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Cannibal Corpse Bassist Describes Rare Neurological Disorder in His Hand

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Cannibal Corpse bassist Alex Webster is known amongst metal musician dorks for playing with his fingers, an increasingly rare technique in a world in which low-end lieutenants often opt for the sharp attack of a pick. Hopefully this news won’t scare off other finger slingers, but it’s that very technique which may have led to a rare neurological disorder in Webster’s plucking hand that’s made it difficult for him to play.

In a new chat with Bass Player, Webster opened up about the disorder — focal dystonia — which he says could have been caused by “fundamental flaws” in his playing technique, but revealed he’s doing better now after undergoing treatment.

Webster described the disorder as follows:

“Focal dystonia is essentially an injury, but not the kind of injury that people would normally think of – it’s not carpal tunnel, or a tendon problem, or something like that. It’s essentially a neurological problem, and it happens in a lot of disciplines that require precise, repetitive movements, and not just in music.“

He continued, describing the symptoms:

“The normal fingerpicking that I would do would become very strained. It seemed as if my pointer finger would be going left instead of down. When I first noticed something was going wrong, it was very confusing and frightening. I was like, ‘What’s going on with my right hand? Why isn’t it behaving the way it’s behaved for the past 30 years?’”

He then added:

“Basically, the signals from your brain are going wrong on the way down to your fingers. Imagine your legs walking. What if the signal from your brain was telling both legs to go forward at the same time? That’s not exactly what was happening with my picking fingers, but certain signals were definitely getting through and certain signals weren’t.“ 

Webster went on to credit a specialist named Joaquin Farias with helping him recover, although he doesn’t specify exactly what that recovery entailed (occupational therapy, I’d wager?), and revealed that he spoke to two other musicians, classical guitarist Apostolos Paraskevas and bassist Scott Devine, who had worked through the same issue. He described focal dystonia as “something that can often be resolved” and encouraged anyone suffering from the disorder to seek out literature by Dr. Farias.

Needless to say we’re happy to learn that Webster’s been able to make what sounds like a full or mostly full recovery. His bass playing on Cannibal Corpse’s most recent album, Violence Unimagined, certainly didn’t sound like it suffered. Jam one of those tracks below.

Cannibal Corpse are potentially eyeing early 2022 for a return to touring.

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