So I’ve probably sat down to try to write this intro about six or seven times, and each attempt has come out sounding more bullshit than the next. Unfortunately but fortunately, bullshit is something of which this death metal outfit is overwhelmingly devoid.
Must I even go on? It’s fucking Cannibal Corpse.
Come November 3 with the release of Red Before Black on MetalBlade, a staggering 14 albums will be left to speak for themselves. Nevertheless, drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz was kind enough to speak to the Graveyard. Reaching out from across the Gulf to the sound of a pet rooster sweetly cooing in the background, I came to learn that filling the shoes of such a grandiose name and generating inconceivable longevity and influence is indebted to a laid-back mentality that divides the world of fiction and reality. When violence is left as an imagination purge, as art for art’s sake, there’s more room for peace in the soul, which sustains Cannibal’s surprisingly temperate way of life.
When speaking of Red Before Black, I believe it was your bassist, Alex, who said that throughout Cannibal Corpse’s career, there has been an effort “to improve the precision of both our musical execution and album production while still maintaining full-on aggression.” What has this process looked like?
It’s just our natural process, basically. I think that’s just about our mentality, not even something we consciously think about. I like to think that we’ve been climbing the ladder in all aspects. The older you get, the more wisdom you accumulate; experience and those things. We’ve been around, we’ve written songs, and we’re always trying to better ourselves. It’s just a natural thing. It just happens. That’s about it.
So there’s been a natural evolution just through the act of playing music?
Oh, yeah. When we started out we were just some kids playing. I didn’t take lessons. Now I think about how raw I was and how different of a drummer and musician I am, even though I’ve maintained those same mental qualities about wanting to be a brutal, in-your-face death metal band. The same death metal band that we set out to be, we still are. But, of course you’re going to progress. You should get better, and we have. You get better at your instruments and those kinds of things. Yes, we want to be precision, but we want to maintain that primal quality that Cannibal has been known for. But, of course, it’s always going to be a little bit different 30 years later. How could it not?
Sure. I’m more familiar with the debate over production quality in black metal, but I’m less informed about what it looks like in death metal. Do you believe that there’s any kind of thematic sacrifice that comes with having a little bit cleaner production?
I don’t know. I just know that we want to sound good. When we go into the studio, we say ‘make us sound like Cannibal Corpse,’ and that’s all we go for. Just like the music itself, we want the production to be heavy and well-rounded in the sense that you’re able to hear everything and, of course, you want it to be sonically in your face. We’re talking about death metal; of course the drums are going to be loud and the bass is going to have a great tone. Really, we don’t think of anything else. For us, we just go in to record our songs and need the best or proper production for being heard. For instance, Red Before Black — we feel that that’s the great production we were aiming for. We have great guitar sound and it’s our guitar sound. It’s a good album in that yes, you can hear all of the instruments, and it’s death metal.
So Cannibal’s been around since ’88, but you and Alex are the only remaining original members. What’s that bond like?
We obviously always had the same goal of playing some crazy music, and our paths somehow crossed to be in a band together. Jack–our guitar player until 2005–and Alex actually grew up together. I think they actually went to kindergarten together, so they’ve technically known each other a long time. When I was with my band before Cannibal, I was jamming with Barnes and Bob Rusay–the original vocalist and guitarist–in Cannibal, and we were friends from high school. We meshed forces and Alex became the bass player, and here we are 30 years later. We had a common goal of playing some brutal music and we were able to do it and have some success and then hey, the band’s our job now.
We’re all super down to earth guys. All relationships have issues, but to be in a band together after 30 plus years you have to like each other a little bit. We don’t really hang out too much personally because Alex actually moved out to Portland, Oregon. Even when he was still in Florida, it’s not like it was back in our teens and 20’s when it was all partying and everyone was hanging around. Now I’ve got a family. George has a family. Everyone’s got families. We’re all doing our own thing. We see each other so much on the road that that’s where most of the contact is. So, we’ve got a good relationship; that’s for sure.
Besides an interest in just wanting to play heavy music since you guys were young, was there a common interest in the macabre as well? Or was that something that came later?
When you’re male teenagers in the ’80s and all of the horror movies are just starting to come into play (the classics — the Day of the Dead movies, Halloween, Friday the 13th and everything), you’re going to get really into that kind of stuff. It really came down to exactly when we named the band. We knew what we were and what we were trying to do, and we were emulating our heroes–Slayer, Metallica, Kreator–and they have dark subject matter. So we said ‘okay, we want our band to be like that.’
Dark subject matter is what you’re going to be into when you’re in a heavy band like that and that’s who your influences are. It really was exactly when Alex came up with the name Cannibal Corpse — everyone was blown away and it only took us a day to officially decide on it. What other kind of a band could a band named Cannibal Corpse be? It just made sense that we’d be gore-oriented horror. A band named Cannibal Corpse isn’t going to be a satanic band. It’s not going to be anything else. It’s Cannibal Corpse. It was a no-brainer.
I recently asked GWAR this question, and I’m interested to hear your response as well. Is Cannibal Corpse still garnering controversy in 2017? If so, has the face of it changed since a lot of the backlash in the 90’s?
