Interview: Cannibal Corpse

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In what’s become a lost art-form, I remember roaming through the FYE in my local mall as I scoured to find some new CD’s to purchase. Finding my solace in the heavy metal section, I came across an album cover that I found absolutely horrifying yet amusing at the same time. Underneath the artist title ‘Cannibal Corpse,’ my eyes zoomed onto the band’s debut LP Eaten Back To Life that features a zombie ripping out his own flesh near an eerie cemetery. It’s safe to say, I immediately scanned the album into the store’s MP3 player so I could preview each track through headphones. Within seconds, my ears were hooked onto this relentless outburst of chaotic insanity. In fact, I never heard anything so fast or ear shattering up until that point in time, so I continued to scourge through Cannibal Corpse’s catalog as the album’s only increased in gore and thrash-like attitude.

For the past twenty-five years, Cannibal Corpse set the standard for excellence amongst countless generations of death metal listeners across the world. I strongly standby my next statement; Cannibal Corpse’s influence on metal ranks right up there with the likes of Metallica or Iron Maiden. The group’s signature elements including death growls, manic time changes, and hammering riffs are still found within the musical DNA of modern titans including Suicide Silence, whitechapel, and even Korn. When the seventh annual Mayhem Festival revealed its lineup earlier this year, my excitement immediately rose up a few notches after Cannibal Corpse graced the billboard. While death metal isn’t foreign to Mayhem Festival, I find it critical for younger audiences to discover the godfather’s of the scene. On a package comprised of mostly upcoming acts, Cannibal Corpse’s veteran presence exposes unfamiliar listeners to the exhilarating dynamics of death metal. Even if this style of music doesn’t fit your tastes, Cannibal Corpse deserves respect for proving the odds wrong after twenty-five years. In fact, very few bands within metal could demonstrate the professionalism and consistency to push the boundaries of a genre they helped innovate.

In an exclusive interview with Pop-Break, Cannibal Corpse drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz sat down for an in-depth conversation focusing on his band’s historic career and upcoming LP A Skeletal Domain set for release on September 16th.

Photo Credit: Alex Morgan
Photo Credit: Alex Morgan

The countdown for A Skeletal Domain is drawing near; talk about Cannibal Corpse’s creative ambition in 2014 and what keeps the excitement alive to keep recording LPs?

Paul Mazurkiewicz: I mean; it’s our love of music really. Here we are exactly, our thirteen album is about come out in September and it’s called A Skeletal Domain. We’ve been around for 25 years now so I think it’s our love for playing Cannibal Corpse style of death metal. It’s as simple as that. We obviously experienced some success, which is great of course. We’re able to tour across the world and make a living off the band, so I think that definitely gives you inspiration as well. Like I said earlier, it’s our love for the music otherwise we wouldn’t be doing this.

What were you looking to accomplish musically on A Skeletal Domain? How does it balance with your older material or more recent records?

PM: I like to say it’s the next chapter in the story of Cannibal Corpse. You’re allotted a timeframe to create some music and there are deadlines so you have to get things done in a certain manner. We like to do the best we can at any given point. Whether we’re refining our sound or working on our instruments, we’re constantly trying to better ourselves. So really, those are our goals and aspirations these days. It’s not to get complacent or go through the motions, which we never did. For some reason during the last-ten years, the music has come together pretty well and our best records have arguably been happening now as opposed to earlier in our career. We’re very fortunate and lucky. Let’s say you talk to talk to 20 different fans and ask them about their favorite Cannibal Corpse record; each one might give you different answer, which is good. It shows that we’re not resting on one album like some other bands might do, so we try to better ourselves as a band constantly.

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Talk about working with your producer Mark Lewis after spending your last three records collaborating with Erik Rutan. What caught your eye most when you sought Mark’s hand in producing A Skeletal Domain?

PM: Erik Rutan did a great job for us on our last three albums, but we just felt it was time for a change. We just wanted to get a different kind of excitement; you don’t want to get complacent. Like I said, Erik did a great job but we just wanted to do something different. Mark caught our eye with the productions and bands that he’s worked with over the past few years. They are amazing productions and he’s been doing an amazing job. We all just felt, ‘Let’s give Mark a chance and see what happens.’ We were all confident that he was going to make a great sounding record. There’s no way that it was going to fall off after working with Eric. Mark’s a very talented producer. We knew about Mark’s catalog up to this point and we really wanted him to work on a Cannibal record.

