Death is the key: Corpsegrinder beats down all comers on debut solo album
The Cannibal Corpse frontman is going it alone for the first time, with help from Jamey Jasta and friends.
George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher is the vocalist you were taught to fear. As the frontman of Cannibal Corpse, he growls, roars, shrieks and bellows. A larger-than-life presence at the lip of the stage, even his windmill headbanging is intimidating. It is propelled by an inhumanly thick neck which can only be described as renowned. Cannibal Corpse are the metal band that spawned a thousand clichés. Infamy came from their emetic artwork and harrowing songs about rape, murder, violence and death in all its forms. They were propelled into mass consciousness with their cameo appearance in 1994's ‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective’. They’ve been lodged there ever since.
But Cannibal Corpse is only one side of Fisher. Offstage, he is a family man and a World of Warcraft nut. He has a tattoo on his right forearm of the symbol for The Horde faction from the game. He is a master of the arcade claw machine, which he plays whenever he can on tour. He brings back his soft-toy winnings to donate to children’s charities (except the odd one he wants to keep). Woody and Buzz Lightyear would have appreciated his assistance in ‘Toy Story’ to save them from the clutches of Sid. Encouraged by his wife, Corpsegrinder is a popular (if not fully bothered) Instagrammer. In a recent photo they posed holding two giant plush toys to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
Corpsegrinder is one of death metal’s biggest brands, and he’s on a roll. Following last year’s incredible Cannibal Corpse album, ‘Violence Unimagined’, he is now releasing his debut solo record: ‘Corpsegrinder’. It is the brainchild of Corpsegrinder and Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta. They discussed the idea of him doing a solo album after he contributed vocals to “They Want Your Soul” on the Jasta album ‘The Lost Chapters, Vol. 2' in 2019. Jasta went away and worked with Kingdom of Sorrow collaborators, brothers Charlie and Nick Bellmore. They sent Corpsegrinder a steady stream of music, lyrics and guide vocals for his feedback.
A month after Corpsegrinder finished ‘Violence Unimagined’, he went into the studio with Cannibal Corpse guitarist and veteran producer Erik Rutan to capture the album's vocals. The record finds him at ease owning the Corpsegrinder persona. He thinks you could slip the album on at a party and not get too many raised eyebrows.
‘If you look at the album cover,’ says Corpsegrinder, referring to the Dan Goldsworthy artwork of him ripping the heart out of a zombie, ‘it's supposed to be a fun record. The music is not tame. So, we're not trying to change anybody's opinion about certain things. I don't want to get into that whole thing. That's not what I want it to be. I want this to be about some great music.’
And the music is a surprise in places. The album begins with “Acid Vat”, featuring Rutan himself, which sits in classic death metal territory. "On Wings of Carnage" has shades of mid-nineties Morbid Angel. But there’s also a lot of Slayer in the sound. “All Souls Get Torn” (yes, I think that's a pun) is a pile-on of thrashing skank beats and ultra-violent slowdowns. There’s black metal in the chorus of blazing album closer “Vaguely Human”.
However, the sound that dominates is stomach-churning hardcore – “Death Is the Only Key” is a pummelling beatdown track. It contains the album’s most philosophic aphorism - ‘Life is the lock/Death is the only key’. It’s easy to hear Jasta himself spitting out the kiss-off line, ‘It’s your funeral!’ This is a breakdown-heavy hardcore album wearing Corpsegrinder’s dead skin mask.
‘It has a lot of hardcore influence,’ says Corpsegrinder. ‘And I think that's another thing that, as far as my voice goes, separates it from stuff I've done with Cannibal. The tone of the voice and whatnot, that's what I've done
The album encapsulates death metal’s continuing influence on hardcore. If it sounds like Hatebreed in parts, that’s because the early Hatebreed releases, like their 1996 EP “Under the Knife”, distilled death metal’s inherent violence into something brief, blunt and brutal. There are a slew of hardcore bands today that owe something of their guitar tone to Cannibal Corpse: from Knocked Loose to Sunami. Then there are death metal bands who have one foot in the world of hardcore themselves, like 200 Stab Wounds. That’s why it’s such a blast to hear Corpsegrinder running riot in what he describes as Jasta’s ‘playground’. It’s like drafting the biggest, baddest MF in one sport to take on another – and crushing the competition. A twenty-minute Corpsegrinder set at a hardcore festival like LBD Fest would surely flatten the venue.
In a recent Knotfest round table with members of The Black Dahlia Murder, Gatecreeper and Undeath, Corpsegrinder explained how, for him, it’s the guttural voice that defines the sound of death metal. He spoke passionately about seeing Chuck Schuldiner perform with Death in the late eighties at Godfrey’s Famous Ballroom in Baltimore, Maryland. Schuldiner’s style is very different from Corpsegrinder, but the latter admits to moulding his higher-end vocalisations – his shrieks, screams and cries – on the Death singer.
But this made me wonder what the logical conclusion of that was – if he roared over an acoustic folk song, would it then be death metal?
‘I didn't mean to say that only because of the vocals death metal is what it is,’ says Corpsegrinder. ‘But that is the one thing I think that separates it from all other styles of music. if you play heavy metal music, just something like you would have heard from Twisted Sister or Accept, and you add death metal vocals to it, immediately people are going to say (unless they have no knowledge of it), “That's death metal.” That's what I really meant. That's the one thing I think that most people will equate with what death metal is: growling, screaming vocals.’
The fact is, the death metal voice, when done right, overpowers everything around it. It was a thrill for Corpsegrinder to perform alongside Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider on “Time to Choose”, from Snider’s own Jasta-produced solo album. He got to take the part of darkness and evil against Snider’s lighter delivery.
