20 years and 11 albums in: Alex Webster talks to Metal as Fuck

Metal as Fuck recently chatted with Alex Webster about Cannibal Corpse's new release, Evisceration Plague. When we talked to him, he was on the band's tour bus in Amsterdam, where the band had, a few hours before, just played a show on Children of Bodom's tour. Unusually, the tour afforded Cannibal Corpse the opportunity of reaching a new audience.

At the time when I spoke with Webster about the album, the hallmark Corpse song Hammer Smashed Face was ranked by German Metal Hammer as being the greatest death metal song of all time. This ranking came about as part of a survey that the magazine did, and the songs were chosen by the fans. While Cannibal Corpse were proud of the fact that this song made it to the top of the list, at the same time they were rather cautious about it, given that Metal Hammer chose the songs and the fans picked their favourites out of that list.

'Certainly we're proud of winning something like that. But at the same time we have to look at the context of it, where the folks at German Metal Hammer were the folks that chose the songs that were nominated, so certain fans might not have been able to vote for their favourite songs because their favourite songs weren't on the list. We're definitely very proud of that and I do think that whatever anyone's opinion of the song Hammer Smashed Face is, I mean it's certainly one of the most popular death metal songs of all time.'

Webster went on to list a bunch of other songs that are equally popular, like Deicide's Dead by Dawn, but felt that it was a great honour that their fans voted for them regardless. He just wanted people to remember that there's a whole lot of other songs that are great too, and not to lose sight of the fact that the magazine closed most of them out, simply by providing a defined list to start with.

I asked Webster if he ever gets a chance to sit down and reflect on how Cannibal Corpse has gotten to where it is, and what the journey has been like. He told me that it's rather overwhelming to think about everything that's happened, and that so much more has happened than any of them ever dreamed. This is even more especially the case after so many albums - eleven of them - and Webster's gratefulness to the band's fans is palpable, particularly given the really high chart positions the album reached on its release in the US.

'It's, it's really something,' he reflected. 'We never had any idea that we could get so far as a band. It's remarkable that we've not only had such a long career, but to see it on an up-swing so far down the road! We're actually doing as well as we've ever done, and we're eleven albums in. We're so, kind of, blown away by how well we've done and we're so grateful to our fans for helping bring us this far.'

The chart positions were a big surprise to Cannibal Corpse. They figured they'd do ok once the album was released, but seeing the up-swing in the genre world-wide, and the fact that it's not just localised, was a big thing.

'Obviously we're very happy for our own band, but I think it shows that the overall health of the death metal scene is probably on the rise, and that's a great thing - not just for us but for the whole death metal scene.'

If you looked at Cannibal Corpse's album release dates, you'd see that these guys have a totally consistent period of time between releases: often two years, sometimes three, but on average it's two years. The reason for this is that these guys just don't rest.

'You know what? We just never take a break,' he laughed. 'Not any significant breaks anyway. The longest we've ever gone without jamming with each other is about two months. And that's throughout the entire span of the twenty years we've been together. And that's an abnormally long, long time,' he qualified. 'Like, for example, we wrote Kill throughout 2005 and did one or two shows in that time, but while we're writing we're practising together four days a week, and then we recorded the album. Then we toured throughout 2006 and 2007, and when we weren't touring we were practising together. And it was, I believe it was November or December 2007 we didn't jam together, we took a little break because we'd just finished up the long tour and everything. We started jamming together again in January 2008 and practised four days a week right up until we went into the studio in September, in 2008, then practised for this tour and now we're on our tour.'

This cycle is simply what Cannibal Corpse does. When the Evisceration Plague tour ends, they'll start jamming again four days a week and start the writing cycle for the next album. There is no way in hell you could call these guys rockstars: they work damn hard, and the way they work reflects just how seriously they take what they do.

'We love doing what we're doing,' Alex emphasised. 'And we don't need to get away from it for very long. A few weeks here, a month there, that's all we need. We've never had any desire to go on any kind of long hiatus. It's part work ethic, and part just that we enjoy what we're doing so much, really.'

The other side of it is that these guys are career musicians. Many fans don't stop to think that these guys have financial responsibilities like anybody else.

'We are all adults here, we have a house - everybody in the band has a house or an apartment where we need to pay a mortgage or rent, so you're not gonna get paid to sit around for a year! So that's certainly a motivating factor, but it helps that we enjoy the hell out of it,' he laughed. 'It's so much fun to be able to play death metal for a living. If I actually stop to think about it, like, wow that's my job, it's to play death metal and stuff - I can't even describe how lucky I feel to have wound up in that position.'

