To many CANNIBAL CORPSE are the absolute embodiment of death metal in its purest form. Three decades into a career of pushing the boundaries of what can be depicted within music, Red Before Black suggests the kings of gore are not slowing down any time soon. We sat down with drummer and founding member Paul Mazurkiewicz to see what makes the machine tick.
This is actually the longest gap between CANNIBAL CORPSE studio albums ever. That’s really impressive considering it’s only just over three years and some bands can have huge gaps regularly.
Paul: Oh really? I did not know that. But yeah, that’s the way we like to roll. We like to work and to create. We always had that mentality of making an album, touring it and then making another one. That’s our idea of what a band should be. And luckily for us it has become our jobs and our profession, which means if we sit around and don’t do anything we’re not making a living, so the fact that we have a good system going works well for us. We know that for our genre and our level of band, that’s the way it is, and it’s the way it’s worked for us for so long. I think that three years for a gap is kinda the limit really, because three years is almost the length of high school, and in those formative years like that that goes a long way. If you wait six or seven years and miss that, you’re almost missing generations there in between albums.
The line-up that you currently have is now the longest lasting line-up in CANNIBAL CORPSE’s history. How much of a part do you feel that has to play in why the band is as strong as it is today?
Paul: You need everybody to get along and have that camaraderie, that’s key, and I think it helps the older you get too. You get the wild years out of you and it’s easier to focus now. Of course it gels a lot easier when making new material because you get to know each other’s writing styles. Everybody contributes now and it’s the best line-up we’ve had. Rob’s been in the band for going on twelve years now and of course was in the band for a time before then so we’ve known him for a long time, and George and Pat have both been in the band for around twenty years now, so those are some long friendships there.
Obviously you’ve gone back to Erik Rutan to produce this one. What is it about him that makes him your go-to producer nowadays?
Paul: We knew of course he’d do a great job because he did awesome with the three he did with us before. The main reason really though was proximity. We wanted to stay local, which is of course in the Tampa area. Who’s suited who we can go to in that Tampa area? It’s Erik. I’m the farthest away at about an hour, but when we talked about it, we just thought that being home for the whole process would be so beneficial to everybody. We’ve got families and we can stick to a routine, we don’t all have to be in the studio at the same time, it’s just so much easier at this point in our lives.
You’ve described this as being one of the more raw-sounding of the recent CANNIBAL CORPSE albums, and while it’s still full of tempo and dynamic shifts, it definitely feels like more frenetic record. Was that almost a reaction to A Skeletal Domain which you guys had described as a darker record and one that had a lot of eerier sounding stuff on it?
Paul: Yeah, it’s weird how that goes. As you say A Skeletal Domain was a little darker, but you can feel some of the feeling of the new album starting to be there on a couple of songs on A Skeletal Domain. Starting from scratch with a new set of songs though, you can’t really explain it, it’s just what you’re coming up with at that time, and this time it had this aggressive, raw, old-school vibe to it. Of course writing material you can be a little reluctant because you don’t know if it’s good or if anyone will like it, but it just takes some of the other guys in the band to tell you “yes, that’s killer”.
You guys are obviously all supremely accomplished at your instruments and your music is often extremely technical, but it never fails to be catchy and never goes off into unnecessarily technical areas to the expense of the song. How hard is it to get that balance right?
Paul: I think it’s getting to be more natural as we go. We’re always honing our skills in these ways, and we know how to put them together. It takes practice and wisdom but they seem to come. For us it’s always important to make a good song first and foremost. We will want to have some cool time shifts or some crazy tech part that throws the listener for a little bit, that’s always cool, but overall we just want a good catchy but brutal and evil-sounding song. We’ve had our moments of dabbling in different things but really we’re not that kind of a band, we are more of a straight-ahead death metal band, and the new album almost feels like a culmination of the best of CANNIBAL CORPSE.
Do you ever feel that some bands go so far into those areas that they end up losing the fun and the original spirit of what death metal is?
Paul: Totally. It’s crazy nowadays, everybody’s doing everything, and I am of an old school mentality that death metal should be death metal. Everyone’s doing their thing and mixing things which is cool but for me it loses it a bit. Really, to each their own, if a band’s going to be happy with what they create and put out then they’re a band for a reason and that’s good. But for tastes, that’s my take.
Do you feel that death metal as a movement has really progressed since the early 90s when you guys and your peers were setting the benchmark?
