Buffalo, New York's death-metal kings Cannibal Corpse don't sing songs about flowery love. Their love is a grotesque compote of carnage, killing, and ribs in a blender. For 12 full-length albums, they've reported from demented perspectives of horror and revulsion. With songs such as "Meat Hook Sodomy," "Butchered at Birth," "Entrails Ripped from a Virgin's Cunt," "I Cum Blood," and "Followed Home Then Killed," Cannibal Corpse have become the top-selling death-metal band in the USA. It's definitely not a children's pop-up book about bunnies, and Cannibal fans wouldn't have it any other way. Because of their content and artwork, Cannibal Corpse albums and songs have at times been banned from countries. United States senator Bob Dole made a statement that Cannibal Corpse "undermines the character of our country."
As musicians, the Cannibal players are extremely expert, displaying accuracy and skill at incomprehensible speeds. Drums and bass spasm, guitars spike and run, and vocalist George Fisher's grunt-screams are guttural and larynx grinding like the call of an orc. (The lead singer of Dethklok, on Adult Swim's animated series Metalocalypse, is based on Fisher.) Cannibal lead guitarist Pat O'Brien spoke from Cleveland. No entrails were ripped.
Your playing is amazing. Your pinkie and fourth finger do more when you solo than some entire bands. How do you do that?
I don't know about that. I've tried to learn as much as I can from other guitar players, like David Chastain, a great shredding guitar player, and Jeff Loomis, because I played with Nevermore for a while. I feel like I'm still learning. You can set up amps and have a killer guitar, but 90 percent of it comes from your hand. I can give somebody my guitar and my setup, but they're not going to sound like me. I read an old interview with Eddie Van Halen where he said that at a sound check one time, Ted Nugent wanted to play through Van Halen's rig—Nugent plugged in and played, but he didn't sound like Van Halen. Ted Nugent sounded like Ted Nugent, imagine that [laughs].
Who are your favorite guitar players?
Number one's gotta be the man, Tony Iommi. Also Wolf Hoffmann. Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing from Judas Priest. Dave Murray and Adrian Smith from Iron Maiden. It goes on and on. James Hetfield from Metallica, he's a great fucking rhythm player.
Have y'all been banned from any countries lately? That's got to be kind of an honor, to be banned from a country.
The bannings come and go, nothing too much lately. There's an old lady in Germany who keeps making a stink about censorship, but it's mostly gone away. We were out there last year, playing in a part of Germany where we weren't allowed to play certain songs. It was the first three albums they didn't like. But for the most part, the ban seems to have been lifted. We were banned in Australia for a while, too, but that's gone away.
Germany is home to tons of dark death metal. Why were you guys banned? I don't understand.
None of us understand. You can make movies as bloody and gory as you want, but if you sing a song about it, that's different? Apparently, if you're singing a song about it, that means you're trying to preach to someone or influence them to do something. Yet you can go watch any number of horror movies, and it's right in front of your face. I don't get it. It's all entertainment, but if you write songs about something, you reeeaaally mean it from the heart [laughs].
What does Cannibal Corpse think of kittens?
I don't have a problem with kittens [laughs].
Have you ever played your song "Blowtorch Slaughter" and then immediately snuggled a kitten?
I don't know if I've ever done that exact thing, but I enjoy snuggling a kitten as much as the next guy. I couldn't ever have one as a pet because I'm always away from home. I like animals, but I also like going out hunting them and eating them. Our drummer, who wrote a lot of the lyrics on Torture, he's a vegetarian.
Have you ever eaten a kitten?
I almost ate a kitten one time. Just kidding, I've never eaten a kitten, no.
How do you describe Cannibal Corpse to kids when they ask what your music is about? George has two daughters, right?
George has two daughters, and Paul [Mazurkiewicz] has one. I just tell younger kids that I play in a band. That's all they need to know. I play guitar. I don't write the lyrics, I'm just the guitar player.
What do you think about playing with dolls? What if you were playing "A Cauldron of Hate" and you started thinking about finger-painting a smiley face or knitting a sweater with a daisy on it?