Kill got an enormously warm reception throughout the world, and Evisceration Plague is getting a similar response. Cannibal Corpse have never been a band to sit on its laurels and just create something same-same; they always push themselves to create something heavier and more meaningful with each release: to make the fast songs faster, and the slow songs heavier. They've always worked to the goal of making the next album the best they've ever done, and that goal persists. After Kill, though, they did feel a lot more pressure to produce an even better album: something that they had to push themselves a little bit harder for.

'We should at least have that goal, even if we don't succeed,' Webster pointed out. 'But I do have to say just that given how well Kill was received, not just by our fans - who have always been very positive - but actually it was well received by the press, in the majority. We're generally not the kind of band that are the darlings of the press!' He laughed. 'We've always received some pretty bad reviews throughout the years. We got so many good reviews, we got such a positive response, the album did well in sales and everything. So we felt a little bit more pressure for Evisceration Plague, knowing that the last album was so good, it was maybe just a little bit harder to meet it than the other ones were. So we just worked hard and Evisceration Plague is maybe the best Cannibal Corpse album yet.'

Alex Webster firmly believes that working with Erik Rutan as producer has helped Cannibal Corpse to step up what they do. Rutan is a hard worker - Webster believes that he is the hardest working person in the music industry that he's ever met - but because he's been with such key death metal bands as Morbid Angel and Ripping Corpse, and is the main man for Hate Eternal, the greatest aspect of working with him is that he knows death metal from all angles. 

'It pushes us too,' Webster mused. 'You can't be a slacker when you've got Erik Rutan in the studio!' he laughed. 'He does make you work hard, and you know he's not going to let you stop until he's got the perfect performance. He'll make you do a song again and again until you get it just perfect.'

Prior to its release, Evisceration Plague was streamed - in its entirety - from the band's MySpace page. It turned out that, actually, this wasn't the band's decision.

'The European branch of Metal Blade Records had some kind of promotion going with MySpace Germany and they wanted to stream the whole album. I didn't even know it was going to happen! I wish I could credit our band for making the whole decision but it was a decision made without our knowledge.'

While some bands might be a little pissed that this was the case, it turned out to have actually been very good for them. Webster believes that it says a lot for their release that fans got to hear the album before it came out, and still went and bought it. In droves. The way they found out about it was that Webster went to the band's MySpace page to check in, and see who was commenting and so on, and noticed that every track from the album was up there.

'We just had to give them [the label] the faith that they considered that a good idea. But you know, after we thought about it we thought that it is actually a good idea, because the fans are gonna hear it, and if they're really our fans they're gonna buy it anyway. Because, it's one thing to give an album away for free, and another thing to let everyone hear it for free so they can decide if they wanna buy it or not.'

As Webster pointed out, back in the real old days you would just buy an album based on what it looked like, and you'd never have any idea as to what the band was like or what the album was like. Now, everyone knows what they're getting into - whether it's an album heard in a record shop or from a streaming site on the web.

'That really makes us feel good because we know that everyone who bought it had a chance to hear it already, yet they still decided it was worth buying.'

A 'making of' DVD was released with Evisceration Plague. The producer, Denise Korycki, is a good friend of the band. Korycki also recorded the Centuries of Torment DVD, and has a gift for making the band forget about the camera, and to just feel  at home. 

'Like, we remember that she is there, but we don't really think about the fact that she's filming us as well. So she gets us to be very natural in front of the camera. I think you can see that in both the Making of Evisceration Plague DVD and also the Centuries of Torment DVD. Denise really knows how to make her subjects feel comfortable, and to bring out the personality of her subjects.'

On the Children of Bodom tour, Cannibal Corpse were playing to an audience that Webster estimated was comprised of about half that were really familiar with their music, while the other half were not. This afforded the band the rare opportunity to try and win over some new fans. To do this, they chose tracks that project really well in a live setting.

'Certain really fast songs, they're really fun to play but they might not come through. You know, really fast and technical stuff has a hard time coming through in a live situation. So we picked songs that have some really big, heavy riffs in them that people can just latch onto immediately. And those two songs [from the new release], Priests of Sodom and Evisceration Plague, both have some pretty big, heavy riffs in them that people can kind of pick up immediately.'

No doubt Aussie fans are waiting with baited breath to see if Cannibal Corpse will grace our shores on the Evisceration Plague tour, and Alex Webster's comments are likely to get all you Corpse fans even more excited.

'We are working on it. Hopefully before the end of 2009. I don't wanna go into too much detail in case plans change, because that can happen all the time, but yeah - we're definitely in the process of working on that. We will be in Australia for Evisceration Plague. There's almost no doubt about it.'