Ever since their full-length debut, Eaten Back to Life, came out in 1990, death-metal pioneers Cannibal Corpse have selected simple, lurid titles for albums such as Butchered at Birth, Gallery of Suicide and Gore Obsessed. There were no messages, no pretense, nothing but gruesome, violent names and grisly accompanying artwork. For their 14th studio album, Cannibal Corpse have taken a slightly different approach.
While the artwork is still quite vicious — a psycho in blue jeans and T-shirt holding a knife as a ridiculous shower of blood sprays upwards — the name Red Before Black is less disgusting and more open to interpretation.
"I think everyone's thrown by it because it's not: Eviscerate You and Eat Your Guts and Feed Them to Your Mother, Too," says vocalist George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher. "Basically it means seeing blood before everything goes black and you die — red before black. I think people might have thought it was about something else and we were going at it from a different direction. But no. It's Cannibal Corpse being Cannibal Corpse."
The album title isn't the only switcheroo on Red Before Black. After working with producer Mark Lewis on 2014's A Skeletal Domain, the band has returned to Erik Rutan, who produced three of their past four records. The move wasn't a calculated effort to recapture a specific vibe or sound, and it actually happened almost by accident.
"We were asked by Adult Swim to do the theme song for 'Squidbillies' for their 2016 Halloween special," Fisher says. "They got ahold of us at the last minute and we didn't have a lot of time to find a producer. So we called Erik because he was the closest guy to us, after we finished, we were like, 'Dude, that was fun. We gotta come back here.' It just felt right. He knows how we sound and he's coming from the same place."
In addition to setting the levels and tweaking the knobs, Rutan — who plays in Hate Eternal — worked with the band to create a more straightforward, old-school death metal album. Whereas Cannibal Corpse's last few records featured plenty of abrupt musical twists and turns, Red Before Black is like a wolf going for the jugular and clamping on — violent, precise, lethal — and leaving no room for escape.
The title track is a microcosm of the rest of the record. Following a brief intro that ends with a sharp, guitar hook and three mid-paced minor-key chords, the song blasts into overdrive, coupling palm-muted riffs, a precision bass line and an unrelenting beat with Fisher's feral screams. There are minor departures from the tear-your-face-off formula, like the doomy chugger "Shedding My Human Skin" and "Firestorm Vengeance," which provides raw, meaty slabs of sound before chopping them up with a variety of beats and rhythms (it's the closest Cannibal Corpse get to technical metal). But for the most part, Red Before Black is less mind over matter than splatter over mind.
"It definitely has a raw, straightforward feel to it, which I love," Fisher says. "I'm an old fool from the old school. I'm glad we pulled back from some of the more technical stuff we've done. I know to a lot of people, 'catchy' is an evil word, but to me, this has some of our catchiest songs, and some of the most memorable moments and it's still totally fucking heavy."
In the candid conversation with Revolver, below, Fisher talks about why he didn't write lyrics for Red Before Black, his favorite horror movies, the fate of Serpentine Dominion — his side project with Killswitch Engage's Adam Dutkiewicz — and how he accidentally got into a pissing contest with the band's original vocalist Chris Barnes.
WHEN YOU CHOSE THE TITLE FOR THE NEW ALBUM DID IT CROSS YOUR MINDS THAT YOU MIGHT GET SOME BACKLASH?
Trust me, we thought of everything. When you call an album Torture there's no reason for anyone to ask questions about what it's about. Red Before Black is less obvious. We wanted that. I don't mind answering questions and I like people to think a little bit. And when you hear what Red Before Black means, it's like, "Oh, of course. That makes perfect sense."
WHY PUSH THOSE BUTTONS IN THE FIRST PLACE. SOME PEOPLE WON'T EVEN ASK QUESTIONS. THEY'LL JUST JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS?
