#10: CANNIBAL CORPSE
The old cliché goes that genius is the very simple idea that, for whatever reason, no one has ever had before. Assuming that’s true, then Cannibal Corpse are the Albert Einsteins of metal. For these dudes were not, at the beginning, great musicians. They were just some kids from Buffalo who basically listened to thrash and said “We wanna do that, but make it even heavier and more evil-sounding.” And so they did. And simple though it seems (Tomb of the Mutilated might be considered quaint if it were released today) Cannibal Corpse – particularly the original line-up of vocalist Chris Barnes, bassist Alex Webster, drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz, and guitarists Jack Owen and Bob Rusay – are undeniably one of the most influential bands in all of metal history. They are one of the key creators of death metal as we know it. As though he felt the words to Slayer’s “Angel of Death” just weren’t violent enough, Barnes practically invented pure gore as lyrical fodder; he also reinvented his craft (if you can call making it sound like your lungs are having violent diarrhea a “craft”). Producer Scott Burns, who was basically the sixth member of the band for years, obviously deserves his share of the credit for their accomplishments, too. Basically, if you’ve ever enjoyed to pretty much any death metal song ever, you probably owe Cannibal Corpse a handjob.
And that, of course, is precisely the problem.
Without Cannibal Corpse, we might have never suffered through deathcore. (I can’t think of a single deathcore vocalist who doesn’t owe royalties to Barnes.) We certainly wouldn’t have suffered through all the shit that has often passed itself off as good death metal in the years since the Corpse came to prominence. We’d have to spend much less time defending metal in the face of misogynistic, violent, deplorable fantasies that often pass for lyrics.
What’s interesting is that while Cannibal Corpse has continued to evolve – three of the five musicians I just discussed aren’t in the band anymore, and there can be no argument that the subsequent line-ups haven’t significantly upped the bar for songwriting and musicianship – death metal remains stuck in the mud. Every day, someone sends me some unsigned band that they swear are “FUCKIN’ BR00TAL!”, and that are really just trying to do what Cannibal Corpse did twenty years ago. Only they keep getting stupider. Their ability with their instruments is sub-punk rock, which is fine by them, since they just wanna make noise with no sense of structure anyway. And since they’re trying to re-up Barnes’ already really gross lyrics, well… it’s the difference between the old Friday the 13th movies and the current Saw movies, isn’t it? Their understanding of violent lyrics as ridiculous slapstick, fantasy, and emotional catharsis has been replaced by a seeming thirst for violence as, y’know, violence. They don’t have Barnes’ sense of gallows humor; sometimes it seems like they really do wanna fuck someone with a knife.
And have you seen the fans at some of these death metal show recently? It’s called “soap,” fellas. Look into it.
I swear on my life that I will listen to and love Cannibal Corpse until the day an angry MS reader finally uses the lyrics to “Split Wide Open” as an instruction manual for what to do with snarky bloggers. But I can never forgive them for the havoc they’ve unleashed.