Many words come to mind when you hear the name Cannibal Corpse, but one truly defines the soon-to-be thirty-year death metal veterans: Unstoppable. Returning with their 14th full-length, the monstrous Red Before Black (out now via Metal Blade), serves to not only reiterate this but to once more raise the stakes, making it very clear who sets the standard when it comes to always compelling music that is equally brutal and complex.
Having played in the region of two hundred shows around the globe in support of the titanic A Skeletal Domain, the quintet – rounded out by guitarists Rob Barrett and Pat O’Brien, and vocalist George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher – settled down to begin writing after completing their run on 2016’s Summer Slaughter tour. As has always been the case, there was no blueprint for what they wanted the full-length to be, rather letting it develop naturally with instruments in their hands.
The aforementioned aggression, rawness and catchiness leap out from the speaker as soon as the listener hits play, “Only One Will Die” perhaps the most ruthless yet immediate album opener 2017 has seen. What follows is a relentless barrage of ferocious music that maintains the insanely high standards the unit have long-held themselves to, and while there is a great diversity in dynamics there is never a let up in intensity. The devastating “Firestorm Vengeance”, for instance, sounds like the work of men only the most foolhardy would choose to mess with, likewise the title track and ultra-belligerent “Destroyed Without A Trace”. The vile, lurching passages of “Code Of The Slashers” play menacingly off against bloodthirsty thrashings, while “Scavenger Consuming Death” stands out as one of the heaviest additions to one of the weightiest catalogs in extreme music.
In our new interview, drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz discusses the making of Red Before Black, Cannibal Corpse’s most essential albums, gory album covers, and more!
You guys have existed for nearly 30 years. What would you say has kept you together for so long?
It’s about the love of the music. We’re very fortunate to start out 30 years ago and have success right off the bat where everything was going great. We all just love to play and write songs, and after fourteen records, we just want to keep moving forward and we feel like we’e always have, and the popularity just grows with the band.
We love to create and write the perfect brutal death metal Cannibal Corpse song and I think we’ve obviously must have achieved that to have this sort of longevity.
It seems with this album your goal was to sound as tight as possible musically, but also maintaining your aggression. Is that accurate?
Yeah, definitely. I think that’s just kind of a natural progression of the band. If you listen to the early days of the first three albums, we’re still Cannibal Corpse but we were much rougher around the edges. We’ve all become a lot better musicians in that way and I think you hit it though because our new album kind of culminates our career.
Like you said, you take the beginning and you take it up to our 13th album, and you got the best of Cannibal Corpse on Red Before Black, and it’s just like that savageness dished up with that precision that wasn’t there technically in the early days.
When you began creating the album back in 2016, did you have a sort of blueprint as to what you wanted this album to be like?
Not really. We never usually do that because it usually just flows naturally. We know it’s going to be Cannibal Corpse, and everybody knows what to expect. There’s never been times where everybody is writing songs and it’s like “it’s not for Cannibal Corpse”, and everybody knows and when we have to do it, it gets done.
The only thing we basically kind of talked about slightly at the end of the cycle was that we joked about making it doom album. We did say it would kind of actually have more open chords, and more hanging riffs, and I think we did it in a few songs on this record and letting the riffs breathe a little bit more.
Pat [O’Brien] wrote three songs, Rob [Barrett] wrote three songs, Alex [Webster] wrote four songs, I wrote a song with Rob and that was the vibe everyone was feeling. And when we intertwined the songs, and they all just fit perfectly together.We’re products of thrash, not that this is a thrash album, but you know it’s up there with a thrashy feel to it and a very old school kind of feel, and we’re sort of coming full circle with this album.
Lyrically, what kind of topics/themes did you focus on with this album?
It’s pretty apparent where you usually just need to read our song titles and half the time you can figure out what the song is going to be about. We always try to do something different, but being under the cloud of being a death metal band where it’s got to be horrific and all that kind of stuff, we seem to always twist it up a little bit and do different things.
You know for instance a song that I wrote because I wrote half of the album lyrically called “Heads Shoveled Off”, and we had to create a story around that title, and Pat had an idea where he told me he goes “man, you know, this really happened when my uncle was fighting in the Vietnam War and they did this to the enemy where they didn’t killed a guy this way but they ended up taking his head off with a shovel”, and I think that’s the first time for me where I intertwined a real life occurrence in a song.
How would you describe your drum performance on this album?
I think it’s pretty good, and I’m very happy with it. Fans are going to hear that I’m doing a lot more than I’ve done over the last few records, and I try to push myself as I ever have in the writing and recording process.
I don’t know if it’s just because we’re getting older, but I really wanted to go to another level and push forward, so I worked really hard on my technique and just practicing more and just taking it to a next step from I’ve been doing. And I think it’s apparent because when you listen to the drumming on the new record it stands out and it reminds me of the drumming I was doing on Tomb of the Mutilated when I was 21 or 22 years old. And now making this record at 49 years old I felt like I was young again just in that sense of pushing my body to do more.
You came up with the album title Red Before Black. What is the meaning behind it?
I came up with the title Red Before Black when I was basically sleeping where it is kind of woke me up in the middle of the night, which was crazy. I don’t know why I just had this thought of that phrase and then it just woke me up in the middle of the night. It was just Pat and I the next day at rehearsal and I said, “Man, I’ve got a killer title”, and he liked it a lot.
The meaning behind it is very simple. Cannibal Corpse. Red Before Black. Well, what else does that mean? Seeing blood before you die, it’s as simple as that. The whole simpleness of it and using those two colours and obviously what they represent, I loved it as the title.
Your album covers are notoriously graphic. What is the process like with Vince Locke to come up with the concepts for each cover?
It depends on the cover exactly and on where we’re at and who’s got ideas. We’ve had covers in the past where we share the title with Rob and say, “man, go for it”, but most of the time he’s going to come up with something that we love right off the bat.
The last few covers it was more our doing where we go, “Hey, I think we got a good vision”, and we relay those ideas to him, and he takes it from there. The cover for Red Before Black was where I just had that vision of that kind of scene where you’re basically looking up at the attacker and the blood is flying everywhere because you’re getting stabbed, and you’re going to be dead soon.
For a new fan of Cannibal Corpse, which of your albums would be the most essential to listen to?
This new album is amazing, and I really feel like the last four albums in particular have been more of what we’ve been aiming for our whole career, just in the sense of tightening up as a band, becoming better songwriters, and all that kind of stuff, and that’s what we’ve been gradually doing.
So, I think from Kill onwards is our best material that we have, and I would start anybody with the last few records. Actually, I’d probably say, Torture, A Skeletal Domain, and Red Before Black because that’s where we’re at right now, and those albums are the best representation of us.