I love the contradictions, paradoxes and contrasts that are omnipresent in the world of music. Here’s one: one of the nicest bands you’ll ever interview is Cannibal Corpse. Yeah, the “Hammer Smashed Face” band. Those guys. Yeah, they’re the most chill fucking dudes out. No kidding! I get into that a bit with the opening paragraph, but you’ll totally see what I mean. I really like this feature; I think there’s some good insight into the band and the semantics behind what it means to be a horror-oriented death metal band. 2012, for me, was a time where I was starting to really come into my own as a writer – looking back on it, anyway. See what you think.
– DJY, October 2014
Degrees of contrast often come in rapid succession between what an artist portrays through their work and what they are actually like in real life. That folk singer calling to an end to the war? He probably only heard about it yesterday and couldn’t care less. That rapper claiming that your arse will have caps busted into it? Never used a gun in their life. Conversely, that guy in the death metal band, jamming out numbers about necrophilia, chopped up bodies, zombies and horrific murder? Laid back, charming, funny and intelligent.
At the very least, such is the case with Cannibal Corpse. It’s a band that means so many different things to so many different people, ranging from the pioneers of a bullshit-free, enraged death metal sound to the scourge of society. It’s something that Pat O’Brien – the lead guitarist of the band from 1996 onwards – is more than aware of. Hell, it’s probably something that he embraces. Speaking to the AU Review on the line from Tampa, Florida in-between European and North American tours, he vents a frustration at the band’s misrepresented public image and the double standards within mainstream society that turn them into the villains.
“I think only a few people really want to bring that up with us anymore,” he says. “I think Alex [Webster, bass] would be the first to say that, as far as politics go, we’re not a political band. It’s just metal. The shit that I see happening on TV every day, and the shit I read about? We’re nowhere near as creative as some of the fucked-up shit that happens in real life. Take September 11 – if someone made a movie about that, everybody would walk out thinking that it was a crock of shit, that it would never happen. And then it did. It blows you away, the stuff that happens in real life. You can go and buy German porn – scat videos or whatever the fuck – but you don’t want to stock and sell Cannibal Corpse CDs?”
Our discussion turns to the hypocrisy of individuals that read Stephen King novels or listen to murder ballads that attempt to portray the band as vile, inhumane or demented. “We write fictional stories in our songs,” O’Brien explains. “If anything, they should censor the news. Nobody ever brings up movies, either – you make a movie about zombies, it’s totally fine. But if you’re writing a song, it’s like you’re raising a flag to it; singing a national anthem about violence or something. We’re not preaching anything. We’re just writing lyrics about basically nothing.”
These songs have been seen through the cracks of mainstream culture, from the band’s cameo appearance in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to a lounge version of their song being played by Andrew Hansen on The Chaser’s War on Everything. For the most part, however, the band have stuck to making music for their extensive cult fan-base, who flock to see them across the world in the thousands. Their latest effort, Torture, is their 12th studio album, and their first since 2009’s Evisceration Plague. Ever the critic, O’Brien looks back on the record with mixed feelings.
“I thought it was a good album,” he says. “I think it was something that we needed to do in order to get to the point that we are now with Torture. It was the first time that Paul [Mazurkiewicz, drums] had played to a click track. I dunno, I still think it’s a really good album; but it seems like it was maybe a little stiff at times. This one feels a lot better to me.”
So, where does the difference lie between the band that made Evisceration Plague and the band that made Torture? As Pat reveals, it was a matter of a freshly democratic songwriting process and a clearer, more focused mind going into the album’s creation. “I wrote more songs on this record, and so did Rob [Fischer, vocals],” he says. “With Evisceration, it was Alex – he just had an abundance of material written. He’s like a writing machine. That was a weird time for me – I was moving, and I had a lot of personal shit going on; so I was having trouble writing riffs. This album, though? I was the first person to write for this record. I wrote ‘Followed Home, Then Killed’ and ‘Torn Through’ before we’d even started the writing process collectively.”
O’Brien explains that this new hunger to write would often stem from extensive time on tour which was not spent on the stage. “When we tour, the only thing for me to do, really, is play guitar,” he says. “It’s either that, or drink all night and feel like shit the next day. Even though it’s fun to be out on tour, and see and do all these things, you still have a lot of downtime. It’s a game of “hurry up and wait” – like, wait around for hours, all day, just to play. I can’t do that, man. Give me a guitar. Let’s get some songs in the bag.”
Of course, letting things unfurl naturally lead to some obstacles in the creation process of Torture. O’Brien received the opportunity of a lifetime when one of the band’s biggest influences called upon Pat’s guitar work. As he explains: “I got the call from Slayer to fill in for Gary Holm. That kind of threw things off in the writing process, but it’s not every day you get called up to do that. I’m not sure, exactly, how it came about. I think there were just some recommendations from different people, and I guess I must have been the only one available to do it at the time. It was about a week-and-a-half to learn all of the songs – a lot to learn in a short period of time. With the whole metal community watching these massive shows… it was just intense.”
He goes on to explain the difficulty of learning another band’s entire setlist in such a short period of time. “I knew a lot of the Reign in Blood stuff, but I hadn’t sat down and tried to play those songs for years,” he says. “The only time when I would have really been trying to play them was when I was giving guitar lessons back in the day. I don’t really play other people’s stuff, y’know? I just kinda do my own thing. It was definitely a challenge, for sure.”
This year marks the sixteenth year that O’Brien has been a part of the band. While many older artists feel as though their youthful days best reflected their love and passion for music, O’Brien feels that moving into his forties has allowed him to grow even more engaged with the band and their music. “I think it’s actually gotten better now,” he says on the motivation to create new material. “Like, back in the day, I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything – I’d pick everything apart so damn much that it would kill the idea that I had initially come up with. I’m at a period right now where I don’t totally do that. I’m able to kind of write what I feel and not be so uptight about it.”
He concludes with a positive appraisal of where Cannibal Corpse are currently at – even with nothing to prove, they still strive for excellence within their work. “We always want to make the best album that we can make,” he affirms. “If there’s one thing that I can honestly say, it’s that we are a band that constantly improves in one form or another from our past albums. I really believe that. Some bands, they come out with one or two great albums and then it gets to the point where nothing they do compares to their older albums. I think we’re the opposite. I think our albums keep getting better and better.”