Plenty Left to Mutilate
CoC talks to Cannibal Corpse
(Everything you wanted to know about Alex Webster's sordid past and were afraid to ask about his increasingly busy future)

by: Colleen Burton
"You sound like you grew up fifteen minutes away from me."

Alex Webster was pretty well on his game as he encountered a fellow Western New Yorker in the rather unlikely place of Scotland's capital and indulged me with some discussion of recent strange happenings in the area. Well-known and thoroughly interviewed, our similar upbringing made me even more eager to pick his brain. A humble and gracious host, what follows is a lengthy conversation of our hometown, recent releases and touring, Alex's protest against music piracy, his forays into other projects and a round-up of notable new albums and bassists to keep an eye on.

CoC: I know you've done a ton of interviews, but as a Buffalonian I'm interested to hear how you got started in a community which... has barely any metal.

Alex Webster: Me and Jack and our friend Dan, we were out in Akron, which is probably a good forty minute drive from the actual center of Buffalo. We lived out there and we just liked this kind of music. I can't remember exactly how I first heard about it, really, I'd heard about heavy metal when I was really young, from some friends and 97 Rock. They would occasionally play some of the heavier bands -- more Motley Crue and that kind of stuff, but they'd occasionally put in a Venom song.

CoC: Hah, I don't think 97 Rock does that any longer.

AW: Nah, Metal Shop's been gone for years, but that was one of the places where we were able to hear some of the stuff. Me and Jack were way out there, on our own, trying to figure this stuff out.

CoC: Were there many gigs coming through at the time?

AW: Oh, no, just the big arena gigs every few months. I'd go see all of those, I once saw Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and Rush -- there'd be 10,000 people at the Memorial Auditorium, where the Sabres used to play. As far as underground shows, the first one I went to was in 1987 with Kreator and VoiVod. VoiVod was on Tournado and Kreator was doing their _Pleasure to Kill_ tour, and it was awesome. I was still in highschool and just about to graduate. I saw them somewhere near downtown around Main and Elmwood at Painter's Hall. When we had Beyond Death [the band] it was all just local shows, and the first time we got Cannibal together a few months later, the local promoter brought in Dark Angel. That was our first show at the corner of Niagara and Hertel. It was slow going, I guess, until that Dark Angel show. I was a semi-professional musician at that time playing in Beyond Death, just throwing local gigs where we'd be lucky to get 100 people. But after that show, it drew kids from communities apart from Riverside and Kenmore. After opening on a national gig, we drew interest from kids from all over Western New York.

CoC: I saw you guys at the Town Ballroom a few years ago, I think.

AW: Oh yeah, that was with Necrophagist in 2006.

CoC: It's too bad that The Icon and venues where I saw my first metal gigs have just closed down or are in pretty bad states. It's interesting to hear that Buffalo got solid shows more in the '80s. I was always driving up to Toronto for gigs.

AW: The real heyday was probably 1989 until we left in 1994. We moved down to Tampa. The real reason behind that was to get away from the cold and snowy weather in Buffalo. We lived in Buffalo for the first four albums, but all of those were recorded in Tampa at Morrisound Studios where Death did _Leprosy_, Sepultura did _Beneath the Remains_. Our first five records were done by Scott Burns. We had gotten to know people there and it had a great scene and good cost of living, so we decided to give it a try and have been there ever since.

CoC: Do you identify more with a Florida / Obituary sound or a New York / Suffocation kind of sound? Because you bear resemblances to both.

AW: Buffalo is its own separate thing, not being a satellite of New York City, although both have strong hardcore scenes. The metal scene was good and we have a lot of great friends there, but I feel probably more comfortable in Florida. There's a lot of background for it being popular with Sabotage, Atheist, Death, Obituary, Morbid Angel, Deicide... there are all of those bands. We are old enough that we are probably taking our sound from bands that weren't technically death metal. To me, old Kreator is like proto-death metal, the first two being death / thrash. Cannibal got a lot of its sound from Kreator, Sodom, Slayer, Dark Angel and the thrash bands that were borderline-death with the dark-sounding riffs. We were all up-and-coming at the same time. We were definitely inspired by German thrash.