If a grown person is playing with dolls, that's probably someone who should be banned from a country [laughs]. There are definitely things that flash in my head when we're playing. Not daisy sweaters or finger-painting, though. If I'm thinking about something during a solo, it's probably new tires for my truck or something I'm bidding for on Gunbroker.com. But if you're up there, and you're thinking about other stuff, it's like, oh shit, I better get back into the song. There's nothing worse than losing concentration and fucking the song up. Keeping the focus can be the hardest part sometimes.
Is it easy for Cannibal to get into the flow of a tour? What are the challenges tours present for y'all?
We practice a lot when we're home. But when you're out there doing live shows, it's a different thing. We've been out about a month on this tour, so we're into the groove of it. The main thing for me is keeping up on my chops and getting used to playing live. The sound changes every night, the monitors are different, the venue is different, the stage is different. A lot of times, we don't get a sound check, we just kinda go up there and wing it because there are so many bands. Our road crew sets up and does a line check early in the day, but there's no guarantee it's all going to be optimal. We find out when we get out there [laughs]. It's easy to derail, as we like to say. Real easy.
How does George keep up those vocals? What's his throat like at the end of a tour?
He sings better the deeper we get into a tour. He has trouble when we haven't been touring or playing, when he just jumps into it. Out on tour, his voice gets in shape and he doesn't seem to have any issues with it. He's a machine.
How's Cannibal life on the tour bus?
Our bus has been hit twice so far on this tour. Nothing major. The first time was in LA, at House of Blues. First show. We're parked on a really steep incline, steep like if you're in the bunk when it's parked there, you're sleeping at a 45-degree angle. Anyway, the valet there was parking a brand-new car, and he thought he was going to back it up the hill, but he actually had it in first gear. He punched the gas and slammed right into the back of the trailer. Totally totaled somebody's new car [laughs]. It was funny 'cause it wasn't my car.
Does George ever conduct the pit or give mosh pointers?
He has in the past, trying to get the Wall of Death going. He might say some stuff in songs. But it's a touchy situation, because you don't want to get sued or be liable for someone getting hurt out there.
For those that don't know, what is the Wall of Death?
It's two sides of the crowd charging each other, basically. It looks like people getting hurt, and dying. Thankfully, no one has died. We don't instigate that anymore.
On Torture, the playing and structures are so technical. Songs in 4/4 with solos in 7/8. People who aren't fans might think you guys are just meatheads playing this violent, heavy distortion and that you grunt like orcs. But you guys are the opposite. You're mathematical and accurate. Not a lot of bands can do what you do. Please talk about your soloing and how you approach a section of a song where you know you're going to be laying down a track.
We pretty much work everything out before going into the studio, except for guitar solos. But as far as the song structure, we have that arranged beforehand. When we're rehearsing and writing for an album, we usually take about six months to do that. When we get into the studio, we'll experiment with harmony parts here and there. It'll be trial and error, messing with leads and solos. It also depends on how much time we have. Like for Torture, we were running out of time because we ran into a lot of technical issues. Being pressed for time takes away from getting to experiment.
Who produced on Torture?
Erik Rutan from Hate Eternal. He also did our previous two albums, Kill and Evisceration Plague. We recorded those at his studio, Mana, in Florida. For Torture, we recorded half at Sonic Ranch in Texas and the other half at Mana. We've known Erik for years, and we toured with Hate Eternal. We work well with him. All three times it's been a great decision to work with him.
What enables him to produce Cannibal Corpse so well?
In a lot of ways, we produce ourselves, because we know what we want. Erik is just such a good voice and opinion to have there. Somebody we trust. That's the main thing—if you produce yourself, you can go way down the wrong road and get into a weird place. Erik keeps us in check.
How is Torture different than other Cannibal records?
For this one, Rob Barrett [guitar] and I contributed more songs than we ever have, so there's a different feel with it that way, different influences. The sounds differ, we tried different things—we're still gonna sound like Cannibal Corpse, but we're always trying to sound better and outdo what we've done before. For Torture, I tried different guitar cabinets: a Marshall cabinet and a Mesa Boogie cabinet. I also tried different speakers and different distortion pedals through the amp heads. I play a B.C. Rich V with EMG 81 pickups.
What's next for the band?
Shows in Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, South Korea, China, Japan. The whole Pacific Rim type of thing, and then we get to end it in Hawaii, so that will be kinda cool.
With all the traveling, you'll have to knit your daisy sweater.
Yeah. That's really what I like about touring—all the time it leaves me for knitting.