Cannibal Corpse’s Alex Webster

Cannibal Corpse’s Alex Webster
It’s not easy making a 20-year career in death metal. Heck, only a handful of people on the planet have pulled it off, five of which are the longhairs in Buffalo, New York’s Cannibal Corpse. And to celebrate this milestone, the band are releasing a triple DVD, Centuries of Torment: The First 20 Years, on July 8. Over seven hours of footage awaits the eager death-head, including a three-hour history of the band, tons of live footage, going back to 1989 — including a set from 2006 in Toronto — and seven music videos. We got bassist Alex Webster on the blower to chat about the DVD, the history of the band and growing older within a death metal context. While we chatted, his band-mates were in the same building working on a new song; the group’s next album is being recorded in September and October with Erik Rutan, who produced their last, Kill.

Where did the idea to do this exhaustive DVD come from?
It’s really the idea of Denise Korycki, the filmmaker. We met her when she worked for Uranium, which was the heavy metal show down here in America on Fuse. She did an interview with us for Kill, and that interview aired in 2006; then she stopped working over there and starting doing documentaries on her own. She was doing some backstage footage for As I Lay Dying when they were with us on the Sounds of the Underground tour and we got to know her even a little better. We had a bunch of footage that was filmed for Kill, and I approached her and Metal Blade with the idea of her doing a behind-the-scenes Kill tour DVD. We had done a behind-the-scenes studio thing before with The Wretched Spawn DVD but we had never done a behind-the-scenes on tour thing. That was the original idea; Denise came back to me with this history idea. She said she wanted to do that because we were one of the bands she had worked with that had such a long history. We have ten studio albums, we’ve been around 20 years, so that was something she really wanted to do. She’s the one who put it all into motion and did all of the work.

So is this celebrating your 20 years of being a band?
The timing is definitely right for it because 20 years is a bit of a landmark. I suppose we could have waited for 25 years but 20 years is a pretty significant anniversary for a band. She came to us with the idea; I don’t know if she realised it was also going to wind up being a 20th anniversary kind of thing, but it wound up being like that.

How long did it take to put the whole thing together?
She started to do some of the filming when we were on tour with the Red Chord, the Black Dahlia Murder, Goatwhore and the Absence, the Metal Blade 25th Anniversary Tour. So there was all that going on, she was able to interview a lot of our fans on that tour and interview the other bands. I guess she started working on it September or October of last year, and she really just finished it up probably a month ago [May]. She had something like three terabyte hard drives full of raw footage. [Laughs]

Was it a very daunting project?
For us, the big thing is that we’ve never really let people take this close of a look at us before. [Laughs] You know, there’s footage of us at home. We’ve let people in a little bit more with our personalities than we ever have before, and the history of our band has never been so extensively covered in anything, be it an interview or anything else. It’s very comprehensive look at the band.

Now you can move on to the next 20 years.
Yeah, that’s how I feel about it, honestly. For me personally, I’ve always preferred to look forward. So looking back and doing a history thing has been very different for me. Maybe the other guys feel the same way, too. We’re always looking forward to the next record, the next tour, and so on. We don’t normally do things that revolve so much around things that happened before. But it was good timing — with the 20-year anniversary, this was the right time to try and do something like this.

Did you ever think you’d be in a death metal band for 20 years?
When we look at it and think, "We’ve been around for 20 years,” it seems kind of impossible, especially if you put yourself in the frame of mind we were in when we first started. Would I have thought when I was 18 this was going to be where I was when I was 38? No way, no way. We were hoping to maybe get one or two albums out. We had no idea a 20-year career in death metal could even exist. Death metal was really in its nascent stages, there were only a handful of bands that came before us, like Morbid Angel, Death, and Possessed. You couldn’t say, "Wow, look at this band, they’ve been around for 20 years, we want to do that too.” There was nothing like that, it was like, "Hey, this band’s got a great demo, I love this music, I want to do music like this.” [Laughs]. All of those bands were a couple years ahead of us. Most people would say the earliest death metal started was probably in 1983; I could be wrong, maybe a little bit earlier. We got started in 1988 so that was about five years after the beginnings of it, so it was still really new. So it’s remarkable to us; we’re kind of surprised, and being able to look back at it like this has given us some sort of perspective on how incredible the whole thing has been.

It is pretty crazy that you’ve managed to pull it off.
It is. [Laughs] You never know what’s going to happen. That’s why we gave it the subtitle "The First 20 Years.” Why shouldn’t there be a second 20 years? We couldn’t have predicted these first 20, so we don’t want to predict it’s going to be over in 20 years either. We also wanted to let people know the band is very open-ended, we see our career as being ongoing and hope our best years are actually ahead of us. So this is the first 20 years and hopefully there will be a second 20 that will be just as fun. In 20 years I’ll be 58, so we’ll see about that [laughs]. But you know what I’m saying: we are far from being done and that was something we wanted to get across in the title.

Is there an age limit in death metal?
I think it’s not an age limit as much as a physical ability limit. One person might hit the wall when they’re 45; like some of these drummers that are playing so fast, they’re doing something that’s the equivalent of being an athlete, so it might be difficult for some of these drummers as they get older. Somebody like me, the bass playing, the guitar playing, that kind of stuff, [it’s possible] if you headbang a little bit less — which of course I don’t want to do, I want to be out there banging as hard as I can and putting on as good of a show as I did when I was in my 20s. But physically, my fingers will be able to do this until I get arthritis or something, which hopefully will never happen. You see jazz musicians playing really fast guitar and bass playing well into their elderly years.

As you get older do you find the themes — the gore, the violence — interest you as much?
I like horror in general, so I think we just try to capture an evil, dark vibe with the horror songs. I always thought that was an important part of death metal. I think there needs to be a darkness in the music and lyrics you’re trying to capture and that’s something that still interests me. Cannibal Corpse is the outlet for that for me as a musician. I do a few other things that are different, Blotted Science being the main one I do as a side band that’s a little different. But Cannibal Corpse, death metal, it should be horror, all the way. It should be dark, evil stuff that we’re doing.

Will the band ever run out of lyrical ideas?
I think that, unfortunately, there’s enough evil shit going on in the world that there’s almost limitless inspiration just by watching the news. If you’re going to be writing about dark subjects, there are a lot of dark things happening in the world today and throughout human history. And some of it, in a macabre way, is interesting. I think that’s why people watch shows about serial killers. We just try to not rehash our own stuff and look for different storylines. There are only so many songs you can have about people being eaten by a zombie. I mean, we have a bunch. [Laughs] We probably have more than most people and I’m not saying we won’t do another, but we would probably try to look at a different angle for it. One thing we’ve tried to make clear is that as much as we enjoy writing about horror and gore we’re not into real-life violence at all. Other than boxing and mixed martial arts. [Laughs] As far as real violence and crime, we’re obviously against it like any normal people would be.