If you could talk about Mark’s musical vision, what kind of suggestions did he bring to the table in term of ideas or song structures?

PM: Our producer’s are always going to be there to capture the band. Minor things might be changed but those things are usually very minor. Our arrangements are set in stone when we write our records. We never had a producer in that sense where it’s like, ‘Oh, we need someone to help us write.’ We would never do that. What Mark does and just like some other producer’s, he really wants to get the best performance out of us and maybe suggest some little things. For me this time around, Mark made an important suggestion. I had been using these thinner drumsticks for a while and I wrote all the songs and I practiced right up until we went to record the album with those sticks. And Marc asked me, ‘Hey, do you use these sticks?’ I said, ‘Yeah, man!’ He said, ‘It would great if we could us some heavier sticks on this record to get a heavier velocity, what do you think?’ I thought to myself, ‘Holy crap, you’re telling me to use different sticks?’ I’m a drummer and we’re so meticulous about things like that (laughs). It was a spur of the moment thing and I went with it because no producer ever told me that or asked me that beforehand. I was like, ‘He’s the producer and if he feels it’s going to better our record, I’m going to listen and do what it takes to get to that point.’ I used those heavier sticks on the fly and my shoulders were killing me (Laughs). But I was like, ‘You know what? If the end product is going to be better, I’m willing to go through some suffering to make it happen.’ If it weren’t for Marc, I’m sure that I wouldn’t have said, ‘Oh hey, maybe I should use heavier sticks?’ It does shows on the record, especially when you hear the drum work and fills. It made a huge difference using these sticks to get the hits as hard as possible.

Are you still using those heavier drumsticks?

Paul Mazurkiewicz at Mayhem Fest in Camden. Photo: Anthony Toto
Paul Mazurkiewicz at Mayhem Fest in Camden. Photo: Anthony Toto

PM: What I wanted to do, I like to change things up and I really wanted to start using heavier sticks but I didn’t think it was the time to do it. His suggestion pushed me into gear to start using heavier sticks, or go back to them anyways, because I actually used heavier sticks for quite a while. As soon as I was done with the recording, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I need to step it up now and use the heavier sticks.’ I really did like using them. It was really hard at first but I started getting really used to them after a few days. I felt like I was playing better just by having a little extra momentum and having those heavier sticks. Like I said, it wouldn’t have happened without Mark getting the ball rolling and making the suggestion.

Sometimes fans tend to exaggerate their concerns, like those who were distraught about your choice to collaborate with Mark. For a band like Cannibal Corpse, how do you satisfy your own creative expectations without hearing the chatter from your fanbase?

PM: As long as we’re writing songs as Cannibal Corpse, that’s all that matters. People will always talk and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, Mark Lewis? I hope they don’t wind up sounding like a nu-metal band or turn metalcore.’ Just because he worked with some of those bands doesn’t mean we’re going to all of a sudden become one of those bands. We’re Cannibal Corpse and we’re going to write our music. Mark captured what we were doing and he did it well. All that nonsense is ridiculous. When it comes down it, wait till you hear the music because than you’re going to say, ‘Oh, it sounds great.’ These are Cannibal songs and there’s no way that you’re going to hear this record and think this sounds like anything else besides us. As long as we do our thing, we’ll be all right in the end and everything will be at peace (Laughs).

PB: Are there any plans to possibly debut tracks like “Sadistic Embodiment” on this tour? What other songs off A Skeletal Domain are you most excited to share with your fans?

PM: It is very interesting, “Sadistic Embodiment” is out there and it’s kind of the tip off the iceberg in terms of what we’re doing on this record. It’s a very straightforward song and the drumming doesn’t necessarily showcase anything like I was talking about with the drum rolls and harder hitting. “A Skeletal Domain,” I think it’s arguably the best song that Pat ever wrote because it’s very epic, which of course helped it become the title-track of our album. “Kill or Become” has a very groovy riff and a great chorus and verse line that’s memorable and I think our fans will love it. We have a song called “ Headlong Into Carnage,” it is very Slayer esque and I’m doing some crazy drum stuff with the rolls. I’m very excited for everyone to hear this album because we’re extremely happy with what we created. I think people will really dig this record and I think it’s arguably going to be our best record yet.

After twenty-five years, this band still carries the flag for death metal. How do you approach the Mayhem Festival where your band is the only predominant death metal group on the package?