CoC: What do you think of the scene in the States right now?

AW: Well, there's so many things going on right now, there's the '80s revival stuff that's really big, especially in California. Metalcore, all of those different things are cool and people are having fun doing it and making good music, which is awesome. We're still very focused on the death metal scene. In general, the other types of metal that are around are good for the overall health of metal. It's good to have all these genres being very active, but obviously the scene we're most interested in is our own scene. We've been lucky enough to have a good, steady following from early on. A lot of bands broke up, and we didn't want to or see the need to; we were still having great shows and successful tours, so apparently we didn't end up being driven to go on hiatus and come back now that things are stronger.

CoC: I was going to ask a bit about _Evisceration Plague_, as it was years in the making.

AW: What makes it look like it took so long was our extensive touring for _KILL_, touring throughout 2006 and 2007. We basically didn't do anything for November and December of that year, I was jamming around with some friends. We started working on the new album in January and practiced about four days a week and wrote consistently throughout the year, practicing stuff over the course of 8 months. By the end of August, we were done and recorded in September and October, so 2008 was essentially dedicated to making that album. At the end of the year we started practicing for the tour -- and haven't taken a break longer than two months in our whole band's history.

CoC: And you're still quite active in the writing process.

AW: I mean, anyone who wants to write can write. I do a lot more of it than the other guys cause I love to write. It's one of my most favorite things about being in a band.

CoC: I saw that Metal Blade put some clips online of a documentary that got released with your album and you were discussing writing "Cauldron of Hate".

AW: Yeah, that's a documentary of making that record. Honestly, it's a really cool bonus and you'll notice that every other record you buy these days comes with a bonus DVD and it's indicative of the problems of record companies in selling albums; it's so easy to obtain them illegally. It's good for the fans, because the companies are pressured to create really impressive packaging, so now for eleven or twelve dollars -- when you consider inflation, the fact that you're able to buy a CD / DVD set for the same price as a vinyl album in the '80s. If people are downloading something from a band they really like, they're being really cheap. I mean, I can understand checking it out for free and then deciding you don't want and not buying it, but if you really like something... Again, I can't complain about it, because I understand that money is tight, but we all just have to make sure that we're making a product that people consider worth buying. We're very flattered when anyone does buy it because they obviously didn't have to, in this day and age. We really appreciate the fans who went out and bought the record.

CoC: You're really the main guy of Cannibal Corpse, one of the founders, probably the most interviewed even over vocalists and guitarists, and it's really cool. You were one of my main inspirations when I started teaching myself bass. I want to know a bit more about what you did to make the bass so integral to the band and how you made it rise above the rest of the sound. You're one of the major bass players of the metal world and the bass is usually quite background in quite a few metal bands. I know that some of the guys pick on you for changing up the time signatures, for example.

AW: Thank you. I find it interesting, I was always good at math in school, but it was very boring to me. But music is a very interesting way to apply the math ability I inherited from my dad, it's just something that's in my blood, I guess.

CoC: _Evisceration Plague_ seems to push in the direction of a more technical style.

AW: I do like to push the envelope a little bit with the songs I write and the bass lines. The main thing for me is learning more about technique, playing my instrument better... all of it should serve the idea of making the music heavier and more memorable. Some of the songs on the new record are simple in their structure, but we may have done something interesting with the rhythm to catch your ear. We're just learning as we go along.

CoC: To deviate a little bit, I know that you're the new bassist for Hate Eternal, just the one album. What do you think of the production on that album? I thought the difference from _I, Monarch_ was quite noticeable, particularly with the addition of another guitar.

AW: I thought it was killer production, but probably quite a lot different from how we produce Cannibal. For Cannibal, we like super-loud drums, whereas Hate Eternal's drums are much more prominent. I think Erik did a great job on it and we worked really hard. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the bass was quite prominent and hopefully it's not too prominent. Everybody's going to have a different opinion about production, so we'll see.

CoC: And regarding your turn to prog metal, I know that my prog-head friends love Blotted Science and I think _The Machinations of Dementia_ is a great album without being much into that scene. Is that further pushing your abilities with bass?