‘You can totally see the difference between a legend of heavy metal and me being a death metal singer,’ says Corpsegrinder. ‘It's night and day. Dee Snider asked me to do it. I grew up listening to Twisted Sister, I'm going to do it <...> I didn't know how it was gonna work. I didn't know how people would react to it. Because I know that those are two different ponds in the metal world, for lack of a better term. They're two different styles. And I didn't know how they would marry, and I thought it worked great. The reaction was really good. I can't thank Dee Snider enough for it.’
I ask him about Meat Loaf, who died the week before our conversation. He’s not a huge fan, but can recognise how the “Bat Out Of Hell” singer might have affected heavy music. ‘I’m sure he contributed in some way or another,' Corpsegrinder says. 'I think there's a lot of people that have had an influence on metal that wouldn't at first glance or first listen to their music be pretty apparent.’
Corpsegrinder can analyse at length the vocal approaches of a polished singer like Ronnie James Dio and the rawer approach of Ozzy Osborne. He concedes that a lot of listeners ‘can’t get over the hump’ of growled death metal vocals. But dismiss the technique and skill that goes into his voice at your peril.
Corpsegrinder’s album is defined by that voice, that diaphragm, that neck – muscles trained and honed to blast away all comers. When he collaborated with Adam D of Killswitch Engage in the Serpentine Dominion album, he returned from tour with a brutal tone after ninety minutes of singing a night, so they re-recorded his previous vocal takes. Corpsegrinder has spent over twenty-five years at the pinnacle of death metal since he joined Cannibal Corpse on 1996’s ‘Vile’. Death metal itself has spawned many variants: from technical death metal, to the resurgence of the old school death metal sound in bands like Tomb Mold and Of Feather and Bone. Cannibal Corpse’s continued vitality in the landscape of death is something to be marvelled at.
But what about our current cultural moment where audiences are both harder to shock and more easily offended than ever? Cannibal Corpse today aren’t out to shock in the same way when they wrote “Fucked With a Knife”, “I Cum Blood” and “Stripped, Raped, and Strangled” – all written when former vocalist Chris Barnes was in the band.
Now in Six Feet Under, Barnes had a problem with the Knotfest round table. He took to Twitter to say it made him 'physically ill' and that he despises 'what this genre has become'. Jamey Jasta challenged him in a reply tweet to elaborate on Jasta's podcast. Barnes responded, 'I have no need to jump on that bandwagon'. What exactly was bothering Barnes remains a mystery.
Cannibal Corpse still perform their most subversive material live. In Germany, Corpsegrinder leaves the stage when the band performs their signature song, “Hammer Smashed Face”, because the lyrics are banned. He’s had to yo-yo on and off stage over the years as the German authorities have vacillated as to what is permissible for them to play: ‘Make up your fucking mind,’ he sighs. ‘Figure out what you want to do. What's bad and what's good. If you're talking about being in a free society, what can we do and what can't we?’
Ridiculously, Tyler The Creator got banned from the UK for four years in 2015 for the content of some of his old lyrics. What he was doing was the same as Cannibal Corpse, crafting ‘small horror movies’ (to use Corpsegrinder’s words). Corpsegrinder can tolerate some censorship in Europe, but he could see Cannibal Corpse contesting any attempt to vet their material in the US, if that happened. That said, Corpsegrinder steers clear of religion and politics in his music because he doesn’t want to alienate anyone. In his view, people are long past being shocked by Cannibal Corpse's artwork.
‘The whole focus is the music,’ says Corpsegrinder. ‘The music – that's what should be shocking to us. If you listen to the vocals and vocalisation: “Wow, that guy sings really fast but in this tone that most people don't sing. He enunciates it very well.”; “The drums are playing this way, the guitars – wow! I want to learn that song too.” We want them to be shocked that we're still doing what we're doing after all these years and doing it well. And not anything else.’
It boils down to the simplest truth: people are going to Corpsegrinder’s shows to have a good time. To listen to horror stories set to music. They aren’t about to rip someone’s head off. Well, maybe figuratively, in the mosh pit. Corpsegrinder admits that the music, lyrics and his onstage persona is aggressive enough that he doesn’t need to be lashing out at audiences for throwing stuff onstage. There’s one video where says to one audience member: ‘I’ll fucking kill you. I’ll kill your mother. I’ll kill your fucking father and make him fuck your dead mother. Don't fuck with me, alright?’
In these moments, Corpsegrinder is living up to his name and perpetuating his fearsome reputation. But really, he wants the shows to be fun. When he introduces “I Cum Blood” as a song about ‘shooting blood from your cock’ he wants you to find it funny.
For Corpsegrinder, cumming blood and posting stuffed animals on Instagram is on the same continuum. So is his self-possession on this new solo album. ‘I control who lives and dies,’ he roars on “Crimson Proof”. The ‘Corpsegrinder’ album is an act of celebration, of him living his best life. Similarly, Corpsegrinder's posting on social media is not a purposeful attempt to change the way people see him, but a more complete picture of him as a person.
‘I post about the things that I enjoy doing,’ he says. ‘Whether that's winning stuffed animals, whether it's donating the stuffed animals, whether that's playing video games, putting out records, spending time with my family at the shows. I didn't do it on purpose, just to change the world's opinion. I mean, it's gonna be that way no matter what.’
Corpsegrinder has previously joked about yelling at a kid who messed up his concentration while playing a claw machine. The lesson of his onstage and offstage antics is clear. Corpsegrinder just wants to have fun. Don’t get in his way.
Corpsegrinder, the self-titled debut solo album arrives February 25th via Perseverance Music Group. Order the album - HERE