PM: We’re very fortunate to play a festival like this where we’re the brutal band for the most part. We know we’re going to play in front of a lot of new fans and that’s how we’re carrying the flag and getting our music to future generations. By being here and letting the fans see us, we’re playing in front of people who wouldn’t necessarily come to a Cannibal Corpse club show. We just do our thing and that’s all we can do. I think it’s working because we’re still here after twenty-five years and doing better than we ever have. I guess we’re doing something right.

I could genuinely hear the passion in your voice for the music. Your band seems to appreciate everything you accomplished whether it’s the legacy or the musical chemistry.

Cannibal Corpse at Mayhem Fest in Camden, NJ. Photo: Anthony Toto
Cannibal Corpse at Mayhem Fest in Camden, NJ. Photo: Anthony Toto

PM: Absolutely, we’re very lucky to be here and have the career that we had. We don’t take it for granted and we know that we worked hard as well. Still, there are so many factors and there’s always luck involved and being at the right place at the right time. Here we are, we never had any expectations or thought this is what we would do for a living. Sure everyone has that in the back of his or her mind when you want to be an athlete, actor, or musician. It’s like, ‘Sure, it’s a great dream.’ That’s all it was for us, we thought it was a dream that we would never achieve. Because it was like, ‘Who are we?’ We’re just some normal dudes who were from Buffalo when we started. For us to still be around after twenty-five years, we’re very appreciative and don’t take this granted. We never acted like this had to happen to us. I know I don’t feel that way and I feel so lucky to be in this situation. We’re still excited to play our kind of music and be creative. When you hear this record, there are some great songs. How could you not be excited? It kicks us in the ass when you hear everyone is caring. It’s a great thing because we’re all very passionate about the music. I think that’s why we’re here as well. We haven’t gone through the motions, the fans know that and would see through that. We wouldn’t be as popular as we were if we just half assed it. To me, what’s the point of that? This is a dream come true and you have to make the most of it. Life’s too short and we love being here, so I think it shows.

A Skeletal Domain keeps up your band’s knack for creating eye opening album covers. What’s your take on the new cover? If you could pick a favorite album cover from your past, which album would you chose?

PM: We love A Skeletal Domain. Of course, it’s a little different but it needed to be. If we’re going call the album A Skeletal Domain, we felt it needed to be more of an epic and dark album cover like that. Vince did a great job and I think it’s one of his best. It’s not gory in the least bit but it’s got vibe and it’s eerie. That’s what we were going for, very dark imagery without having it to be a shock value type of thing like Tomb, Butchered, Tortured, or Wretched Spawn. Vince’s done some great stuff for us over the years and we’re happy with all of his work. For me, Eaten Back To Life will always be very special to me because it’s the first. When I look at that artwork, I think it’s the epitome of what Cannibal Corpse should be with a zombie being torn apart by himself. I mean, the detail is incredible and I love that album a lot and it will always be my favorite for a few reasons.

Cannibal Corpse at Mayhem Fest. Photo: Anthony Toto
Cannibal Corpse at Mayhem Fest. Photo: Anthony Toto

What’s your take on the current death metal scene and how it’s evolved since the band’s heyday? Do you feel the overall characteristics of death metal evolved for the better or has the scene stagnated in recent memory?

PM: It shows that extreme metal or death metal is here to stay. It’s amazing to see how popular these bands are. I never would’ve thought that a band like whitechapel would sell 16,000 records in the first week. They’re huge and they’re an extreme metal band that dare you say is mainstream or something. Who would’ve ever thought that would happen back then? Heavy metal was shunned during the eighties when we were growing up. I mean; that was hard underground music. Judas Priest and Iron Maiden? That wasn’t mainstream. Now of course, you’re going to here a Metallica song at every football or hockey game. It’s mainstream now and that’s a good thing. I think it shows a society that’s changing and more accepting. Nobody wanted death metal to succeed because they thought it was too noisy. They thought it was just a fad that nobody would care about in five-years. It’s been going strong for over thirty-years now and this just the beginning of it all over the scheme of life and music. I like to think, what’s this style going to be like in a hundred years? After everyone has made their mark, will death metal be elevator music because it’s considered classical? It’s like, ‘Oh yeah, this song is from 200 years ago when Cannibal Corpse…’ The way it’s going, it has the potential to be a very popular form of music with the masses. Like I said, who would’ve thought that this scene would’ve gotten here 30-years ago?

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