Paul: I think so. It’s still obviously very new in the grand scheme of all music but it’s ever-growing. As long as people are going out there and continuing to support it, it will continue to, and that’s a good thing for sure.
Are you a band who have live performances and what songs are going to add to the live set in mind when you’re writing new material?
Paul: It’s tricky. You don’t wanna fully think that when you’re writing a song because you just want to write what you’re feeling and take it from there. There are songs we’ve had that have never seen the light of day in a live set and when you come away from recording them, some songs you know you’re not going to play live because of how hard it would be. It’s almost a given and it’s just talked about when it comes to discussing what songs we’re going to play. It’s cool to have songs where they are more or less just written for the studio, and then you might write the next one, and that’s the song that’s perfect for playing live. On the new record though, myself at least, I’ve been approaching them with the mentality that we should be able to play them all live, and this is one album I think that we could pull off being able to play the whole thing, and I think we are going to be playing at least half of it.
CANNIBAL CORPSE’s artwork and lyrics aren’t quite as over the top and graphic as they were in the early days but are still very much recognisable as the work of the same band. What kind of stuff is inspiring you these days when putting together lyrics and ideas?
Paul: It will morph over time, obviously we always want to delve into the dark and horrific. Obviously Barnes wrote Butchered at Birth, Tomb of the Mutilated and The Bleeding pretty much himself, and those are definitely some of the craziest lyrics we’ve ever had, and now we’re all quite different styles of lyricists. I’ve ended up being the main lyricist over the last couple albums by default, Alex and Rob tend to write lyrics for their own songs but I write lyrics for all of Pat’s songs who has contributed a lot over the past few. I often come up with a cool title first and then once I’ve got the title in place I fit the concept and lyrics from there. I did write lyrics for one of Rob’s songs on this album In the Midst of Ruin, and he had the idea for a concept so I worked from that, and Pat had the idea for where to go with Heads Shovelled Off, so it’ll come from whoever’s got an idea and then go from there. It’s gotten sort of easier, it comes out when it needs to when I sit down and put my mind to it and I come away fairly satisfied with what I’ve accomplished. When we wrote the lyrics for Vile after we’d made the singer change, it had just sort of fallen to us that we had to do it if we were going to get the album out because George doesn’t really write lyrics. I remember writing that first song which I think was Perverse Suffering, and it took me just forever because there I was writing lyrics for the first time, but that was twenty years ago and I’ve written how many songs in that time.
Do you ever encounter resistance still like CANNIBAL CORPSE have had in the past with being banned in certain countries and things like that?
Paul: The latest Russian incident two or three years ago was the last one. That kinda came out of nowhere. The German one with records being banned, that’s been resolved for some time now, and other than that with those two main incidents that everyone’s well aware of, we’ve never had much of a problem, only things so minor that I can’t even remember what they are. We’ve been quite lucky but we are just a band playing some death metal, and people have got more things to worry about.
Do you ever look at death metal bands with gory or violent lyrics that have come in your wake and feel that maybe it’s been taken too far?
Paul: Nah. It’s that same thing, to each their own. If that’s what they wanna do and what they believe in then who am I to say anything?
Do you feel that a visual aesthetic is still as important in today’s world when so much music is consumed through people’s phones rather than through physical products?
Paul: I think so. It’s our mentality, whether it is or not, we always will believe it is because it was for us. That was how you found out about bands half the time, through the artwork going to a record store looking for new stuff. You’d see the cover and think “this has to be killer”, and 90% of the time it was. It goes hand in hand with CANNIBAL CORPSE because we’ve been around since that time. I truly do believe though that death metal fans do want the physical copy too. They want to hold onto something and see that artwork and read the lyrics and the thanks list, it’s a metal thing to do.
CANNIBAL CORPSE are now thirty years into a career performing a very extreme variant of metal, when thirty years before you guys started, metal didn’t exist at all. At this point, there is no precedent for what you guys are doing and you’re moving into totally uncharted waters. How does that feel and how do you see things progressing from here?
Paul: Yeah it is weird, I know. We don’t know what to expect, we are setting the precedent. I’m all for it. We do have our heroes like RUSH or IRON MAIDEN who have been around longer than us, though not playing such extreme music, but still up there doing it. I’d like to think I can just keep playing as long as I stay healthy and active and do the right things to be able to play to the best of my ability. Life’s too short and this has been our dream, so I’d like to just keep going until we can’t. And I’m hoping that time is later rather than sooner, because I’m feeling good right now.
Red Before Black is set for release on November 3rd through Metal Blade Records.
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