Cannibal Corpse – Masters of Brutality

Thursday, 26th October 2017

There is only one Cannibal Corpse. The granddaddies of death metal. No matter what happens within the genre, no matter the changes to direction and style through the years, Cannibal Corpse will always have a place as setting the benchmark for brutality. Easily one of the ‘big four’ of death metal, others may have laid some groundwork, but the first few Cannibal Corpse albums have a lasting legacy with genre fans. Of course, they’ve maintained themselves well through the years. A consistent force, or wrecking ball if you will, within extreme music.

Their latest release (and fourteenth album) is Red Before Black. Cannibal Corpse continues their streak of albums that maintain their high standards without feeling stale or retreading the same ground. In fact, Red Before Black revels in aggression and brutality. A visceral gut-punch that still keeps it interesting. We chatted with drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz to get his thoughts on the latest Corpse release, artwork through the years, and his technique.

Dead Rhetoric: Obviously the band isn’t out to say, make a country album with a new release, but what differences come to mind when you think of Red Before Black?

Paul Mazurkiewicz: I think it’s just a little more organic sounding of a record. Maybe a little more thrashy. That’s what the consensus is. We are products of thrash, growing up in the ‘80s, with Cannibal basically being a thrash band early on. It’s got that kind of vibe to it – a thrashier vibe. We had a little of that feel on the last 2-3 records anyways, but this one in particular overall. But very aggressive. I think it’s some of our best work – it’s really catchy stuff. When I listen to the whole record, all 12 songs – I’m very happy and proud of how they came out. I’m very excited to play any of them. It’s just one of those records. For some reason, I can’t explain it, but everything came together and we wrote a brutal, Cannibal Corpse record.

Dead Rhetoric: When you hear “Code of the Slashers,” it does have that more brutal aspect to it. In the sense that it’s not overly technical, but more vicious.

Mazurkiewicz: Right – that’s kind of what I’m getting at with all of the material. It sounds vicious. It’s got this edge and angriness to it. It seems like it’s not really over-tech…there’s a couple, we’ve got some weird stuff, but overall it’s got more of an old school vibe. “Code of the Slashers” is a prime example of htat. The aggressive, kind of gritty, in your face brutality. That’s what Red Before Black is.

Dead Rhetoric: What made you decide to go back to Erik Rutan for this album?

Mazurkiewicz: The main thing was, at this point in our careers and our lives, the more we can be home the better. We’ve been there, and we’ve done it. We go on the road so much. We thought it was key that the longer we can stay home, the better. Really, that was the key. If we could have recorded the record in our own bedrooms, each one of us, I’m sure we would have done that. Then we wouldn’t have to go anywhere to do it. It was crucial for our mentalities. Normally, we want to go somewhere, and it used to be that mentality. The older we get, it’s a little different. For myself, George, or whomever, we all have families. We have children. So I looked at is as, “You know what, I’ll get more done and be more effective.”

You do it in stages these days too. We don’t all need to be at the studio at once, all five of us for a couple of months. It just doesn’t need to be that way. We all looked at it to be more beneficial to be home. I can do my drum tracks and I’m done. Then it’s onto Pat, Rob, or whomever. If I need to be there, I’m not that far away…I can be there in an hour. You can’t do that anywhere else. I can get stuff done at home, and be with my family. So I think that was such a crucial thing – to be able to be home and sleep in our own beds at night. But still be recording a record. It gave it more of a comfort I think. Mentally, we were more stable in that way. I know it helped me big time.

Dead Rhetoric: I would imagine it would be nice to be able to just go home after recording. It must make you feel energized because you can go home and sleep in your own bed.

Mazurkiewicz: Exactly. That’s the whole thing. I felt more energized in that way. I’m in my normal routine, instead of having to change it. If I have to sleep somewhere else, go to a different studio…yeah, it can be done. You have to do what you have to do. And if that’s the case, so be it. But if we can do it the way we want, I think that this way was the best way to do it. I think if you talk to all the guys, they’d probably tell you the same thing.

Dead Rhetoric: The video for “Code of the Slashers” is out now. It’s a very well made video – can you talk about some of the details behind making it?

Mazurkiewicz: Yeah, actually other than just signing off on the whole idea, we had no input basically. It wasn’t like, “Oh we are going to make a video, what should we do?” It was, “Hey we are going to make a video, here’s the guy we are going to have do it, and this is what he wants to do.” When we saw the whole treatment of the thing, of course if we didn’t like it we weren’t going to sign off on the whole thing. But yeah, what he came up with, that was it.

