CANNIBAL CORPSE PILE ON THE HURT WITH ‘CHAOS HORRIFIC’
Drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz reflects on the last 35 years, the vital role of Erik Rutan and how Cannibal Corpse continue to be death metal’s gold standard sixteen albums deep.
Thirty-five years into a career of epitomising what a death metal band in its purest form is and should strive to be, Cannibal Corpse are without precedent. The band is preparing to release their sixteenth album Chaos Horrific, the follow-up to one of their all-time most well-received albums Violence Unimagined, which kick-started a new era of Cannibal Corpse – inducting their frequent producer and Hate Eternal mainman Erik Rutan as a member and immediately bashing out a batch of their best songs together.
Along with other long-time members Alex Webster, Rob Barrett, and iconic vocalist George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher, original drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz has lived and breathed Cannibal Corpse for most of his life. With another record so hot on the tails of Violence Unimagined born out of otherwise unused time during the pandemic, Paul doles out the details on an album like Chaos Horrific and what keeps the fire alive.
Cannibal Corpse has been such a consistent band but Violence Unimagined received a particularly rapturous response from death metal fans. Albums can come and be swept away in the online tide so quickly now but people were still enthusing about that album for so long after its release. Similarly to records like Kill which have acted like these punctuation points for certain eras of Cannibal, did you feel a particularly significance or rejuvenation with that album?
Mazurkiewicz – Yeah a little bit. Obviously having Erik in the band writing songs was a first, and it really is a different album to Red Before Black or A Skeletal Domain. Something about it, kinda like Kill, exactly, out of nowhere we come up with an album like Kill and it revitalises our career to a point. We were doing well but I know how important that album was to a lot of people and it did take us to a next level in a sense, and I feel Violence was similar in that way and gave us a little extra punch in the arm there.
It is odd though for that album to have landed during COVID for you, where the cycle was not as long or full as you would have otherwise done. Did you feel that or play as many of those songs as you wanted to in the end?
Mazurkiewicz – We kinda did the normal. The only thing it really affected was the release date of the record and the subsequent touring of course, where everything had to be pushed back a little like everybody else, but at this point in our career with so many albums we feel like if we’re at least able to get three songs from a new record into the live set, that’s probably the best that we’re gonna end up doing. We felt like we did what we were going to do regardless with songs in the live set, it was just that whole thing with release was an extraordinary time with no right or wrong, nobody knows what to do, do you wait or not wait, nobody could press vinyl quickly. We decided we had to put the album out, it was important for the people just to get new music out for that time and get something positive out there, and I think it all worked out well in that way.
With two increasingly long gaps between the previous couple of albums, the latter obviously in part due to the pandemic and changes within the band, Chaos Horrific has come out of the gate again so quickly. Is that like a pleasant acclimatisation back to how efficiently you do things?
Mazurkiewicz – It all comes back to the pandemic again because we’re touring more than ever, you release a record and then you’re out for the better part of at least two years throughout the world, and then you write and record so there can be three years in between records. In the beginning, there weren’t those world tours happening, and so it’s crazy to think that we put four albums out in the matter of four years basically. The reason why Chaos came out so quick was just that, when we finished Violence Unimagined with no end in sight we decided to just get another new record done and maximise our time. This album was done before all of our tours for Violence. I started drums two years ago in July. We’re ready to go at that point, and so we’ve been sitting on this thing forever. We took a little longer to produce it because we knew we could, we don’t want to release it too soon after Violence without that touring, but it’s been done for a while and we wanted to make a splash with everybody when Blood Blind came out and there’s another whole new record.
Chaos Horrific feels like a particularly descriptive title for this record because it really feels like an album with a lot of crazy speed on it and chaotic arrangements.
Mazurkiewicz – Violence was similar in some ways but I think Chaos takes that even to another level. When I started learning and playing these songs they felt crazier than ever, and it does sum up the album well. I often come up with titles and it’s finding ways to just capture what Cannibal Corpse is. All our album covers and titles describe the band in a sense, and so Chaos Horrific is another label for us that makes sense more for this particular record.
With such intense songs with so many riffs, the structures of the songs can be so complex and disorientating. What’s your process for piecing together a rough skeleton of a song and a framework for how such a frantic, chaotic song might progress?
Mazurkiewicz – It mainly comes from the guitar players where the three of them, Alex, Rob, and Erik, are the songwriters right now at this point. It’s known that everybody sort of writes individually and we don’t do a lot of collaborative efforts anymore. Alex for example will be writing his songs and we’ll get an email with it all laid out with the drums on a drum machine. Rob is the one who tends to work a little more organically. He will have a bunch of riffs and kinda will know what he wants to do with the song but he and I will get together and we still may hash it out a little more old school style. I will contribute a beat here or there, but I’m just glad that we don’t seem to have any lack of creativity in the band and I think that’s pretty remarkable in this stage of our career.