The thing is, outside of metal circles, everyone hates us anyway. And people who don't understand this kind of music are not gonna understand anything. So, sure, they might misunderstand the meaning of the album title and talk shit about us, but they're fools. Besides, it's nothing new for us. Over the years, we've gotten crap from everybody. We've had death threats and bomb threats and shows canceled on us. And all because we sing about torture, rape, murder and a lot of the bad things that happen in society. But we also sing about zombies and monsters. And even the stuff in our songs that could actually happen, the way the lyrics are written they're still within the context of horror movies. We're not promoting anything bad. Why would we want people going out and killing people so they go to jail and don't buy our records? If that happened, they wouldn't come see us live and we'd have to come home and work regular jobs instead of playing shows and achieving our dream of playing music for a living.
ARE YOU STILL OBSESSED WITH HORROR MOVIES?
I'll always like classic slasher movies like Friday the 13th and Halloween, and some of the gore stuff like Gates of Hell is pretty sick and extreme. But then you have The Shining, and, to me, that's the most evil, creepy movie that there is. And The Exorcist is up there as well. But I can't say that I've really been a diehard horror fan like [bassist] Alex [Webster]. He definitely keeps up on all that stuff and that's how he can write the lyrics he writes. Every once in a while he will say, "Have you checked out this movie?" The last thing I watched was that movie Tusk. It's so crazy and disturbing. I can't say anything else about it because I don't want to give anything away. But if you like that kind of stuff you'll probably like Tusk.
YOU'VE WRITTEN LYRICS FOR PATHS OF POSSESSION AND OTHER SIDE BANDS. WHY HAVEN'T YOU WRITTEN FOR CANNIBAL CORPSE SINCE 1998'S GALLERY OF SUICIDE?
I used to write with Alex and [drummer] Paul [Mazurkiewicz]. They were primarily writing lyrics back then. And then [ex-guitarist] Jack [Owen] wrote some songs before he left after [2004's] The Wretched Spawn. Then, when [guitarist] Rob [Barrett] came back from Malevolent Creation for 2006' Kill, he started contributing more lyrics. So once those guys had it going, I was like, "You know what? This is probably not my thing." I wrote a couple things on [1996's] Vile, and I thought from there I was gonna go and do more, but when those guys kept doing it and it was coming out so good I was like, "Okay, I don't know if I could do any better." So I stopped writing lyrics for Cannibal.
DO YOU DO ANYTHING TO KEEP YOUR VOICE IN SHAPE WHILE YOU'RE WAITING FOR THE GUYS TO GET YOU THE LYRICS AND VOCAL PATTERNS?
Sometimes I just sit in my garage and scream along with older records or other bands. And I have another band called Paths of Possession. I was practicing with those guys because we did a show with Doyle. I gotta keep my voice in shape. If I were to go into the studio without having sung in a year that would not be good.
IS IT EASIER TO TRACK VOCALS FOR MORE OLD-SCHOOL MUSIC THAN IT IS TO RECORD OVER MORE TECHNICAL, COMPLEX MATERIAL?
It depends. It wasn't easy to record a lot of the stuff on this album because it's fast and the words kind of jumble together. Some of the vocal parts are really intense. You can do punch-ins in the studio for that stuff, but when you're playing the song live you've gotta step up. That's when the real work happens.
DO PATHS OF POSSESSION HAVE ANYTHING NEW IN THE WORKS?
We played that show with Doyle. And [drummer] Nick [Goodyear] and the guitar player Jack [Goodwin] have been writing stuff. We have a new bass player Jesse Jolly. He's in this black metal band Promethean Horde [as Jecheal] with Nick [who calls himself Nickulus]. So while that's been going on, they've been writing songs for Paths. I think they've got six or eight songs finished. I'll probably get together with them to write some stuff for somewhere down the line. I'm looking forward to that. The last thing we released was The End of the Hour [in 2007]. Nick has some recording equipment so we can always use that and the plan is to eventually do at least an EP, if not a whole record.
IT USED TO BE TABOO TO PLAY IN MORE THAN ONE BAND. NOW IT SEEMS MUSICIANS HAVE TO BE IN AT LEAST TWO OR THREE GROUPS TO SURVIVE.
It's not a survival thing. A lot of times it just starts out as jamming with some friends or helping someone out by recording with them. I've done more than a few things outside of Cannibal, but it's always people just getting together and sharing their ideas and having fun and its metal — it's the best thing in the world! so I've talked to some other people about maybe doing something else so there may be another thing in the works I can't really say what is right now. But I've done vocals for Voodoo Gods and I've guested with Suicide Silence, Job For A Cowboy, Heaven Shall Burn and some others.
