Latest Release: A Skeletal Domain (Metal Blade)

Cannibal Corpse have been blasting zombie demolishing extreme metal for many years with uncompromising precision and notable accolades from numerous sources throughout their generally consistent musical career. Heading down to Australia again for shows that promise to smash eardrums and unsettle delicate sensibilities, they will be touring in support of new album A Skeletal Domain the release of which incidentally coincides with the impending visit. During a break whilst on the road as part of the Mayhem Festival in the States, Loud Online caught up with master guitar shredder Pat O’Brien via phone.

The latest album has brutally fast guitars and drums. On the last album [Torture], the song ‘Unnatural’ had guitar playing at around 240 beats per minute. There’s material on this latest one to rival that sort of pace. How do you maintain it?
I think we just practise our asses off, man. We’ve really just been trying to get better at our instruments. Our drummer, Paul [Mazurkiewicz] has also been practising by himself even if we’re not rehearsing. On certain days, Paul is down there all by himself, which is something he never used to do. He has been doing that for the last couple of years. We’ve all been consciously trying to get better at songwriting. We want to have more variety by not having the songs at the same speed. I think that it is just a natural progression from us getting better.

On this album you’ve written about five tracks which is a fair chunk. Did you co-write with Alex [Webster – bass] at all?
It is my own doing. Alex is usually the main writer and how I contribute depends on the album. For Evisceration Plague I was going through some stuff with moving and could only do two songs. I might have contributed more on Torture but I wrote five songs on A Skeletal Domain. Alex had some stuff with other projects so he was in and out a lot during the time that we were writing so there was more time for me to be there with Paul to work on things. The opportunity was there and I had the riffs so I did not stop writing.

In doing that, did you start looking at your rhythm guitar playing style and has it changed over the last decade within Cannibal Corpse?
I don’t know and I’ve never really thought about that. I think that my writing has gotten better. For my rhythm style, I am trying to get cleaner and faster. I’ve been working on that with basic practice and just trying to keep my chops up. But for rhythms, it really just comes down to what kind of riffs I am writing and I am trying to be more creative in that. I have been playing guitar for so long that it is not really any one particular thing. I’m really only trying to write music at this point.

Alex has put out instructional bass guitar books so presumably you all know and share music theory in writing songs.
Yeah, that’s true and I definitely know music theory. When I have time and the energy, I’ve been getting into playing classical guitar lately. So, there are other influences as far as theory goes that you could say contributes to the way I write songs. Or at least it helps me with new ideas and coming up with different kinds of riffs. As far as what actually goes into the songs, I’m not exactly sure what inspires me during writing.

Has your live rig and equipment used changed as well?
No, we pretty much always go back to the [Mesa Boogie] Triple Rectifier amplifier and that is what we have used on the last four albums. Before that, it was a different Triple Rectifier. I am still playing the BC Rich flying V’s with the EMG ’81 pickups and the Boss Metalzone distortion pedal. We did use an old [Peavey] 5150 that belongs to Mark Lewis [producer on A Skeletal Domain], for some additional tracks. It kind of gave the guitar tone a little more meat to it. We wanted to keep it the same but still have it sounding a little bit different to make it newer and fresher.

Did Mark Lewis therefore have a lot of impact on the sounds on the latest album? How did he compare to working with producer Erik Rutan [Hate Eternal]?
They are both great at what they do. They both do things in their own way so are a bit different. We decided to go with Mark to simply change it up a bit. We don’t want to keep making the same album and keep on going through the same routine all the time. We know how Erik works which is great but we wanted to try Mark’s methods. We’re happy with the end result. You want to make the album sound as vicious as possible but at the same time, you want to make it so that people can hear what is going on. You want to get the clarity in there. For a guitar sound, the more distortion the better because I love those sounds but you have to make it to where people can hear what you’re doing.

In that light, what sort of work went into the solo for ‘The Murderer’s Pact’?
Oh that one. I just went ahead and structured a lead out. Alex has been into a lot of shredding players and I can do some of that stuff but I just hadn’t really done it [on record] because I didn’t really think there were riffs underneath that suited it. For a typical Cannibal Corpse rhythm riff that I play lead over, there is no key signature or scale that I can really use. So this song was basically written in a modal form of Hungarian minor so that was the whole riff that I was playing a lead over. It was diatonic so I could play an actual scale and come up with melodies and harmonies within that scale. It just seemed to call for that kind of solo.

How much time and effort goes into burying melodic parts deep within fast death metal? It is in there and embedded within the solos.
The solos took a while and I had to work out the one in ‘The Murder’s Pact’ but then for some of the other solos on the album, I just winged it. I did work out an initial solo for the title track and it was fucking fast but I came in to listen to it two days later and to me it just sounded like a bunch of pigeons. It sounded stupid and didn’t fit the song so I threw it out to do something better. Then I wrote the one that is on there now which I think fits the songs a lot better. So it’s a weird thing when it comes to solos because you do want to show off your ability but it’s a challenge because it has got to fit the song.