It was quite striking how when this album was first announced with the single Blood Blind which is a song that Erik wrote, some of those first words in the statement went to Erik. Is that reflective of how fully and immediately he’s been inducted into the band?
Mazurkiewicz – Exactly. This is only his second album as a member and maybe other bands would not have had that, and a song from a member who has been in the band longer would go first, but the way we work once you’re a member of our band you’re a member. Everybody that has come into the band has immediately contributed as much as they can and can write songs. Any of these songs could have been first single I think but why not let Erik shine a little bit? It’s gonna give the listener perhaps a little bit of a different flavour, where they may be used to his style a little bit from Condemnation Contagion and the three he wrote for Violence Unimagined but here is an Erik song straight away which is gonna be Cannibal but have his feel to it.
Considering he’s been your producer for many years does that make the records technically self-produced at this point?
Mazurkiewicz – Right, kind of! Of course he does obviously the bulk of the work there, and it’s good now that we can be all-inclusive like that, knowing that a guy in the band has his own recording studio. He’s been great for any recording he’s done for any band but I think maybe when it’s his band it might even be a little bit better. I’m sure when he does Hate Eternal records it’s gonna be even beyond what he would be doing anyway.
Alex on the last album was talking about how he was having to record remotely and send his parts over to the rest of you. Was it refreshing to all be back tracking in the same place again?
Mazurkiewicz – I’m sure it would be. It’s weird how that changes as well because back in the old days you’re commuting somewhere, down to Morrisound or going from Buffalo to the ranch in El Paso, all together at all times. It’s a different ballgame these days where I do my drum tracks and if I’m not needed after that, I might get in the way so I might not see these guys doing their parts. I think the only time we all ended up together in the studio was George was doing some vocals and Alex was still around and we ended up in the same room which was old school style and doesn’t happen very often these days. For Violence, of course Alex wanted to be there and rather be in the studio. Luckily for us he’s the guy who was able to do what he did for Violence Unimagined and is suited for that task more than anybody with his home recording since he’s done it with his other side projects.
Around the time of Evisceration Plague you were talking about recording with a click track for the first time. The tones and sounds of Cannibal Corpse feel so honed by this point, are there specific ways in which you’re continually trying to evolve your playing on an album like this one?
Mazurkiewicz – You’ve always got to try to push the envelope I think, and it’s not getting any easier. You’ve just got to work extra hard. When you listen, we’re Cannibal so there’s always something maybe that we didn’t do but it’s always going to be subtle. The good thing about what we were saying about how Alex writes his songs, he and Erik especially have such great ideas for their song structures and how they want the drums to be in their heads. A song like Chaos Horrific, the title track on the record, when Alex presented that with that verse part it has some crazy timing going on and what you’re hearing is me having to play what Alex wrote for Chaos Horrific. It has beats that maybe I would not be doing personally so of course that’s a challenge for me having to learn and to play that and being challenged by those guys. I might tend to stick to more basic parts when we’re doing the Rob songs putting them together, because I like to play a little more by feel than the real mentally challenging material. It works to have everybody contributing different feels in that way though, and I don’t need to be the guy insisting that I have to play what I want to play because I’m the drummer because I get to grow as a drummer and a musician.
Lyrically, Vengeful Invasion is an interesting track for Cannibal Corpse as this tale of a human trafficking victim’s revenge. That’s a subject that’s been of real concern in world news in recent years so that feels quite pertinent for a violent Cannibal Corpse tune, was that a occasional case of real world inspiration for your songwriting?
Mazurkiewicz – I think so, that’s a Rob song and Rob seems to be writing songs kinda like that these days. Inhumane Harvest was Rob on Violence Unimagined and that’s kinda the same thing with the organ harvesting trade that I guess happens, and now Vengeful Invasion we’re talking human trafficking and obviously it ties in much more to reality than most of our songs do. That’s where Rob’s mentality is I think, to have it tie in more realistically than fantastically, where usually for me when I’m writing 99% of the time it is strictly just a fictional story. We like to have those things that are all still just Cannibal Corpse and still horrific, intense subjects.
On the other hand, Pitchfork Impalement – perhaps more classically to the point territory.
Mazurkiewicz – And that’s one I wrote, there you go! Pitchfork Impalement, what more do you want?
Drain You Empty is a really memorable title where even before you read the lyrics to know the context or what that means, as a phrase it’s just upsetting.