We didn’t change a thing. It was like, “Awesome, that sounds killer. Let’s go for it!” When we finally saw it, it was the same thing. They did a great job – the production company, and they had a good vision for what the song is. It’s Rob [Barrett’s] song – he was very happy with how it turned out. It follows what the song is about. So yeah, other than signing off on a cool idea that they came up with, it was all their doing. I’m glad that it turned out as killer as it did. We’re just happy to have a cool video associated with “Code of the Slashers.”

Dead Rhetoric: Looking at the cover art, when you go back to your first albums you have these extraordinarily violent covers, do you feel that the band has shifted away from that? Is there more of a focus on it being a new Cannibal Corpse album, and that should be enough to get the point across?

Mazurkiewicz: Yeah, that’s always been our mentality. In the early days, we had three albums that are so brutal in the covers. That right there, Cannibal was setting up that it was what we do, and that’s what we look like in a way. But then you have an album come out like The Bleeding and that’s not much of a [brutal] cover. That was our fourth album after putting out three brutal covers. We always looked at it and thought of it as being about the music first. It doesn’t matter what the cover is. Sure, at this point, yes we are Cannibal Corpse and we have to have some brutal artwork, but it doesn’t always have to be that brutal.

At this point, I think we kind of mix it up a little bit. We had The Wretched Spawn recently; Torture we think is pretty brutal overall. Then we have a cover like Evisceration Plague, or A Skeletal Domain, which is a little different for us. That brings us to Red Before Black. We are never going to outdo Butchered at Birth or Tomb of the Mutilated, and we aren’t trying obviously. Because right, it’s the music first. We feel that we have a cool piece that we are all into, then that’s what you get. If the five of us think that the piece of art is cool and it’s what we’ll go for, then that’s what we’ll do.

This time around, we came up with a piece that’s still brutal, but it’s brutal in a different sense. It’s not Butchered at Birth, but it’s Red Before Black. We have a new piece with a new vision and a new look, and it’s something different than what we’ve done before – having that perspective, and what the cover is. So like I said, we like to have art, we like to have cool pieces, but it’s never been, “We have to have this brutal art or what or we going to do?” It’s not about that, it’s always music first.

Dead Rhetoric: Right. Because if you just keep trying to outdo it each time, eventually you’ll get to a point where you can’t go much farther.

Mazurkiewicz: Exactly. I think we already can’t go much farther than Butchered and Tomb. Look how old they are. That just happens to be that ‘it is what it is.’ Like you said, it’s not like we are shooting for that – coming up with the goriest cover of all time or to be so brutal…no, that’s just what happened. It’s kind of cool how it came about. How it all plays out like that. It wasn’t meant to be for any other reason besides us wanting to see a cool piece of art on our cover. That’s it.

Dead Rhetoric: Does it get harder as you get older to channel the same rage and aggression to put into the music? Or is it still just kind of the same old thing?

Mazurkiewicz: It’s kind of the same old thing. I don’t look at us as us being angry – that we grew up angry and we are mad for some reason. None of us are doing it for that. The riffs make you aggressive – riffs is what makes you [angry noise]. We’ve got some good riffs. That’s what is going to bring the aggression out in me. Put the beat to the riff and there you go. Luckily for us, it’s about the music bringing out that aggression. We got some killer stuff, some cool ideas that are going to make everyone excited. That’s what gives us the aggression. Luckily we’ve got no shortage of riffs, or I guess we wouldn’t be a band right now, putting out our fourteenth album, thirty years in. If we have the riffs, the aggression will be there.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that you have changed drumming techniques as you’ve continued to play?

Mazurkiewicz: Yeah – I feel like there are ups and down. I’ve looked at how I’ve gone over the years when I sat up. Just like sitting at your throne. For years, I sat up real high and then I would get lower. I sat low for a few years and then I was like, “What am I doing here? I can’t do certain things.” So I went back up. You fluctuate – I went through spells like that. But now I’m back to where I am in this focused vision – to play the best I ever have. I want to do the best I ever have. I want to do these little things to make me a better drummer. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past couple of years.