How about for the live show? Will that be a challenge to do the new solos live?

I have to go back and learn the solos and that is hard but I’ll just cross that bridge. It is challenging. There is stuff on this one that is a step up from what we’ve done in the past.

In the live situation, given the wealth of material to choose for a set list, do you find that your back catalogue has changed performance wise?
For the last three or four albums, Paul has played to a click track. We kind of started doing that a little bit on Kill and he actually uses a click on those songs live. But for some of the older songs, it is kind of a free for all up there. You just never know what exactly is going to happen just because of the way they were written. I like that but I don’t think they’ve really changed that much. I don’t know if we are playing ‘Hammer Smashed Face’ slower or faster now because after a while you get used to playing something that it does have a tendency to change over time but I am not really sure how.

Is there a particular album with your time in Cannibal Corpse thus far that is what you’d say typifies or showcases your best coverage of guitar playing?
For me, actually that is a very good question. I would have to say probably it is this latest album for my solos, at least. I have done some good stuff on all of them but I think that this one might actually be more guitar oriented, for me, as far as solos go. If I had to give somebody a CD though, I’d probably give them Kill.

What kind of music did you practice years ago before joining Cannibal Corpse?
Well, I grew up listening to metal. I listened to loads of other music before I knew what metal was though because I didn’t have an older brother to turn me onto metal like Black Sabbath. So I started out as a kid listening to my uncle’s records of The Beatles, Peter Frampton and stuff like that. It was just whatever I could listen to and then that quickly changed when I heard Queen but when I heard Black Sabbath, that was it. Once I heard Black Sabbath I decided that was the band. But then after that I started exploring and getting into Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and other classic bands like Accept and Saxon. I remember when Metallica released Ride the Lightning and I couldn’t believe how killer that was and it was a groundbreaking album. Then I followed the thrash bands like Exodus and Testament. I went through a phase where I was listening to Jimi Hendrix a lot in my high school days as well as Rush and Jethro Tull. The list goes on and on.

Metallica were certainly heavy at the time. Do you think that Cannibal Corpse will ever be considered less extreme as boundaries continue to get pushed in music?
I can put on an old Black Sabbath album and it still sounds heavy. Ride the Lightning still sounds crushing to me too. I guess with Cannibal Corpse, it just depends as times will change and what is cool right now won’t be in five or ten years but then for some reason it seems to come back around, just like clothing. Bands are wearing skin tight jeans now when ten years ago they were all wearing baggy fucking jeans and you couldn’t even find a normal pair of jeans. All that nu-metal, Limp Bizkit shit is now out so it is hard to say. I think there are people out there that already think that we’re not heavy anymore. I imagine it, everyone has their own taste.

You’re touring soon so what can we expect in the set list? Will you change it around much since the last time you were in Australia?
We’ve got to keep the classics in there. We’ll probably put about four new songs from the new album in there but we’re still debating which ones we’re going to play. When we’re done with the Mayhem tour, we’ve got to work on the set for Australia plus we’ve got to do a couple of videos so we’ve got a lot or work to do.

Do you prefer playing festivals such as Mayhem or headlining club shows?
They’ve both got their ups and downs. This festival is cool because we’ve got the same monitor guy and the same festival moves from place to place. So, when I go up on stage, my monitor is pretty much going to be the same as it was the night before. When we go to a festival where we’re flying into one country then flying out to another festival, like when we are in Europe, it is different. It can be totally chaotic and you just never know what the hell you are going to get up on stage. You never know how stupid the monitor guy is going to be. It sounds like something that should be black and white but it just is not. The good part about a festival is that you don’t have as long a set, unless you’re headlining and there’s always big parties happening. I kind of like playing a smaller club sometimes because I usually play better. That is because the pressure is not on, you just get up there and you’re relaxed for just jamming. There are so many factors when you’re playing a big place – the sound is everywhere and it is a lot harder to keep it all together.

Finally, given your guitars, how big an influence was Chuck Schuldiner from Death?
Myself and Chuck were about the same age so I wouldn’t say he was a huge influence on me. He was more of a big influence on George [Fisher – singer], vocal wise. Touring with him, I used to talk to him and hang out with him. He was a good guy and I think that listening to those Death albums there is some great shit. I guess listening to something awesome is going to influence you one way or the other. I don’t think there was anything musical I’d really stolen off Chuck but he definitely had a place though.

Well, we’re out of time but it was really good to talk to you.
Likewise, see you down in Australia.

Cannibal Corpse is touring with Hour of Penance in September:
9/9: Capitol, Perth WA
10/9: Fowlers Live, Adelaide SA (A/A)
11/9: Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW
12/9: 170 Russell St, Melbourne VIC
13/9: HiFi Bar, Brisbane QLD