Depending on your viewpoint, Cannibal Corpse might be taken as black comedy for the sick and twisted, or as inspiration for the even sicker and more twisted. Their song titles suggest a Hollywood pitch session for SAW X: The TV Show, with tracks like "Meat Hook Sodomy," "Stripped, Raped and Strangled," and "Blunt Force Castration."
The latter imagines a sledgehammer to the groin (Next on America's Funniest Home Videos), with lyrics like "smash his scrotum sac ... gonads reduced to pulp ... sterile now left to bleed."
The band's approach was enough to make national news back in '95, when presidential candidate Bob Dole called out the legendary death metal quintet for their depravity alongside 2 Live Crew and Geto Boys.
Alex Webster still gets a hoot out of it. "A guy who is a political figure and knows every powerful person in Washington mentions our name — that just blows my mind. But am I offended by it? Of course not. I wouldn't expect anything else from someone in his position," says the bassist, one of the two founding members still with the band. (Drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz is the other.)
Of course, Webster makes no apologies for the lyrics. Nor does he believe they're funny — though he certainly understands the impulse to laugh when confronted with something as foul and graphically over-the-top as "Festering in the Crypt" or "Devoured by Vermin."
"Think about that poor guy who got his dick cut off and thrown in the garbage disposal by his wife. That's not funny. If it's really happening — and it did happen to this guy — it's not funny, it's terrible," says Webster. "Who knows why a human reaction to graphic violence is to think it's kind of humorous, but it's not. When you think about them actually happening, they're not funny at all. They're disgusting and disturbing, and we write about disgusting and disturbing things because it fits with music that captures that vibe."
Certainly there's no argument there. Cannibal Corpse forge a malevolent tsunami of foreboding bass-heavy throb, with a martial pulse like an army's approach, thick crashing guitar chords, blasts of high-flying technical proficiency and, of course, the obligatory guttural vocal. It all coalesces in a surprisingly supple sound, with crispness and precision that cuts the darkness like a scalpel.
The furious attack and uncompromisingly grim tone have helped make them arguably the most popular act in the death metal genre. They're certainly the most enduring. Webster credits the 24 years and dozen albums they've put in — without more than two straight months off at any time — for helping cultivate their steadfast following. While many death metal acts withered on the vine during the fallow late '90s, Cannibal Corpse kept on pushing, and has seen no slackening among their dedicated fans.
The group is currently supporting its 12th LP, Torture, an album inspired, at least partially by The Book of Executions: An Encyclopedia of Methods of Judicial Execution.
"It's a cool book," says Webster of the inspiration for songs like "Strangulation Chair" and "Intestinal Crank."
"As people, we're anti-violence," insists Webster. "But as writers and entertainers, we do like to write about fictional violence in our songs. The same way I would assume that the people behind the SAW movies don't want any of that shit happening, we don't want any of the things in our songs to ever happen to any persons ever."