This year in particular, when I started writing for Red Before Black, I was doing more of those little things to make myself better. I wanted to make my drumming better than the last one, which is pretty cool. I think I have. I think I’ve achieved it. When you hear the whole album, Red Before Black, you are going to go, “Wow, man.” It’s very drum-busy. I’m doing a lot of stuff. I’m excited for that. I’ve got this mid-life vision of doing what I can do here, at my age, and to be the best drummer I can. Especially if we want any more longevity. We aren’t getting any younger here. So I’ve been working on those things, and I think it’s paying off. I think once you hear the album, people are going to go, “Wow, that’s my best drumming!” And that’s what I was going for.

Dead Rhetoric: In terms of drumming itself, do you feel that drumming is different in death metal than it is in other genres?

Mazurkiewicz: Totally. Drums are a focus in death metal, as to where they may not be very focal in other kinds of music. Even in rock and roll, they don’t have to be as focused. I think a lot of times they are, but I think death metal – all the instruments are a focal point. In our band, we’ve got five rhythm players, George included in that with his vocal rhythm. We are all focal points – it’s kind of crazy in that way. But yeah, I think death metal drumming is very different than any other genre, that’s for sure.

Dead Rhetoric: In the quest to be more extreme, do you still feel that mood plays a big part in death metal?

Mazurkiewicz: Well, yeah – I mean, it seems crazy. How fast are you going to go? How tech are you going to get? Eventually you are all going to come backwards. To me, it’s always about feel. Mood, feel…I think that’s another reason why Red Before Black stands out. A lot of it, like I said, is very organic, with a lot of feel. There’s more feeling in songs, especially in Pat’s writing. In Pat’s four songs, they are very much not like Pat. There’s a lot more feel going on. I think that is key. That’s what makes a song. Having the mood, having the feel. At the end of the day, you can only go so fast or be so tech. How far are you going to go with this? How long are you going to take that? I think you are always going to come back to the primitive state of music and the feel of it. That’s important.

Dead Rhetoric: There’s been kind of two eras to the band. You’ve had George and you’ve had Chris [Barnes]. Is it ever a point of frustration for the George vs Chris era debate continuing on, at least in some circles?

Mazurkiewicz: Nah, not at all. There’s always going to be the people that have their opinions, and we were two different bands if you look at it like that. But no, it doesn’t bother me at all. We rarely hear stuff these days. I look at it as us moving on. We are a better band for it, and that’s all I care about.

Dead Rhetoric: If you were to go back to the beginning of the band, what advice would you give yourself when you were younger? Or are you more of the ‘play it the way it’s dealt’ type?

Mazurkiewicz: I’ve always been more of the play it the way it’s dealt. I don’t know if there’s really any advice to give if I were to go back. Other than maybe, just practice more [laughs]. That probably would be about it.

Dead Rhetoric: I know this is a couple years old from the last time you dealt with this, in Russia, but do you find it odd that in this day and age, you still get metal shows banned or cancelled due to lyrically content?

Mazurkiewicz: It’s always odd. It’s obviously ridiculous and shouldn’t be happening. But if you can get one or a few people who can pull enough weight to do these things, than that’s what happens. But of course, it’s utterly ridiculous. Who are we? We are a death metal band. I think there’s things out in the world that should be having much more attention than us, in the way of things that are detrimental and bad for the world. I think it’s pretty stupid.

Dead Rhetoric: Do people find it odd that you are a vegetarian in Cannibal Corpse? Nowadays, there are a lot of vegetarians in metal.

Mazurkiewicz: I guess in the early days, because I’ve been one for about 14 years now. When I first became one, it was more of a joke, “You are in Cannibal Corpse and you don’t eat red meat. How can you be a vegetarian?” There was a little more of that going on early, but with 14 years now…the more you go, it’s more widespread. Like you were saying, there’s more people becoming vegetarian or vegan. There’s a lot more in metal of course, so it doesn’t seem to be as big of a deal. It wasn’t a big deal 14 years ago, but if I were to have become one 20-30 years ago, it probably would have been a big deal. But not so much anymore, so that’s good.

Dead Rhetoric: Define the new album, Red Before Black, in three words.

Mazurkiewicz: Oh gosh. Brutal Cannibal Corpse.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve got some touring in the US as well as Europe early next year – you are back on the touring machine for the foreseeable future?

Mazurkiewicz: That is correct. We’ll be doing it everywhere. Things are yet to be worked on but we should be going all over the world, and doing it all over. We’ll be out for a couple of years, touring for Red Before Black.

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