Latest release: Torture (Metal Blade/Riot!)

After such a long career and with the popularity they have, it perhaps would have been easy for death metal legends Cannibal Corpse to rest on their laurels and just hand over a record that was simply adequate. However, their twelfth album Torture shows that the band is still very much into making great death metal albums that live up to their name.

“I think when someone hears Torture they can tell it’s a band that’s not just going through the motions,”  bass player Alex Webster says, talking louder than he probably usually does to compensate for the terrible phone connection we have. “We’re really pushing to try and make a great record, and try and make it our best record. We’re not content to just live off our legacy. Which we could. I mean, we have a strong legacy from the 90s that we could just kinda sit on, but we don’t. We have tried to avoid becoming complacent and just saying ‘Oh we could just make a record that’s just ok’, and still get by. We really try to make each record the best one. I’m not saying we always succeed, but we are trying to do that.  We wanna keep pushing forward. We wouldn’t still do it if we didn’t want to make each record the best one we’ve ever done.”

As these things go, the response to Torture has so far been quite positive, a very good sign for a band that’s been around as long as Cannibal Corpse.

“So far, everyone seems to like it,” says Webster. “It’s been a big success, I would say, as far as charts go, and that’s always nice to see. But it’s even better to see the reviews and hear people talking about it online, and saying a lot of good things about it. We’re very happy, because we put a lot of work into it and it’s great to see that people like that.”

A specific criticism of Torture that seems to be recurring, however, has been in regards to the mixing of George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher’s vocals less prominently than in the past. Being focused on his own performance, Webster claims that this didn’t really come to his attention.

“I didn’t notice George being softer level-wise,” he says. “The things I notice of course, because I’m the bass player in the band, I’m quite happy with the bass tone and the level it’s at on this record. I think we all, each member, we tend to focus on our own little contribution a bit. So I did not notice George being a lot quieter than on the other albums. I must say that in general I am quite pleased with the production that Erik (Rutan) gave us this time. I think it all gelled really well.”

One thing that makes a more welcome return on Torture is those little snippets of technical playing that Webster has sprinkled throughout their catalogue, stand-alone blasts of bass guitar like that in “Rabid”. It’s something that was missing from the previous two sets, and he felt it was time to bring it back.

“I’ve tried to have those in there throughout our career. The past couple of albums, Kill and Evisceration Plague, didn’t really have a lot of bass stuff that was on its own; in fact, none,” he says. “So in ‘The Strangulation Chair’ and ‘Rabid’ I put some parts where the bass is just by itself. People seem to like that. They’ve been asking me for it. We haven’t done it in a while, and I wanted to make sure that I gave them what they wanted I guess! I’m happy to do it too, and it’s fun to be able to show off a little bit and since people are asking for it, I don’t feel so bad about doing that!”

Despite being a technically-minded band, Cannibal Corpse has always been less about showing off the blazing instrumental skills they have and more about writing effective songs. It’s a formula that has worked for them for quarter of a century, and one that has made them the biggest-selling death metal band of all.

“We just wanna write heavy songs that you can rage to,” Webster says. “Don’t get me wrong. We definitely love playing chop-heavy music, but we don’t feel we have to do that with every song. That isn’t what it’s about. For example, we have a song on The Wretched Spawn that’s really hard to play – ‘Frantic Disembowelment’. Pat (O’Brien) wrote that song to sound heavy, and it just happens that it’s also very hard to play. It wasn’t written to be hard to play, it’s just a side effect of Pat’s writing style that it is.”

When Webster became a founding member of Cannibal Corpse with drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz, original vocalist Chris Barnes and guitarists Jack Owen and Bob Rusay back in upstate New York in 1988, their idea was to “make a horror-oriented death metal band”.  More than two decades later, that vision for the band hasn’t changed.

