece and we’ll be able to get out there and do the kind of touring that we need to do to make sure that anyone who wants to see us play can see us play. Those are the two goals – to make the best music and tour as much as we can.
SA We’d like to thank you very much for talking to us, we’re sorry we’ve had to hurry through this and it’s been a real honour talking to you.
AW Thanks so much and enjoy the rest of your show tonight.