YOU WERE IN THE SUPERGROUP SERPENTINE DOMINION WITH KILLSWITCH ENGAGE'S ADAM DUTKIEWICZ AND SHANNON LUCAS FROM THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER. HOW DID THAT COME TOGETHER?
I met Adam D. on the Mayhem fest in 2009. We were hanging out and having some beers and he said, "Hey man, I love your vocals. What if I wrote some songs? Would you sing on them?" And I was like, "Fuck yeah. I would love to." It was interesting to see what he would come up with. And I knew Shannon from the Black Dahlia Murder, who we had also toured with. [Killswitch Engage singer] Jesse Leach wrote the lyrics, which was interesting. And it came out pretty great, but we couldn't tour with it because it definitely would have needed another guitarist and a bass player. Adam did all the guitar and the bass. One day down the line, hopefully we can get some more guys to play with us and practice and do some shows.
YOU RELEASED SERPENTINE DOMINION IN 2016. WILL THERE BE A SECOND ALBUM?
This is the first time I've talked to anybody about that. The goal was to do the record and see what happened. If it got a really good reaction maybe we'd do more. I've talked to Adam about that and he said, "Hey man, maybe I'll write some more stuff." So maybe down the line. It's hard to say, but hopefully, we'll do another one. I had a great time doing that record. It wasn't ever meant to be a one-off thing, but it definitely wasn't gonna ever be a band I was gonna leave Cannibal for and he was going to leave Killswitch for.
CAN YOU BELIEVE YOU'VE BEEN IN CANNIBAL CORPSE FOR 22 YEARS?
22 years ... it's insane. I can close my eyes and envision when I got the call from Alex asking me to join. Right before I hung up I told him, "Just give me a little bit of time to think about it," even though I knew the very second I picked up the phone and he said, "Hey, this is Alex from Cannibal," that I was going to be singing for this band! I'm sorry if that sounds cocky, but I fucking knew. There was nobody going to stop me. This is my dream from the time I was in my first band Corpsegrinder in Baltimore, Maryland.
DO YOU EVER TALK TO CANNIBAL'S FIRST SINGER CHRIS BARNES?
I saw him at an Iron Maiden show a few years ago when he was still living here and I talked to him. But I think he's pissed at me now. We were following each other on Instagram and then someone wrote to him about me saying something shitty about him onstage.
DID YOU SAY SOMETHING ABOUT CHRIS?
To be honest, it's possible. Maybe one night someone shouted his name and I just got tired of hearing it. What I say onstage sometimes depends on my mood. I don't remember anything specific and I sure don't have any problem with him. He's part of the history of this band and I don't hate the guy. If he was upset by something someone told him I said, I would think he would maybe try to get hold of me. But instead, I guess he blocked me from following him. I really don't know what I did exactly, but at this point, I think he doesn't like me. What am I gonna do? It's better to have more friends than enemies so if he reads this all he has to do is reach out to me. I know people say, "Well, if it wasn't for him you wouldn't have a job," and I don't know if that's true. I know he did a lot for this band, but I've been the singer for three times longer than he was in Cannibal Corpse. I'm not trying to put the knife in the wound or nothing.
NEXT YEAR MARKS THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BIRTH OF CANNIBAL CORPSE. IS THERE ANY CHANCE CHRIS WILL JOIN THE BAND ONSTAGE FOR SOME KIND OF A TRIBUTE?
That's not gonna happen. Those guys just wanna keep things the way they've been. And I've worked my ass off for 22 years and I ... Look, I'm never gonna say never. I don't think it's gonna happen, but there has been talk. I'm sure he said some things and him and Alex still talk. But at this moment in time, no. I think those guys wanna keep it this way and I've busted my ass to put out my renditions of the songs that he wrote the lyrics for. I can understand how it would be pretty cool for fans because there are fans who would like it for the nostalgia. But right now, no, I wouldn't want to do it.