….what tends to get lost amidst the occasional haranguing against the band is that Cannibal Corpse did not change to entertain mass appeal, a statement that holds for the whole of their career. A band certainly of the basest motives, one not particularly concerned with anything beyond the present moment or of the aether; disposable, even, but for all that, the band has remained dedicated to their sound and to their infantile fascinations in a world of ever-changing trends while churning out a truckload of instantly recognizable songs. Their musical merits may be up for debate but their sincerity certainly isn’t.
The question then arises: have Cannibal Corpse dumbed down death metal? Through an almost exclusive focus on topics of an immoral and deranged nature, Cannibal Corpse set up their MO from the get go; dealing as they do in the butchery of a human abattoir, it would be hard to present a philosophical face to any of the band’s sordid tales of torture, rape, decapitation, and necrophilia. But if the Romeros, Fulcis and Argentos of the world can be excused for their frankly schlocky and gratuitously violent fare, even plumped for as champions of counter culture and acerbic social commentary, why are we so hard on a band like The Corpse? These lyrics present a time capsule with a view on the very real atrocities that humans have visited on each other through the ages. Are we so self-righteous as to say that we don’t harbour at least a few dark fetishes and impulses in the backwaters of our mind?
Of course, as with anything that achieves relatively fast notoriety, there have been a sizable number of undesirables clambering onto the Cannibal Corpse bandwagon, not a few of whom have gone on to form swarms of sideways-cap wearing wigger bands (read: slam and deathcore). But comparing them with Cannibal Corpse, beyond the shared obsession with thematic filth, is being dishonest and unfair; Cannibal Corpse‘s sound is rooted in old death metal and never have they taken recourse to the abomination that is a slam. Suffocation, creators of the archetypal death metal breakdown, have had more say in that department; Suffocation, to their great credit, used the breakdown as a diversion before it came to be appropriated by lesser imitators as an entire genre unto itself.
George Fisher of Florida’s Monstrosity was drafted in to replace Chris Barnes who would go on to become a parody of himself in the joke band Six Feet Under. Fisher brought in a far more powerful pair of bellows apparatus with him, but also a monotonous, one-dimensional take on vocal patterns. Any Cannibal Corpse album from Vile onwards contains absolutely predictable vocal cadences and supplementing rhythm guitars; as technically adept as the band was getting to be by this stage, they also seemed to be stuck in a stylistic rut of their own making. With Barnes, Cannibal Corpse was a simple yet effective, tongue-in-cheek outfit, equally capable of both the occasional goof-up, and a quick burst of adrenaline to the vein. For whatever reason, this ability seemed to progressively desert the band with Fisher’s advent, save on one album, reducing the band to a serious but somewhat bone-dry affair.
Before complete redundancy, however, came Bloodthirst, a call to arms at the fag end of the 90s that combined the best aspects of the band’s erstwhile move n’ groove, and their new fangled technical teeth, effortlessly pulling off aggressive harmonizing and solos against the backdrop of the best production of their career, a performance that seemed to have galvanized even Paul Mazurkiewicz’s usually prosaic drumming. The band would recycle many of this album’s elements over the course of the next ten years but rarely would they come close to matching its urgent, visceral thrills. Bloodthirst has been hailed by many a fan as a death metal classic, released during a lull for the genre, and it lives upto its reputation to this day.
Cannibal Corpse would continue releasing new material in the years to come, solidifying their reputation on the back of hard touring, and unwavering dedication to their music and their fans. They have certainly stagnated as songwriters over time, a facet of their craft that they were never particularly good at; still capable of manufacturing the odd riff that will make you bang around, still fun to listen to when there are a bunch of friends gathered on boozy nights. And so we end where we started; Cannibal Corpse remain the most popular of death metal bands but also one of the most workmanlike. One gets the feeling they’re not going away anytime soon either but whatever one’s leanings towards the band may be, denying their place in death metal’s scheme and history is revisionism at its worst.