AW: I've actually been interested in that tech kind of stuff since the early '90s, and this is the first major album I've had for anything like that. I've done a few guest appearances here and there for friends but nothing really like this. I jammed with Jason Morgan from Monstrosity and we had made some really technical instrumentals in the mid-'90s, and those songs just fell apart and never were recorded. I've always had this itch to do something like this. Lo and behold, I'm on tour for _The Wretched Spawn_ in 2004 with Spawn of Possession, and Ron Jarzombek got in touch with me through a friend and wanted me to play with something that I really wanted to do -- I love The Spastic Ink stuff, The Watchtower stuff, so I was totally into it. He let me do a bit of writing, but Ron by far is the man in charge of that band and the man who put it together to make it as awesome as it is, and he is great to work with. It was a massive challenge for me as a musician.

CoC: George has been in the band now for twice as long as Chris Barnes was, and I was wondering how you continue to find working with Corpsegrinder. Not to go on about _KILL_, but I found that George had a relentlessness throughout that album which really drove forward the pace and clarity of the music.

AW: Yeah, George is not a lyric writer or anything like that, he is just a great singer, he can belt it out. Whatever we give him, he can do it. He's so good at what he does and it's been killer to just give a sheet full of fast lyrics and give him a demo recording of someone singing it badly, and he'll just come in and nail the shit. That's the kind of death metal singer I really like, who's so versatile and powerful, like Glen Benton, Martin van Drunen from the original Pestilence, that kind of stuff with some range and some volume and raspiness. George really has that kind of thing. Chris was really good too, but there's an awful lot of people who sound like him, which goes to show how influential he was, but George is a bit more distinct. It's a compliment to him that people are imitating him, but George helps us stand out from a crowd of low-vocals with a range of high-speed mid-vocals.

CoC: Is there anything in the horror genre that drives forward your lyrical themes?

AW: We like horror movies like everyone else on this tour, and it's fairly common. A movie like "Hostel" sells more tickets than every death metal band ever will, and it's a much more mainstream pastime. We're horror fans but not some total horror buff compared to some. Randy from Paths of Possession is a serious, heavy-duty horror dude who goes to all the conventions and keeps me apprised of the new developments in horror and comes up to our practice room with the latest DVDs. Some of the best ones he loaned me were "Inside" from France, "Girl Next Door" which is American, "High Tension". It's cool having somebody keep me in the loop, because I tend to focus on the music a lot more. But I have to get in that mode and watch a few horror movies to get the creative juices flowing.

CoC: How is your reception in Europe versus the States?

AW: It's kind of the same. We're lucky to have a really consistent underground audience and a gradual incline over the past couple of years, but it's been steady across North America and Europe the whole time. We've been lucky.

CoC: I'm just curious about how you guys recently wound up touring with Children of Bodom, who were the headliners.

AW: Obviously they're a popular band, and rightfully so, these guys are doing an amazing show every night and we're very happy to tour with them. It definitely brings a different crowd and I can see a bunch of people every night who don't really know who we are, and that was basically the point of doing it. We knew it would be fun to tour with those guys and a whole bunch of people would see us. We're a little too used to being headliners, and Bodom is the only band ever to take us on tour as opener. They're the only band bigger than us that ever wanted to take us for a full European tour. We did a few shorter festivals where Deicide and Immortal were headlining or Obituary...

CoC: Oh that's right, I saw you guys about two years ago at Wacken Open Air at about three in the morning...

AW: Yeah, Immortal were technically the headliners as they had the better slot, but we finished that stage so you could argue that we were the headliners. This is our first tour where we're not headlining.

CoC: Still, Bodom headlining over you seems a bit odd, as you've been around much longer. I suppose if it's just based on popularity...