“It’s still the same style. I think it’s a better delivery now because we’ve improved  as musicians over the years,” the bassist explains. “But the style isn’t that different. At the time when we were starting we were very influenced by the kind of thrash metal bands that were almost death metal, in addition to being inspired by original death metal bands like Possessed, Death, Morbid Angel and Autopsy. We were also inspired by thrash metal bands that were borderline death metal, like Sadus, Kreator, Dark Angel, Sodom. Oh, and Slayer! I should definitely mention Slayer. I think you can still hear those initial influences and that movement of the band to create this death metal style that’s also influenced by the dark side of thrash. It’s just in our style. A song like ‘Demented Aggression’ or ‘Encased in Concrete’ or ‘Intestinal Crank’ off of Torture, those songs can sit side by side with songs from Eaten Back to Life or Butchered at Birth and not sound out of place.”

As one of the pioneers of death metal, the influence of Cannibal Corpse looms over the genre like a colossus, from their grinding musical style, to windmill headbanging and, most notably, cartoonish cover art, song titles and lyrics. It is these aspects of the band that have caused them the most notoriety, sparking complete bans in otherwise liberal countries like Germany and Australia. More recently, however, sanction and condemnation have given way to parody and caricature, which amuses and pleases the band greatly. The Chaser’s lounge music version of “Frantic Disembowelment” – created initially to mock sections of the Perth community who tried to block a Cannibal Corpse tour there but which has since taken on a life of its own on YouTube – is a particular favourite.  As far as Webster and the band is concerned, it’s just recognition of their legacy and a validation of what they do.

“That one that that Australian guy did, Cannibal Corpse lounge music – that is of course totally brilliant!” Webster says. “That’s just fantastic! Anytime someone does something like that –  like the band Cannibis Corpse that makes weed songs using our song titles – that sort of thing, we consider it a big honour that we would inspire people in any way – be it a serious way, like some of these killer bands, or be it in a comedic way with some of the parody videos that appear on YouTube. It’s just cool to have done something that’s made an impact that made people react in one way or another and be inspired to create their own thing, whether it’s something serious or something humourous. It’s just cool that people know our music enough to do those kind of things!”

Webster’s band is one that has, as mentioned, laid the foundations for one of the longest-running sub-genres of heavy metal music. While death metal has changed a lot since the late 1980s, Webster reckons it is still as strong as ever.

“The one good thing about the death metal scene is that it’s always been around. Since it started, it’s never stopped,” he says. “There’s been bands consistently putting out records, and there’s been bands entering the scene. Right now, a band like Hour of Penance… they haven’t been around all that long, but they’re making a big impact and that’s an incredible, killer death metal band. So I think the scene still has a lot of strength and a lot of potential for growth even. To me, the most important thing is the music itself. If the music itself is still good, if there’s still good songs being written, memorable songs, really heavy songs, and songs that feature innovation while staying death metal… I think it’s ok to innovate, but stay death metal.”

His passion for the music he helped to define remains undiminished, and his knowledge of it appears to be almost encyclopedic as he divulges his thoughts on the scene.

“If you look at some of these bands like Spawn of Possession for example, they just put out a great record on the same day we put out Torture; that’s a death metal record but it’s also very progressive. So I think that kind of death metal is helpful to the scene to move things forward a little bit. And then there’s also some bands that are doing a more straight-forward kind of death metal like Evocation from Sweden. I know they were around a long time ago, they’ve been back in action and they’re doing a very old school, for want of a better term, Swedish death metal even though they’re active right now and doing new records. So there’s still a lot of activity and a lot of of strength on the death metal scene. It’s maybe not as easy to find in the midst of all the stuff that’s sort of death metal, you know like deathcore bands and that sort of thing. I think especially for a casual fan, for them to find an album that’s pure death metal it might be a little bit more difficult, but it’s totally still there. And all of the classic bands are still very active and have never stopped being active, like Nile, Immolation, Krisiun, Suffocation – they had a lay-off for a few years there but they’re still putting out records.”

Finally, he reveals that Cannibal Corpse is due to return to Australian shores in the second half of this year. While he can confirm nothing right now, he finishes our chat with what sounds like a fairly solid promise.

“We’re hoping to do something in the Fall,” he says. “It’s looking like, at this stage, it’s gonna be in October, but I cannot confirm this at the moment. But when we return, and we really want to, it’s looking like it will be in October this year: 2012.”