Alex Webster is the bassist and a founding member of death metal mainstay Cannibal Corpse. He's also a remarkably well-spoken man. This makes interviewing him an interesting endeavor. His intelligent and thoughtful responses are tied to song and album titles such as Tomb of the Mutilated and “Intestinal Crank,” revealing the musical intellectualism behind the band's famously (and literally) gut-wrenching aesthetic. The cognitive dissonance of the discussion is every bit as brutal as his band's songs.
“For some reason this album ended up sounding old school,” Webster says, elaborating on the tenacious, gory assaults that compose Cannibal Corpse's new album, Torture. The title appropriately connotes the intensity of the album's songs, but it also feels weak next to names like Butchered at Birth and Gallery of Suicide. But Cannibal Corpse is holding back in name only. The 12 cuts on the album recapture the tangled, trashing riffs and overwhelming rhythmic onslaughts of the band's early work. Webster is proud of the result, but he can't confidently say where it came from.
“It’s just something that happened,” he says. “There’s a few particular riffs that do kind of sound like old Cannibal Corpse riffing. “Demented Aggression” has riffs like that. The song “Intestinal Crank” has some riffs that would remind you of stuff that we had done 20 years ago. It’s just a vibe that ended up happening.”
Cannibal Corpse turns 24 this year, and they approach the quarter-century mark with an album that shows them impressively and defiantly in their element. Songs like “Intestinal Crank” and “Rabid” are relentless assaults of pummeling riffs and high-speed rhythm. “Followed Home Then Killed” creates excruciating, spaced-out tension amid the band's torrid outbreaks. Indeed, Cannibal Corpse's attack is as fully formed as it's ever been, which make sense when you consider the group's circumstances.
With two original members on board, Cannibal Corpse has enjoyed a consistent lineup for three albums in a row. Familiarity amongst the band's members has bred confidence and comfort. For Torture, Webster ceded a large share of his songwriting duties to guitarists Pat O'Brien and Rob Barrett, a fact he says is testament to the band's current camaraderie.
“This lineup of the band, it’s the lineup where everyone is on the same page,” Webster explains. “That may not have been exactly the case in the beginning or throughout our career. This lineup is the one where we’re most in-synch with each other. We really trust the musical decisions we’re going to make.”
Despite the outfit's tenure, Cannibal Corpse's musical decisions are more famous for their controversy than their quality. They're the best-selling band in the history of death metal. That visibility within the genre has made them a lightning rod for outside scrutiny. In the '90s they were targeted by politicians as one of the 20 bands in America with the most offensive lyrics in a campaign that strove to force the bands' labels to drop them. In Germany, much of the band's artwork and many of their songs have been banned and censored. Despite the backlash, the band has never backed down, shrugging off controversy and filling their music with a continuous stream of horrific imagery.
“There’s no message,” Webster says of the band's content, “not any more than there would be a message to a good horror movie. What’s the message of The Exorcist? If there is one, then it’s really lost on me. I just thought it was a good movie. It’s the same thing for us. You can turn off your daily worries when you come to a Cannibal Corpse show, or you listen to our music. You can just go into that fantasy/horror world for a little while like you would with a movie or a violent video game or a violent novel or something like that.”
With all the attention the band's lyrics have garnered, Webster is quick to emphasize that Cannibal Corpse values music above all else. They enjoy making people squirm, but they hope that they do that with their sound as much as their words. One day, Webster even hopes to make an instrumental album as potent as the band's other offerings.
“That would be quite a goal to set,” he says, “to make people uncomfortable strictly with music alone. That would be something that I would be particularly proud of. With lyrics, you want to make someone uncomfortable — well, you know, just look at some of the songs written by our old singer Chris (Barnes), like “Necropedophile” or “Entrails Ripped from a Virgin’s C—t.” It’s pretty simple to make people uncomfortable when you sing about the most disturbing, despicable shit in the world.”
— Jordan Lawrence is music editor at Charlotte-based Shuffle Magazine and a contributing writer at The Independent.
who: Cannibal Corpse, with Exhumed, Abysmal Dawn and Arkaik
where: The Orange Peel
when: Monday, April 9 (7 p.m. doors/8 p.m. show. $18/$20. http://theorangepeel.net)