AW: Yeah, but you have to be realistic -- if a band is selling more than twice as much as you, then they should be the headliner. If we want to make the death metal scene bigger, how are we going to do that if everyone who comes to our shows already knows us? What we need to do is tour like this where new people are getting into us. Then, bands that open for us will benefit from any expansion we've made while touring and that will trickle down the whole death metal scene. Our next tour is The Faceless, Obscura and Neuraxis, and they will benefit by opening for us and we've become bigger because we've opened for bands in the United States like Trivium and In Flames. It's good to do because people might be more receptive than you might imagine, but they need a chance to see us opening for a band that they're more familiar with. We'd like to increase the ceiling of death metal's popularity and see a bunch of bands in our scene that could headline their own tours. Some of our friends are losing their ass and not making money by touring, getting two hundred people a night, and that has to change. We want to support ourselves, but if we can give back along the way we'll absolutely do that. Coming out and touring and not making very much money by opening -- we're just out for exposure.

CoC: I'm glad you explained that.

AW: A lot of people don't see it as a big picture thing, but people have to learn about the death metal scene before they're going to come out to the shows. They might never have given it a chance. Now they have to give it a chance because they're stuck in the room while they're waiting for the other guys.

CoC: On a side note, I heard that you studied at Buffalo State University for a time.

AW: Yep, two and half years. I left when we started touring in early 1991. I was undeclared up until the fifth semester, so I declared history. I couldn't make up my mind back then. I could have thought of something if my brain was where it's at now back then, I could have thought of something to do.

CoC: My last question would be a 2008 round-up of your favorite albums that came out.

AW: I had a whole list of them, let me think. I really like Meshuggah's _Obzen_ album. I actually never listened to them a whole lot before and I happened to get a copy of the album from a friend who works at their label, and I appreciated the darkness of it. I like the Psycroptic album a lot [_Ob(Servant)_]. The Deeds of Flesh album, _Of What's to Come_ is great; I really enjoy their bass player, Erlend Caspersen of Blood Red Throne, who's amazing. He did a great job with them and they were already amazing. The Krisiun album _Southern Storms_ is really killer. Jeff Loomis' solo album is also worth a look, _Zero Order Phase_.

CoC: Any other bassists you particularly admire and want to recommend?

AW: There's getting to be a lot more: Mike from Origin, Mike from Lecherous Nocturne, Jeroen from Obscura and Pestilence, Stefan of Necrophagist, Patrick from Severe Torture and Jeff formerly of Brain Drill. I'm going to end up forgetting a few guys too, and my apologies to them. I want to drop their names because they're all doing what they can to stand out and make the bass be an equal instrument.

(article submitted 18/6/2009)

5/15/2006 J Smit Cannibal Corpse: The Irresistible Urge to Kill
7/3/2002 A Bromley Cannibal Corpse: Obsessed With Their Music
11/20/2000 A Bromley Cannibal Corpse: Death Metal Goes Live
10/12/1999 A Bromley Cannibal Corpse: Bloodthirsty Veterans
6/7/1998 A Bromley Cannibal Corpse: Visiting the Gallery of the Damned
5/10/1996 G Filicetti Cannibal Corpse: Reviving the Corpse
3/4/2012 J Carbon 8 Cannibal Corpse - Torture
2/24/2009 J Smit 9.5 Cannibal Corpse - Evisceration Plague
3/22/2006 J Smit 9 Cannibal Corpse - Kill
3/23/2004 J Smit 9.5 Cannibal Corpse - The Wretched Spawn
7/3/2002 M Noll 6.5 Cannibal Corpse - Gore Obsessed
3/13/2001 M Noll 8.5 Cannibal Corpse - Live Cannibalism
12/9/1999 A Bromley 7.5 Cannibal Corpse - Bloodthirst
9/1/1998 P Schwarz 6 Cannibal Corpse - Gallery of Suicide
3/14/1996 G Filicetti 7 Cannibal Corpse - Vile
5/7/2004 J Smit Cannibal Corpse / Kataklysm / Gorerotted All Murder, All Guts, All Fun
8/12/2000 M Noll Deicide / Immortal / Cannibal Corpse / Marduk / Vader / Dark Funeral / Hate Eternal / Vomitory There's No Mercy in Satan's Oven
1/15/2000 M Noll Cannibal Corpse / Marduk / Angelcorpse / Aeternus / Defleshed Two Corpses, One God and No Flesh
3/16/1997 A Bromley Cannibal Corpse / Brutal Truth / Immolation / Oppresor Cannabis Corpse and Friends
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