I mean it’s still around, I guess. We had the German thing about 10 years ago where albums were banned and we couldn’t play songs live. Then we had this Russian thing a couple years ago and some shows were cancelled while we were there or we can’t go back or something. I don’t know. It’s ridiculous, but it happens unfortunately. I try not to even think about it honestly. There are too many better things to think about — making an album and playing shows and traveling around the world. So, there’s always a few little stupid speed bumps like that. It’s ridiculous, and I hate that there are some fans who get left out when we’re kept out of places. But, overall, when you look at the scheme of things, over 30 years we could have had much bigger issues to contend with. We didn’t, so that’s good.
Cannibal Corpse, pretty much more than other any band I’ve know besides maybe, like, Cradle of Filth and their “Jesus is a Cunt” shirt, is known for its fucking iconic merch. Is there a particular design or campaign from over the years that really sticks out to you as a favorite or that you’d still be inclined to wear?
Nah, I’ve never worn any of our stuff, and I don’t think I even did back in the day. It’s almost one of those weird unspoken things — you wear everyone else’s stuff, but you never would in support of your own band. I don’t really care to wear band shirts anymore anyway as it is. But, of course, we’ve had some great art. Obviously, whether you like it or not, Butchered at Birth and Tomb of the Mutilated are going to be some of our most iconic covers. You look at them and you think oh, jeez; that is pretty brutal. It’s some sick stuff we’ve come up with, and those are our covers. But, hey, that was where we were at that point in time. It is what it is.
We’ve had Vince Locke do a lot of secondary pieces just for t-shirts. I really like the Live Cannibalism covers we did with him, with the guy on the stilts walking through the human bodies. I mean, that’s just a cool cover. I think we made a shirt of that, too, but I can’t remember. I think all of artwork translates great to merchandise and, of course, the fans love it and that’s awesome. But, I don’t think I could name one or two because we’ve had so many. We’ve had so many great pieces I don’t think I could even remember half of them. If I went back and looked I’d probably be like ‘oh yeah, I forgot we had that shirt.’
So, you can address this on philosophical grounds; I’m certainly not trying to get at anything political. But, I’ve read that you’re a vegetarian. Yet, Cannibal speaks of a lot of violence, which is a bit of an understatement. Do you think animals and people are equal, or do you hold any views about the humane treatment of life?
Yes, I’ve been a vegetarian for about 14 years, I think. All animals deserve to live. No animal deserves to die at all. So, I became a vegetarian. I didn’t want to eat animals anymore. I felt very hypocritical in my views as I got older. I could never kill an animal; I could never kill anything. Every living creature deserves to live and shouldn’t be killed for anything, especially for consumption. They’re helpless animals. So humans should kill them because they’re easy to kill? Because you can kill a cow? You can kill a chicken? Sure, back in the day that had to be done to survive, but we don’t have to live that way anymore. That’s why I became [a vegetarian]. If the doctor’s going to tell me that I’m going to die because I don’t eat meat, then I guess I’ll eat meat because I don’t want to die. But, I know I’m not going to die if I quit eating meat and live a vegan/vegetarian diet for the rest of my life. I think I can do it because it’s a mental thing.
It’s embedded in us to eat meat because it’s been done for generations. People insist that you need this protein. But, like I said, I’ve been doing [vegetarianism] for 14 years, and what, I’m ready to keel over? No. I’m about to release my 14th album with my best drumming appearance that I’ve done in a long time. I don’t push it on anybody. I mean, to each their own. But, I feel strong enough about every animal deserving to live that I’m going to do my part in not eating them. If people are still going to eat them, I understand that. But, I wanted to change, and I’m glad that I did.
Right. Maybe I’m a little bit biased because I’m vegan, but I think the true irony is that you’ll have, and not to put a tagline on it, but conservative critics of Cannibal Corpse who take issue with what you guys do, and then they’ll sit down and eat a steak dinner. Perhaps it’s healthier to get violence out in art than it is in something as integral to daily life as eating and food.
That’s why we’ve never written a song about killing animals. Woo, brutal; hurting a defenseless animal. That’s not brutal. What’s brutal is doing things to humans. That’s brutality in the most evil way, and, of course, that’s what our subject matter is going to pertain to — human on human [violence]. And, it’s all fictional. You throw things like zombies in here and there. It’s all fantasy and fiction. But, to me, doing anything to animals is just not what we’re going for. I know that’s true for all of us — even the guys who aren’t vegetarian or vegan. I’m sure they’d all feel that same way. It’s not right and it’s never going to be that way. Kill the humans! In our songs, of course.
I’m bagging what you’re mowing, homie.
Oh, gosh; go ahead and misquote it.
Yeah, I’ll definitely make that the block quote.
Kill everyone. There’s no sparing anybody. No, I’m just joking. I’ve had a long day. Lack of sleep. We just got back from Mexico. We did Knotfest yesterday.
How did that go?
It was good. It was our first live show in over a year and, shit, three months. We played Saturday. It was cool and there was a good turnout. The festival was run well and we played alright. But, we just got home late last night and now we’re ready to start this tour Friday in Jacksonville, so we only have a couple days to rehearse and get ready to go. But, it’s one of those things where the first day of jet lag sucks, but after a good night’s sleep, I’ll be just fine.
Good to hear. So any last words for the record?
Thanks to all the fans for supporting death metal and Cannibal Corpse. We hope you all like the new album as much as we do.
You can find Jenna listening to black metal and wearing black clothes on instagram.
Tune in next week to Thirsty Thursday for more from Jenna!