Mazurkiewicz – I appreciate that you like that one, because I come up with a lot of song titles and that one Erik wrote based on the title that I’d come up with that he loved. It could mean many different things and that was the way he went with it and came up with some great lyrics for that vague title I had in my head.
On Violence Unimagined you had some real fun with the merchandising with that crazy artwork. Are you involved with thinking of fun things to continually do with the art like that?
Mazurkiewicz – A little bit, we all work in conjunction with our management and merchandisers. When it comes down to it definitely as a band we want to have that creative control and sign off on anything that is being presented to us and being made, but these days we’re not coming up with too many in particular but it’s being presented to us and we love all the variations that are there on the same piece of art.
You really have hit the ground hard again touring since you’ve been able to do so again, and the upcoming package for Chaos Horrific is particularly enormous with some more extreme metal pioneers in Mayhem and Gorguts, and one of the very best newer death metal bands Blood Incantation. What are you particularly looking forward to with that package?
Mazurkiewicz – It’s gonna be a fun time and a great tour of course, where when you have a great package like that with another big band like Mayhem it’s always exciting to get out there. The exciting thing for us I guess is whenever you do a first tour for a new album playing those new songs for the very first time which is tough, and it’s a little exciting, a little nerve-wracking, all those things rolled into one. I’m sure those first shows will be that way before we get a couple under our belt. Blood Incantation I think we’ve played a couple festivals with and they are a great band so great to have them out too.
You’ve been touring a lot with black metal bands actually with Mayhem being one of the most iconic bands in that world just as you are to death metal, and Dark Funeral too for the Violence Unimagined tours. Once upon a time back in the 90s those two genres might have been viewed as in somewhat opposition to each other with the Norwegian bands trying to distance themselves from what you guys might have been doing, but with these tours you’re doing, those worlds have truly been brought together now for you.
Mazurkiewicz – It’s extreme music so it’s good to be able to have a mix like that. I think the fans enjoy it, and you’re right, maybe at one time it wouldn’t have worked so well. We’ve done bits of black metal touring in the past, not as much where doing two Dark Funeral tours back to back which was awesome and then straight away the next tour we’re doing is with Mayhem seems a little crazy, but I look back and we did a tour with Dark Funeral in Europe way back maybe twenty years ago and we toured with Marduk a little bit. It happened, but not maybe as much as it is now and that’s a good thing that makes for a more diverse show for the fans.
It’s the 35th anniversary of the band – to close this up, how are you guys feeling in general, looking back on all that and putting this album out on that date?
Mazurkiewicz – It’s incredible, isn’t it? How can you not feel that when we’re here thirty-five years in releasing our sixteenth record maybe the best we’ve ever been playing? None of us thought we’d be around so long so the fact that we’re still here and relevant is just an incredible feeling, so here we are, next chapter in the story, taking it day by day by this point seeing how long we can make it. If we can make it to fourty years, to fifty years, I guess time will tell but we’re just happy to still be around and if it all ended tomorrow then we can be very proud and happy with what we’ve accomplished in our careers and our lives because nothing is given to you.
Chaos Horrific arrives September 22nd via Metal Blade Records. Order the album – HERE
To coincide with the release, Cannibal Corpse will be hitting the road throughout North America with Mayhem. Additional support will be provided by Gorguts and Blood Incantation. A complete list of dates and cities can be found below.
Get tickets – HERE
Cannibal Corpse w/ Mayhem, Gorguts, Blood Incantation
9/22/2023 Marathon Music Hall – Nashville, TN
9/23/2023 The Fillmore – Charlotte, NC
9/24/2023 The Mill & Mine – Knoxville, TN
9/26/2023 Stage AE – Pittsburgh, PA
9/27/2023 Rebel – Toronto, ON
9/28/2023 L’Olympia – Montreal, QC
9/29/2023 The Palladium – Worcester, MA
9/30/2023 Brooklyn Steel – Brooklyn, NY
10/02/2023 The Royal Oak – Detroit, MI
10/03/2023 Hard Rock Live – Gary, IN
10/04/2023 The Fillmore – Minneapolis, MN
10/06/2023 Mission Ballroom – Denver, CO
10/07/2023 The Depot – Lake City, UT
10/09/2023 Temple Theatre – Tacoma, WA
10/10/2023 Knitting Factory – Spokane, WA
10/11/2023 Knitting Factory – Boise, ID
10/13/2023 The Warfield – San Francisco, CA
10/14/2023 SOMA – San Diego, CA
10/17/2023 The Aztec Theatre – San Antonio, TX
10/18/2023 The Factory – Dallas, TX
10/20/2023 The Eastern – Atlanta, GA
10/21/2023 Paristown Hall – Louisville, KY